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.
  • dnd_curstrahd_tarokka
    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.

IMG_1206
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?

twi
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.

dark-souls
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

scramble for africa
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.

IMG_0386
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.

Running War and Battles in roleplaying

As I decided to run a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying campaign 8 years ago centered around the Storm of Chaos (a great invasion into the lands of men), I naturally had to introduce war and battles as key elements of the fiction. I’ve describe 3 methods to include battles below.
Battles have since then worked as backdrop, motivation and important story and character development opportunities. Urs_Graf_Schrecken_des_Kriegs_1521

In general, in my roleplaying campaigns I do put a significant emphasis on the ‘game’ part of ‘roleplaying games’. We have to roll some dice, follow some rules and let part of the tension and drama emerge from the randomness of letting the dice fall where they may. Therefore it is important that we also have a ‘game’ around some of the battles and major skirmishes of the game, and that they outcome of each battle came into question. The characters influence on the outcome was in the beginning very limited, but as they grew in power, the influence has become more significant.

I thought my experience with it could be helpful to others who want to include that element in their campaign.

The Story mode:
When the characters were weak and socially and politically unimportant, I let the mood, action and drama evolve around the build-up, march to the battlefield and the aftermath of the battle. This includes solving supply problems, scouting, recovering lost messages, surviving assaults on their supply lines and so on. I used the pushing paper method (below) for a minor skirmish. The battle itself can be entirely narrated, particularly when they are very weak, or you can add an event element. In my first use of this method they lost, and the whole retreat (read, fleeing in panic), was a central element of the story, and the events around that gave a lot of mood and depth to the story, and both a feeling for the characters that they were unimportant, and at the same time had an impact by rescuing some and creating some order in the chaotic aftermath.

Pushing Paper:
To have a battle that involves dice, but without using 300 minis, I’ve used a Warhammer Fantasy Battle Light game using paper and card board. I make a map on our white board battle map, and create a card board counter for each unit. We roll D6 for their weapon skill (3+, 4+ etc. to hit), and D6 for armor saves, but I cut toughness rolls to reduce the number of dice rolls. Casualties were simply counted off the unit’s strength, either at a 1:1 ratio, or using whatever ratio that seemed appropriate for the size of the battle. I also have some rudimentary rules for movement, cover etc.

In a battle where the characters were leading their town militia and a contingent of knights, the characters were their own unit, and I reverted to regular role-playing rules, when they entered into combat with the opposing champion.

This worked quite well for large skirmishes and minor battles. It has gotten the characters really involved, it is a fun break away from the regular roleplaying combat, and it creates its own narratives about the heroic squires who routed a group of beastmen taking only one casualty and so on. It also has the group invested in getting more troops to defend their town, as it has an actual game impact.

Event-based battle:
I’ve run two versions of these types of battles:

Type 1:Alexanderschlacht_(Soldaten)
You can have a battle where the characters have no impact on the outcome of the battle, but each experience events during the battle. This could be individual opportunities for heroics, or the opposite – to skulk away or flee a challenge. The key element in my view is that there are significant choices to be made. In one instance, as they were part of a company, they had the chance to rescue or help other members of the company before they got killed or maimed (or not). I also enjoy keeping the events partly random, as it adds to the ‘game’ element and prevents me from designing challenges that were specific meant to be just the right difficulty for any character.

Type 2:
A second type is a battle where the characters are powerful and can, as a team, significantly influence the final outcome. I introduced a victory point system for this type of battle. In essence, each event can lead to various numbers of victory points, and the battle will have different outcomes depending on how many victory points they score. The victory conditions obviously have to be predetermined. Again I think a key point is having hard choices for them to make, as the Warhammer universe is very grim. Thus sacrifice and bitter choices are central parts of the game. For example, they had to indirectly select which commander they wanted to lead the human forces. There were three choices, and all three had benefits and drawbacks, but they couldn’t get an “optimal” commander.

By introducing victory points I also force the direction of the campaign into the hands of the characters, and prevent myself from fudging it into the result I prefer. I think it is very satisfying to play, and reinforces that we are playing a game.

All in all, I find the battles to be very fun and dramatic elements in the campaign, and as a theme for a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign, it has worked extremely well.

One a side note, the format was initially inspired by Bernard Cornwell’s excellent Sharpe series of novels, about an English soldier fighting all the way through the Peninsular Campaign of the Napoleonic War.

Warhammer über-talents

In my 6-year long Warhammer 2nd edition campaign, I ran into the problem that some of the characters were running out of meaningful career exits and basically had nothing left to spend their experience on. At first I made a ‘Badass List’, which was simply a selection of skills and talents they could buy, even if they weren’t part of their career, simply because they were so experienced adventurers (such as Intimidate, Hardy and Seasoned Traveller).

When that wasn’t enough, I decided to make a second tier of talents: the Ultra-badass list. We’ve been using it for several sessions now, and a lot of them are actually playing out quite well. It is quite an epic campaign at this stage, so another 5 in strength or an extra parry does not break the feel of the campaign, but clearly puts them into a very special category among the heroes of the empire. And a trait like Fearless for the extremely experienced and not very bright Kislevite warrior makes so much sense – it seems silly to roll fear checks that could incapacitate him over a vampire or a couple of skeletons, when he has met and seen dozens of them, and other, worse, things.

I’ve also tried to keep the Faustian elements for the magical talents, and last session it worked really well. The bright wizard (Stefan Zauber) used his Blazing Furnace talent several times, and despite having 82 in Willpower, he began gaining insanity points and it pushed him close to the edge.

Warhammer is all about personal sacrifice against the forces of evil and the slow but inevitable descent into darkness. Having a Wizard Lord tethering on the edge of insanity in his attempts to save the empire is perfect for the mood and theme.

 

The Ultra-badass list:

Deadly Charge
Prerequisite: 3 Attacks
Description: When making the charge attack action, the character can attack twice instead of once.
Xp Cost: 200

Hitting the weak spots
Prerequisite: Sure Shot, BS 60
Description: When using a missile weapon, the weapon also counts as having the Armour Piercing Quality and the range of your missile weapons are increased by 50%.
Xp Cost: 200

Go for the Eyes!
Prerequisite: Sure shot
Description: You ignore an additional point of amour when using the aim action.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Strength
Prerequisite: Very Strong
Description: Add an additional 5% to your strength profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Toughness
Prerequisite: Very Resilient
Description: Add an additional 5% to your Toughness profile
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Skill with Arms
Prerequisite: Warrior Born
Description: Add an additional 5% to your WS profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Aim
Prerequisite: Marksman
Description: Add an additional 5% to your BS profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Reflexes
Prerequisite: Lightning Reflexes
Description: Add an additional 5% to your Agility profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Intellect
Prerequisite: Savy
Description: Add an additional 5% to your intelligence profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Force of Will
Prerequisite: Cool-headed
Description: Add an additional 5% to your willpower profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Charisma
Prerequisite: Suave
Description: Add an additional 5% to your Fellowship profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Never say die!
Prerequisite: Hardy
Description: You add 1 additional wound, and all crits made against you are reduced by 1 in severity, to a minimum of 1.
Xp Cost: 200 xp

The Aethyr is in my Blood
Prerequisite: Expert Aehtyric Attunement, any Arcane Lore
Description: When casting a spell, you can elect to add one to your casting roll for each of the magic dice you roll, at the cost of 1 wound for each bonus.
Xp Cost: 200

Deadly Missiles
Prerequisite: Mighty Missiles
Description: Your magical missiles are now exceptionally potent. You add 2 to each damage roll instead of 1.
Xp Cost: 200

Faster than the eye
Prerequisite: Master Dodge Blow
Description: You are now able to dodge missile attacks than you can see are directed against you, and you get +10 to pure Ag checks to avoid area attacks such as bombs, breath weapons and spells.
Xp Cost: 200

Wall of Steel
Prerequisite: Lightning Parry
Description: You can now sacrifice an attack to get an additional parry with your shield, in addition to the free parry, for a total of 2 parrys and 1 dodge per round.
Xp Cost: 300

Cat-like reflexes
Prerequisite: Sixth Sense or Master Perception
Description: You gain +10 to initiative
Xp Cost: 200

Fearless
Prerequisite: Stout-hearted
Description: You are immune to fear and treat terror as fear.
Xp Cost: 200

Morr and I are old friends
Prerequisite: Fearless
Description: You are immune to fear and terror
Xp Cost: 200

Feel the might of my god!
Prerequisite: Strike Mighty Blow, Any Divine Lore
Description: As a full attack you can strike a blow, and whisper a prayer to your god, and roll a WP check, to receive +1 damage for each casting dice, on a successful hit. The dice are still rolled to check for Wrath of the Gods.
Xp Cost: 200

Nimble Feet
Prerequisite: Swashbuckler or Fleet Footed
Description: You can move up to 10 feet in addition to a full attack action (you still draw attacks of opportunity).
Xp Cost: 200

Charmed fate
Prerequisite: Luck
Description: You receive an additional luck dice per day.
Xp Cost: 300

Hammer of the Gods
Prerequisite: Strike Mighty Blow, Heroic Strength
Description: Your melee attacks now count as having the Armour Piercing quality.
Xp Cost: 200

Fountain of knowledge
Prerequisite: Seasoned Traveller
Description: You now count as having all Common Knowledge skills
Xp Cost: 200

Lethal hits
Prerequisite: Strike to Injure
Description: The critical value of any critical hits you inflict are increased by an additional 1.
Xp Cost: 200

Close Quarter Battle Master
Prerequisite: Sharp Shooter, Strike to Injure
Description: You no longer take a penalty when firing into melee.
Xp Cost: 200

Armour Expert
Prerequisite: Strength 50, Toughness 50 or Sturdy
Description: You no longer take a penalty to Ag from wearing medium armour, or a penalty to movement from wearing heavy armour.
Xp Cost: 300

Blazing Furnace
Prerequisite: Aehtyric Attunement, Master Channeling , The Aethyr is in my Blood, Any Arcane Lore
Description: All spell’s area of effect are increased by 50%. Up to your magic characteristic number of damage rolls have the impact quality. For each damage roll with the impact quality roll WP or gain an insanity point.
Xp Cost: 200

Eagle Eye
Prerequisite: Sharp Shooter, BS 60, Hitting the Weak Spots
Description: Extreme Range hits are now made with only -10 penalty, and long range suffers no penalty.
Xp Cost: 200

Fly on the Wall
Prerequisite: Master Scale sheer surface
Description: You may use your agility in place of strength when climbing.
Xp Cost: 300