Minis perfect for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

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I’ve painted the burgomeister mini. Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of photo equipment needed for minis. He is placed next to a Hero Forge mini for scale. 

If you use miniatures for your Warhammer game (or Zweihänder or other similar games), the Dunkeldorf line of minis on Kickstarter are perfect. The minis are of mundane characters, which can be hard to get, or you have to pay a fair bit of money for Oldenhammer minis or for the Mordenheim line, which is pricey today.

The line consists of 12 minis (plus 3 – or more -additional minis from stretch goals being unlocked). All of them look like people you can meet in the Old World. There is a barber-surgeon, a rat catcher, a burgomeister (mayor) a courtesan and so on.

I noticed the project before the Kickstarter was launched, and when the call went out for bloggers to have a look at the early casts, I threw in my lot. Nicki, who is one of the people behind the project, was nice enough to send me three samples. So, I got three minis for free, and I’ve already backed the Kickstarter. I don’t consider myself biased, but now you know.

You can find it here: Dunkeldorf minis

In any case, below I’ve written some thoughts on the minis.

Minis with personality

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Here are the three sample minis I got. I only had time to paint one, as time is my most limited resource.

What I really love about these minis is that they have a lot more personality than the Citadel or Reaper minis that I usually get.

Their faces and body types are much more varied. The Citadel faces tend to be much more ‘standard handsome’ in my view, whereas these are angular or corpulent. That really makes them stand out.

I’m no expert on minis, and no great painter, but the three I got, are nicely – but not overly – detailed and straight forward to paint, with the exception of the rat catcher, which has a lot more small details – she looks more like an adventurer.

They are clearly for ‘low fantasy’ as they don’t carry fancy items and weapons, and they have the beard, dress and hairstyle of a classic Warhammer game.

The minis are also about 50% women, which is another plus for me, as there is a clear gap in my collection when it comes to female minis that can be used for PCs or NPCs.

As stretch goals, you also get some other ‘dressing’ like an anvil and a cat, which are nice, but something I will use less frequently.

My only ‘criticism’ is the barber surgeon. His profession is a bit harder to identify just from the mini. He could also have a sling bag or something, to make him look a bit more like an adventurer. That would improve his usefulness to me a bit. 

Low Risk

The Kickstarter was launched be a couple – from my native country if Denmark as it turns out – which already runs an online gaming store (King Games). That is a big upside, as it lowers the risk of the practical aspects of a kickstarter tripping them up. As they have an online store, they also have a registered company, are used to administration and the logistics of sending packages around. It is also not a hobby projects – as such – which means the risk of ‘work’ getting in the way, is low.

You have until April 4 to get your hands on the minis.  The kickstarter is already more than fully funded, but I wouldn’t mind more stretch goals being unlocked.

My Twitter handle is @RasmusNord01. I would love to see other people’s painted versions of these minis – and hear about the games you run. 

 

Is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for me? – A Warhammer Primer

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I’ve played and run Warhammer since 1st edition. We finished a more than 90 sessions long campaign in 2nd edition in 2015.

Dungeons & Dragons has brought a tsunami of new players to the table-top roleplaying game hobby. That is fantastic. But there are other games out there – games that appeal to different tastes or can add variety to your gaming-life. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) is one of the other classic games out there. I love both D&D and WFRP. This article will help you decide if WFRP is for you? The game was released in a fourth edition in late 2018 by Cubicle 7, so it is a perfect time to start.

As this is meant as a primer to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I will not go into a deep comparison of the new edition versus older editions. But I will compare the fourth edition to other current games. In a later post, I hope to go into a more in-depth review of the 4th edition.

Before I go into the details, let me note that WFRP is not one thing. The setting has evolved over time, from edition to edition, and each group will play it in their own way. There is no ‘right way’ to play WFRP. That said, the current edition is not designed to emulate the high fantasy universe of the more well-known Warhammer Fantasy Battle, by Games Workshop. The rules and setting are close to the 1st and 2nd edition, but with a number of changes.

What is special about WFRP – in a few bullet points:

  •  The Warhammer role-playing universe has many of the common fantasy tropes like savage orcs, stubborn dwarves and prideful elves, but is set in a fantasy Europe in approximately the 16th century. There is gunpowder.
  •  Warhammer is known among many as ‘grim dark fantasy’. Violence is more explicit, magic is less prevalent and more adult themes and elements are common. You can expect gore, plague and diarrhea, bad teeth, amputated limbs from critical hits and drug-using sex cults (but which elements you include or focus on is ultimately up to you and your game master).
  • The ruinous powers – chaos – is the main enemy of most games. It is both an outside military threat, but also an insidious threat luring men with its power.
  • The game has a lot of humor as a contrast to the tragedy, violence, poverty and ugliness of the setting. In our group, it is often the quirky, down on their luck, sometimes pathetic, characters forced to make bad decision by circumstance that add a lot of laughter to the game.
  • Combat is violent and can easily result in amputations or death
  • It is low magic. You can play wizards and priests with spells. Characters ARE special in that way, but in the wide society that magic rare. There are no magic items in the core rules, which is an indication of how rare they are.
  • Your character probably doesn’t know how to read and write
  • The social status of the characters matters a lot. An adventuring group of mercenaries, tomb robbers, river wardens and peddlers are unlikely to be admitted to the count’s court, despite having “vital” information about an orc invasion.

D&D is essentially a game about fighting monsters and finding treasure. You can see that, looking at the three core rulebooks, one is about fighting monsters, one is about monsters you can fight and about a thirds of the final book is about the treasure you can find.

If you look at the Warhammer rulebook with the same lens, I would say the game is about struggling to achieve a better life in the face of adversity, poor luck, vengeful gods and an unforgiving and unfair world.  The adventures also happen in between your ‘regular’ life as a cavalry soldier, rat catcher or merchant – few hunter monsters or loot dungeons as a ‘career’.

What characters can I play?

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The servant is a classic career. Perhaps you accidentally burnt down the inn you worked in and ran away, or maybe you are the loyal servants of one of the other player characters, who is of a more lofty position? 

The character creation method and advancement system are one of the unique aspects of WFRP. Your character has a job (a career), and it is typically not glamourous, or quite the opposite, and you start at the bottom. There are 64 careers in total, each with four tiers in their ‘career path’. You can for example start the game as a peasant, a pauper, a dock hand, a body snatcher (digging up corpses, to sell them to physicians trying to learn anatomy (or is he really a necromancer…?)), an apothecary’s apprentice or potentially a noble scion or apprentice wizard. You can select what career you want – but you get bonus xp if you let the dice decide.

As you go on adventures, you both become more skilled (you improve your abilities and skills) and you advance your career – for example from pauper to beggar king or student lawyer to judge. Or you can break to new careers. Perhaps your Townsman is down on her luck and becomes a Pit fighter. Or you have an unfortunate adventure and your Boatman ends up as Outlaw. But essentially, the only restrictions on how you build your characters, what skills you take or talents you learn is set by the game master.

The game is excellent for a thematic game group: a cursed travelling circus, the crew of a river barge, a squad of watchmen, a criminal gang or the henchmen of a baron exiled to the Border Princes.

The amazing thing about this system is that it works as an internal story engine for each character. Each character’s development becomes its own cool story, partly driven by the trappings you need in your career. You may, for example, need to acquire a river boat to become a merchant or get your own gang of thugs to become a gang boss – all excellent role-playing drivers.

Clearly, your starting character is less competent than a D&D character. Furthermore, a D&D character will move from more mundane adventures to high fantasy at around 5th level in a few sessions. In WFRP you will stay much longer as more mundane and killable characters and may never move up to shape regional or world events.

What adventures will we have?

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Fighting orcs in a dungeon is also a common experience in WFRP, but also far deadlier one…

A Warhammer game can be about exploring dungeons, kicking down doors, killing monsters and finding treasure. There are certainly plenty of fallen dwarf strongholds, ancient tombs and necromancer’s towers around. But the survival rate is likely going to be low.

More common adventures would be investigating strange murders that lead to a chaos cult, which has infiltrated the local town council. Or perhaps recovering the cargo of a stolen river barge or stealing a mysterious artefact from a local collector. It could also be the classic escorting a caravan across Axe Bite Pass or less D&D-like instigating a peasant uprising in the neighboring barony – all depending on what kind of characters you have.

It is likely, as you advance your careers, the goals and adventures become loftier – with a burgomeister (mayor), spy master and a cavalry officer in the group, the adventures will quickly turn political or very personal.

Because characters don’t have the repertoire of spells and special abilities of D&D, more investigation  focused adventures are easier to pull off, while combat heavy adventures are more difficult. You are not going to have 4-6 encounters in an adventuring day, as a critical hit can easily shatter your hip or crush your elbow, effectively crippling the character. Wounds like that takes 30+D10 days to heal, and you may need to find a surgeon to get if fully fixed. Let’s just hope the wound doesn’t get infected…

What is the system like?

The fundamental system is percentile – roll D100 below your percentage chance, which is a combination of your attribute and your relevant skill. An example would be a character with Dexterity 38 and Lockpick 15 for a total of 53%. You just have to roll under to succeed (in a simple scenario).

However, in this edition, there are more opposed rolls, which means you need to keep track of how well you succeed.

Compared to D&D, the characters are simpler with fewer complex combat options. The game has the equivalence of Feats, called Talents (examples are Nose for Trouble, Seasoned Traveller, Holy Hatred and Berserk Charge). There are more than in D&D, but many aren’t combat focused.

That said, there are some fiddly bits that I’d wager most people don’t remember in their first few sessions.

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Expect your characters to get badly hurt and develop ‘the galloping trots’ after eating ‘Mystery Meat Pie’ while on a stakeout – for the merriment of everyone. In Warhammer you are frequently faced with the smell of shit – and sometimes it is your own.

In combat the system works with more modifiers to attacks than D&D, most rolls are opposed and hit locations are important. It reminds me a bit of D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder in that way, where you often had to add and subtract multiple modifiers.

Critical hits are also more important than in D&D and you can fumble – including fumbling casting a spell. Furthermore, weapons and armor have qualities that influence each encounter.

All taken together, that makes the core of the combat more crunchy than D&D and a bit fiddly – but WFRP does not have the hundreds of complex spells, which at higher levels can bog down the game.

You can’t get resurrected in Warhammer, but it does have a system of Fate Points, which you can spend, if the dice turn against you or you did something stupid, like hunting skaven in the sewers beneath Altdorf. You might have 2 or 3, so deaths are likely over time.

What books do I need?

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The Enemy Within Campaign is widely regarded as one of the best campaigns published for any RPG. Cubicle 7 may publish a 4th ed. version, as it is set in the same timeline as 1st edition.

For fourth edition you only need one book: the core rules. It has all the rules, 30+ pages of setting information, 25 pages on religion and a solid selection of monsters – enough for many, many games.

A starter set is out on PDF (should be out in print in June 2019). It contains more information about a specific town called Übersreik (a solid 65 pages), a long adventure and several short adventure ideas (48 pages), handouts and some premade characters. The starter set is meant to teach newcomers to the hobby to run the game. It has situationally specific boxes on the rules you need with examples.

The core rulebook is – in my view – not written to introduce new players to Warhammer. So, if you’ve never played WFRP, I think the starter set is a good option.

Do I need minis?

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You don’t need minis to play WFRP! But here are some of my Warhammer minis.

No. The game is less grid-focused than D&D, mainly because you have less need for spell area of effect and the like. But if you like miniatures, there are 30+ years of minis to pick from. Although, the old vintage ones can be pricey.

Where can I learn more?

There are dozens of books from the previous editions available. Some are classic campaigns and source books, like the Enemy Within, which still command high prices in good condition. But you can probably get many 2nd edition books cheaply.

There are also a large range of novels to get inspiration from, although the newer ones from Games Workshop are more related to the Fantasy Battle version of the setting.

My personal recommendations would be the original Gotrek and Felix short stories Troll Slayer (which you can find in the First Omnibus, containing Troll Slayer, Skaven Slayer & Demon Slayer ), the novel Beasts in Velvet as well as the collection of short stories Ignorant Armies – which are out of print. But the Ambassador and the other parts of that series is also a fine grim dark read.

Curse of Strahd – a review from a player perspective

Curse of Strahd is the best published adventure that I’ve ever played in. The atmosphere is fantastic, the locations, NPCs and villains are interesting, tragic and funny and the campaign requires you to play skillfully. And I must say, played in, not played to the end, because we TPK’ed about half-way through… I will keep the review spoiler free. Perhaps you will buy it for your DM? DM’s like that kind of sucking up (you can buy it here)!

Curse of Strahd can be improved (or modified) though, and I hope any DMs who run it will consider my perspective. As a reviewer, my challenge is that I haven’t read the campaign. I’ve only played in it, and therefore my DM’s choices, awesomeness, mistakes, additions or oversights is reflected in my opinion.

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Cover of the original 1983 module.

The sand-box campaign is a remake of the original Ravenloft module. The original mainly focused on the dungeon – the castle itself. The remake is bigger and contains Strahd’s domain of Barovia and several locations and many NPCs living there.

We played with the Rest Variant – Gritty Realism (DMG pg. 267), with the change that you could use HD to regain spell slots. I think this added a lot of tension to the whole story, and helps create a more realistic timeline.

What I really liked:

  • Lore, which is important to your survival, is scattered all over. Every time you speak to an NPC or find a new location, you have a sense that there is more pieces to recover for the grand puzzle. It made the world feel important and alive, and exploration and paying attention to detail was essential.
  • It is difficult. It is hard to judge what locations are the most dangerous, and you feel very vulnerable in the beginning. We got somewhat overconfident though, which was stupid, and partly led to our demise. It feels like Skyrim without the save functionality.
  • Loot and good equipment is scarce. The supply of goods in Barovia is limited, and stuff like armor and spell components are hard to get. It added a fun dimension that we had to struggle for items even at level 5 and 6.
  • The mood is awesome, and there are some great stories and people and sub-plots in the adventure.
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    The Tarokka cards help define the adventure, for example who you can expect to be your ally or Strahd’s weakness. But they are cryptic ofcourse.

    The card mechanic that helps define the campaign (and was in the original, I believe) adds re-play-ability, which is good for us, as we never reached the end.

What I disliked or would want changed:

  • Everyone we met, basically said that everywhere was dangerous (and it was compared to the villagers). But after you survive the first few locations that description becomes less meaningful, and led us to misjudge the location where we TPK’ed. Only one NPC hinted that one location was beyond us, until we were significantly more experienced. I would like a little more indicators as to the danger level, because let’s face it, it will be years before we try the adventure again.
  • The Curse of Strahd (and Storm King’s Thunder) use milestone XP, and we didn’t like that. We don’t find it satisfying as players to walk up to a new location and then the DM tells us we get a level, because the adventure says so. We want to earn it. But on the other hand, it seems like there isn’t enough material in the adventure to progress to the required level the old-fashioned way. Thus, the DM would have to add a few more locations and plots.
  • I would like even more minor locations and sub-plots.

We TPK’ed, after we had visited Castle Ravenloft once to steal an important item. The heist was an evening full of tension, and I wished there were more direct hints to go to a part of the castle to complete a specific task during the adventure. It seems like many save the castle to last, but that is not necessarily the right thing to do.

One of the things that was a bit mysterious to me was the fact that one of the cards we drew led us to the encounter where we TPK’ed. At 6th level we were completely outmatched. And I mean completely. We were all dead at the end of round two. We may have missed something obvious, but I’m not sure directing us there, to something that is clearly evil (and we are mainly good guys), and expecting us to come out ahead, is good design.

We only saw a small portion of Castle Ravenloft, and I assume there is a lot of interesting material in there.

We will try again…

After our wipe, we talked about picking the adventure up again after a couple of years, and perhaps starting at level 5, with the initial elements of the story completed, narrating that part together with the DM, and drawing fresh cards. I know for sure that I would like to return to Castle Ravenloft and face the Lord of Barovia.

For now, though, we’ve begun a game, where we play low level mobsters (or petty criminals who know some mobsters, really) in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in the glorious city of Luccini. It is going to be great fun!

 

 

Gaming 2015 in Retrospect and looking forward

Looking back at my 2015 gaming year, the grand event was the end of my long Warhammer Fantasy Role-play campaign. It ended magnificently. We tied up many lose ends. The characters saved their home town from a chaos horde as commanders of a large army, and they brought their long standing rival, Baron Pleskai von Wallenstein to justice, after he sired a child on a demon-worshipping witch.

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This is what my 6 years of notes look like. I was also awarded a Purity Seal by my players for my efforts. It is one of the best gifts ever. 

The satisfaction of ending the campaign is immense. My players have enjoyed it a lot, and we’ve really explored the game world and the system. At the end, they were among the most powerful individuals in the Warhammer world, and even those with more individual strength hesitated to tangle with them. At the same time we retained the low-fantasy mood in their day-to-day lives, and by playing some of the NPCs.

It was, intentionally, a relatively rail-roaded campaign with a set ending – the consequences along the way were not cut in stone though. When people meet on a Wednesday night every other week after work, many with kids and family at home, I think there is a lot of merit in playing an action-packed campaign, where the amount of intrigue and investigation is relatively limited. My players really need to roll some initiative and have some memorable moments in order to stay focused and entertained. I will bring that to my D&D campaign.

In 2015 we also had 9 sessions playing the original Temple of Elemental Evil module with D&D 5ed rules. It was more popular than I anticipated and often we were 6-8 people around the table. It is very much a ‘kick in the door’ style of play, and we add a few beers and lots of minis to the mix. It is well suited for Friday night! I think we will continue with more sessions throughout 2016.

Looking at 2016
I started my D&D campaign in 2015, before my Warhammer game was done, because I thought a core player from my Warhammer group was supposed to be in Asia for a couple of months. But as that didn’t happen (due to a snapped collar bone), we got it started, but then reverted to Warhammer to finish it. I would have liked to have kept the focus on one and then the other campaign, but for 2016 I can keep my mind on this D&D homebrew and really get cracking. I do love world building, but it is a lot of work! And as we are expecting our first child in a month’s time, I will have to figure out how to manage it in the best way. Less video gaming will probably be a component!

My D&D homebrew is much less railroaded than my Warhammer game. I have to improvise more and run with it, and try to be a little less detailed in my planning. To do that, I’ve decided to work with the 5×5 Campaign Design method [Read more on 5×5 Campaign Design]. In essence, you have a matrix of 25 adventures, where you know the basic plot for each one, but the characters can shift from one to the other more or less as they see fit. It should help me always have a plot thread ready, so my players experience freedom, but never are in doubt about what they could spend their time on.

In 2016 we also have to play many new board games. And replay some of the old ones. Hmm. Maybe another bout of Twilight Imperium – a favourite in my gaming group?

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Awesome game. But don’t believe Fantasy Flight Game’s claim that you can play it in 3-4 hours. That is silly. Twilight Imperium home page

Thanks to the all the people who I had the pleasure of gaming with during 2015! I really look forward to 2016.

 

Books that Inspired my Campaigns – Part II

Song of Ice and Fire

This series made me step out of the traditional mold when it came to world-design. Before I read the first novels of the series, my campaign worlds had been pretty standard “European” or it had been Earthdawn (which as a game itself also inspired me a lot). Westeros was not what I found most inspiring, but the decadent and old lands of the east are very cool with places such as Astapor and Mereen. I made a campaign called the Far Seas, a maritime campaign with a lot of islands, where I put in big Jade pyramids, nomadic Halfling armadas, lost gods, fantastic cities with ancient monuments and strange magical effects. Looking at many published campaigns today, Far Seas isn’t exceptional, but it was a good step for me, and it was so popular that when I moved to another town, a frieSOIFnd of mine ran a campaign in that world. That is a pretty big compliment.

“Aggo was back next. The southwest was barren and burnt, he swore. He had found the ruins of two more cities, smaller than Vaes Tolorro but otherwise the same. One was warded by a ring of skills mounted on iron spears, so he dared not enter, but he had explored the second one as long as he could. He showed Dany an iron bracelet he had found, set with uncut fire opal the size of her thumb.”
– A Song of Ice and Fire

 

Dark Souls

The fantastic video game Dark Souls is a masterpiece of game design. I’m intensely inspired by the level design. The way the world seamlessly flows together and slowly reveals new secrets and connections has to be experienced. The story of the world, its mythos, and the NPC’s stories and motives are extremely opaque and are only revealed by examining all objects and if certain specific steps are taken in the right order. And in Dark Souls outcomes and decisions are permanent, so if you attacked that NPC or he died in a battle, you will have to start a new game to try a different path. This is an exploration element that I really like as well, and is an approach I’m attempting in my current D&D campaign.

Watch the show ‘Extra Play’ on Youtube play and deconstruct Dark Souls game design.

They way that you avatar’s experience mirrors your experience as a player is masterful design. The setup of many of the monster encounters is also very interesting and can easily be used in D&D.

Dark Souls II has less interesting level design (it is still great), but it is also visually very inspiring for my current campaign.

When it comes to video role-playing games, it is – in my experience – when it comes to mechanics and exploration the closest you can come to a pen & paper game. The reason is that you can approach enemies and problems in many ways, which is close to your experience in a pen & paper game.

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Approaching the Red Drake. The staircase on the right is a wise move.

 

For my current D&D campaign I’ve not fully taken the plunge into making my own version of a coherent world where the campaign basically all takes within a dungeon. I’ve more tried to let myself be inspired by the design philosophy behind it. If I were to go all the way, D&D would not necessarily be a great system, as many of the spells would need to be modified. But any system would probably need to be modified, in order for the system to emphasize the way the world and campaign should work.

 Playing at the World
This book is about the history of D&D and the games that led to this revolution. It led me deeper into the ideas in the original D&D and made me want to go back to basics – although without going back to some of the OD&D versions of the game, as I have a preference for the smooth mechanics of 5th edition. It is a massive book (600+ pages), and you will learn something you didn’t know.

playing at the worldOne thing that I’ve taken directly to heart in both my home brew campaign and in our Temple of Elemental Evil game is that D&D originally had three core aspects: combat, exploration and logistics. Exploration is of course a cornerstone of my new homebrew. The last part I also find very interesting. I think it is quite apparent that among my players there are different preferences for these elements. Logistics is about how much ammunition to bring, what spells to select and dividing treasure. I have previously skipped this somewhat, but I will try to have it as a more intentional element, for example by using the construction rules from Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign.

It led me to buy many vintage modules online, and there are some great ideas in them as well.

“Into the dramatic structure of Dungeons & Dragons, the mode of logistics injects some much needed banality: after the suspense of exploring and the adrenaline of bloodshed, the chore of logistics, even when they border on tedium, serve as an important counterweight to adventures.” (In Playing at the World, by Jon Peterson)

The Scramble for Africa

Africa is a vast and extremely varied continent, and both its nature and

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Amazon naturally has all the books: if you’re interested

history is an inspiration to me. Recently I read this history of how the European Powers explored and carved up between them the many independent kingdoms and more or less inhabited wilderness of Africa. The exploration element is as always interesting to me – the hardship in traversing deep jungle and the couple of years that Stanley spent traversing the continent East to West. The brutality of the conflicts and of the rule of some of the African kings can also be used in D&D, as can the power play between the nations trying to grab as much land as possible.

“Stanley looked at the majestic brown river flowing past the tall square houses and the baobab trees. Its calmness seemed to him a kind of hypocrisy. It had robbed him of so many of his best men, including Frank Pocock, the last survivor of his three white companions. Even now Stanley felt the hollowness of his triumph. He had sailed from Zanzibar with more than 250 men, women and children. Only 108 would now return safely to their homes.”
The Scramble for Africa, Stanley arrives at the west coast of Africa

The Italian Renaissance

Italy, before it became a nation and was a collection of city states, is so full of intrigue, war and conflict that period has near limitless potential for inspiration for almost any role-playing game – but for Warhammer Fantasy Role-play in particular. As there is so much surviving art and written works from the region and period, there is a lot of potential reading to do. I just needed an overview before a visit to Florence, and I picked up The Italian Renaissance. It deals with both a few central topics such as Women and Princes and the State, and has a chapter on each of the major city-states, and for someone growing up in a modern democracy; I find it helpful to be reminded of the attitudes, government structures and social structures of other people and other times. It can add some memorable tweaks to your NPCs and campaign setting.

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Monument to the most feared mercenary genral in Italy John Hawkwood (Fading Suns, anyone?), who fought for Florence

“On this knowledge the Council acted swiftly and silently, for no public trials enlivened the Venetian scene, and there were no appeals. Once found guilty, the prisoner was sometimes quickly and efficiently strangled in the dungeons or thrown into a part of the lagoon reserved for the purpose, where no fishing was allowed; or hanged by one leg from the pillars of the Doge’s Palace; or quartered and distributed about the city; or buried upside down in the Pazetta, legs protruding; or beheaded – as a public spectacle – between the great pillars on which stand Saint Theodore, with his crocodile and the winged lion of Saint Mark.”
– The Italian Renaissance, on how its Council of Ten kept power through its intelligence system.

 

Dresden Files

The Dresden Files didn’t make it to the top-10 list, but I include it as an honourable mention, as I think it can teach you a thing or two when it comes to upping the stakes and making the stories more action packed.  The Dresden Files demonstrates that you can always kick it up a notch!7bcd5b3f4e4c8b81976032eb67030845

Ending a 6 years campaign

We had our 90th and penultimate game session with our Warhammer group Wednesday.

It is with anxiety, joy and sadness that I end the campaign. I am quite anxious to end the campaign on a high note, and it is a joy to see the players revel in it and enjoy the epic finale, and it is with sadness that I am saying farewell to a story line and a group of characters that have lasted for that long. As a GM I’ve never had a game experience like this. The characters are like old friends, who easily fall into their old habits and quarrels.

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The siege of Middenheim. The illustration is from the Fantasy Battle book the Storm of Chaos, which I’ve consulted since the beginning of the campaign.

The end has to come now. The system is at its absolute limit and the story is reaching an epic conclusion that cannot be topped.

If you are familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (or Battle) you will know what the Storm of Chaos is. For those unfamiliar with it, it is basically the apocalyptic invasion of a great general, who has united the four Chaos Powers and part of the world canon, described in quite a bit of detail. When I dreamed up the campaign, I wanted to have the character’s lives and fates intertwined with that story-line. That has succeeded. They are invested on a personal level and get to experience, as central protagonists, defining moments in the Warhammer world: the Siege of Middenheim and the death of Valten, the reborn image of the God Sigmar.

So the climactic battle last session was pretty wild, with player’s who started as lowly rat catchers,

The über-bad Games Workshop evil guy who wants to destroy the world.
The über-bad Games Workshop evil guy who wants to destroy the world.

smugglers and mercenaries facing off against multiple chaos giants, ogres and finally the great chaos lord Archaon himself and subsequently a greater daemon.

It was definitely fun, and awesome and epic.

From a mechanical and narrative perspective the battle worked really well. I had a strategic level, a tactical level and an encounter level in the battle. They had to allocated the strength of their relieving undead army to various crisis-points, with pre-determined outcomes, depending on the strength committed. When they had to save the gates to the city from being breached, we played with minis on a company level, with the characters as single unit, with several special abilities. When they moved into certain areas of the causeway they had encounters with their characters, and the resolution of the encounters impacted the tactical struggle and the future encounters.

I would have loved though if the final two encounters (which was basically one long encounter) had been a bit more on the edge of their capability, making it a more tense affair, just like their last big encounter (in a previous session) with Vardek Crom, the Herald of the End Times. However, in a system like Warhammer, it is incredibly easy to tip the balance completely. And I didn’t roll well either.

The artifact warhammer Ghal Maraz. The brutal and simple warrior from Kislev, Stanislav, picked it up and hit the BBEG in the face. When he returned it to the Emperor his answer was: 'it is alright. I have a flail.'
The artifact warhammer Ghal Maraz. The brutal and simple warrior from Kislev, Stanislav, picked it up and hit the BBEG in the face. When he returned it to the Emperor his answer was: ‘it is alright. I have a flail.’

Looking at this Swordsman’s guide to creating encounters Encounter Guide I did a couple of things wrong. I stayed within the rules, but in the interest of tension, I should perhaps have added wounds (HP in D&D parlance) to the evil guys. I followed Ringo’s advice on mixing up the battle half-way, and pushed the characters around the battlefield. But I should have confounded expectations more, and maybe screwed with the battlefield in some interesting way. I could also have added a lieutenant or two, because it does create a much more interesting dynamic. However, as it was the Siege of Middenheim I also felt somewhat constrained, as they meet the Lord of the End Times shortly after he had slain Valten in single combat.

Ultimately, you want the characters to succeed, but it should be really difficult.

The final session (or two), will be have a more personal focus, with the group trying to use their strategic ability to rescue their home town from a subsidiary chaos force and perhaps confronting their arch enemy, Baron Wallenstein of Würzen. My challenge as a GM is to make it a fitting conclusion to all their struggles, failures, victories, retreats, cabbage eating and hardship.

Books that inspired my campaigns (part 1)

My friend, and sometimes Game Master, Johannes, described some of the books that inspire him as a GM on his blog Sort Forsyning top 13 books (it’s in Danish). That in turn inspired me to share some of the books that I find are great inspiration for role-playing games. I think it will be a (current) top ten. I hope you get inspired too!

Malazan Book of the Fallen
deadhousegatesstoneerikson

These 10 books have so many cool ideas that it is mind boggling. It shows in the stories that the author has a background in anthropology and archaeology, as cultures and lands have layers upon layers of history, with different technology levels and magic. The world building was very interesting to me. It is very far from the traditional Gary Gygax medieval knights world.

I love them, but the books aren’t equally great, and were hard to read as they came out, as the amount of people and plot lines you have to keep track of is staggering. That said, I’ve lifted a number of ideas from these books straight into my current D&D campaign. I also wanted to replicate the magic system, where each “school of magic” (sort of) is drawn from a particular plane. But it was too much work for D&D spells and planes are so heavily integrated into the rules.

It is also dark, gritty and funny. The second book, Dead House Gates, and its story of the Chain of Dogs, remains the most riveting and gut wrenching fantasy story I’ve read.

Duiker was well past astonishment at anything he saw. Like the Tithansi tribesmen he’d occasionally exchanged words with, he’d begun to believe that Coltaine was something other than human, that he had carved his soldiers into unyielding avatars of the impossible. Yet for all that, there was no hope of victory. 
(Deadhouse Gates)

Sharpe
Bernard Cornwell has written 21 novels with the hard as nails British soldier Sharpe, who has his career during the Napoleonic Wars – mainly in the Peninsular Wars under Wellington. They are great adventures, full of good plot ideas, and they were the main inspiration for my Warhammer campaign. Cornwell’s insight, that to make the story interesting, he had to make enemies and obstacles on Sharpe’s own side just as big a feature as the enemy, is something I used. I alsoRifles drew a lot of inspiration for the military campaign side of things, with the size of the army train, the unwieldiness of the artillery and the chaos and confusion of battle that Cornwell describes so well. Being part of a military organization is obviously also a powerful motivator for going on ‘missions’. Cornwell writes great action, and there are a lot of skirmish battles with company sized units, that I also drew upon for my campaign.

“Powder smoke spurted from the orchard, showing that Dragoons [no, not dragons!] barred that escape, yet it was his only hope. He shouted up the ladder. ‘Come down!’ He turned to Harper. ‘We’ll take the Spaniards with us. We are breaking southwards.
‘They’ll catch us.’
‘Better that than dying like rats in a pit. Fix swords!’
(Sharpe’s Rifles)

khazad dumLord of the Rings (and Silmarillion)
It needs no introduction. For years it was one of the few fantasy novels available to me, because we had it at home in Danish. When I became better at English as a teenager, they whole fantasy field opened up, and I’m still trying to read through all the Fantasy Masterworks. But Tolkien will always be there, with the magic, orcs and journeys, and I still love ancient dwarf keeps full of secrets, treasure and ancient evil (and so does many of my players!). Don’t think I’ve ever made a fantasy campaign without a lost dwarf keep.

“The orcs have often plundered Moria; there is nothing left in the upper halls. And since the dwarves fled, no one dares seek the shafts and treasuries down in the deep places: they are drowned in water – or in a shadow of fear.
(Gandalf, in the Fellowship of the Ring)

The Fall of the Roman Empire – A New History
This book is fantastic. It really inspires my world-building in many ways. Fundamentally, it provides insight into how that empire was ruled, from a variety of perspectives, including logistically and politically, and how half of it ultimately collapsed. Some of the key points I have taken from it are: rampant corruption, civil war every 20 years, high level of autonomy because of the limits of the administrative system, and the size of armies that could disrupt it -around 10,000 displaced tribal the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-978033049136503warriors settled in the Balkans created a domino effect that contributed heavily to the fall of the Empire.

Then there are some practical details around travelling, where I think in most fantasy games the logistics and time involved is underestimated. Theophanes had to travel from Egypt to Antioch (in Turkey). The trip was on great roman public roads, which made it very quick – he travelled 40 kilometres (around 25 miles) per day. With him, he brought a group of slaves, and soldiers for parts of the trip. This meant that the journey lasted almost a month. For his slaves he bought 160 litres of wine for the return journey, and bought two bottles for the same price for himself (obviously a better vintage). As he hardly knew anyone along the way, he also had to bring dozens of valuable gifts for other important Romans that he met.

“Running the Roman Empire with communications then available was akin to running, in the modern day, an entity somewhere between five and ten times the size of the European Union.”
(The Fall of the Roman Empire – A New History)

Undaunted Courage

This is the story of the legendary Meriwether Lewis who, together with William Clark, Sacagaewea and their party, was the first to cross America over land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is an adventure of the highest order, and really gave me a lot of inspiration for eUndauntedxploration of the untamed wilderness, and you see how resourceful humans can be. It is a direct inspiration for my current D&D campaign, where the characters help settle a new an unknown land.

“Together, under the leadership of the captains, they had become family. They could recognize one another at night by a cough, or a gesture; they knew one another’s skills, and weaknesses, and habits, and background: who liked salt, who preferred liver; who shot true, got the cooking fire going quickest; where they came from, what their parents were like, what dreams they had…They would triumph, or die, as one.”
(Undaunted Courage)

In the next part I will be touching upon The Song of Ice and Fire, a book about Africa and a video game, among others.