Circle of Blood – Night Battle at Mercal, scenario 1

A few weeks ago, before everything was shut down here in Denmark, we had the chance to play the first scenario in the Circle of Blood campaign published by Games Workshop in 1997 for WFB 5th ed. and written by Warhammer luminaires Tuomas Pirinen and Jake Thornton. I don’t play 5th ed. but the campaign is easily transposed back to our retro universe of WFB 3rd ed, which I thus did.

The campaign basically consists of four linked scenarios; three minor encounters and one grand finale. The backstory revolves around the so-called Red Duke – a vampire knight banished to his grave centuries ago in Bretonnia. The Red Duke has now risen again and seeks to overthrow Aquitaine and have his revenge on all mortals. It is up to the knights and men-at-arms of Aquitaine to prevent The Red Duke from gathering his forces and butchering the realm.

The outcome of the first three scenarios has a direct influence on the last, final battle, which gives a nice sense of continuity to the proceedings.

The first scenario is dealing with the necromancer Renar, who has travelled to the village of Mercal, where a number of The Red Duke’s knights are imprisoned by magic in a moldering mausoleum. The inhabitants of the village have been able to gather a small force to defend the village and graveyard from the undead and they thus stand ready when the dead arrive to reclaim their lost comrades. The undead force is, of course, spearheaded by the necromancer Renar, while the defense of Mercal is led by the so-called Holy Knight Albert Lainnon and his second in command Jean-Paul Fabez.

Renar the Necromancer

The Holy Knight (to the right) and Jean-Paul Fabez (to the left)

In this first encounter a few special rules apply, which I twisted slightly to fit our 3rd ed. rendition of the campaign. First of all Renar instantly wins the battle if he is able to cast the spell Summon Undead Hero while in base contact with the mausoleum. Secondly The Holy Knight Albert is in possession of the blessed Shield of Virtue, which prevents any necromantic spells to be cast within 6” of him. Finally the scenario takes place at night. Each turn 4D6 is rolled to determine how far in inches the Bretonnians and Renar can see, which of course applies to charges, casting spells and shooting.

I was initially a bit concerned with this scenario as the forces begin very close together and it seemed like a fairly simple thing for Renar to scurry up to the mausoleum and cast his spell. Measured in distance only he would be able to win the scenario in two turns. However, it proved really difficult for him and I must say, that this really is a fine little scenario with a lot of tactical elements as well as a fun narrative. The magic of The Holy Knight’s shield prevented him from simply casting his spell and the undead had to kill or drive off the knight before they could succeed. This they also nearly did, but in the end the Bretonnians won the battle by killing Renar.

The setup suggested in the campaign

Our rendition of the setup

It was a close and really exiting battle played in little over two hours. The darkness definitely worked to the advantage of the undead, rendering the Bretonnian archers almost useless and making it very hard for the knights and their mounted retainers to make use of their long movement range. This could easily have been won by the undead, but the Bretonnians won, which means that The Red Duke now has to rely on the named characters from the scenarios, as he is not allowed to include any additional heroes in his army during the last scenario, whereas the Holy Knight will fight again during this last combat.

If interested, these were the rosters we used: The Holy Knight_roster and Renar_roster.

This is how it all looked when presented in a bit random fashion:

 

 

Isle of Dread, Chapter 5: Grave robbing

Just before Christmas we managed to get in another session in our Isle of Dread campaign. This time the scenario had the character of an encounter, leaving it up to Malcom and his party for how long they wanted to stick around. The story went something like this:

Malcon and his group are still trekking northwards trough the steamy jungle, heading for what they suppose is an ancient temple ruin in the heart of the island. While some riches and much experience has been gained so far, the trip has also begun to take its toll on the party, and two members of the group have died so far.

While scouting ahead the little halfling thief Jolly Drake discovered what he believed to be some sort of old burial ground. He also found a cave in the rocky hills leading into a tunnel. Hurrying back with this message, it did not take long for Malcon to decide that it might be a worthwhile little detour. He thus decided to leave the barbarian Ghimar and two men-at-arms outside the cave, guarding the pack mules and Azza, an amazon the party has taken as a prisoner during the last encounter, and now bringing along as a potential information source or leverage.

In and down underground they went and things soon proved difficult, as the place was guarded by undead creatures. The group succeeded and plundering some treasure, but a host of walking skeletons caused problems and when a huge, undead creature all of a sudden awoke from its slumber, things looked dire. Nevertheless, Malcon and his group succeed in dissolving the undead giant in what only can be characterized as a very close shave. They had collected some gems, a scroll with some spells and a magic cloak, which they decided was enough. The group left the crypt, only to discover that another fight had taken place outside the cave opening, where small kobold-like creatures, armed with slings and clubs, had attacked the men guarding the entrance to the cave. Also here things went in favour of the group, but the pesky little creatures killed one of the men-at-arms, making it a bitter victory for the group, who now could continue their journey northwards. spelunking

So, this was the story in this session. A fun game, which took place at two different tables. This made things slights chaotic, but also fun, as the situations were very different.

As you can see, the “dungeon” was very primitive. It was really just pieces of painted cloth with some dirt here and their. Nothing fancy, but it worked, and may not win any prices for ingenuity, but it was an easy way to get the party below ground, without spending too much time prepping for the scenario. If you fancy sending your minis below ground, I would certainly recommend this type of dungeon, as it gives slightly more than merely painting the thing on paper, but only requires a minimum of extra effort.

This is how It all looked.

The table with the entrance to the cave

The “dungeon”

Malcon and his party going spelunking in the ancient crypt

Ghimar standing guard

Plundering an old grave

Kobold-like creatures sneak up on Ghimar and the two other guards

Ghimar defending the their equipment

More action in front of the cave

The restless dead rise

The dead are coming for the intruders

Peter the Melancholic looking for treasure

The dead are closing in

Still fighting outside the cave

The skeletons are putting the pressure on Malcon and his men

Something ancient stirs in the crypt

Ricco, Peter and Kenza run out to get Ghimar down underground but soon decide that there is no time and return to the cave

Malcon has no choice but to face the giant creature

The final battle in the crypt

Things to come and entering the jungle

When I stopped posting images of my minis on the blog a while ago it was largely because I was busy with writing other stuff and at the same time began to question the whole point with the blog. Having had some time to think it all over, I thought that one thing which actually would make things a bit more interesting for me would be to write more about the actual games we play and not solely focus on the minis. There is an abundance of great, great blogs showing minis and serving as inspiration; you gotta love sites like Magpie and Old Lead, Leadplague and Belched from the Depths, to mention but a few.

However, at least when it comes to the so-called Oldhammer scene, the emphasis seems first and foremost to rest on the minis and not the games as such. This, I think, is a shame. Thus I will in the future attempt to write about the scenarios we play in my little gaming group and give as much information about those games as possible in order for others to potentially be inspired. Not because what we do is terrible cool or innovative, but because it often is these small glimpses into game situations and scenarios which sparks fresh ideas; this is at least what I often experience. The downside is, of course, that you will have to live with my shoddy English, but this is how it has to be.

 

The call of the wild

As I have written in my last post, we have launched a new fantasy campaign using Warhammer 3rd ed. rules scaled down to skirmish level. This means no units, no wheeling and all that other stuff. We have furthermore implemented an experience system more or less similar to what you would find in 1ed. Necromunda and the post-game casualty and injury tables from Rogue Trader. All of this is to give the campaign a sense of progress on character level as well as a sense of continuity to the story we tell through our games.

The 1ed of the Isle of Dread Module, here with fun cover art by Jeff Dee.

What is more interesting is what it is all about. The campaign we are playing is basically the old D&D module The Isle of Dread, written by David “Zeb” Cook and Tom Moldvay. We are thus here talking some proper old school stuff. As most of you probably will know, the scenario was the first real outdoors adventure for D&D when published back in 1981, and it was later re-released in 1983 as part of the classic blue box D&D Expert set. The copy of the scenario we are using is actually from my old version of the box bought back in 1991, I would guess. I actually never played the scenario in my D&D days and this little venture is accordingly my first use of the scenario, but it is cool finally to use something I have had in my collection for such a long time.

My old battered copy of the blue Expert box set and the not so battered Isle of Dread module with cover art by the great Timothy Truman.

If not familiar with the module, you might wonder how this would work as a miniature based game. Of course we cannot use the scenario straight from the text, but the thing is that the whole module is very open and in essence a long list of random encounter, a few fixed encounters and a climax taking place at the centre of the Isle of Dread mentioned in the module title. The island itself is, by the way, a riff on the island of King Kong including giant creatures, dinosaurs, fierce tribesmen etc.

What you see here is the super-secret DM map provided in the scenario for the players to explore. The player version looks like the second map below and is mostly blank, as the players are to explore and fill in the white as they travel land inward. When, in our campaign, following a path the party can travel up to three hexes pr. session, when forcing their way through wilderness they only travel two hexes pr. session.

The super-secret DM map

The Isle of Dread player map.

What we basically are doing in our campaign is to record the travels of our group of protagonists as they travel inwards on the Isle of Dread and experience encounters as they move along. We operate with two types of encounters. Each of our sessions has one main encounter or battle, functioning as a little scenario. As part of the post-game we then decide where our protagonists travel next and if they come across a random encounter. For this we roll a D6: On a 1-2 the party are confronted with what probably is a hostile encounter. When this encounter happens we also decide by roll: 1-2 pre-scenario, 3-4 during scenario or 5-6 after scenario. The random encounter therefore serves as a little prelude or aftermath to the scenario proper, or it can be integrated into the scenario as such. The slightly altered random encounter lists we use looks like this:

The random encounter tables we use. A () indicates the no. of appearing if there is a possibility of more than one

To add further details to the campaign, we decided to keep track of food rations, equipment, gold etc. and give our party with two packmules, all of which might serve as the inspiration for potential future scenarios and encounters.

So what is it all about then? The background is as follows.

 

The Black Pearl of Dread

Malcon deWitt, a former citizen of Marienburg, has spent a few years adventuring in the Empire after deserting from his unit of mercenaries. Never fit to follow orders his ambitions and taste for the good life drew him to follow his own course. Through many encounters he drifted southwards into Tilea and finally he entered the great city of Remas, which became his new home and base of operations. From here Malcon explored the ancient ruins of the region and sold the art objects and treasures he salvaged. Along the way he met Ricco di Leonora, who became his close friend and collaborator, and they in turn were joined by Jolly Drake – a renegade halfling thief whose nimble fingers soon became crucial to their operations in the tilean ruins.

The trio has one thing in common: They all share a huge appetite for wine, gambling and exuberant spending. The opportunities for such is great in sunny Remas and the trio are thus broke more often than not. This fact has gradually begun to take its toll on their spirits and the three friends started to have serious conversations about the future. They somehow needed to find a quest with a worthwhile payoff, enabling them to withdraw from active life and enjoy the fruits of their efforts. This opportunity came half a year ago.

Here the priests of Manaan come into the story. Malcon had previously done business with the order, whose cult is prominent in Marienburg and gives Malcon sweet memories of childhood. The temples of Manaan is sought by many merchants and travelers. In Remas a sailor ravaged by jungle rot and the liberal imbibing of lotus juice has delivered a strange tale to the priests of Manaan in exchange for a bed in the hospice of the order. The sailor told how an ancient ruined city exists on a plateau in the centre of the Isle of Dread, found south of Sartosa. In this ruined city a huge black pearl, called the ‘Pearl of the Gods’, is resting. This pearl is supposedly vested with eldritch magical powers and just waiting to be grasped by anyone bold enough to transverse the fever plagued jungles which surrounds the plateau.

The Warhammer World with the Isle of Dread marked with a red circle

 

This tale was alluring, but the basis for the story was also resting on the words of a fever ridden, half drug-crazy sailor. The priests of Manaan therefore decided to offer Malcon and his friends a proposition; they were to travel to the Isle of Dread and claim the fabled black pearl.

The deal is that the priests of Manaan finance the journey for Malcon and his party as well a number of henchmen to accompany the group. If they find the pearl, and it turns out to be what it is said to be, the priests will pay the party a huge sum of gold. Furthermore, the group may claim whatever treasure they find on the island; the priests are solely interested in the pearl. This proposal Malcon discussed intensely with Ricco and Drake over a couple of days and finally they agreed to take the job despite all the problems with a long sea journey and the dangers on the island itself.

Malcon, Ricco and Drake, accompanied by Malcon’s loyal hound Kenza, ten men-at-arms and a representative of the order of Manaan named Peter the Melancholic thus left Remas by ship and headed south. Talking to the sailors onboard of their vessel they soon learned that there is at least one inhabited settlement on the Isle of Dread, called Tanaroa, on the southern tip of the island. This little settlement is inhabited by a mixture of the indigenous people of the island, pirates, smugglers and adventurers passing through. Tanaroa is located on a slim peninsula which is cut-off from the rest of the island by a giant wall of ashlars build by the gods. This, at least, is what the natives claim and they only rarely travel into the jungles to the north, saying that the heart of the island is taboo because this is where the gods sleep.

During the voyage to the island two of the men-at-arms died. One fell overboard, the other was stabbed to death by a drunken sailor. However, despite these small setbacks Malcon and his group has now arrived in the hot, humid village of Tanaroa where they plan to stay awhile to gather food, equipment, mules and perhaps further information about the island.

The first chapter in our campaign will follow soon.