Battleshed Diaries

Wednesday 9 March 2016

The Fighting Pit

Da da dah! I'm back. I've never really been away though. Just a wee blogging hiatus whilst I concentrated on a number of other interests and commitments that crop up from time to time. The gaming has continued as regular as ever. Just without any commentary.

Since the Prestonpans show I've played SAGA, Sails of Glory, Wings of War and produced a demo of Advanced Songs of Blades and Heroes at my local gaming club. Oh, and moaned a lot about my painting mountain.

To be fair, my painting output - which is subject to great peaks and troughs (mostly troughs!) at the best of times - has been influenced by one of those cryptic 'interests' I mentioned. Not completely though. I've finally finished an element of 18th century British Regulars destined for the French and Indian wars. A post and photos incoming, once the battle standards have arrived from GMB Designs.

Having dipped a very tentative toe into the historical scene, I quickly whipped it back out again to splash (have you seen my painting attempts?) a bit of paint in the more comfortably familiar fantasy Dwarf painting mountain. Bear cavalry to be exact. Heavily armoured dwarfs with long spears on Savage Mounts? Yep, it has to be done!

On Monday evening this week I, along with my good gaming buddy Sam Pate, demonstrated the Songs of Blades and Heroes rules for a few members of the Falkirk club.

I'll get onto how that went shortly, but firstly I'd like to briefly elaborate on one of those 'interests' that has led to me neglecting this blog for the last week or so.

I've been taking some time out to work on a writing project I've been fermenting over a long time. The journalist and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens is quoted as saying "everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay." I'm kinda' hoping that at the first half of that witticism proves to be true.

Which partially explains the hit on the blogging output recently. I've been sharing keyboard time. What can I reveal? 

It's a novel. It has elements of SF, Fantasy and contemporary fiction. It will involve 'world building' and is the culmination of a story idea I've had knocking about in one form or another over a good few years. 

I've reached a time in my life where I feel I have the opportunity to dedicate time and energy to start weaving together all those disparate idea threads. A kind of 'now or never' scenario.

I may add a related page to this blog to provide more information at some point, but certainly not until at least  a first draft is completed. Whenever that will be. A long, interesting journey awaits. I think I'd better concentrate on writing the damn thing rather than writing about it!

I suspect it's a familiar and rather romantic idea that many of us entertain occasionally but the realities and restrictions of life usually stifle the inner novelist' for most. Those that somehow defy the odds and progress beyond mere wish fulfilment are probably more likely destined for the Shrine of Unfinished Novels. A tiny, tiny fraction ever make it to fruition let alone any kind of commercial success. Especially competing with all the alternative entertainments in a digital world. 

I have no illusions about the huge difficulties, realities and pit-falls of attempting to write a novel.  Even so. I'm going to give it a go. Even if its just to say I tried. Wish me luck!

The Fighting Pit (click to enlarge)
Anyway, now I've got that out. Back to the gaming. Monday evening. This week. Falkirk Wargaming club.

It should be obvious I'm a bit of a fan of Ganesha Games Song of Blades and Heroes rules and it's various supplements including the recently released Advanced Songs of Blades and Heroes and, of course, the long awaiting Hammer and Forge book of dedication for all things Dwarfy.

So I thought I'd offer a demo for the club members. Unsurprisingly, given the large variety of genres played and the enthusiasm of the Falkirk massif, there was quite some interest. That led me to thoughts of a multi-player scenario. 

Something simple, as my objective was primarily to demonstrate the basic rule mechanic. So I turned to an old favourite of Sam Pate and myself, especially for campaign planning. A free, fan-made conversion from Hour11 Gaming of Warhammer and Mordheim scenarios for Songs of Blades. Its a whopping list of scenario ideas and I highly recommend a look 

I chose to use a slightly modified version of the 'Shove em' In!' scenario.

Described as 'a brutal gladiatorial contest of those captured in war. A multiplayer battle of shoving each other into the pit full of spikes'.

A good choice, as it didn't require much scenery other than something to represent my imaginatively titled Pit of Doom. A quick visit to Google images, a bit of card printing and a pair of scissors did the trick.

Next up I produced three basic warbands from my 28mm miniatures - two Dwarf and one Human. 

Some of the characters will be familiar to my readers! I set these at 300 points (or near enough) with some variety between. Rosters (click on images), QRS and an explanation of the spells and spell-casting mechanic for the human player were also provided.

The human warband was the only one with a Spellcaster. The dwarfs, on shorter moves (for obvious reasons), had a mix of melee and a ranged abilities. 

I was using the Advanced rules - including the Reaction system. Perfect for representing each warband's desperate struggle for survival in the Fighting Pit surrounded by a maliciously taunting mob of Dark Elves.

So how did it go? I moderated (sort of!) whilst three of the club members got stuck in. Two battles played. 

For the first, Battlebeard's Cheer got off to a good start as the other two warbands managed to roll a turnover almost from the off! Battlebeard led his dwarf warriors swiftly around the Pit of Doom heading for Valgen's Lads who, unsurprisingly given Valgen's campaigning history, was stood looking rather perplexed.

Meanwhile, Magi Bayaz's humans quickly recovered from their faltering start and he soon summoned a successful Tremor spell. This had the whole Fighting Pit shaking and rumbling, affecting all the combatants. Each had to pass a Quality roll to remain standing. Including Bayaz's crew.

An early lesson for the Battlebeard's eager dwarfs; Ireheart was within Short of the Pit's edge when the spell struck. He failed to stay on his feet and the rumbling, bucking ground caused the cursing dwarf to fall in. He also failed a Hanging from the Edge test, his Dwarf curses abruptly silenced a few seconds later by a sickening squelch from the Pit of Doom.

This set the scene for both of the battles - players steering their warbands away from the dangers of the pit whilst they tried to take out the enemy warband leaders. Magi Bayaz also cast his Fireball spell to moderate success, although it was Tremor that was proving to be a key driver for the games. 

It completely changed the fighting dynamic of each warband whenever it was cast. Especially when any Prone models are subject to Lethal attacks; they just had to be beaten, rather than doubled, on the combat roll to be taken out of action!

With the Reaction system in play the close quarter fighting is unpredictable and often brutal. Any advantage can turn on a roll of a die. Players have to be prepared to constantly adapt their tactics. It's not a ruleset that lends itself to players who prefer the confidence of a finely tuned army. It's as described - fast-play fantasy skirmishing. With a large element of luck tempered somewhat by a character's Traits.

Indeed, I noticed the players were soon turning to their warrior's character profiles and Traits to try and squeeze an advantage. As you can imagine there was far too much going on for a blow-by-blow battle report. Suffice to say that the battles between the warbands characteristically ebbed and flowed around the Fighting Pit.

Battlebeard's Cheer took the first battle, eliminating the enemy warband leaders after a good start and continued to be the dominant warband throughout both battles, expertly using Outnumber to their advantage. 

Although it must be noted (to many light-hearted calls for a Stewards' Enquiry!) that the player was fortunate with a newly acquired set of club dice that threw an inordinate number of sixes! The Steward ignored the protests. He's getting a set for himself!

However in the second battle it was Valgen's Lads who rallied from their earlier defeat, putting up a stalwart fight with Battlebeard's Cheer after firstly thundering into Bayaz's humans, carving up the long-legs and giving chase to Magi Bayaz who unfortunately only ended up running into Battlebeard's Cheer advancing from the other side of the Pit of Doom.

With Bayaz eliminated not long afterward, the two dwarf warbands went straight at it. No messing about. With both their ranged fighters out-of-action it was down to a protracted strong-arm of sword, axe and spear so representative of this ruleset. 

Valgen's Lads put up a spirited resistance to Battlebeard's Cheer, even with their enchanted dice, to eventually get the win. Battlebeard was down. Valgen's Lads, bloodied and heaving deep breaths could only lean on their weapons looking shocked as the remainder of Battlebeard's dwarfs were brutally led away at spear point by Elven guards to their fate.

White marker = character has Reacted this turn
Thoughts? The only issue was the terrain board. The scenario recommended a 24"x24" battlefield with a 'Pit of Doom' 6" square. I used a 36"x36" board with a 8"x8" pit. In retrospect, my battlefield should have been smaller or my Pit of Doom much larger. With the odd piece of terrain added - such as a scattering of rubble or debris. 

The area around the sides of the pit were too wide, allowing the players to almost circumvent the Pit in the centre and as a result it mostly became piece of quiescent terrain to navigate rather than a focus of attention.

Overall however, I think my key objective of demonstrating the basic rule mechanic worked. The players all expressed they had fun and were keen to explore the rules further.

Over on another table, Sam Pate was similarly demonstrating a three-way game with one of the club members and another visitor, Jimboba from Root around the Warchest. No doubt enticed out of the Warchest with the prospect of Sam's 15mm warbands! 

Sam was putting to good use his bespoke gaming mat and some of the club's scenery. From the chat in the car on the way home (Sam was riding shot-gun) by all accounts his game went pleasingly well too. 

You can read all about it on his blog, Wee Blokes

So, that's' it for now. A few upcoming posts in the pipeline and I'm scheduled to try a new system at the Falkirk club next week - Alien vs Predator. That should be interesting. I'm quite looking forward to it. 

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