Write up 30th November 2023 – A lose soul in Khanedarya pt 2

This is a 3rd party published scenario. When the characters have finished it, I will post the information and a link here. Until then read no published adventure, JUST IN CASE!

Having placed the faceless woman with the Temple of the Cold Ones, the group, now joined by merchant prince and assassin, Jalabu the Fox, returned from various side trips along the way.

The group then headed to the Palace of Agents in the administration centre for the city, like most situated near the magistrate’s house and court, the main barracks and the lesser temple and stores.

The route skirted the edge of one of the markets, a bustling, cosmopolitan place where travellers met to do deals, build contacts and learn secrets. Then a shout “Jalabu! Friend Jalabu!” And two men strode towards the group.

Beaming, Jalabu the Fox, unable to place these two, but he had met so many in his travels, smiled and started to speak “We;; hello…” only to be cut off as yhey ignored them and started speaking to Farshad.

Farshad and the two had a social conversation of small talk and good wishes, and promises of deals to come, with frequent mentions of the name “Jalabu” directed at Farshad. Attempts by the `Fox to speak where hushed with and a word and a a wave from a smooth and confident Farshad, leaving Jalabu stunned and confused as he found his name being bandied around in connection with potential deals that would make his name known across the civilised world. As that name was attached to Farshad, that added to the Fox’s concerns by the time the merchants took their leave.

In reality this was true of the player also. Andy had been unable to make the last few sessions and wasn’t sure he’d make this one, so hadn’t read the last write-up. He had no idea what was going on and was speechless, and the whole situation did bring some hilarity to the players.

At the Palace, a rather grand name for some utilitarian buildings and accommodation, the group found themselves amidst a bustle of agents and scribes, but they were soon taken in to see the officer of the watch, who gave them some refreshments and heard their story from meeting the children, to the discovery of the faceless woman. The officer of the watch, Lutf, had a scribe take notes but, rather than assuming responsibility, asked the group to keep with it, for at least a couple of days, as the agents under their command were busy not only with security for the Epic at the Grand Theatre, normal criminal activity but also rumours of Zhuezhi activity at the border.

The group agreed. They were taken by accommodation by one of the scribes, who seemed to have been assigned as a guide, and they took an hour or two to freshen up. With regrets the group left armour behind, the city is not at war. Everything settled, they asked the scribe about perfumers, where might expensive and custom scents be found, They were taken back to the market, past less exclusive sellers of perfumes and scented resin and wood, to a more up-market area, an enclosed street guarded to keep out thieves and riff-raff.

However Utana’s dress sense, bearing and voice overawed the guards, and the group were ushered into the so called “Street of Scents”. Some more high handed dealings with merchants got them to The Red Bottle”, owned by Zuanada, the perfumer who made up the scent and, thanks to his own training with scents, though mostly in the field of detecting positions, Jalabu was able to home in on just the right scent. It was part of a group of scents made for an old family of the city, one from the previous rulers of these lands, before the coming of the Mada.

This exact scent was, however, created for Fernskundeh, a Priest of the Cold Ones who is famed for her beauty but. More importantly, her singing. It is she who plays the part of the god Mawet in the epic tonight celebrating the city. Hers is the role of the god Mawet, revered here as a feminine figure, and as patron of the city.

With this knowledge, they head back to the Temple. Finding the junior priest they had collared before, despite the nervous priests attempts to be unnoticed, give the horrific situation they landed the Temple with last time.  The group was able to seek another audience with the Librarian, They passed on the information regarding Fernskundeh, but were told that she would be at the Theatre. The Temple will send people down there to investigate, but please, the Agents should continue.

Fetnah was intrigued by the vision communicated to her by the spirit of Tanima

I saw a vision of the Place of Old Grief, a group of islands where memorial stones are placed. It is the largest of the islands, there is a plinth with nothing on it, the plinth are surrounded by statues in a ring, the statues all face the plinth, it is very distinctive. I do not know why it is significant.

And that was the next place visited by the group. Taking boats to the quiet area, a mix of neglected and tended, depending on the family devotion to their ancestors. This island, thought large, is sheltered by others, and the water sluggish and in places brackish.

It took a while, but a place matching the description was found though, instead of a bare plinth, a statue of a dog headed individual clad in painted robes was on it. The group were mystified by it, and threw rocks and stones in its general direction, even tried prodding it, until, despite all these inexpert interactions failing to make contact, the individual revealed itself as Eblan, a Rishalkibu, a reclusive type of mortal, often nomadic, some are of studious mind and settle as hermits, tending the spirits and often in a relationship of both servant and student,

Eblan has a tale to tell in answer to questioning by the group

This city has many secrets, and there are killers that will dispose of your enemies for money. One was here two nights ago, meeting a client. Both were hooded and cloaked, but he heard mention of the Epic of The Gods, and of Mawet, patron of Khanedarya, being held. The assassin seemed supremely confident.

With this information imparted, and no other specific details having been overheard, Eblan seemed disinclined to hang around those who had been throwing rocks at him, and so he went off. The group noticed that the island seemed quieter, empty, though they found close by the family memorials of Fernkunsdeh’s family, surely not a coincidence that this was close to the meetings place.

It wasn’t just other mourners who had quit the island, the boatmen had gone how were the group to get off the island>

That point may however be moot, as from the surround come some armed Zhuezhi, knives out, looking very unsympathically at the group.

And there we left it/

Posted in none yet | Leave a comment

Write up 16th November 2023 – A lost soul in Khanedarya

This is a 3rd party published scenario. When the characters have finished it, I will post the information and a link here. Until then read no published adventure, JUST IN CASE!

Juan José, Utana, Fetnah and Smersh return to the farm with two nervous children, distraught to see their burned out home, though at least their parents were buried, so they were spared that. They picked up Jalabu and Farshad, the latter of whom had been spending time working with the crow-spirit Aribu, getting to know each other.

The group intended to fulfil their promise to the ghost Hurat, to take these children to their only living relatives. All the children know is that the cousin of their mother, Darshana and her wife Surrayo live in the jeweller’s quarter. The describe Darshana as tall, Surrayo as short, but not much more could they remember.

They saddled up the horses, Jalabu and Juan José setting the children in front of them and setting off, rejoining the road and finding themselves safer amongst other groups, merchants, patrols, hunters and the like, until after a couple of days, Khanedarya was in sight.

Farshad spurred his horse over to a group of merchants only to hear one tell an extraordinary story, of having been taken in by a confidence trickster, who after a small but profitable deal them suckered him into a fake investment and stole the money. Another merchant told a similar tale, of a fake cargo of iron ingots. The identity of this thieve? A Shevam called Farshad.

The genuine Farshad commiserated with the merchants, who stressed that they did not condemn all Shevam because of this one, but they hoped to meet him again sometime and enact their vengeance. The merchants exchanged details of where they could be contacted with Farshad who, however, called himself “Jalabu” , in order to avoid conversational unpleasantness. as he rode away, Farshad thought to himself that for once, just once, it would be nice to be blamed for something he had actually done!

However, Farshad did find out what he wanted, which was to get an approximate idea of where the jewellers quarter was in the city. The group was able to get further directions at the city gates from the guards, who thankfully did not have to tell the group not divest themselves of war-gear as they had felt safe enough to wear travelling clothes.

Khanedarya, lying on the Sharqshud river, is built on several islands in the middle of branches of the river, enhanced with canals and artificial islands, the city is cosmopolitan, with travellers from many lands, though the largest minority of visitors are from the lands of the Zhuezhi, right across the border.

For some reason, I decided the inhabitants of this area spoke with a Welsh accent, and i occasionally delivered on that. Almost.

Following directions through the city, past islands with markets, industries and housing, fending off members of the artfully dishevelled Urchin’s Guild. Well organised under their bemittemed leader, Bernni of the Sands , until reaching the walled Jeweller’s Quarter (though not only Jewellers are here, there are places that serve the jewellers, such as the famous public eatery noted by the sign of a bear holding a fork) until reaching the riverside yellow door that they had been directed to.

The door was knocked, the introductions made and, after being invited in, the full, sad story was related, amongst many tears and hugs. The children were assured of a new home, and love and care, when Darshana’s and Surrayo’s daughter came in with news, a body has been found in a boat outside!

Reed boatsThe group rushed outside, a reed boat of a type they had see in the waterways here, poled by someone with passengers or cargo in the front, though some are wood, but built in the same style. A blanket was heaped in the boat, but with a foot and leg visible. Uncovering the form revealed a woman, dressed in overlarge clothing, though the most remarkable thing was her lack of face, where it should be,  seemed totally smooth and featureless, though Utana spotted two thin slits where the nostrils should be, and examination from Fetnah and Juan José revealed that the woman was still breathing, in fact they had good, strong lungs as far as they could tell, and that the bones under the face were mostly still there.

The group decided that this was a matter for the city authorities and went to fetch a guard (unknown to the players, the guards of the quarter are not city soldiers, but are paid for by the residents of the quarter) and Juan José went to fetch them. The group did further examination, recollecting that the garments the figure was wearing, unusual in Haraxa, seemed to be the standard clothing of the boat polers in the city. It was noticed that the hands and skin of the figure were not those of someone who worked for a living, that there were marks of missing jewellery.

Juan José brought back the guard who took only look at the figure, and bolted in fear, the extreme reaction caused others some pause, including Utana so retreated from reality momentarily. Left holding the bag, they took the body into the house of Darshana and Surrayo, while they tried to find out more. Fetnah established that the body was devoid of spirit, though it still was living. There was no sign of violent assault, her colouration, state of her nails, her scent, all suggests a Vaykattaran origin, and a noble one one at that. Utana took a sample of some scented ointment from the woman’s skin.

The idea of a figure without a face rang vague bells for Smersh, this has happened before. The group did a little more checking at the boat, finding some badly knotted rope, no boatman tied these, and Fetnah tried to summon a spirit that might have seen what happened. As she did so, the others looked for anyone else who might have seen what happened. Both attempts took them to look at the same place, a balcony at the corner of the waterside end of the street.

Up on the balcony could be seen a face of an old woman, and Fetnah’s search of the spirit realm drew her there also. They went up the steps to the first floor (second to Americans) to meet Vanni, a Shevam woman, old and a bit infirm. They asked her if she had seen what was going on. Her answer wavered off the point intro digressions, but she did give a description of what she saw,

“There was a boat. The boat was being steered by a pretty woman, and she was with someone who maybe was her sister, hard to see her slumped as she was.

“One odd thing, the lady was in a boat poler’s clothes, but changed into her sister’s blue dress, a lovely dress, with shiny threads, the pretty woman was in a hurry.

“I was going to call down at her to close the door, but a jar fell, when I got back, the girl was gone.”

At this point another prescience made itself known to Fetnah, though not to others, another Shevam, but the spirit of one, Tanima, Vanni’s spouse. They told Fetnah that they had seen the pretty woman, but recognised her as something to not be the human she appeared to , nor Paira, Dugan nor Kotharim.  Knocked the jar over, to save Vanni from being killed by the thing. Tanima did, however, gain a vision from the mind of the thing.

I saw a vision of the Place of Old Grief, a group of islands where memorial stones are placed. It is the largest of the islands, there is a plinth with nothing on it, the plinth are surrounded by statues in a ring, the statues all face the plinth, it is very distinctive. I do not know why it is significant.

Fetnah established that there had been a delay in the funeral rites, and thus Tanima had ended as a wandering ghost. Though Tanima loved being able to watch over Vanni, they knew Vanni’s time would soon come, and so accepted Fetnah’s offer to consult the priests of the Temple of the Cold Ones to see if anything could be done, over a simple exorcism.

There were two main places the group wanted to visit, the Temple, to take the faceless woman, to learn more and to find help for Tanima but also the Palace of Agents to report in, and possibly to pass on this strange set of circumstances to them.

The reports of the strange person with the monstrous spirit and the faceless body leads all to conclude that maybe the face of the pretty lady had been stolen from the hapless victim, though the too big clothes were odd, and this was not like any shapechanger that they had encountered in the past. It was troubling.

To the Temple first, Smersh carrying the afflicted woman, and with Farshad collaring some urchins, and telling them to be on the lookout for the pretty lady, with her blue dress and shiny wires, and a lot of jewellery, and not to worry, Utana would pay.

The Temple was in an uproar, busy, a hive of activity, as this was the time of the city’s annual festival in favour of the gods, and in particular Mawet who, although a god of Darkness and death, also rules a sea kingdom, or rather one under the sea, and so he is their patron. Though they depict Mawet as a woman, not a man, and also give this Mawet some of the characteristics of his mother Ahera,

A priest was collared, and after they were apprised of the situation, they nervously took the group to the quarters of a priest (priests of the Temple being mostly members of the community with other jobs, who serve a time in Temple now and then, with few full time there). The priests hustled away and brought back two other priests, a short man, a physician, and a tall woman, a librarian and chief scribe.

The physician did what they could, which was not much, but the Librarian was able to dig up some lore. That there had been instances like this, of stolen faces, of people doing terrible things and then, when questioned later, having no memory. This seems to be connected with some of the Pale Folk, the strange green people of the Great Forest, who have this ability, a curse, and are cast from their people because of it.

With that stunning information, all were quiet for a time, then Fetnah pled the case of Tanima, and the librarian assured her that she would organise the needful to give Tanima her chance to move to Mawet’s lands.

Next, the group would go to the Palace of Agents, but there we left it

When adapting this, I wrote up notes on the city festival, only I got the wrong religion, writing it for the Temple of the Three rather than the Cold Ones, oops, but I wanted this to be a hold-out centre of pre-Mada culture, so a bit of live backpedalling and rewriting.

Posted in Beyond the Brazen Gates, Essence RPG, Essence RPG, Gumshoe, Known World campaign, none yet, Role-Playing Games, RPG, RPG, Spoiler, writeups | Leave a comment

Write up 2nd November 2023 – The Tower of Hurat – Part 2

Having made contact with a ghost, who was quite upset at bandits from the North, and who was acting as protector to orphans from a destroyed farm, Utana and Juan José  offered to clear the Northerners away, but felt some more bodies would be useful, and headed back to the same destroyed farm, where the group had been camping.

Only Fetnah and Smersh were there. Farshad and Jalabu were off looking around the area, Dhran and Arpaesis had remained in the capital, Arpaesis to study and Dhran probably to foment mischief amongst the proletariat.

representation of the ancient border in Vaykatara, though now part of HaraxaHaving filled in Fetnah and Smersh, they headed back towards the tower, seeing the wreck of the old border wall to either side. When asked, Utana recalled that, in a period of history, during one of the phases of the nation of Vaykattara, the north and south were split in Civil War. This must have been the border

North of the remnants of the ditch are some forested hills, and the denser wood where the bandits are said to be.

The group did manage to stumble into a patrol of bandits, coming down the path they were following. Combat ensued, and Fetnah summoned spirits tro affect the battle, causing the enemy to be hesitant and at another point to be slammed by a spirit in the form of a swooping falcon.

Smersh was injured too as he went to the fore. Secure in his near impenetrable full cavalry armour, Utana hung back with his archery. Juan José mixed archery and hand to hand, and the foes were despatched and looted. They did not have much of use, apart from spare arrows and daggers, and they were stunned, and intrigued, by some erotic potsherds.

Smersh was injured too as he went to the fore. Secure in his near impenetrable full cavalry armour, Utana hung back with his archery. Juan José mixed archery and hand to hand, and the foes were despatched and looted. They did not have much of use, apart from spare arrows and daggers, and they were stunned, and intrigued, by finding some erotic potsherds.

“buckler, spear, 2H axe, 5 x daggers, two composite bows, short sword, some carved up armour, a few coins, some erotic potsherds”.

Forrest dwelling Fetnah and the wilderness savvy Utana looked for tracks back to the main camp. Both came to the conclusion that it was, err, thataway  , yess, thataway.

Smersh is surprised near the bandit campSo they went, thataway. After their stumbling into the patrol, Smersh went ahead as a scout. Good news, the group found their way to the bandit camp, bad news, two of the bandits found him, and he had not spotted them. The bandits came at Smersh, he dodge one, but the other got a cut on him as he fled back to the rest of the group.

The group moved up as the bandits readied themselves. Some of the bandits were better armoured more heavily than their scouts, and one casat magic on one that seemed to be thir leader, enhancing her strength, and making her armour almost as powerful as Utana’s.

Smersh was severely injured, and Fetnah tried to patch him up, but she dare not risk summoning spirits, as she was more open to possession without rest or sacrifice. She did lob daggers to distract some of those crowding Juan José.

A  terrier, a pet of the bandits, ran up and attacked Utana’s leg. He kicked ir away, far away, and it fled away, yelping in pain, lucky not to break its teeth on  Utana’s armoured leg.

Utana was a murder machine, at one point a blow skewering a foe and driving up off their feet. Juan José was knocked over and vulnerable, but hius opponent foolishly though him down, and stepped Juan José over to attack Fetnah and  Smersh. Seizing his opportunity, the Faliscan stabbed upwards, and rendered the foolish foe hors de combat, writhing around as Juan José scrambled to his feet.

Utana did learn as lesson about trusting to his armour alone and not bothering with his shield, as he did find his defence pierced.

The combat ended with Utana again skewering a foe, the leader, not as dramatically as before, but effectively, and the mage and the last bandit able to move ran away, at speed.

The group was in no shape to pursue, what healing they were able tio do they did, and Juan José’s medicine will make Smersh’s recovery faster. They gathered up some food from the fire and ate and rested, before heading back to the tower, with such spoils as they could gather.

“Two shortswords, three daggers, a few coins and semi-precious stones, more carved up armour, rather well used bedding, a spear, cooking utensils, some bags of grain.”

At the tower, the ghost was fading, the reason it had returned gone, with the dead and fleeing bandits. Before she went, she did obtain a promise from the group to take the two orphans to relatives they have, in the city of Khanedarya to the East, luckily on the group’s route

And there we left it.


Conclusions of this session. Heavy armour is perhaps too OP. I will either need to nerf armour a bit, or put a penalty for use in. It already tires the wearer quickly. Either that or throw more opponents at the heavily armoured.

The rules and setting are not out yet, but the core rules are available for free, including character generation, skills, a bare setting and a character sheet, all in 10 pages here

Posted in Beyond the Brazen Gates, Essence RPG, Essence RPG, Known World campaign, none yet, Role-Playing Games, RPG, writeups | Leave a comment

A look at the map game “Border Riding” – published by Stout Stoat Press

Border Riding by Jo Reid

published by Stout Stoat Press

This is not a review, it is a “look at”. The reason for this is that this is really designed for a group, and I have only played it on my own.

TL:DR – I enjoyed it

Map/Game cover and a glimpse of the unfolded map

I have never played any map games before. I have drawn plenty for RPGs, and even come up with histories and events, but they tended to be for larger national entities. This game in the form of a traditional folded map is more concerned with a smaller community area, and the closest I got to the feel of this from other
games I have played was playing “King of Dragon Pass”. It is also available in PDF form, reformatted for printing normally.

The concept, which might take it away from a game for some, and move it to the category of “pastime” is to build a narrative and history around roles taken by the players, the geographical and social features of the area, the events of years and those outside to the region.

The inspiring source material is a custom of the Scottish Borders, the “Common Riding”, where citizens of a town would ride the border, defining it. There are variations of the ceremony depending on the rown, and can feature elaborate routines of waving a large standard round at various heights as the standard bearer kneels and stands and displays the standard to all.

I mention the standard in particular, not just because the person leading the game in a round is “The Standard Bearer” but one-time during my 17th Centurey re-enactment career, I was a guard for the regimental standard bearer during the battle and that standard bearer, from the Borders, started doing the moves and, unused to people near him, whacked me in the guts At least, I assume it was an accident.

Starting map, next three turns, and final map

starting map

The map starts with a random, contiunous border. This border can be any, land or water, and onto that each player draws a geographical and social feature, e.g. a river and a windmill. There are also outsiders (Them). I can’t see any suggestion on how many, but I set one each. I imagine that a group could change the number and nature of the outsiders as they interpret the events.

My concept was an island, surrounded by the mainland of a larger mainland, like Arran or Bute. Its outsiders are fishfolk who think land folk should pay them for fish, traders who arrive by ship, mercenaries who seek to recruit and a proslytising religion.

Obviously it is set up for 3 to 6 players, I found it not obvious what the accommodation was for solo players, though it is visible in the cover/map picture above as it is written under the bottom left of the map. The answer is  “assume the role and viewpoint“. Given that, for solo/duo players it might be worthwhile getting a story prompt tool, like story dice, to help out with imagination.

second turn map – year 7

With a group, you are going to want to have people who can work together, it might be awkward with one or more dominant personalities or folk who can’t bounce off each other.

A new Standard Bearer is elected for each turn, not repeating until everyone has had a turn In each turn, an Event is randomly generated, in one of a variety of categories, from innocous to unfortunate, and the group discuss how this affectes things, thoug that turn’s Standard bearer is the arbiter of the debate.

The third turn – year 8

I found the guidance about the  transferring from one turn to the next unclear. The rules say you copy four of the existing geographical or social features over, but I didn’t know how new geographical and social features got generated, so I asked and they got directed to the relevant passage about them being  generated by the events phase.

The Standard Bearer confirms the permanent consequences of this event, and draws the relevant changes onto the current map.

the fourth turn – year 13

This means that the chat about what the event means for the region, the inhabitants and the outsiders is important.However the game says that it can take 1- 2 hours to play, as an average game will have about 18 turns, that means each turn will be between 3 to six and a bit minutes.

I suggest thin paper you can easily see through to make it easier to copy outline and map to the new map.

The last two years of play, Year 106 and Year 606

This means that, as well as a changing story, influenced by events, you
look back at a changing geography (even the border outline, unless you are amazing at copying) and what features the “community” considers important, until you follow through about 5 or 6 generations and you leap forward to look back at it all.

I know you get some folk using things like this for campaign backgrounds, maybe not to the extent of “Traveller”, and I am not sure every play through would be useful for that, but some of them could be used to flesh out small areas for an RPG.

As a story game it was fun, and it’s a pity that I missed out on the cooperative experience and other peoples’ ideas, , because this has been a new and engaging thing to do, and bouncing ideas off each other would make it even better.

Posted in Boardgames, none yet | 2 Comments

Write up 19th October 2023 – The Tower of Hurat – Part 1

Tonight was one of those sessions where most could not attend. These things happen. However we decided to proceed as we were, I thought two or three could do something with the set-up I had prepared for tonight.

The night wore on, the watches were changed in the partly burned and ransacked farm in which the group were camped, until it was Utana and Juan José’s turn. False dawn was starting to give way to the real one, when a noise was heard. The two looked towards it, and Juan José saw a small figure run away. A child? A Shevam? Something or someone else?

Waking the others up, Utana and Juan José set off following the tracks made by small bare feet, leading north by north-west, soon joining a long disused path y that led up into the hills. After some six or so miles, the duo saw a tower in the distance, one not in the best shape, which became even more apparent as they got closer and saw the remnants of an earthwork that once formed a wall that the stone tower was once part of.

The other notable thing, near the top of the tower, was a weak blue light shining out from Thea window. The two approached the door warily, the placement to the south suggesting that the tower and wall guarded against the north, not the south.

The doorway was dark, but lead to an open space, with the only thing obvious dirt and the rubble of collapses stairs. Utana gave Juan José a boost up, but it took two goes, the first one ending in a slip by Juan José, leaving hum a bit winded and stunned.

On the first floor (second to Americans) Juan Jos#e found the ghost of a soldier. She was dressed in garb of somewhere between 800 and 1000 years ago, and held a sword in her hand, though not in a threatening manner.

There was a ladder up, that Juan José considered removing and using to help Utana up, but she blocked that way, saying

“Halt! I expect the northerners to attack us soon, only those under my command are allowed on the upper level!”

Confused, Juan José saw a rope tied to a beam, and used that to help Utana up. In the conversation, the ghost revealed herself to be Hurat, bound to the tower, and drawn back to wakefulness by the prescience of northern enemies.

Quizzed on this, as surely any enemy would be long dead, she revealed that the children of the devasted farm that the characters were camped at are here, on the second (third to US)
children were hidden, under her protection and command, the farm had been attacked by bandits from north of the ancient wall.

The children were persuaded to come down, dirty and hungry, so Utana fed them with his travel rations and watered wine. Hurat asked for aid, pointing the way to a wood across a small valley where the bandits were camped.

Feeling a duty, as Agents of Haraxa, to bring justice to criminals within the bounds of the realm, Utana and Juan José agreed to help, but they would need the help of the rest of their group, so they would go back and gather them.

And there we left it.

Posted in none yet | Leave a comment

Write up 5th October 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 3

I had a few ideas for scenes that the characters might encounter given the options I thought they would go for, given the situation, but the players managed to shave their characters avoid every, single one. There was only one I managed to help-shoehorn back in. Half. 

Stunned and shocked by violence in the library stacks, at least Arpaesis was able to achieve their goal, they know where they need to go. Utana, mildly affected by the poison of the shambling rag spirit, was suffering from a headache, but at least the toxin had not built up enough to seriously affect him.

They leave the former temple hewn out of the rock, out into the spaces before the buildings proper,  they found themselves intercepted by Imperial Immortals and various court functionaries. It must be the sight of the elite troops of Shara Khrush II in front of them that distracted Utana from realising members of his own household were in the group.

Utana’s servant led the group into a room in the Temple of the Three, where clothing and basins were set aside, explaining that coming to the palace complex fully armed and armoured for war, without express summons, could be adjudged treason

Weapons and armour were gathered up, and the household washed and clad the group, minus the urchin who was loaded with ichor stained robes,explaining that they had been summoned to the Royal presence. Smersh tried, but failed, to secrete a handy weapon someplace best left unimagined, though Farshad succeeded.

Whilst Fetnah worried about the correct court etiquette, Smersh again waxed paranoid aboiut why anyone would want to see him, and where was the exit….

Escorted through the Second Paradise, they were brought to an ante-chamber. Once again, the ambassador Claudius , seeing Utana, treats him like a flunky, in this case made even worse by being witnessed by his Rival, Sonya of Rogah-tinosh. As this was going on, Hortensia, the other ambassador took advantage of the distraction to have a quiet word with Juan José after his audience.

The doors opened and the group was ushered in, ahead of Sonya’s party, earning Utana a begrudged nod of respect from Sonya. It had been a topic of concern as to how much grovelling would be required, but they noticed that the throne was shielded by the screen. Shara Khrush II could listen but, officially he was not there, so no obeisance was required.

Instead they saw, again, the Secretary of Agents, Bahramian, conducted the audience. The deeds in the north of the nation were outlined, and the group quizzed about whether or not they saw any connection, as so many strange occurrences seemed to draw themselves to them.

The group pondered this, but could think of no evidence that there was a unified and concerted effort against the Haraxan Kingdom, though it seemed strange that so many spirits manifested to attack them

Smersh and Fetnah were discussed, and the circumstances of how they came through time, and Bahramian mentioned that he had heard the name of Farshad somewhere, and not in a good way, but Farshad passed that off as he was sure it was a misunderstanding.

The last part of the audience was a presentation to all of decorated akinashes, a long dagger or short sword, depending on your point of view, granted like a medal to soldiers. Of course Utana’s was the finest decorated, but all were serviceable and the most gorgeous damascus blades.

The audience concluded, they were shown out, and Sonya’s party entered the room. Claudius the ambassador again came up to Utana, to apologise, again allowing Hortensia to approach Juan José with an offer, in effect to act as an informant and talent-scout for the Faliscan cities, opportunities for trade, news of disruption and opportunity. Juan José agreed, and Hortensia made another offer, to introduce him to Umati,one of the lecturers in battlefield medicine at the military hospital attached to the barracks.

This was one of the bits where I expected Joan José to take advantage of that more directly, but the group headed back to Utana’s family town-house. Joan José did go back, but, with some prodding, with Utana, as the only one of the arty with the clout to get an itinerant mercenary straight to a senior official of the army. Fetnah tagged along.

In the hospital Utana took advantage of the presence of Umati, a tall, human of indeterminate gender, and asked them for treatment for his headache. Umati prescribed a vial of a strange fluid and a demon scaring talisman efficacious against any spirit that would try to invade an ailing skull.

Juan Jose asked for information on a bone knife he had picked up long ago, and found it was designed to pick certain plants at the height of their efficacy, and Umati gave Juan José a tablet that should help him use it, and Fetnah pointers on making her own.in the fullness of time. With him having the support of Utana and Juan José, Umati invited Juan José back to study any time.

The group, aware of the deadline hanging over Jalabu’s head, limited their exploitation of the circumstances of being in a major city, so there were few areas of re supply, Fetnah and Juan José refreshed their material medica, silver arrows were replenished, Farshad bough more upmarket robes and splendid, matching hats for himself and his horse.

Smersh wanted to upgrade his armour but, with the minimal time  to hand, settled for a loan of some pieces from Juan Jose, adjusted to fit.

There was a bit of discussion atropine here about the weapons everyone had, and their efficacy against spirits given the frequency of their appearances.

A short resupply finished, the group rode off, deciding to not go bu sea, the quickest route, but overland, taking a shortcut away from the main overland route as speed was of the essence.

Utana reverted to hardened ranger of the desert and mountains, saving Fetnah and Smersh from chasing after mirages and, as afternoon gave way to evening, they had two choices at a fork in the trail, north-east to a raised area where a wall could be seen, or south east towards a small oasis.

Farshad decided to use his bond with the spirit Aribu, placed into a construct in the shape of a crow. Launching it into the air, Aribu flew over the walled area, finding it a farm of sorts, with plants fed by wells around a domed dwelling set into the ground. Beside the stairs down were two charred human adults.

This appears to have happened three or four weeks ago, after burying the bodies, they searched the dwelling, finding it looted, but still Farshad found an amulet of a Shevam domestic spirit on the wrecked bed, and Fetnah found a smoke blacked pouch with three smooth,  coloured riverstones, one painted red, one green and one white. Despite much puzzling from Smersh, Fetnah and Juan José to try and determine some great meaning to these stones, the most that any could earn through Fetnah’s  magic was that these stones had meaning to three children who once lived here.

Of these children there is no sign.

The group set watches, and there we left it

Posted in Essence RPG, Essence RPG, Known World campaign, none yet, Role-Playing Games, RPG, RPG | Leave a comment

Space Marine – Early Science-Fiction war games rules

Space Marine

by A. Mark Ratner

FGU edition Cover by Jeff Dee, interior art by David Sutherland


We know where the image of star-travelling troops aboard naval vessels, clad in armour comes from, the Valerian Marines in the “Lensman” Series and the CAP Drop Troopers of “Starship Troopers”. The Lensman troopers are strong enough not to need power assist, but the series does have examples of powered armour.

Then, in 1978, Games Workshop let gamers in the UK know about a new ser of SF war games rules, called “Space Marine”!. That’s right, for the low, low price of £2.95 including postage,  they were selling A. Mark Ratner’s rules as published by Fantac (later also in 1980 by Fantasy Games Unlimited)!  That is about £16 in Sept 2023 money.

You can tell these are early rules, as well as normal six-sided dice, there are occasions to use a d20 or d20s as percentile dice, but accepts that getting these might be hard, and gives the advice on picking numbered chits from a cup, as we did in those primitive days.

Intended as a game of Squad/Section combat. It offers two ground scales of combat, depending on how much table space you have, but also a skirmish scale, only back them skirmish meant two or three figures a side, the full Squad based battle is envisaged as only being between ten and twenty figures a side.

Fantac edition

There is a background for the universe. In the future of interstellar travel, the warring nations have developed a field that prevents nuclear detonations, rendering nuclear bombardment impossible, so interstellar war once again needs boots on the ground to achieve political objectives.

The Fantac edition was, to my knowledge, was self-published by A. Mark Ratner, who I did briefly communicate with back around 2000, however I only have the FGU edition, not the original Fantac edition, and one big difference that I understand the original has that the later does not is that it has rules for linking the wargame with D&D and Metamorphosis Alpha.

What are the rules like?

The game covers attacks on a planet from Orbital Bombardment, Air combat  to Ground actions, but only really ground combat has extensive rules. Fire from Orbit is treated as indirect fire to the ground, but anti-ship fire from the ground is left up to a referee.

Aircraft can be used for troop transport, recon of ground troops, air superiority or ground attack, but the author realises that the scale of action is too small for proper air to air combat, so air superiority is abstracted.

On the ground, it is assumed that troops will be using the benefit of train cover and stealth technology to not be seen, so recon aircraft, and troops trying to find their opponents, is part of the game.

The game can use simultaneous movement, with written orders, but the basic turn sequence is

  1. Roll for first/second move
  2. First side move
  3. Second side move
  4. Both sides cab perform covering fire, that is over watch fire on moving units. Non moving units can attempt to spot enemies.
  5. Units can try to spot units and conduct normal fire
  6. Indirect fire occurs
  7. Melee combat
  8. Back to 1

I have seen “Space Marine” referred to as the “Chainmail” of “Space Opera”, referring to Howe the original D&D was both developed from the “Chainmail” war games rules and still needed the original war games rules to make sense of the combat in the RPG. If you played Space Opera, the combat rules do look like a more constrained version of the Space Opera combat rules.

Hit chances are made using percentile dice (and the intro explains how that is done) with situational modifiers. Once you hit,you consult another tangle to cross-reference weapon vs armour to determine the chance of the hit penetrating defences. This is probably survivable when you have a max of two squads each on the table, but would be atrocious for Company sized actions, and you equate a hit with putting a figure out of action.

There are more detailed wound rules, but these look more designed for the skirmish game, as it would mean a lot of book keeping for the regular game.

There are a lot more to the rules,movement, unit cohesion (the faster you can move, the further apart you are allowed to be), electronic warfare, pinning and suppression, different types of weapons, robots vehicles for the various Star Nations and armour. If you have Space Opera and the Ground and Air Equipment book, a lot of this is going to be very familiar.

Build me an army worthy of the Terran Federation

The points system for armies is a little strange as it is not intended for buying your units in a single battle. In fact the text says that the only reason their is one is because Scott Bizar insisted on one.

Despite the fact that this is set up for small unit action, you buy army regiments and wings of aircraft and all equipment. You need to use the description of the army organisation of what a regiment looks like to see what that buys you, and you will send your troops out in their squads for actual games.

There is no balancing for troop experience and, despite the claims of the purchasing of regiments being for campaigns, there are no campaign rules. The impression I get is that the author wanted rules for more free form, possibly asymmetrical actions, in games created by art and judgement, not mechanically defined ideas of fairness.

E.g. You want to  field a force of a couple of Ranan infantry squads, twenty Ranai, with a Supporting Flame Crawler, trying to use the points cost for all that. Breaking down the over 1000 troops and 100 AFV


The book is a very simple, two column format, the text is a little small for me now, but was fine at the time. The only differentiation in typeface are use of bold for item heads, and headings in a large font that I suspect might be intended to be neon tubes.

The tables are that FGU way of just headings with values in the columns. No lines, banding or aids to help you cross reference column as row.

The art is sparse, but exists only to break up text. There are absolutely no illustrative diagram to help explain the rules.

The rules need editing, reorganising and indexing. There are also areas that could use expanding. Even if there were not firm rules on army composition then at least there should be more info in running campaigns

Background and theme

The nations of this background formed the basis of the background in Ed Simbalist’s Space Opera SF RPG, I believe at the insistence of FGU’s owner Scott Bizar.  I do not believe that this was by the choice of either author.

This background is where the fascist Azuriachs, ursine Blarads and communist Galactic Peoples Republic of Space Opera come from, with varying levels of detail. As memory serves, only the Terran Union, Azuriachs and the Mercantile League get any extensive Star Atlas coverage, with minor mentions for the Raan, Blarads and Mekpurrs. The Korellians who feature in a Star Atlas are not in Space Marine,

Space Opera alluded to the various Star Nations, but did not give much detail. In Space Marine, the basics of each are given, making it handy for any Space Opera GM.

The background details are more concerned with uniform details, symbology tactical organisation and equipment used by the various Star Nations, but gives the basic notion of their governmental character.

Would I play these rules now?

At the time, I can see why people would have liked these. Judging by the standards of the time they were written, compared to other rules of the time I have read, they compare well.

Since then, expectations have changed. In some ways that is worse, popular rules tend to be more rigid and less free-form. I did consider breaking out some SF minis and pit a few squaddies against each other, but after reading decided not to. Too much table cross referencing and page flipping, though i guess I could have made unit cards with just the details for simplicity’s sake.

If I was still running Space Opera, I might splice these rules into it if there was a need for the characters to get involved in small unit combat, much as Traveller could do with Striker.

That is not to say that there are not fun ideas in here. Once you accept that the view of combat is dated. Aircraft fly nap of earth with no fear of RADAR that can reach the crowns, MANPADS or vehicles flinging vapourising volumes of lead into the air. It is an old view of the future, no drones. IEDs or mobile phones with cameras and geo-location, though there are some things that could be charitably considered to be IFVs.

Why the Terran Union has a Continental Siege Unit listed, basically a Bolo or Ogre in a small squad game, i dunno, but it is a sign of a game that could have used a bit more work developing it.

All that being said, if you wanted to use that 60s and 70s view of future warfare, but want to use your own simpler and more consistent system, the ideas here are worth stealing for a universe with a feel of the one of the Dorsai or the poor infantry not cool enough to support Hammers Slammers.

You can still buy the FGU edition rules in PDF form from DriveThruRPG



Posted in none yet | Leave a comment

Write up 21st September 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 2

Waking up after camping a mornings travel from the Haraxan capital of Anakhbitana, Jalabu felt an unease, but not one he could place. His discomfort set everyone else to looking about, but they saw nothing, none save Utana, who saw a face he recognised. Splendidly clad, amongst a smart retinue of travellers was

In tonight’s “Beyond the Brazen Gates” adventure, the noble and splendid Utana was shown up by the even more splendid and noble Sonya of Rogah-tinosh, known as the Crimson for her preference for clothes in that sumptuous and expensive colour. (Utana got a bad fail on a detect roll, it seemed to me this social damage was more fitting than actual damage. I borrowed Robert E. Howard’s aboriginal Red Sonya of Rogatino from his story about the Siege of Vienna, Shadow of the Vulture).

Like many of the Haraxan nobles, including Utana, are wearing clothes with trousers, rather than the traditional long robes, the better for riding. The glint of gold and silver embroidery can be seen in the morning sun.

Sonya was fostered with the same family as was Utana, however Utana was always in her shadow. She was a better rider, archer, poet, leader and administrator. She was had more skill with the blade and the sport of Zhovgan, was better looking and even a finer dancer.

Sonya caught IUtana looking at her, she did not sneer but the disdain was obvious, her entourage of fine warriors, poets and scholars contrasted with the more travel stained agents accompanying Utana.

The groups moved to the city, using the gate reserved for nobles, military and officials using their status as Agents to short-circuit the checks by the guards, and they were directed to report to the Secretary of Agents within 24 hours.

The proceed through the first part of the city, where most of the poor and workers live, and Utana caught an urchin trying to cut Smersh’s purse. Rather than scold the child or turn them into the authorities, after a cursory interrogation the group did what the group does, adopt the urchin presumably to lead them further astray.

Utana is wealthy compared to most of the rest of the group, Jalabu’s family is also well set up, and there are always rumours about the riches accrued by Farshad’s family, but Utana is a small part of an extended family wealthy enough and prominent enough to have a residence in the capital.

The way to that residence goes from the first part of the city, through the First Paradise, a public garden with shade, fountains, artificial streams and meeting places from which music can be heard.

In the family home the group were fed and had a chance to be cleaned up by the family servants, though none were pampered as much as Utana. From the house they climbed the shallow stairs to the citadel that houses the palace complex, build on a plateau that backs onto mountains. These steps were shallow for a reason Utana appreciated, to stop robed nobles tripping on the hems of their garments,

The palace complex is built around the Second Paradise, with Administration and the First Temple to the West, the Barracks and Second Temple to the East and the Palace proper. Heading West, they asked functionaries until directed to the offices of the Secretary of Agents. after waiting a while, Under-Secretary Bahramian and some scribes took messages carried by Utana and noted the details of the group.

Asked about the deed carried by Smersh, one of the scribes looked at it, gave Smersh a receipt or three, and hurried off. In fairly short order, the scribe returned with the likely location of the relevant records, in a storage room that makes use of a disused temple to long forgotten gods built into the mountain. The group were escorted into the back of the temple, and left by the scribe.

The language and script of the records may have been of the time of Smersh, but the only writing he has learned is a more modern form, Luckily Arpaesis the scholar appeared, as if by magic, to correlate the older documents with newer ones.

However, after the scribe left, there was a cold feeling, and from both corridors leading to the storeroom came varied creatures, to the south a reanimated corpse, lively like a wolf, backed up by floating semi-corporeal spectres, from the west a shambling shape seemingly comprised of noxious rags, backed up by some large, hideous rodent shape, as big as a human.

I made a mistake in this, No way in helll should I have let the group have full armour in the city, but it slipped past me and I will just have to be more on the ball.

Quick, barked orders from Juan José got the group in good order In the ensuing combat, Jalabu mostly held the south, the enemies facing him seemed less fearsome in some way, as if his passenger, the spirit Oblat, protected him somehow. Smersh flitted from the south to the East. Utana felt the mortality of the shambling rags, whose touch exuded poison, enough contact and Utana would suffer horrendous effects.

Juan José did what he could with silvered arrows, particularly shooting at the rodent creature, which clambered up to the ceiling in order to try to get past the shambling rags,

Fetnah made use of her chant, “Hammer of the Soul”, blasting the spirit out of the animated, ghoulish corpse, another damaged the rodent spirit, but a third found the spirit too strong, and she took great harm.

The shambling rags provoked fear in all, so they lobbed lamps at it, eventually between silver arrows and flaming lamp oil, the body was destroyed. The spectres were handled by Jalabu, aided by Oblat, and Juan José, and, just as the battle was over, Arpaesis declared from his corner “I have it, I know where the estate is! It is now calleD Ahitkaufa!”

He points to a map drawn on vellum and makes a mark

And there we left it.

Posted in Beyond the Brazen Gates, Essence RPG, Essence RPG, Known World campaign, none yet, Role-Playing Games, RPG, RPG | 1 Comment

Write up 6th Sept 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 1

Still issues with video-conferencing, temporary  Google Meet sessions rather than the one that had been working for us. Not helped that for everyone the weather was hot, and the week intense, not sure anyone was totally awake.

The scene opens with the group gathered in the magistrate’s palace in Eshtaband, with Smersh trying to cudgel his mind to see if he knew any of the reference points mentioned in his deed. He did not, and the names meant nothing to anyone else.

Jalabu raised a point of the validity of the deed, how can the rights conferred by it be transferred to Smersh, but his astute legal mind was satisfied as to that, though the idea of the authority to grant, after so many centuries, remained open.

At this point a stranger was ushered into the room. whose clothes, though clean and of quality, were bleached and stained by travel. He introduced himself

I am Hamid bin Khawla al-Malmuntaqim al-Maqqaniyy, I have business with one called Farshad.

Farshad, politely made himself known,and Hamid spoke further

I represent a certain trading family. Long ago you borrowed money from us to invest in an ill-fated venture. We sent one to retrieve it, Jalabu al Dilmuniyy, who has vanished from the face of the land or the swell of the sea. We accuse you, Farshad, of his murder, to conceal your attempt to escape your obligations. How do you answer?

Farshad made his point that any debt was alleged, and an allegation he disputed, a comment he was to make often during the conversation.

Jalabu at the back, questioned Hamid as to whether or not he had ever met Jalabu. Hamid replied that he had, when both were small children, as Hamid was Jalabu’s cousin.

Hamid seemed glad that, in fact, Farshad had not murdered Jalabu, but he then kearned that Farshad had done many noble acts and, as a consequence, Jalabu had forgiven Farshad and taken on his debt

“ALLEGED DEBT!” was heard

Ah, Cousin Jalabu. We have not met in such a long time, Then, I am afraid,  the responsibility is now yours. The debt has been accruing for some time, the date of settlement is long past, and now is enough to outfit two caravans with a range of spices, perfumes and rare woods enough to delight the rulers of old Haxamanis. Such debts transcends family loyalties and love

Jalanu, and some of the others, considered this, and loudly, in front of Hamid, suggested that removing Hamid would remove the problem. Jalabu cast aspersions on Hamid’a ability to handle themselves in a fight, and Hamid responded by throwing a knife, faster than Jalabu could spot, thudding into the chair by Jalabu’s head.

The rension ramped up, but the problem for Jalabu was that he could not deny the debt, merely try to escape payment, or live up to his obligations, or suffer the consequences. Hamid offered Jalabu a day to consider, and he left.

Jalabu did consider borrowing from Utana, and UItana was willing, but whilst wealthy, Utana’s wealth was derived from the family landholdings, and it was doubtful he would have so much cash on hand.

The conversation then turned to Smersh’s inheritance. The deed was taken to the great Temple of the Three in Eshtaband and a priest found a scribe to help. The scribe was able to shed some light on the deed. The nation of Vaykattara stretched from what is noe eastern Haraxa into lands currently occupied by the Zhuezhi. The names specified on the deed, the scribe believes, are in south-eastern Haraxa, but they could not be more precise than that.

He advised either checking with records in the capital of Anakhbitana, or the Temple of the Cold Ones in the city of Pariksharan, which was once a capital of  a dynasty of Vaykattara.

Looking at the map, the group decided  that the capital was the best choice to go to first, it was on the way to the region, and Jalabu saw another advantage, it was far away from Hamid.

However, upon Hamid’s return, another thought occurred to him, their family, great in trade in their native land as they were, still constrained by being in the middle of a long trade. If their family had a station closer to the spice and silk trades, that would be of value, and it is possible that Smersh’s inheritance could be a perfect location.

He never asked Smersh but, luckily Smersh kept schtumm. Hamid thought of the timre taken to travel to the rough location and back, and believed that two months would be sufficient. He then offered Jalabu three months to arrange this, or repay. Three months at the same spot.

Hamid left a box of baklava as a parting gift to his cousin. Once they examined it foir poisons and had the food-tasters test it

The group then left Eshtaband, some riding their own beasts, some with horses borrowed from the household stables. A few days brought them to Utana’s estates, as they rode up, rose petals were strewn in Utana’s path as the household greeted their young master.

The group were offered refreshments as Utana cleaned himself up, and had fresh garments, perfumes and makeupo put on, a decision he was to regret as Jalabu punned about it so heavily (this is why we call him the kohlman) that the gods grew angered and struck Utana with lightning as a form of collective punishment. Utana was taken away, revived and restored to his immaculate self.

Nonetheless, Smersh studied UItana closely. With the notion of being in the landed gentry in his head, no time like the present to learn how to act as if to the manner born.

That night, as often happens when they travel, there were entertainments. Fetnah sang a cheerful song that, though only Smersh understood the words, pleased people.

Farshad also sang, a bit reedily adter the dust of the day’s journey, but acceotably and it found an audience.

Juan José showed off “Nibbles, the amazing surviving hamster”, Jalabu got caught in the strings of his oud, but the laughter lightened the mood.

Smersh tried to  juggle knives, but fumbled and injured himself, so Juan José also got to show off his first aid skills, staunching Smersh’s bleeding.

The group also discussed how to best protest Jalabu. Jalabu managed to borrow a mailshirt from Utana’s armoury, a valuable gift, but Fetnah had another idea. She communed with the local spirits, but only founbd a hearth spirit, which could not travel the roads looking after Jalabu.

Fetnah asked it if it knew of a spirit that could help. The spirit thought and, hesitantly, named a spirit of the road, “Oblat”, which might be able to help. Fetnah thanked the hearth spirit.

As the group left Utana’s estates, with Fetnah called upon Oblat, who appeared to her as a dust devil held together by fire. She asked Oblat if it would look after Jalabu, and it seemed to agree. In any case Jalabu now has a guest in his body, with a light case of possession.

A few more days on the road and mighty Anakhbitana, capital of Harixa, was in sight, and there we left it….

Posted in Essence RPG, Essence RPG, Known World campaign, none yet, RPG | Leave a comment

Review Mythic Commander from Modiphius Games

Mythic Commander

Modiphius Publishing £16 + P&P

review by Colin D. Speirs

One of the first set of rules I ever owned was from Micro Ancients, from Tabletop Games. This wargame as a cardboard folder bound book of 1976’s state of the art wargames rules, army sheet and rules a cardboard sheet of unit counters to cut out and, with top-down terrain cut from cereal boxes, fight out a battle of Romans vs Carthaginians on the kitchen table. You can get a re-release in PDF if you want to revisit the distant past.

Microancients wargaming without figures 1976 style

Mythic Commander , as you might expect almost 50 years later, is lightyears ahead, presentationally of those earlier rules. In a thin, shrinkwrapped packet, you get the 44 page rulebook, a double sided paper playing mat with terrain features and a 40mm square grid printed on it, sheets of carboard unit counters and other, thinner sheets with command and spell cards and tokens. The rear sheet for the product packaging has an army listing sheet to photocopy.

What this gives you is a set of grid based tabletop wargame rules using units representing troops and creatures from a top-down view. These counters are 40mm by 20mm, How coincidental or not that that is the size of bases in the old Warmaster system I do not know.

The game put away into a wallet and counters and cards in small bags

Buying this direct from Modiphius, the postage stung a bit because the price was over half that of the product but, on the other hand,  I also got a link to download PDFs of all the above. I do not know if you get a “clicks and mortar” style deall to get those PDFs if you buy ir from someone else.

To actually use the ruleset you will need to add some d6s, pencil and paper will help.

Neat as the product is when you first get it, once you hace punched all the counters and cards, you are going to need some kind of box or a file wallet and ziploc or coin bags to put in the cards and counters into.

However, once that is done, you do not need to buy and paint figures, buy token sets or codices, everything you need to play some battles is right there, on the table

How does it work?

The game runs on an evolution of the system used in the “Airfix Battles” wargame. Each of the 40mm x 40mm squares can contain just one unit, plus attached leader and wound counters. Units are issued orders in alternate activation, so no waiting for your opponents to do all the things then you do all your things.

A small set up to learn the game with some of the "spellcraft" card decksPlayers have a hand of command cards based on the leadership abilities of the characters in their army. Unlike Airfix Battles, you do not need to use a cards in activating it, you always have the basic choices for moving. attacking and rallying, you only use the Command Cards, to get special effects in activations, in response to the enemy or to discard for a bonus to gain iniitiative.

In each game turn, players
– refresh their command hand, based on the leaders they currently have (leaderless armies still get a random small amount of cards)
– dice for initiative, burning cards for bonuses
– take their alternating turns of maneuvering units and conducting fights
– deal with the effects of combat, notably morale and retreats

Units have a fairly familiar set of stats for movement, fighting ability, survivability and how long they hang around for. All are tested using d6s, sometimes it is roll under (attack and morale), sometimes roll over (armour save).

The ability of units to always maneuver and attack means that, unlike some command card based systems, you are not stuck with an inability to do things because you do not have units that match anything on the cards.

Unlike some rules, moving into the atack is not restricted to a charge. A charge is a special move where you damage the target before they get to fight back, but you can just stroll up and thump someone, though they fight back simultaneously.

In the clean up phase, units that took a lot of hits, will need to check for morale, and may end up retreating. If they fail to rally, they will eventually retreat off the map.

The squares include terrain features. Like a lot of the game, these have keywords, like “Vulnerable” for bridges, and the keyword explains the effect. In the case of “Vulnerable”, you discard one successful armour save when on the bridge.

Does it work well?

Although confined to a fairly small “low resolution” map, the TLDR version is yes. I have played a few times, both with counters and 10mm figures, and it comes up with a fun. quick game with tactical choices to make.

A hasty activation can come back to bite you e.g in one case, I hit enemy warg riders with , they started to retreat but could not because Eagles were in the square behind them, attacking someone else. Next turn they rallied and now threatened the rear of the Great Eagles!

Having it as alternate activation stops the “first to hit advantage” that IGOUGO wargames can be prone to, and the relative slowness for many units of moving and turning makes you consider your moves as you might find your opponent has now occupied the position you want.

The double sided “Fortune of War” card, here shown spliced together. They are not the same on both sides, obviously.

Combat is swift and simple. In most cases the Unit rolls a d6 for each of its remaining Strength, that also being its hit-points. Each roll equal or over the relevant fighting skill is a Hit, and roll armour saves for each hit. Get too many hits, receive a Morale marker. Get way too many hits, you are destroyed.

The Command cards, allow units to interrupt attacks, to move and support units in unexpected ways, to strengthen defences, even to counter-act other cards and, of course, to declare charges.

Another nice mechanic is the “Fortune of War” card, allowing a re-roll of all dice for one roll, passing from player to player as it is used.

Command and the ability to have a re-roll all add a useful level of “Fog of War” to the players’ view of the battle.

It is a fast game, aside from the usual rules flipping as you learn the rules, but the basics are simple. There are special rules, because  of unit type (light units maneuver differently, for example, than heavier ones),  the faction and any special upgrades you buy.


It’s a Kind of Magic

It’s a long time since I have seen a fantasy wargame of invoking direct Divine or Infernal spirits to play a part on the field. Mostly the magical powers in fantasy wargames are

  • to buff a unit
  • to heal
  • to act as heavy arillery
  • to impede an enemy

Two spells from the Death and Divination decks

Mages choose a type of Magic from one of the six types, and get the deck of Spells. They can cast one spell per round and then the spell is discarded.

Multiple mages can use the samre deck of spells. I *think* each mage gets their own deck, but the rules might be interpreted as them sharing it.

The rules for each spell is on the card, they are not repeated in the rules, and they are themed for the type.

  • Death is about raising the dead, sucking the life from others, causing fear and revenge.
  • Nature focuses on beasts and terrain.
  • Flame mages cause a lot of damage, often to themselves.
  • Storm can use the wind for movement, attack and defend
  • Life is  Healing and improving morale
  • Divination gives you some advantages with Initiative, Command Cards and buffing attacks

I have not had a chance to use much magic in game, but when I did it seemed helpful, but not overwhelming or unbalancing. Flame mages are just chaotic, in a fun way, in retrospect.

Build-an-Army Workshop

There is no set world or set of racially based factions for the game, instead you get seven culture templates to choose from, those can be amended with a customisation, that provide a list of upgrades, for a price. If you know the game SmallWorld, the keyword system looks a bit like that, do you field the Barbaric Skillful Army or the Martial Stalwart Army?

Each culture has the exactly same mix of light and heavier infantry and cavalry,  heroes and Siege Engines, with mostly, but not always, the same point cost for each type across the factions, but the light infantry of one faction might not be the same as the light infantry of another. E.g. Skilful Archers move more slowly than  Fierce Archers, but the Skilful Archers are better with the bow and have better defence.

It is up to players to associate the culture and customisations with the fantasy Army they want to field. The “Undying” faction has a certain expectation around it, but Skillful might be Elves, or they might be the Horseblooded from the Coramonde books, or an army of assassins sent by the Old Man of the Mountain. With customisation the Elves become Skilful Ancients, the Horseblooded become Skilful Attuned and the Assassins stay as they are.

There are individual upgrades available for heroes and units, this is where the Commander of the Assassins might get a bonus for Strategy and his Champions Heroes get envenomed weapons. Finally there are Monsters and Special Units that armies can field, like the Great Eagles

From my battles so far, I think this simple system is effective at providing theme and customisation. The only kinds of armies that I don’t think I could make with this (someone will no doubt prove me wrong) are huge horde armies of utter trash or small armies of super-powerful individual units, but generally it fit most of the armies I thought of, despite me attempting to break it.

The counters

The counters are sturdy, and have enough different colours and illustrations to give variety to the units, but, and this is just personal, I did find distinguishing between them hard, but that is me and my terrible eyesight. Most are oriented across the long edge, with a few facing on the short edge, but, unlike, say, Warmaster, that has no game effect, because of the one unit per square rule.

The counters are double sided, with a different unit type on the reverse to give you more choices, e.g Knights have Warriors on the other side, the other side of that short edge facing chariot is a long edge facing unit of archers.

Scaling up

Moving up to figures on a wargames table should be simple for these rules.

Solutions I have seen for similar games moved to tables have included corner markers for the grid marked with tile spacers, or rocky outcrops on bases, or even tightly strung line denoting the space.

All you need to do is figure out the right size of grid, for a 6 foot by 4 foot table, 120mm would give a similar grid number to the included mat.

Is anything not so good?

  • The game isn’t perfect. There are some unclear rules. E.g. Unit A attacks Unit B, melee ensues, both sides fighting. Is that the activation for Unit B, or do they get to activate in their own right. I have checked, they both get to activate, the game is intentionally deadly, but it should be explicitly stated.
  • The tokens are flimsy and could easily get crushed and lost, They are certainly a bit difficult to pick up off the terrain mat. I think I will be using micro-dice for recording current hits where possible.
  • The PDF sheets for cards and tokens have the Morale/Retreat tokens without the actual words on them
  • There is a player’s aid on the inside back cover, but a double sided one with other information like the more common keywords, for terrain, faction and upgrade would be nice.



For the money, even with postage, this is a good value, solid transportable game. I found it very tactical in play, and flexible in the sort of armies you can field. There are very minor issues, but nothing I cannot deal with. I do hope that someone (not me at the moment, too much going on) produces a fuller play sheet, and I can see talented fans producing new counter tokens that are easier to read, or which suit the look of particular armies.

However, the minor caveats are more than overwhelmed by the fun and carnage of battle, and the joy of being able to produce an entirely new army simply by changing some stats on a sheet, rather than buying and painting tons of figures.

FWIW, I heartily recommend this.

Posted in reviews, Wargaming, Wargaming | Leave a comment