Friday, August 24, 2012

OMG: Did "Le Havre" Just Kill "Agricola"?

Although last Wednesday we had to postpone our completion of Warrior Knights it kinda worked out since Andrew offered to table La Havre.  Since I'm a huge fan of Uwe Rosenberg's Euro-classic  Agricola, I was pretty keen to compare the two and see which one I preferred.

In Le Havre, players move their Ship tokens along a track, adding Goods to Offer Spaces on the board as they go.  They can then take a single action which might include:

  1. Snagging all of the Goods from any one single Offer Space.
  2. Using the specialized function of any vacant structure.  
  3. Constructing a Building which will allow you to refine your raw materials, sell them for a tidy profit, or construct valuable Ships.

The timely and well-planned construction of Buildings will allow you to augment your emerging strategies and earn cheddar from your opponents in the form of rent.  Ships mainly help to feed your workers but they can also generate Francs when paired with things like Shipping Lines.

At the end of the Round, your stockpiled Grain and Cattle can multiply in the Harvest.  Then everyone has to figure out how to feed their workers.  In the final round of the game participants get to perform one final completely-open action.  Then everyone adds up the value of all their Francs, Buildings, and Ships and the richest player is declared the winner.

If you want a full PDF of the rules you can find said precious document right here.

Game Set-Up


Round One

Mike purchased a Building Firm and then proceeded to take more Wood then Jenna Jamison.  Andrew snatched up all tha', Francs.  I took advantage of low tide and gathered up four Fish.  Mike built a Joinery by placing his dude on his newly-acquired Building Firm.  Andrew couldn't resist snagging a massive offer of Clay.  I took one Franc and then purchased my own six-value Building Firm.  Mike produced one Cattle and one Wood but passed them up in lieu of an ass-load of Fish.  

During the first End of Round phase, everyone managed to feed their peeps without resorting to cannibalism, er...a Loan.  In other news: a Wooden Ship came up for purchase.

Round Two     

You wouldn't think it by looking at him, but Andrew took four Wood without any difficulty whatsoever.  I took one measly Clay, which admittedly was kind of a weak-assed turn.  Mike procured two Grain.  Andrew's dude used Mike's Building Firm to construct a Fishery which I promptly rented on my turn to score three Fish!  Mike also made a Fishy requisite from the board's heavily-loaded matching Offer Space.  Andrew produced one Cattle and one Wood on his turn but was forced to take Francs in order to feed his poor, starving, unwashed, smelly masses.  

During the Harvest Mike's Grain reproduced and all of us easily met our two Food requirement.  A second Wooden Ship came up for purchase but we all knew that this particular benchmark was still pretty far away.  

Round Three         

This time it was my turn to take all the Wood and I did so with relish.  Mike became the first player to snag two Cattle and Andrew caught two Feesh.  Envious of Mike's flourishing Grain, I picked up one for myself.  Mike brought one Iron and one Franc onto the board.  As he went to snap up the two-point Iron offer, Andrew persuaded him to take the Francs instead with a promise to build the Sawmill for communal use.  In a surprise move, Andrew sold the Fishery to the town on his turn, thus booting my worker dude to the curb.  Despite all the wheelin' and a-dealin', Andrew soon realized that he didn't have the resources to build a Sawmill that turn so he slapped together a Clay Mound as a consolation prize.  In a final play for the Round, I picked up a single, desperate, lonely Moo Cow.  

A third Wooden ship appeared signaling a Harvest-free end of the Round. 

Round Four           

Mike was all over a giant pile of Clay like Oprah on a turkey burger.  Andrew paid two Wood, one Clay and one Iron to build a Brick (Shit) House.  Despite being deathly allergic, I just couldn't resist three Fishes.  Mike gathered up some Wood in the hopes of fulfilling last Round's Saw Mill dreams.  Andrew used Mike's Joinery ("Uh..huh, huh.  Uh...huh, huh.") and got five Francs out of the deal.  I finally got a bit o' Iron in my diet.  Mike went to the Fishery to produce a spot o' Food.  

At the end of the Round me n' Mike produced some Grain and the city built its first Special Building: a Football Stadium!  What's next?  An Apple store? 

Round Five   

Andrew copped three Francs and I *yoinked* a similar amount of Clay.  Mike sent his drone to the Building Firm and hammered together a Baken Housen.  I reeled in three Fishies while Andrew took four Wood at once (or as I like to call it the "Kit Kat").  Meanwhile, Mike went off to the Bakery and spent one Energy to flip two Grain into two Bread, earning him one Franc in the process.  And with that we had out first entrepreneur!  To get in on all the hot breeding action (?) Andrew lured two Cattle into his barn with some Barry White, a bottle of Merlot and a gallon of lube.  

Both Andrew and Mike made l'il baby cows together.  Me and Mike then sat back and watched our Grain grow.  Good times.    

Round Six

Still apparently obsessed with Fish, I invested two Wood and one Clay in a Smoke House.  Mike pumped some Iron and Andrew bought an Abattoir which would prove to be a smart and valuable acquisition.  I paid Mike a one-Franc rental fee and used the Joinery to earn five Francs.  Mike hired Jerry from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to staff Andrew's Abattoir, turning two Cows into Meat while Andrew hooked four Fish.  I took a record-breaking six Wood and subsequently couldn't walk straight for next three Rounds.  

During the End of Round phase, I spent five Francs to stave off starvation.  In a reflexion of Mike's real life carnivorous existence, he and his minions gobbled down three Meat.  Andrew consumed four Fish and spent a Franc, presumably on tartar sauce.  In other news: our first Iron Ship came up for purchase!   

Round Seven

Seeing that it was good, Mike converted two more Grain into Bread courtesy of his Bake House.  Andrew picked up four Francs (I won't say exactly how but it involved a well-to-do Japanese businessman, a speculum and small bag of gerbils).  I got my poor lonely Cow a fuck-buddy.  Mike made off with an Albertan amount of Grain (I.E. four).  Thinking ahead to the end of the Round, Andrew went off to the Fishery to acquire three Poisson.  After bringing a Cattle and a Wood onto the board, Mike moved his peon to his own Building Firm, paid three Wood and one Clay and constructed a Hardware Store, which he promptly called "Lee Vallée".  Geddit?  Huh?  Um...okay...    

At the end of the Round, all three of us scored bonus Cows and the town built a Kiln.  Whereas everyone else could cover their catering bill, I was forced to take a four-Franc Loan.  A new Wooden Ship came up for purchase, which was pretty much just a tease considering how po' we all still were. 

Round Eight                  

Andrew procured a metric ass-ton of Clay ("metric ass-ton" = 5) and then bought a Black Market.  I made two Francs by converting Grain to Bread in Mike's Bake House.  Mike took Wood up the wazoo.  With the way finally clear, Andrew got to use his own Abattoir, hacking up two poor, defenseless Cows for two Meat and one Hide.  I grabbed three Francs and quickly paid off my Loan before some swarthy Greek gentlemen showed up and threatened to quarter my kneecaps with a chisel.  Mike clocked mo' Benjamins then Diddy after he converted three Wood to seven Francs in the Joinery.  Andrew took a quick nip down to the Marketplace and got one Fish and one Iron.  

At the end of the round we all got extra Cowage but only Mike got bonus Grain.  To cover our grocery bills, Mike spent seven Francs, I burned three Bread and a single Franc while Andrew paid two Meat and one Fish.  Damn, these meeples be eatin' us out o' house n' home!  A Furniture Factory and a new Iron Ship also came up for future contention.  

Round Nine

I picked up some Iron content, Mike made off with two Cattle and Andrew scored big with five Fish.  After painstakingly assembling all of the raw materials, I finally had everything to build my Wharf.  Mike went all Buddy Valastro and converted six Grain to Bread.  Andrew pimped out his Wood at the Joinery for five Francs.  Fretting about food, I went off to the Fishery and got  four holy mackerel (with a +1 bonus coming from my Smoke House).  

At the end of the Round all of us delivered some baby Cowz and Mike grew more Grain.  Again I found myself short one Food and was forced to take a Loan.  This allowed me to pay four Fish, one Bread and one Franc to feed all them hungry mouths.  

Round Ten
Mike carted away a massive amount of Wood.  Andrew went to the Abattoir to magically transform two Cattle into two abstract-looking Meat and one Hide.  I ran into the Joinery to convert three Wood into seven Coins and paid off the gangsters that I was in hock to.  Mike, clearly the runaway leader, became the first player to buy a Wooden Ship and start saving on his Food bill.  Andrew put his dude on Mike's Firm Building, er...Building Firm and picked up his own Wharf.  Given a rare window of vacancy, I rushed into the Abattoir and carved me up some doe-eyed cow faces for three Meat and one Hide.  Mike patronized his own Hardware Store for a vital smattering of Wood, Clay and Iron.  

During the resulting Harvest everyone was blessed with a cute new Cattle-ling.  This time I was prepared to host a feast and spent three Meat for food.  Everyone else was similarly covered.  

Round Eleven          

Andrew won the Le Havre lotto, taking home five Francs while I invited shafts from every direction in the form of four Wood.  Mike manned the Sawmill and constructed the Grocery Market for one Brick, which Andrew then promptly used to procure one Cattle, one Meat, one Grain, one Bread, one Fish, and a Smoked Fish (!).  Once again I set off to the Joinery to sell my Wood for seven Francs.  Mike truly exploited the Abattoir, pushing a herd of six Cows down the sluice only to pop out at the other end as Hamburger Patties and three Hides.  Right at the end of the Round Andrew sniped eight Clay, enough for him to re-enact a certain scene from Ghost, which mercifully didn't occur to him

There was no Harvest this Round but the town built a Courthouse.  To cover the exorbitant ten point food bill I was forced to spend three Francs, one Smoked Fish, one Bread and one Meat.  Meanwhile, Andrew blew all his Francs to stave off starvation and Mike dropped one Franc and three Meat.  Last but not least, the first Steel Ship made an appearance!  

Round Twelve       

I wrangled more Fish then a Russian trawler.  Mike did some more one-stop shopping in the Hardware Store, giving him another convenient variety pack of Wood, Brick and Iron.  Andrew scythed down five Grain.  I smoked all seven of my Fish, providing two Francs and a surprisingly mellow high.  After patronizing the Sawmill and building a Tannery for one Brick, Mike officially now owns more buildings then The Donald.  Andrew, more then familiar with the drill, moved his worker to the Abattoir to stun, cut and pack two Cattle for equal Meat and one Hide.  Meanwhile I picked up seven Wood, enough to make David Lynch jealous.  

Once again we were all blessed with the arrival of three new Guernseys.  Both Andrew and Mike propimagated their Grainz.  For the eleven-point food requirement Andrew spent four Francs, two Meat and one Fish.  Mike invested three Meat and covered the last three points with his newly acquired Wooden Ship (which I immediately christened the S.S. Ganktheleader).  I paid five Smoked Fish and one Franc.

Round Thirteen                      

Mike rustled up a huge herd of Cattle.  Andrew went to the Market and essentially became the first kid on the block to collect every Good.  I spent five Wood and three Coal for my own Wooden Ship (which I immediately christened the S.S. Brokeasfuck).  Mike ventured into the Tannery to refashion two of his Hides into a pair of black leather assless chaps.  On subsequent turns, Andrew took a ton of Iron and I nabbed six Fish.  Finally Mike popped into the Abattoir for a quick spot of slaughter, swapping four Cattle for an equal amount of Meat and two Hides.  

Once again, we all scored BB (that's Bonus Beef, BTW).  Mike and Andrew both got more Grain.  A brand spankin' new Steel Ship made an appearance.  In the Food department, my new boat provided three servings and I made up the difference with two Francs and four Fish (two Smoked and two Unsmoked).  Andrew scraped together a veritable buffet: one Meat, one Smoked Fish, one Bread and two Francs.  Mike provided three Charred Bovine Discs and his Ship easily made up the difference.

Round Fourteen       

Andrew visited the town's Brickworks and swapped six Clay for an equal amount of Brick, scoring three Francs in the process.  On my turn I was powerless to resist the siren call of many, many Francs.  Mike continued to be his own best customer in the Hardware Store.  Andrew pulled a huge handful of Wood.  I finally got to exploit the Grocery Market, which instantly left me covered for this Round's Food requirements.  Mike spruced up his Wharf by Modernizing it with three Wood and four Iron and then bought the first Iron Ship (which I immediately christened the S.S. Runawayleader).  Andrew let the gore fly after visiting the Abattoir. 

At the conclusion of the Round we all got new Cows and Grain.  Yay!!!  Now serving the equivalent of a Greek wedding party, Andrew spent three Francs, one Fish and three Meat.  Mike blew three Meat (?) and three Francs and his fancy little flotilla provided the remaining seven.  I served up four regular Fish, two Smokies, one Bread and one Meat.  

Round Fifteen 

I ended up taking six Clay with only the vaguest idea as to what I was gonna do with it.  Mike sent his serf into the Bakehouse, spent two Wood for Fuel and managed to transmute Four Grain into two Coins and four Bread.  With Energy becoming an increasingly valuable commodity, Andrew wisely converted six Wood into two Coal.  I chainsawed five Cattle for an equal amount of Meat and two Hides in the Abattoir.  Mikes raided the Grocery Market.  Andrew went off to the Batcave, er...Bakehouse as well, converting a whopping ten Grain into loaves!  I patronized Andrew's Brick House, exchanging four Clay for two Brick.  Obviously my nebulous plan was still half-baked.

Only Mike and I received both Grain and a bonus Cattle.  The town built a Patisserie ("Qui!  Formidable!").  This round's Food requirement was an ungodly fourteen (!) so some major wheelin' and dealin' was required.  Andrew sacrificed seven Bread to the slavering masses.  After deducting seven points worth of Ship rations, Mike met the remainder with three Meat and four Bread.  I coughed up three Meat, two Coins and my ship made up the difference.  

Round Sixteen              

After taking a "Woody", Mike recovered Clay on his second turn.  Andrew eviscerated four Cattle in his Abattoir and I collected some vicious Fishes.  After carefully laying the groundwork for several turns, Andrew finally built an Iron Ship!  I grabbed seven Francs and then ran.  Mike ground up a slew of Cattle in the Abattoir for seven pounds of prime chuck and three Hides.  

At the end of the Round I laid out three Meat and five Fish for food.  After deducting seven Ship points, Mike banked one Fish and two Meat to cover the spread.  Andrew turfed two Bread and two Meat after raiding his Iron Ship's four provisional points.  

Round Seventeen  

Andrew got his Wood-on, I raided the Grocery Market and Mike used the Sawmill to lower his cost on a Business Office.  In a seemingly common pattern, Andrew ran right in there, cutting through Mike's dedication ribbon like it was finish line tape.  In doing so he converted four Hides into one incredibly precious Steel!  I salvaged some scrap Iron that was apparently just sitting there rusting on the pier.  Mike toddled off to the Brick Works where he swapped four Clay for Bricks and eventually bought a Clay Mound and a Black Market.  Andrew took over the Sawmill and paid one Wood and three Bricks to procure a highly-prized Shipping Line.  

At Round's end all three of us scored Grain and I got a new cow (which I promptly named Mooby).  My Ship provided three chow, but I also had to dole out one Meat, one Bread, one Kipper and five vanilla Feesh.  Mike continued to parley his seven Food Ship points into a major advantage, only paying two Meat and one Smoked Fish to make him up to the required fifteen.  Andrew added two Meat, one Bread and one Franc to his Ship's four-point four.  

Round Eighteen             

Knowing that the game was almost over, I bought a Steel Mill entirely for the victory points.  Mike popped into the Business Office to barter for Steel with four Grain (and also got one Charcoal for Hides).  As per standard procedure, Andrew virtually trampled over me in his mad rush to use my new building before I could.  Oh well, at least I got two Francs out of the deal.  Andrew burned five Energy to transfer one Iron into the uber-valuable Steel.  Meanwhile, still apparently stuck in the Middle Ages, I went back into the Abattoir for one final five-Cattle slaughterfest.  Mike usurped the town's Furniture Factory and swapped one Leather and one Wood for six big Francs (paying two Food in the process).  Andrew cruised past the Wharf, not just to check out the sailors but also to build a Steel Ship with three Energy and two Steel.  In one last final action that was sure not to get me further ahead, I decided to cart off an entire Black Forest worth of Wood.  

Final Turn                   

We all elected to use Andrew's Shipping Lane but only Mike had commodities of any real value.  He ended up scoring twelve Francs for three Leathers.  Andrew shipped Bricks for eight Francs and I transported a coupla Hides for a whopping four coins.

In the final points tally Mike came in first, Andrew was a close second and I was a distant third.  


To answer the question posed by this post's title: no, Le Havre didn't kill Agricola since I still prefer the farming theme and spacial relationships of the latter title.  And since there isn't the same amount of angst and tension in Le Havre, I'm gonna hafta wait until I play it again before I decide if this is actually a pro or a con.  

But comparing Le Havre to Agricola is like comparing Star Wars to Lord of the Rings: they're both awesome in their own way!  Honestly, both games have plenty of cool distinctions that makes each one a unique and special snowflake.  

Also, I know that some folks like to bitch that the theme in Euro games sometimes feels "tacked on" but I really didn't get that vibe with Le Havre.  It really felt as if I was growing some sort of enterprise, even if my "evolution" was often inefficient and scatterbrained.     

Which brings me to another point of praise: although I got handily smoked in this game (as I usually do), at least I know exactly why I got smoked.  Unlike my opponents, I had absolutely no clarion thought when it came to strategy.  And because I didn't set myself up with some sort of easy Food-production channel early in the game I often found myself scrambling at the last minute to provide victuals for my peeps.  As a result, it often felt as if I was running to stand still.

In my next game of Le Havre I'll do whatever I can to buy a Ship right away, even if it means going into the hole.  Having a couple of boats in your service really helps take the sting out of scaring up provisions, especially when your actions are much better served producing and upgrading resources or building things that actually contribute to your "investment portfolio".  

Which is yet another sign of a really great game: you can't wait to try it again to apply all of your new-found wisdom.

For it's myriad of choices, charming components, "Sm City" theme and virtual elimination of luck, Le Havre easily earns six pips outta six!   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

RPG Review: "Vornheim: The Complete City Kit"

"Vast is Vornheim, The Grey Maze...but I'm not here to bore you with that."  With that, artist, writer, adult film performer and RPG addict Zak Smith placates any ADD types out there and gets right down to brass tacks.  He clearly believes that a good Game Master is mainly someone who can host a decent party.  Although Vornheim: The Complete City Kit isn't going to give you the origins, hair color and blood type of every clergy member in the Church of Tittivilla, it will give you the tools and inspiration to come up with this stuff on the fly.

In the past I've had Game Masters who act like failed novelists.  I remember back in university, a buddy of mine worked on a D&D adventure for a good week-and-a-half before we sat down to play.  Just a few hours into the session my character fell into a well and started to drown after failing several climb checks.  But the DM let me keep trying and trying over and over again until I finally got out.  In doing so he might as well have come out and told me: "Look, your character can't die!  He's pivotal to all the work I've been doing for the past ten days!"  Yeah, needless to say, I refused to play a follow-up session.

Anyone who's watched an episode of I Hit It With My Axe knows that Zak's gaming group is a pretty tough audience.  Satine Phoenix is a veteran gamer.  Connie's play style is decidedly wild card.  Mandy Morbid loves tactical problem solving and testing the boundaries of a sandbox world.  In addition to being supremely confident that her character is so good at sneaking that she should never be called upon to make a die roll, Frankie will often try and backstab anything with shoulder blades.  And Kimberly Kane's main motivation is to, well...hit it with her axe.  Translation: a strictly tethered, rules-heavy, story game ain't gonna cut the mustard with these gals.    

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is the direct result of this.  As soon as you start reading the book (or if you've been following Playing D&D With Porn Stars) you'll soon realize that Zak's a pretty smart cookie who's clearly been doing this for awhile.  He's quite adept at quantifying gaming mechanics, delving into what makes for a good session and determining why so many other top-heavy RPG supplements (and city settings in particular) sit around collecting dust.

Smith makes every conceivable effort to ensure that Vornheim will never sit idle at your gaming table.  Literally every square inch of the book bears an evocative description, a cool drawing, an original monster or some sort of creatively juicy random table.  Hell, even the front and back covers allow you to generate hordes of animals, monsters, guards, adventurers, locations and multiple attacks with one simple throw of a four-sided die.

Of course, there's probably an entire horde of grognards out there blanching at the prospects of such boiled-down simplicity.  As a recovering rules lawyer, I had a hard time coming to grips with this myself.  But then I thought: What's more important for a good gaming experience?  Spending hours doing solitary world-building only to have your justifiably-willful players ignore what you've done?  Or, worse still, give into the temptation to railroad them down a narrative sluice with an creatively dull pitchfork?

As Zak himself says in the intro:

"Where's the prison?  If I wrote it down then you'd have to look it up, and Vornheim is still Vornheim no matter where you put (it)."      

For some people there aren't any obvious answers to the questions proposed above, but Smith certainly provides plenty of compelling reasons to try things his way.  Fortunately Zak also gives Axe fans just enough detail to feel as if they're cavorting around in the same sandbox whilst giving them express permission to customize things any way they want.  Indeed, his flash-sketches of the environs in and around Vorheim alone will provide plenty of fodder for a slew of new adventures.            

Fans of low fantasy should know right away that vanilla humanity in Vornheim is kinda like the frightened, huddled equivalent of Squee from Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.  The city of Osc Leth alone is partly ruled by six monstrous advisors, each one more loathsome then the last.  It's almost as if the more Lovecraftian denizens of the AD&D Monster Manual legally gained authority through political channels and are now poised to stick it to humanity by law instead of claw.

Here are some observations I made while reading through the book:

  • Zak uses his considerable artistic skills to illustrate the elaborately schizophrenic architecture of Vornheim such as The Palace Massive.  Although these are some pretty cool and elaborate-looking constructs, I still have no sweet clue where you're supposed to stable your poor horse in the Eminent Cathedral.
  • RE: the section titled "Some People, Places, Things and Ideas in Vornheim" Smith is quick to point out that "it doesn't say 'Important People, Places, Things and Ideas in Vornheim' because few of them are indispensable to the character of the city".  Folks might grouse that some NPC's and monsters haven't been given stats, but I really subscribe to Zak's insistence that "there's no particular reason they couldn't be built to fit adventures for any level".  Because of this, I'm totally convinced that a first-level Zak Smith D&D game would be just as engaging as an adventure featuring characters at "name level".  
  • Smith exhibits exemplary writing chops, dishing up evocative passages like: "accusations and small conspiracies metastasize and meld throughout Vornheim like shadows in torchlight."  Noice.  
  • The "Oddities and Superstitions" (pages 7-10) and "Law" (page 39) sections are certainly no weirder then what actual human history has served up over the years (I know for a fact that the "Day of Masks" celebration and trials by combat certainly had real-world antecedents).  Amidst Zak's rogues gallery of original monsters, Axe fans will be thrilled to see details on the Wyvern in the Well as well as the uber-creepy homunculi assassin twins known only as The Chain.    
  • Zak's approach is put into practice in the "House of the Medusa" mini-adventure.  To give players pause for thought he writes: "if the myths are true, about one-twelfth of the of the stone on the planet should revert to flesh upon (the Medusa's) death."  Although you'd be hard-pressed to interpret this literally, throw-away details like that really had my imagination percolating up an original adventure.  What if a Medusa actually made her lair partially out of the stone bodies of her victims?  If she were killed, the resulting overhead rain of flesh and stone would certainly serve as a nice final "fuck you" to her attackers! 
  • The author describes "The Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng" as "a strategic cat-and-mouse game where the GM has control of several cats".  Conveniently, the adventure scales in difficulty according to how much information you're willing to dole out to your players before they venture inside.  Once again, Smith isn't content to let such an exotic place by ruled by some boring generic wizard.  In fact, even veteran dungeon crawlers will be hard-pressed to ascertain the identity of the zoo's true overlord.
  • Zak wisely populates the Zoo with abominations of his own design, including a Xortoise, a Vampire Monkey, a Candelabraxian (?) Peryton and the infamous Flailceratops.  These gruesome unknowns will completely horrify new players and also flummox veteran adventurers who've killed more orcs, goblins and kobolds then Mitt Romney's had hot meals.  Speaking of Romney, my favorite creature description is the Demonic Fly, which is "dumb and vicious but has an intricate knowledge of politics".  
  • "The Library of Zorlac" adventure and the "Rules for Libraries" on page 41 finally gives players a motivation to collect books.  Although ideally designed for players from Level four to seven, the difficulty can be tweaked by "how clever, aggressive and co-ordinated the NPC's are".  In deliberate contrast to the previous two quests, the Library is positively rife with mind-bending puzzles, many of which have to be solved in order to move from room to room.  The puzzles are pretty inventive and a few of them are downright nefarious.  
  • Again Zak serves up a veritable menagerie of loopy librarians and bizarro creatures, chief amongst them being the Dividing Demon who can take control of the PC's in a very unconventional manner.  To balance out the creature's considerable power, Zak declares that "the demon can only inhabit rooms with an even number of living creatures", which almost single-handedly justifies the book's "Superstitions" section back on page nine.  Oh, and librarian Krask's special attack is as nauseating as it is surprising. 
  • The Player Commentaries are a real treat and had me pining for the yet-to-be-released episodes of I Hit It With My Axe.  Connie provides my favorite comment RE: The Chain: "it really made me uneasy and unhappy and disturbed and displeased and seemed really hard to likes things that are hard to kill."         
  • In yet another example of Smith thinking outside the box, he proposes a very simple but elegant  method of generating city neighborhoods while in-game.  He then goes on to explain: "creating a game supplement which goes into too much detail...forces the GM to memorize names and distinctions invented by someone else before feeling comfortable enough with the setting to use it."  This is probably why I've always eschewed vast city settings like Ptolus in lieu of slapping together small towns with sketchy descriptions of buildings and residents.  The tools provided by Smith actually give Game Masters the ability to improvise a new city visit with tremendous ease and confidence.  The same can be said for Zak's lightning-bolt-fast Urbancrawl Rules and Floorplan Shortcuts.  Bottom line is: if you read this stuff you're gonna get excited and dare yourself to run a by-the-seat-of- your-pants style adventure as well.     
  • Although I prefer playing out "Gather Information" and/or "Streetwise" checks as they're rolled (thus slowly building up a stable of contacts for the players), Zak suggests that the PC's should already have a small handful of connections in any given city so long as they've lived there for more then a month.  This certainly gives players the ability to role play as amateur gumshoes right off the bat.
  • I'd love to invoke the Chase Rules to watch my PC's try and avoid collision with an overweight vicar.  
  • The Item Cost Shortcut is proof positive that Zak is definitely operating on a different level then the rest of us.  In those instances when you really don't want to play out shopping trips or research item costs, Zak breaks every conceivable item down to a penny / nickel / dime / quarter / dollar scheme with the exact price set at "five gp per syllable".  Since a bullseye lantern should certainly cost more then a plain ol' vanilla lantern this actually works surprisingly well.  
  • In "God's Chess" an actual game of chess between the GM and a player can have lingering, over-arching influence on the campaign's narrative.  Frankly I think this is a brilliant way to show the PCs they're just one cog in a much larger machine whilst also giving them a hand in word-building.  
  • Then there are a slew of wildly inventive random tables which provide harried GM's with instant adventure hooks while giving players a collective ulcer.  As Smith opines: "There are times when the GM saying 'Oh, wait, I have a table for that...' can create far more dramatic tension then any dragon or lizard man."  Say on, brotha.  
  • Zak's "City NPC Tables" don't just give us a name (say Sasha of Nexis) and profession (City Militia Chief).  With a couple of quick rolls, we can also deduce that Lady Sasha is inherently shiftless, is an inordinate fan of public executions and once had her palanquin tipped over by a lawyer secretly nicknamed Orrik the Liar.  Man, even rolling that up was fun!  
  • The Games listed under the random Tavern Table quickly makes you forget about such innocuous fare as "Three Dragon Ante" and "Knucklebones".  

If convention is the greatest enemy of RPG creativity, then Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is the Bible for this approach.  I plan on running an olde-skool sandboxian one-shot D&D game soon and I can't wait to have this by my side at the table.  The beautiful thing is, Smith is clearly a fan of many different RPG genres and it really wouldn't be too difficult to adapt many of Vornheim's philosophies to horror, western or sci-fi gaming.  We just need a pair of follow-up kits for wilderness adventures and dungeon-crawls (hint, hint!).    

Honestly, I really do believe that Vornheim was written completely in step with Tom Moldvay's sage advice:

"No rule is inviolate, particularly if a new or altered rule will encourage creativity and imagination.  The important thing is to enjoy the adventure."

And let me tell you, there's plenty of adventure to be had here.

With its unbridled creativity, evocative artwork and liberating philosophies, Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is certainly one of the most practical and compulsively readable RPG supplements I've ever encountered.  It easily scores six pips outta six!

Looking to pick up a copy of Vornheim: The Complete City Kit?  I got mine from Noble Knight and experienced nothing but impeccable service.

Monday, August 6, 2012

For Instant D&D-style Sandbox Wilderness Adventure, Just Add Players: "Runebound"

This past Wednesday night we were slated to finish up our play through of Warrior Knights which we'd begun the previous week.  Unfortunately, poor Dean had to contend with yet another unexpected crisis:

"Xcell 1 (a critical bioreactor) just went 'Fuck you, I’m on a break'!  Sorry guys, but it’s looking like a late night for me.  You can still game just not at my place."

Fortunately Andrew had five games prepped, including the D&D-esque, hex-based sandbox wilderness crawl Runebound.  Since all of us are fans of the venerable Fantasy Flight classic, the competition really didn't stand a chance!

Players begin by selecting one character out of a possible twelve fantasy archetypes.  By rolling Movement Dice, these character traverse through a realm of varying terrain (including plains, hills, swamps, roads, and forests) encountering monsters, enduring skill tests and earning Gold and experience whenever they succeed.  Just like any traditional RPG, these things can be levied for better equipment and superior stats.

As players progress through the game they face increasingly difficult challenges until someone manages to overcome three of Margath's lieutenants (thus collecting Dragonrunes) or someone actually manages to defeat the High Dragonlord himself in mortal combat.

Since this is a pretty major gloss-over job, you can check out a full PDF of the rules right here

Now, although Fantasy Flight claims that the game can be played in two to four hours, that's virtually impossible to do with four players.  In order to achieve some semblance of a finale in one evening we decided to adopt the following three variants:

(1)  Instead of having one big amalgous market deck, characters can visit specific shops and locations in every town.  You can go to the Weaponsmith for Weapons, the Armorer for Armor, the Tavern for low-level Allies, the Guildhall for High-Level Allies, the Enchanter for Artifacts, the Ritualist for Rituals and the Rune Master for Runes.  Not only is this more intuitive it make a helluva lot more sense thematically.    
(2) You only need one Experience Point to get to Level One, then two for Level Two, three for Level Three and then four for each subsequent level-up. 

(3) Whoever kills the first red Dragonlord wins.  Bonus props if it just so happens to be Margath!

In another slight wrinkle, Andrew pooled characters together from several expansions, giving us a wide variety of choice.  Here's how the character selection broke down:

Andrew selected Bogran the Shadow.  

Chad picked Sir Valadir.

I became Trenloe the Strong. 

And Mike was looking quite fetching as Andira Runehand.

And here's what the board looks like at the start of the game (take particular note of the initial spread of available goods and the divided market decks sitting off to the right).  

Turn One

I got to play first, moving Trenloe from the central city of Tamalir to Dawnsmoor in the southwest.  In the town's market I spent all three of my initial allotment of Gold to buy a Dragontooth Hammer.  

Chad followed suit but failed to find anything affordable at the Dawnsmoor Armory.  

Mike ventured to the colorfully-named Hanging Woods to the northeast and encountered a Razorwing.  After defending himself from a Ranged attack, he managed to slay the beast in the Melee segment, scoring a coin, some experience and a Mind Value level-up!

Andrew travelled from Tamalir into the Ashen Hills.  He failed to get a free attack after whiffing his pre-combat Climb challenge and then got clobbered in the Ranged segment for a point of damage.  He bounced back in Melee, however, killing the creature and leveling up his Mind Value.  

Turn Two    

I trekked from Dawnsmoor to the equally off-putting Misty Plains and ended up tangling with a Sky Full Of Wasps.  I took a strike from their long-distance assault but managed to kill them by tapping my newly-acquired Hammer in the Melee round.  This gave me a level up, which I gladly applied to Trenloe's Body Value.  

Chad took on a Green Challenge in the same region.  He was blind-sided by a deadly Assassin On The Loose, taking two damage in the Ranged segment.  After a woefully poor Melee roll of 4, Valadir was forced to take a third wound.  And then, during the second round of combat, the Assassins managed to fell the mighty knight with two more points of damage!  Even after re-assuring Chad that "if yer gonna die, do it early", it was still cold comfort.   

Mike's character Andira hiked to the Western Hills and expertly avoided peril in the Ranged Phase against a new foe.  She wasn't quite so lucky in the hand-to-hand fight portion of the fight and was forced to take two Hearts worth of damage.  Andira bounced back in the Magic phase, frying her opponent for an experience point and scoring a coin to boot!

Now wounded, Andrew was forced to roll one less Movement Die for Bogran.  After limping back to the town of Forge, he paid one Gold to heal himself and then hired a Highway Guardian with his last three Gold.  As such, we applauded his restrain for not blowing all of his money on ale n' whores.  
Turn Three
Trenloe stumbled back to Dawnsmoor, spent a Gold to get patched up and then made a Griffon-line straight for the Tavern.  Borderline destitute, I couldn't find any hirelings who were willing to work for trail rations and the occasional hand job.    

Chad dispatched Valadir to the Misty Plains where he managed to battle and defeat something called a Golden Skull Wielder (?) during the Melee phase.  He scored a Gold coin and then leveled up his Mind Value.

Mike headed back to Tamalir to spend his meager coins on healing two points of damage and then retaining a willing (and obviously very open-minded) Rune Seeker.  

Andrew stumbled into a Ghost Stag while exploring the Ashen Hills.  Bogran delivered two points of damage during the Ranged Phase, but his Guardian was wounded (appropriately) during the subsequent Melee.  After successfully defending against a Magic assault, Bogran delivered the deathblow during his second Ranged attack.  

Turn Four 

I got jumped by a beastie while traversing the eastern grasslands, forcing me I'm to suck up two points of damage in the first Round.  Despite this, I managed to drop my foe with three damage in Round Two and collect two much-needed Gold.  

Chad ventured north-east, looking to avenge well...himself against the triumphant Assassin that bested him earlier!  This time he successfully defended during the distance attack and leveled two points of hurt during the subsequent hand-to-hand combat.  Although he managed to polish off the Assassin in the next Melee phase, he certainly didn't get away scot-free; suffering a point of damage during the Ranged Phase.  The three-coin reward that followed served as a welcome balm to these minor abrasions.

Mike had Andira strike out west towards the Flametail River.  Along the way he stumbled into the Lair of, Bakkon.  After a Swim test to avoid Fatigue, his Rune Seeker managed to win the Ranged skirmish and deal a point of damage.  He failed to defend himself during the Melee, however, and his life total dipped by two.  Andira had her revenge in the Magic phase, however, making sure that Bakkon ended up nice n' crispy!

While Bogran was a-wanderin' along the Thelsvan Highway, Andrew rolled a successful Mind-based reaction test to avoid the coils of Hungry Worms.   He then managed to slay the beast in one expertly- timed Ranged attack. 

Turn Five 

I'm off to Riverwatch to blow my, go shopping, but after paying two Gold to to heal Trenloe the Semi-Congealed I'm only left with a single coin.  As such, the one-use, two-damage-avoiding, dirt-cheap Shell Shield seems like a pretty good deal so I figger 'What the hell?' and pick it up. 

Chad visits the Weaponsmith in Tamalir but everything's a bit too rich for his blood so he just settles on healing three points of damage.    

Mike heads due North to Nerekhall.  He spends his one and only Gold coin to buy some healin' muffins and then goes window shopping in the Enchanter district.  

Andrew discards "A Gift From The Gods" to heal up one point and then marches straight into a Razorwing Nest in the eastern hills.  He rolls over "6" to defend in the Ranged phase and then delivers the coup de grâce in the following Melee round.   
Turn Six

I killed an Atavax in one round while exploring the Mountains of Despair.  With my experience point cup runneth-ing over, I unwisely decided to diversify Trenloe by upping his Mind Value.  I didn't know it at the time but this oversight would soon prove disastrous.   

Chad made his way north along the Thelsvan Highway towards Greyhaven.

Mike put Andira up against a frightening Nest of Bane Spiders.  After deftly avoiding the snare of "webbing", he managed to defend himself against both Ranged and Melee attacks, allowing him to perform a one-shot kill during the Magic Phase.  

On the path just north west of Vynelvale, Andrew narrowly avoided a lightning bolt cast by a dangerous fiend.  After Bogran softened up his quarry with two points of damage during the Ranged Phase, the Highway Guardian managed to mop up the threat in the following close skirmish.    

Turn Seven
Given my multiple level-ups, damage-absorbing shield and potential to deliver three points of damage in one blow, I'm starting to buy into my own delusions of grandeur.  As such, I made my way down into the Smokeblue Hills and took on my first Yellow Challenge.  The first card flop turned out to be the incredibly annoying "Doom at the Crossroads", which forced us to fight Ghoul Patrols whenever we dared venture onto the main roads.  My challenge proper came in the form of a Hunting Party.  In Round One my first hand-to-hand attack hit for a whopping three points of damage but then my luck immediately went down the cesspool.  I rolled no less then three nines in a row, putting me just one point shy of the Party's 17 value Melee strength.  Even after sacrificing my shield I was still laid low, causing me to lose all of my coins and, even worse, my Hammer.  If I'd just leveled up my primary ability last time instead of increasing my Mind Value, I would have won!  Instead I'm sent packing back to Riverwatch in a body bag.  

Chad initially stumbled into a Ranged contest against the Ghoul Patrols, taking a point of damage before overcoming the threat.  To make up for this, he handily dropped a Varakesh Necromancer in the first round by delivering two points of Melee damage and picking up two gold. 

Mike made his way along the Crimson Forest hills before chancing upon an encounter.  He defended himself in the Ranged phase and then handily bested his rival in the Magic Phase.

After facing the Ghoul Patrol along the Thelsvan Highway, Andrew ran into a flock of Razorwing Raiders.  With an advantage gained from a successful Sneak check, Andrew managed to kill them in the very first Phase, earning a Gold.  The rest of us are beginning to suspect that he's single-handedly trying to put Razorwings on the endangered species list.  

Turn Eight    

After waking up in the Riverwatch infirmary, Trenloe tentatively inched his way up north into the Ashen Hills.

After rolling "nary a forest" Chad just can't get where he's going.  After rambling south into the hills just east of Starfall Forest, Valadir encountered a Vingolen after coming off of a successful Hide test and killed the creature in the first round of combat.

Mike's character Andira entered Greyhome town limits and blew two Gold to recover two points of damage.

Andrew went back to Riverwatch and sought out the Armorer to procure the incredibly valuable Shield of Light.

Turn Nine   

Trenloe stumbled upon the Temple of Margath deep in the Ashen Hills.  I failed to parley my excellent Tinker roll into a successful first-round Melee attack and ended up suffering two points of Magic damage.  Mercifully I dropped the hammer on these pervy priests in the second Melee round by rolling an 8.  Actually I couldn't have dropped the hammer on them since my hammer was stolen by some slimy corpse-thief, so I guess I just beat them to death with a pillow case filled with rusty doorknobs.

Chad's Sir Valadir hit the Thelsvan Highway, forcing him to contend with the Ghoul Patrol.  After taking a one-point smack in the Ranged category, he killed them outright during Melee.  He then picked his way through the ominous fields just north of the Mountains of Despair until he encountered an enemy.  After two very effective hand-to-hand combat rounds, he was able to overcome the threat and recover his very own Dragontooth Hammer!

After Mike's Movement Die failed to get where he's going, I did him a solid by using the ability retained on the "Sky Full of Wasps" card to get him to the Crimson Forest where he was promptly attacked by a Deathwitch (mmmmm....Deathwich).  After handily nailing his Diplomacy test, Mike defended in the Ranged Phase, skipped the Melee portion and then clobbered the bitch in a spectacular Magic duel.

Andrew thoughtfully avenged me by taking out the Hunting Party in Round Two.  Not so thoughtfully, he decided to help himself to the four Gold which, by rights,  should have been mine.  Fucksticks.

Turn Ten

I continued the long and arduous process of clawing my way back to the status quo.  The process was nudged along ever so slightly when I managed to beat up the Servants of Vorakesh and steal their measly, single coin worth of lunch money.

After wading through the consistently annoying Ghoul Patrol, Chad killed a recently refreshed Green Encounter during the Ranged Phase and acquired one Gold for his Herculean efforts.  

Mike went East and powered through his own encounter with the Ghouls.  Just after that he was  Ambushed, forcing him to spend Fatigue in order to avoid damage.  In the second round, he conquered the threat and picked up two Gold coins.  

Meanwhile, Andrew's Bogran (okay, that kinda sounds dirty) travels north-east to pick a fight, wading through a Ghoul Patrol en route.  From out of nowhere a vicious Sabrecat pounced on him, but Andrew perforated the beast with a Ranged attack before it could even get close to him.  This snagged him a single coin which is kinda weird since, little known fact, Sabrecats rarely carry their wallets on them. 

Turn Eleven 

My effort to get back up to speed is foiled when I'm set upon by Giant Beetles.  Since my Melee roll of six was one shy of what I needed,  Trenloe the "Strong" is killed.  Again.  Honestly, in the immortal words of Albert King, if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all.      

Chad sent Valadir to Tamalir (try saying that five times real quick) and acquired a point of healin' and a  Sun Elf as an Ally.  What's a Sun Elf you may ask?  If afraid that only one who could possibly answer that is the eight year old kid that Fantasy Flight obviously retained to come up with it in the first place.    

Mike dropped two Movement Die to recover two Fatigue and then went East.  He defended against the Ghoul Patrol's Ranged Attack by rolling a 20 and then killed them in the Melee phase.  A Mistress of Ferrox turned out to be his main encounter, which he managed to destroy at a pretty hefty cost during Round Two.  

He also played the "Sky Full of Wasps" card on Andrew to help him reach the triumphant Giant Beetles that were still symbolically tea-bagging my remains.  Andrew showed me up by killing them in one Round and gaining two Gold as a reward.  Hello salt, meet wound!    

Turn Twelve 

I sent Trenloe the Strong into the charmingly named Hanging Woods where he was promptly set upon by Vorakesh Necromancers.  Although I didn't score a combat advantage after failing my Sneak check, I did cause two points of Melee damage and successfully defended against their strong Magic assault.  My second hand-to-hand attack also landed true, taking down my quarry and netting me some loose change.          

In the guise of Sir Valadir, Chad set off to the mountains just east of Starfall Forest.  Despite failing his pre-combat challenge and taking a point of damage he managed to whack his enemy in the first Melee Round and claim three sweet, sweet coins.  

Mike put two Movement Die aside to rest up and barely budged out of his makeshift wilderness lean-to.  

Andrew managed to dispatch a Berserker Ent in one Round.  Jerk.   

Turn Thirteen 

In dealing with the friggin' Ghoul Patrol for the first time, I took a point of damage during the Ranged Phase but exacted my revenge by killing them during Melee.  I proved to be equally lethal against a Razorwing Hunting Pack, pulverizing them but good during the first Melee Phase.

Chad/Valadir went off to the big city of Tamalir to get a package healing deal for himself and his stupid hippie Elf.  

Mike's Andira put down the Ghoul Patrol in the first Magic phase.  In his scrap against the Servants of Varakesh he dodged the Ranged attack and then stabbed his opponent right in the brain during the knife fight which followed.   

After healing a point of damage in Forge Andrew couldn't find anything to buy.  Man, that Gold was just a-burnin' a hole in his coin purse!    

Turn Fourteen

I send Trenloe back to Tamalir for some bactine n' band-aids.  After all the sweet, sweet healin' I finally retain my first Ally in the form of a diminutive but otherwise meat shield-y Dwarven Ranger.

Chad faced his first Yellow Challenge.  In a nicely co-ordinated attack his Sun Elf inflicted a single point of damage in the Ranged Phase and Valadir delivered the finale blow in Melee.  

After hearing good things about the leech-handlers in Frostgate so went there to convalesce, eventually recovering three points of damage.

After healing his Ally, Andrew undertook a stirring act of heroism and went,  

Turn Fifteen          

After tentatively testing Tinker, I took on the Temple of, Margath.  Unfortunately my Dwarven Ranger was apparently so wee that I completely forgot that he was standing there.  As a result I had to suck up a point of damage in the first Round.  I did manage to hit for two points of damage during the fisticuffs phase and remembered shorty in the Ranged phase of Round Two, which allowed me to finish of the Templars.     

While headed North, Chad killed the Ghoul Patrol during the Melee Phase.  Again.  

Mike passed the pre-combat challenge versus Lady Cathori so his Rune Seeker got to stay in the fight!  He dealt damage during the first Magic Phase, received a one point counter-attack from Cathori in Round Two and then polished her off with a second on-target spell blast. 

Andrew kept trolling through the markets of Forge like a shoe addict in an Orlando retail outlet and then bitched about not finding anything to buy.  Waaaah, poor baby.  Diamond shoes too tight?         

Turn Sixteen   

After hearing a rumor that the charming hamlet of Forge had a great bagel place, Trenloe the Peckish went north.

After overcoming "Bound for Suffering", Sir Valadir bumped into a Skeleton Horde.  Chad's Sun Elf did a point of damage in the Ranged Phase and Valadir completed the one-two punch in Melee.  He then collected three Gold, which, at this stage, I'd sell my own mother to acquire.  

Andira passed a Swim test, avoiding a point of damage.  Mike rolled effectively against the Brood of the Bloodmother ('Brood of the Bloodmother'?  Really?!?  Who the fuck came up with this stuff?  Todd McFarlane?), killing her with Magic at the end of the round.      

After trying in vain to find a dream bow buried at the bottom of a Wal-Mart DVD discount bin Bogran finally left town.  Andrew pulls a new Yellow Condition and needless to say none of are particularly broken-hearted to see "Doom at the Crossroads" get trumped.  Although "Calling Down the Inferno" sounds ten times worse, we're relieved to learn that it just gives characters a point of Fatigue when they enter a Forest hex.  Cripes, over dramatic much?  Next Bogran has a run-in with Sir Vyleen the Fallen.  After inflicting two damage in Ranged, Andrew was forced to tap his shield to avoid taking two smacks in return.  In Round Two he polished off Monsieur Vyleen in the Ranged phase.  

Turn Seventeen 

Trenlow managed to slay a Lizard Rat in one Round, earning me a Gold and a Melee level up.  Can you fucking believe that I'm still killing rats this late in the game?  

Valadir fails his pre-combat challenge and the Sun Elf gets perforated in the Ranged Phase by a Rune Apprentice.  He bounces back by dealing three damage during the Melee Phase, putting the upstart Apprentice in tha dirt, yo.    

Although Andira fails to Resist the advances of Lord Farrow and earns two Fatigue (wow, sounds like the plot of a bad Jane Austen novel) he does drop a combined three points of damage during Melee and Magic, killing his opponent.  

Brogran gets surrounded by the Hungry Dead but manages to defend the initial Melee assault with his Shield o' Light.  The subsequent Ranged attack finishes off the shambling threat!  

Turn Eighteen

Desperate for Gold I move two hexes into the Forest, voluntarily take a Fatigue from "Calling Down the Inferno" and then discard the "Hidden Treasure" card that I'd picked up earlier in order to score three Gold.  

Chad moves Valadir to Grayhaven for some much needed R&R.

Mike began a south easterly trek, shelving one die to decrease his Fatigue.  He encountered a monster en route and killed it in the second round with a two point Magic attack.  Andira suffered three Fatigue and three matching wounds in the rough fight!  

Andrew has Bogran join me in my space.  Instantly I assumed that he was going to rape me like Ned Beatty in Deliverance but my overtly pitiful state seemed to be a turn off, even to Andrew.  

Turn Nineteen          

I moved Trenloe the Pokey two spaces to Forge and then picked up a Mace of Kellos for six Gold pieces.  

Valadir happened upon a Ferrox outside of Nerekhall.  He expertly defended himself in Ranged combat and then dropped three points of damage in Melee, effectively splitting the thing from crown to groin.  

Again Mike broke out the camping equipment to get rid of two Fatigue and played a reserve card to discard a Heart of damage.

Bogran arrived in Grayhaven and procured the "services" of Runesmith Shan.    

Turn Twenty  

Trenloe hiked five river spaces towards Tamalir.  

Heavily Fatigued, Chad crept one space south.

Mike guided Andira in a south-easterly direction, setting aside one Movement Die to get rid of her final Fatigue.  He then came up against a formidable Yellow Challenge: Lady Vorakesh.  In the first Round Mike used Andira's special ability to give his Seeker a +2 bonus to hit, a gambit which paid off.  He then creamed his foe in the following Round's Ranged Phase.     

After twenty turns worth of near-flawless flawless build up Andrew finally felt confident enough to tackle a Blue challenge which came in the form of a Hybrid Berserker.  Things got off to a promising start when the newly-acquired Shan delivered a three-point Magic blast even before the combat started!  Rocking a +11 modifier to his Ranged roll, Bogran had absolutely no problem putting an arrow through the Berserker's eye socket.  Just like that, Andrew picked up five (easy) Gold pieces and leveled up yet again!    

Turn Twenty-One

Now armed with a decent weapon, I finally started taking on Yellow Challenges again like Kral the Bone-Lich.  After succeeding in my initial Jump challenge my unfairly-maligned Dwarf managed to stave off a deadly Ranged attack!  This allowed me to counter with a solid showing in Melee, causing four points of damage with my Mace.  This allowed me to pick up three precious Gold in the loot drop.  Although I'm flushed by my success I know that it's way too little and way too late.  

Chad's Sun Elf dished out a point of Ranged damage against Sir Farran the Pale.  The three additional Melee damage that followed efficiently felled the threat!


Mike overcame "A Question of Honor" to gain a free Ally for himself!  He then had to contend with "Zombies on the Loose" which he managed to defeat in Round Two.  Unfortunately he's forced to heavily Fatigue Andira in order to keep his Rune Seeker alive!  

Andrew went for the win by going after a Red Challenge which turned out to be Dragonlord Arborax.  Things looked a bit bleak at first when Bogran failed his Jump check and took three Fatigue and two Damage!  Things got even grimmer when Shan's pre-combat Magic attack fizzled.  Nevertheless, armed with a healthy +13 bonus to hit during Ranged attacks, Andrew bounced back, dealing two damage.  The Highway Guard defended during the Melee and Shan stood true during the Magic duel.  Even Arborax couldn't sustain Bogran's withering Ranged assault and he eventually dropped, giving Andrew the win!       



To me, Runebound is the gaming equivalent of a comfy pair of slippers.  It was our first introduction to the world of Fantasy Flight and it really showcased just how thematically awesome a board game could be.  

But by no means is it perfect.  First off, the setting of Terrinoth feels like something that was spawned from the over-clocked, half-baked imagination of creatively embryonic prepubescent teenaged boys.  In lieu of anything original or flavorful, the Fantasy Flight crew have served up a pretty generic milieu where everything, even the so-called "heroes", have an evilish veneer of laughably overdramatic bad-assery.  

In a less frivolous criticism, Runebound takes a long friggin' time to play through to the end.  Even with our speed-up rules and rolling movement die in advance we didn't get to the real end, even after three hours of solid play.  And perish forbid if you suffer an ill-timed setback like I did.  If this happens to you, I sincerely hope that you dig the character-building aspect of the game since your odds of winning are now completely dependent on the leader's hypothetical fuck-ups. 

But I do love the character building as well as the movement, equipment and combat rules.  As a lapsed Dungeon Master I really dig the palpable feeling of cross-country wilderness exploration, the town markets and the skill challenges.

Even though the old gal is starting to show a few liver spots, I still love Runebound dearly and I'll never pass up an opportunity to play it.  I give it four pips out of six with a healthy tilt up...