Friday, March 22, 2013

Somewhat 40K-Related Friday: Little Wars

The first published set of miniatures rules was released in 1913:

"Little Wars" was written by H.G. Wells and published 100 years ago this year. Now military people were running wargames on tables prior to this and for all we know there were gamers in basements doing this kind of thing prior to this as well but this is the first known occurrence where someone came up with the idea for a miniatures game, tested them out with friends, and published them commercially.

After some mention of previous fun with toy soldiers, It begins with a very open narrative of how the whole thing began with the notice of a spring-loaded gun:

The present writer had been lunching with a friend - let me veil his identity under the initials J. K. J. - in a room littered with the irrepressible debris of a small boy's leasures. On a table near our own stood four or five soldiers and one of these guns. Mr J. K. J., his more urgent needs satisfied and the coffee imminent, drew a chair to this little table, sat down, examined the gun discreetly, loaded it warily, aimed, and hit his man. Thereupon he boasted of the deed, and issued challenges that were accepted with avidity. . . . 

Look - trash-talking among gamers one hundred years ago!

He fired that day a shot that still echoes round the world. An affair - let us parallel the Cannonade of Valmy and call it the Cannonade of Sandgate - occurred, a shooting between opposed ranks of soldiers, a shooting not very different in spirit - but how different in results! - from the prehistoric warfare of catapult and garter. " But suppose," said his antagonists, "suppose some-how one could move the men !" and therewith opened a new world of belligerence. 

I think I would have gotten along with these guys just fine.

Not sure I'm up for dressing like that though. A cosplay-miniatures crossover  theme party?
This is part of twenty pages or so that describe the development of the game and the experiences that shaped the rules - "we tried this and then discovered it was a problem in this way and so changed it to this new method" - more notes like this today would be a welcome development, even in this age of designer blogs.

As far as the rules, they are fairly abstract but oddly modern in the conscious choice of speed-of-play over detailed realism. In only 12 pages they cover all kinds of shooting, melee, taking prisoners, and area-effect weapons. They do not use dice - shooting is resolved by using small spring-loaded cannons, and melee begins with alternating removal of men and goes thru several iterations over the course of the book. For this kind of game they look pretty solid.

Pre-Heresy Imperial Guard!
The next chapter is a battle report - with maps, illustrations, and photographs! From 1913! It's amazing how some things have remained unchanged. "The Battle of Hook's Farm" actually takes up more space than the rules themselves and is an great way to see the rules in action.

There are some optional rules in the next chapter - trains, hidden units, and some general suggestions to try. Then we have some commentary on little wars vs. big wars, then finally some notes on integrating these rules with a Kriegspiel, the more abstract type of game developed in the Austrian military that had become used by most of the European militaries of the time.

"Here the Imperial Guard assault a traitor force" - tell me that doesn't look like a  40K melee scrum around a vital objective
If you're wondering how this kind of thing ties in with the roots of role-playing, read this excerpt from the beginning of the battle report:

And now, having given all the exact science of our war game, having told something of the development of this warfare,let me here set out the particulars of an exemplary game. And suddenly your author changes. He changes into what perhaps he might have been — under different circumstances. His inky ringers become large, manly hands, his drooping scholastic back stiffens, his elbows go out, his etiolated complexion corrugates and darkens, his moustaches increase and grow and spread, and curl up horribly ; a large,red scar, a sabre cut, grows lurid over one eye. He expands — all over he expands. He clears his throat startlingly, lugs at the still growing ends of his moustache, and says, with just a faint and fading doubt in his voice as to whether he can do it,  "Yas, Sir! "Now for a while you listen to General H. G. W., of the Blue Army. You hear tales of victory. The photographs of the battlefields are by a woman war-correspondent, A. C. W., a daring ornament of her sex. I vanish. I vanish, but I will return. Here, then, is the story of the battle of Hook's Farm.

If you're reading this I bet you understand exactly what he means here.

Hmmm, not sure I'm up for the straw-hat look, but other than that, put it indoors and throw a laser-pointer in there and this looks like any number of 40K tournaments I've seen.
If you have any interest in the roots of miniature gaming, and RPG'ing too, or if you are interested in H.G. Wells, it's definitely worth a read. My copy is all of 82 pages and contains all of the illustrations and photos from the original which are a lot of fun to see given the time that has passed. The open library copy is here so you don't even have to go buy it. The PDF is particularly nice with the illustrations done in red and the pictures as shown above.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Savage Swords of Impiltur - Session 4

We open in a hallway, near a set of double doors (with a particularly nasty lock on them) as the party hears the unmistakable sounds of a dragon bearing down on them. Our Heroes:
  • Dar Bloodmane, Shifter Paladin
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Dumathoin Marthammor Duin
  • The Elf With No Name, Elf Bow Ranger (who was waiting outside by the sky-boat since his player was absent)
The party braces as a large white dragon races around the corner. A surprisingly mobile fight - given the constricted terrain - breaks out as the dragon leaps into the middle of the group and lashes out at them, taking hits on the way in, and dishing them out in all directions. In a blizzard of blades, breath, claws, and tailslaps the "drow", the cleric, the paladin, and the dragon itself are all bloodied. Then Gravis gives a signal and Dar rears back and unleashes a devastating riposte with his sword that kills the beast outright*.

Resting a bit after this vicious skirmish, the dwarves use the ice key to unlock the doors. They are greeted with a solid sheet of ice, possibly filling the entire room beyond, but with a keyhole - and now the ghost dwarf mouths "fire" and "key". Realizing there is more work to be done the dwarfs are all fired up! The Paladin has used this time to sever the dragon's head and pack it in a bag - he wants a trophy. 

Somewhat battered and needing to recharge even more, the group decides to return to the teleportation circle room and take an extended rest. All seems quiet until the man on watch hears voices outside the outer door - sounds like a patrol of some kind! Not wanting to fight in their less-than-fully-recovered state someone (I can't remember who started it) suggests getting the dragon head out and using it.A couple of skill rolls later and the guards - debating whether to open the do-not-open door "hey I know we're not supposed to go in there but it looks like someone's been messing with that door" - are confronted with a jerked-open door and a roaring floating dragon head! Surprised (and not all that eager to die for the cause in my opinion) they retreat back up the passage and the party has a quiet time the rest of the night though the paladin is troubled by strange dreams where a disembodied dragon head tells him he's not very nice.

That's Gartok and Dar holding up a white dragon head while the Vamp, the Warlord, and Ivan the pet owlbear watch.

After their rest the party explores farther up the main corridor and ends up discovering a forge - a forge with frozen flames! One also with a tiefling, an ogre, and some flaming skeletons! Battle begins!

Forge Fight! They left the white dragon head outside this time.

The flaming skeletons and the tiefling team up but the fiery bone things are quickly dispatched by the Paladin, as the Cleric and Vampire tear into the ogre while the Warden locks down the tiefling. The ogre manages to wound the vamp by dipping a javelin into the frosty flames and then nailing her with it, prompting the vampire frost immunity discussion again (see session 3) as he is finally brought down by the paladin as he attempts to flee. Remarkably the dead tiefling appears to have a flaming key on a chain around his neck. This is scooped up quickly by the dwarfs as the party catches its breath.

DM Notes: This one was a lot of fun despite the anticlimactic dragon fight:

*He did 63 points of damage - in one hit, from a 4th level Paladin. It was amazing and this is where I started to realize the power of the Tactical Warlord. This fight lasted two whole rounds! I resolved to run my dragons better than this in the future.

The dragon head started talking in a kind of slow-guy voice (think Ord from Dragontales if you have kids of a certain age) about how they were mean and Dar wasn't a nice Paladin and how everyone was mean to him, spurred on by the use of the thing as a morale-breaker on the wandering guards. We were all laughing pretty hard after that happened so the head kind of turned into a borderline NPC for a while there.
"You're not a very nice Paladin are you?"

It also showed some thought on the part of the players outside of the stats/skills/powers structure and we handled it just like in any other version of the game - tell me what you're doing and let me think about what happens. Morale has not been much of a factor in most of our 4E games but this seemed like an obvious case for it. The lack of morale rules in the game doesn't mean it's not a factor - it means it's not a standard attack and defense mechanic  - but is up to DM interpretation, and sometimes the monsters run!  

I originally thought the key thing was kind of cliched but I realized that although it's pretty common in shooter games we haven't really done all that much of it in D&D, and the players seemed to like having these little sub-quests so if I ever work up my own mega-dungeon I will probably include stuff like this in moderation. Also, it helps that it was pretty obvious - there were no language roles or special items needed, someone just needed to speak dwarf and they could figure it out. A more universal solution might be to have the imprisoned dwarf spirit show an image of the key rather than saying it - it's magic, right? This would remove all chance of not having the right asset in the party to solve the problem.

Next time: The Winter King!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Savage Swords of Impiltur - Session 3

Despite this being the "main game" around here for the past year I've been really slow to post these so if you're interested you can click on the "Savage Swords of Impiltur" item over on the right or click here for session zero, session one, and session two.

We begin in the feasting hall of the Cairn of the Winter King, or what appeared to be a feasting hall anyway. Having dispatched the inhabitants the party now searches the room and opens doors, looking for loot and a way forward. There are two doors leading out.

Exploring the corridor behind one door, they come to a locked double door with a sign on it - "Do not open on pain of death by order of the Winter King" - and for the first time ever in the entire history of D&D they do not open the door that has a sign that says not to open it!

Moving further inward they find another set of double doors around a corner, fiddle with the locks.  As they work on this a ghostly figure manifests partway through the door, gesturing and silently saying something. The party backs off, watches for a bit, decides they are not in immediate danger, and ponders. The "drow" tries to pick the lock and is blasted in the face with magical frost for her efforts*.  The spirit appears to be a dwarf. The two dwarfs in the party confer and agree that he is mouthing the words "ice" and "key" in the dwarf tongue. Clearly a quest item! With renewed purpose the party moves back through the dungeon.

The group follows a new direction and comes to an empty banquet hall. They hear some noises coming from farther on, but decide to take the "quiet" exit out of the place, ending up back in the feasting hall they began in. Apparently the two exits from the room make an "H" and they will have to explore the farther ends of the "H" to find the keys and the King himself.

Deciding to take a more methodical approach they head back to the first door, the one with the sign on it. They smash it down, proceed inward, and briefly note a frosty room with a runic circle of some kind on the floor - then they are attacked by babbling wraith-like creatures! An ugly close-quarters fight breaks out where the Paladin takes a beating but dishes out some massive blows, the Vampire devastates one, and even  Marko the halfling manages to strike out at the undead things.Finally the wraiths are destroyed and the party pauses to explore and catch their breath. The circle is a teleportation circle, apparently a receive-only type. Interesting, but useless to the group right now. Feeling better, they prepare to move down the hall.

A short way down the hall our heroes discover another door and after a listen and a search they take the traditional approach and smash it down, revealing a laboratory. Poking around the delicate glassware they discover some potions and tuck them away for later.

Exploring a bit further, the team discovers a huge room full of frozen figures, lined up like they are organized for some reason. Among them is a white dragon, hanging from the ceiling ... and around his neck is a key made of ice. There is clearly some thawing going on but the party goes straight for the key, grabbing it and heading for the ghost-door from earlier. Everyone that is but the Paladin, who notices that one of the nearer figures has a really nice sword. He tries to be gentle but the figure is frozen so there's really only one way this is going to go - SNAP! As he examines the sword he hears a noise ... and realizes the dragon is stirring. He runs out of the room to where the party has gathered in front of the door and mentions that they may have company in just a minute ...

DM Notes: This was still a "getting organized" type session in some ways as there was a lot of indecision on how to explore the dungeon. I was shocked that they walked away from the sign-door but they did come back to it eventually, restoring balance to the universe. They passed several other doors too, listening and looking them over, then moving on past, which was a little odd as not many groups have operated that way in my experience. Even in the banquet hall there were several passages leading out and some noises to investigate, but they circled back around to known territory instead. The ghost dwarf and the hint about the keys seemed to fire them up and things got organized after that.

There was only one combat this time and it was fun for the DM though perhaps not as much for the players. Behind the door is a short hall of 10' by 15' and then a larger 25' by 25' room. The wraiths are insubstantial and can move in and out of the stone while the PC"s can be pinned in a very tight area. The wraiths also have an Aura 3 that does damage and lets them slide characters 2 squares, enabling them to bottle up the PC's in that small area if they choose to do so. They also have powers that lower defenses and another that lets them force the target to attack an ally - lots of fun for the DM as I love those hit-your-buddy-powers, but the characters took a pretty good beating.

*This spurred a whole conversation about how vampires should be immune to cold, in her view. A discussion which has never really gone away. It came up just this past weekend, nearly a year later, as she takes damage from a dragonborn's icy breath - "I still think they should be immune" and the occasional snide comment from one of the other players as I rattle off the damage - "oh but you're immune to that". It's funny. Most of the time.

Oh, and the sword was a +2 Frostbrand, so Dar was a pretty happy paladin - until he realized the next big enemy was a White Dragon.

Next time: More Frozen (or Unfrozen?) Dungeon

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Breakdown

Well this one wasn't great. You'd think with having 4 kids vacations and holidays would be a ton of fun - and they typically are - but this year the "blended family" factor kicked in and we did just about nothing. Despite the number we only have all four of them at the same time with time to do something once or twice a week. This year they were elsewhere for a good chunk of the time and the one day Blaster and Red were both here one wanted to play Stonehell and the other wanted to play Magic. They ended up going to the Sorta-Friendly LGS and playing cards for a couple of hours before one of them headed off for a dinner date. Yeah,  besides all of the usual schedule complications Red has a job and the girl thing to disrupt our gametime. It's all part of the deal but I'm feeling it more than usual this week.

Last year we played ICONS, Marvel, and had a big fight in the Moathouse. This year I've got nothing. We did play our Impiltur 4E game,and I am going to try and get caught up on my main game session reports for Impiltur, but I'm not sure how quickly they will be posted up. Hopefully we will get the kid stuff back on track soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

One year ago yesterday ...

 ... my current D&D campaign started up.

Now we are 22 sessions in, the party is 9th level, and headed for a climactic confrontation with Azarr Kul, leader of a massive force invading the Nentir Vale in Impiltur.

I really need to get caught up on those session summaries ...

I think 22 runs is a pretty good pace considering there was a DM house move and one of the players added a baby in there too. I'd say we play on a steady every-other-week schedule, but we don't. We end up sometimes playing 3 weeks straight then 3 weeks off, then we will alternate a bit, then we'll go 2 and 2 - it's quite chaotic but that's how it works when you mostly schedule the next session at the end of the previous session, or over the next few days anyway. If we had managed to get all the way to 26 in a year we would be right on the edge of leaving Heroic Tier, which seems about right.

They've killed at least 167 monsters including a white, a black, a green, and a blue dragon, a behir, a chimera, a hydra, a lich, and a lot of other nastiness. We've had two character deaths and one character drop-and-swap.

It's been a lot of fun guys, and hopefully a year from now we'll be hitting level 20 and looking back at all the ridiculous adventures from the upcoming year too.

Motivational Monday