Thursday, 27 August 2015

Oldhammer Book Club: Zaragoz

I should start this post with a confession. I've never read any GW books before. Well that's not quite true, I did start 'Fulgrim', part of the Horus Heresy series. However the first few chapters were so incredibly dull that I never got any further.
When Orlygg over at Realm of Chaos 80s suggested an Oldhammer Book Club I was quite pleased. A chance for me to start again with GW fiction with an example from the good all days. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I had never heard of Brian Craig before, nor Orfeo or Zaragoz, the eponymous setting. It turns out Brian Craig is a pen name for Brian Syableford, but I hadn't heard of him either to be honest.
The book its self was pleasingly of its time and took me straight back to my days reading Fighting Fantasy. Several artists did illustrations. Ian Miller is always wonderful, his illustrations on the cover and frontspiece (left) are no exception. Likewise Tony Ackland's work on the title page is awesome.
The internal work by Martin McKenna though, I found a little lacking (see below). It is by and large very static, with the protagonists in somewhat awkward poses. It also seems somewhat childish and na├»ve. This may seem hypocritical, after all one of the great joys of Oldhammer is reliving some of the more awesome parts of our childhoods. But then this isn't a book aimed at children. The violence and gore is not too strong but there is quite a raunchy sex scene, I won't say too much except one of the participants was a worshipper of Slaneesh.
There is one exception to the poor interior art, the picture of the horrors from the dark (bottom picture), which is as good as much of the stuff from the Realms of Chaos books in my opinion. The chapter dividers are also rather nice, I must admit.

Like much of the Warhammer world the location is grounded in real world geography. Zaragoza is a city in Spain (also known as Saragossa), though I don't think the two cities share much beyond this. The name alone is enough to conjure up an exotic medieval bed of intrigue and corruption, exactly what I think Brian Craig was going for.

Right, less of this jibber-jabber, let's answer the questions Orlygg set us:
1) Did the book engage you immediately or did it take time to draw you in?
Yes. The book takes the form of a story-within-a-story, which sometimes I am not to keen on. Quite often the reader is just getting invested in one setting when they are ripped from this and dumped elsewhere. The set up is sufficiently brief and simple in this case that it is not too much of a wrench to move from Araby to Estelia.
I did find the writing style rather florid to start with, almost verging on the overwrought, but once you appreciate this is a minstrel telling a tale, then it seems more fitting and I very soon got into it.

2) What was your overall 'feeling' about the novel once it was complete? Amused, sad, confused, disturbed etc?
Intrigued. This was a nice view on the Warhammer world. It didn't involve characters central to the history of the setting, nor world changing events, it was just one tale of the descent into chaos of a small group of minor nobles. This pulled me in much more than if the protagonists had been  mighty warriors or kings.

A couple of people have picked up on the fact that there wasn't too much in the way of action in this book. True, but I didn't find that detracted. The Warhammer world (at least back in the day) was a place full of creeping horror. Darkness lies just under the surface in each town, each farmstead and each palace. That is the scope of this novel.

3) Pick a character - are their actions justified?
A tempting character to go for here would be Archangelo, but a few other people have already given their thoughts on him elsewhere, so instead I shall go for Semjaza.
Are his actions justified? Well that depends on you perspective. From that of Orfeo, no they are not. Semjaza attempts to use the powers of chaos to his own ends, a plan that goes disastrously wrong, though Archangelo has a hand in that.
From Semjaza's point of view though, you can see his logic. It is probably important to point out that at this time in the history of Warhammer Chaos did not equal evil. There were two sets of opposing axis, good vs evil and chaos vs order. Semjaza made a pact with the powers of chaos, but his intentions were not evil. He hoped to bring peace to Zaragoz by uniting the warring noble families.
It could be argued that Archangelo, who is a priest of the Gods of Law was actually more evil than Semjaza. His soul motivation as it turned out was revenge.

4) Do you feel your character 'changes' during the course of the story? If so, in what ways?
Not really. I think his change came before the timeframe of the book. Initially he thought he could use chaos. Somewhere along the line though he realised that chaos was using him. He still tried to justify himself to Orfeo, maybe even to himself, but deep down he knows.

5) Is the overall plot engaging?
It is not the fastest moving plot ever written, but it is intriguing. Orfeo is being played right from the beginning and there are twists and turns enough to keep the reader wanting to find out more.

6) How did the book's structure affect you as you read? Did you appreciate the 'interludes'? 
As I mentioned before the danger with this structure is uprooting a reader from a setting they are enjoying. I felt that Brian Craig managed this though. The initial 'Araby' setting is not overly explored and it is not too much of a wrench to move to Zaragoz. The story-within-a-story structure suits the fact that the narrator/main protagonist is a minstrel. The summing up at the end did feel a little tacked on, as if an editor had been afraid that some readers would still need more explanation. But this was short and did little to detract.

7) Which passage in the book strikes you as being the most poignant or memorable? 
Semjazza's world view was rather elegantly put. I am often turned off by long passages of thought, which is what this is although it is technically said aloud. This section is in a slower passage of the book though, so it doesn't feel like it is holding up the action. And it is a believable piece of self justification. The idea that what we do has no real consequence, that we are wholly unimportant when viewed from affair enough, does make it easier to do horrible things. Well I imagine it does anyway. I haven't opened any gateways to chaotic realms. Honest.

The difficulty with judging this book is that I don't really have anything to judge it against. I haven't read any other Games Workshop books, so can't really say whether this is better than the herd, or a lame beast. I have read plenty of fantasy and judging 'Zaragoz' on these lines it fairs well. I want to read more of Brian Craig/Stableford both his GW stuff and works set in other universes, so he has done something right. But there are other things to consider when a book deals with a universe we all know and love. This requires it to sit well within the general canon and I don't feel confident judging this yet. Therefor I have decided to judge all other books in the Oldhammer Book Club based on Zaragoz. 

This means Zaragoz scores 100% on the Zaragoz scale of awesomeness.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Battle Report: The Well of Dreams and Sorrows - Frostgrave

I am part of a small Frostgrave campaign. Just five of us, I think we've had something like four or five battle each so far. There was some talk about the lack of a balancing mechanism for wizards of different levels on various for a (I say some talk as if I was no part of that, I did bring it up in my review). Maybe if the levels were vastly different then there would be a problem or two. However we've been playing with wizards up to 9 levels apart and it really hasn't made a difference. Indeed in my last game I was level 9 against a new warband, and I lost. What is more, my wizard, Papa John, bit the dust, leaving his apprentice to carry on. (The experience from the battle took him up to level 11 so I was able to drop ten levels and carry on.)
Baby John had a lot to prove after the last battle, he was determined to show he was up to the challenge of leading a warband.
It was said that a spring, somewhere on the outskirts of Frostgrave granted anyone who drunk its waters a glimpse of the future. Zromon the destroyer had also heard of this magic spring, but Baby John was determined to get there first.
There was no dilly-dallying and the wizard and two knights were soon in the grounds of the hollowed spring. But it didn't all go Baby's way, Zromon's archers gained a good spot in an old temple, where they had line of site to the spring. Cover saved the wizard though as he drank the magic water. 
A simple matter now just to grab a few items of treasure and fall back to safe ground. Or maybe not that simple. Two barbarians in Zromon's service stormed the spring. Baby John fell and so did one knight, the other though beat the two heathens back. 
Papa John may have been dead, but he had not abandoned his old band. The shambling corpse of his one time master, animated by Baby John's foul magic, lent a hand and carried some treasure back to safety.
Both Zromon and Baby John had fallen and only the last remnants of their bands battled it out. Three items of treasure were already in control of the witchdoctor, two in that of the necromancer. One item remained and this was being carried by one of Zromon's thugs. Defying the odds one of Baby John's thugs ran across a square in clear view of the enemy archers. A hail of arrows fell but non struck home.
Surely the thug couldn't climb the stairs in time to catch the treasure bearer, strike him tot he ground and steal his loot? No. No he couldn't. He fought bravely but in the end it was too much too ask.
The official score lay at three items of treasure each, but how did the wizards fair in the bigger picture. Zromon went up three levels. Baby John was not so lucky, a roll of a 2 and he joined Papa John in the icey ground. I was gutted at loosing another wizard. Two from two games was beginning to look like carelessness. I didn't have the levels in hand to carry on either, so it's a restart for me.
I have to say this was a fun game, but pretty much all the Frostgrave games I've played have been. I like the fact there is no clear cut winner or looser (well usually anyway). There are several criteria for how well you've done. Firstly you want to advance your warband, so lots of experience but not too many deaths. Secondly you want to screw your opponent over, so killing as many of them as you can is good, while denying them their experience. Thirdly is the treasure, I see this as the icing on the cake. Money is good but not the main thing in my eyes.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Miniature Spotlight: Lucid Eye Neanderthals

Steve Saleh has sculpted miniatures for a lot of people over the years, including Games Workshop,
North Star and a lot of stuff for Wargames Foundry. He has recently moved to Warlord and I believe is involved with their foray into sci-fi.

He has also launched his own line of miniatures, called Lucid Eye. His facebook page can be found here. These are concentrating on pulp, with an emphasis on lost worlds (the line is called Savage Core). Pictured are some of his Neanderthals. There are two packs plus a chief, available from the Arcane website.

The four miniatures pictured are from a mix of the packs, I still have the others in my to paint box, which is where they will stay until I get time to do some conversions on them. The unused miniatures are all armed with clubs, which look too Flintstoney to me, they don't really fit with the overall style which is realistic if heroic. But it will be an easy enough job to cut them off and replace them with a spear apiece.

Generally though I am a big fan of this range. The sculpting is first rate, characterful and clean. The casting is top notch too. It will be interesting to see where Steve goes with this line, I can see a lot of uses for most of the miniatures in pulp and fantasy games. My Neanderthals are being used as Wildmen of the Ettenmors.

They are chunky, but then I imagine Neanderthals were. They fit well with other 28mm heroic figures, below they can be seen with (left to right) a Hasslefree wench, a Wargames Foundry Knight, a Mirliton Orc and a Citadel/Wargames Foundry Mercenary

Friday, 7 August 2015

Scenario: Ambush at Minas Ergal

Ambush at Minas Ergal 
A Middle-Earth Scenario for Song of Blades and Heroes

The orcs had routed as the first fingers of dawn appeared in the east. The wild-men having fallen quickly to elvish steel ,the party wasted no time. The trail was not hard to follow: orcs were clumsy at the best of times, in their fearful flight they had left a clear track of broken branches, trodden grass and disturbed ground. Cautiously though, the rangers and elves went forward, as they approached a clearing a pale hand was held across Dorrin's chest, stopping him from blundering into the camp. 'There's more here than orcs and wildmen,' the ranger hissed.

This scenario follows The Ruins of Annis Minnor (which can be found here). When we played this game the forces of evil were defeated soundly, the orcs fleeing from sunlight. This scenario follows on, where the good party has tracked the orcs back to the evil party's camp. Here they find that the Wildman chieftain has allied himself with a Black Numenorian. What their plans may be is unknown, but the good party decides to cease the initiative and ambush the camp before their presence is discovered.  
This is a skirmish level battle for two players. One player takes the forces of good, and should pick a party consisting of Elves, Dwarves and Rangers. The other takes the forces of evil and should pick a party consisting of Wildmen, Orcs and other fell creatures of the Ettenmoors, but may not include any mounted characters. The evil force should include a Black Numenorean, a powerful sorcerer/ess. The Fightin' Funghi rulebook is a good source of spells.

The evil party should have twice the points of the good party.

Table Set Up
A table that is at least 4'x4' should be used, otherwise the god side will struggle to avoid the sentries. In the centre of the table should be a ruined tower, Minas Ergal (see special rules below), everywhere within long distance of this tower is the orc/wildman camp, some tents should be spread across this area but otherwise it should be quite open. The edges of the table should be heavily wooded.

The evil side deploys first. All miniatures should be placed with n the camp, except for the four sentries (see below) which can be set up anywhere more than long distance from a table edge. After evil deployment, orders should be given to the sentries (see below).
The good player deploys next, anywhere within long distance of any table edge. 

Special Rules

Day or Night: The good player can decide to attack whilst it is still light or to wait until dark. If s/he choses day then all orcs suffer from the 'coward' rule. If s/he choose night then it is harder for the sentries to spot their party (see below)

Sentries: The evil player nominates four miniatures to be sentries. These may not be personalities. After s/he has deployed, but before the good player deploys orders should be written for the sentries. This may be simple such as 'move clockwise around the perimeter of the camp' or complex, such as 'move clockwise round perimeter of the camp for three turns then move towards the table edge for one turn the spend one turn moving back towards camp before moving counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the camp for three turns. Repeat.' They must be clear and unambiguous. They should be kept secret from the good player.

At the start of the turn the evil player may only activate the four sentries, and may only move these in accordance with the orders given, until one of the sentries has made a successful observation roll (see below). After this time all evil miniatures may be activated as normal.

Observation Roll: After the evil player has declared a sentry is going to be moved, but before rolling for its activation, an observation roll should be made. To do this make a quality roll on three dice. For each success the miniature can detect an enemy one distance away. The type of distance depends on whether it is night or day, and if there is any intervening terrain. 

OpenBehind Terrain

So in the first example on the right the orc (Q:4) passes two rolls, the human is in the open and it is daylight. The distance between them is less than 2x long distance, and so the alarm has been raised.
In the second example the orc has again passed two rolls, but this time it is night, and the human is behind some terrain. The distance between them is greater than 1 x short + 1 x medium and so the alarm is not raised.

All mounted models are seen at long distance whether or not they are behind terrain and even if it is night.

Note that a line of sight does not need to be drawn, it is assumed they can be heard as well as seen.

Once a member of the good force has been spotted then all the evil force may be activated as normal, and sentries do not need to follow orders any longer. Any sentries who have already moved before a good miniature was spotted do not get to move again. 

Minas Ergal: In the centre of the board is a ruined tower, Minas Ergal. When any model moves into the tower for the first time in the game, roll on the following table to decide what they find:
  1. Black Blade: The model finds a sword which was forged by a dark power many centuries ago. This blade may only be wielded by an evil character. All attacks count as Poisoned, but reduce Q on a 3+

  2. Numenorean Amulet: The model finds an ancient armlet with magical warding properties. If the bearer looses a combat, roll a die, on a 5+ the result is instead a draw.

  3. Skagger: An orc from the red mountain tribe has taken refuge in the tomb after being pushed southwards by the shifting power in the Ettinmoors. He has the following stats: C:3, Q:4+, Fear of Sunlight. He joins the evil side.

  4. Baashab: A gigantic spider unfolds it's self from the tower. It has the following stats: C:4, Q:3+, Huge, Entangle, Dashing, Long Move, Tough, Terror. Follow the AI rules below each turn to determine motivation.
  5. Giant Spiders: C:3, Q: 3+, Dashing, Entangle. Follow the AI rules below each turn to determine motivation.
  6. Re-roll (or you could have a cheap good character join the good side)
AI for Spiders:

The Spiders will try to make d3 activations. The four great spiders will activate as a group, though their AI should be worked out individually.

If the spiders are in combat, they will fight. If against more than one opponent they will randomise their attack. Otherwise roll a dice each turn and consult the table below:
  1. The Spider will attack a random standing enemy who is within short distance. If no enemy is within short distance they will attempt to drag an entangled enemy towards the tomb. If no models are already entangled they will attempt to Entangle any enemy on the floor with in long distance. If there is no such target they will move towards the tomb.

  2. The Spider will attack a random standing enemy who is within medium distance. If no enemy is within medium distance they will attempt to drag an entangled enemy towards the tomb. If no models are already entangled they will attempt to Entangle any enemy on the floor with in long distance. If there is no such target they will move towards the tower.

  3. The Spider will attack a random standing enemy who is within long distance. If no enemy is within long distance they will attempt to drag an entangled enemy towards the tomb. If no models are already entangled they will attempt to Entangle any enemy on the floor with in 2 x long distance. If there is no such target they will move towards the tower.

  4. The Spider will attack a random standing enemy who is within 2 x long distance. If no enemy is within short distance they will attempt to drag an entangled enemy towards the tomb. If no models are already entangled they will attempt to Entangle any enemy on the floor with in 2 x long distance. If there is no such target they will move towards the tower.

  5. The Spider will attempt to drag an entangled enemy towards the tomb. If no models are already entangled they will attempt to entangle any enemy on the floor with in 2 x long distance. If no such target exists the spider will move towards the tower.

  6. The spider will move towards the tower.

If the Black Numenorean is taken out of action then the good side wins. If not the evil side wins.

A battle report is soon to follow...