Warhammer Underworlds Alternate Fighters

Custom Warhammer Underworlds fighters and cards. The idea is to provide an alternative version of some of the early warbands to allow them to interact a little more with some of the newer mechanics, or just to give some of the weaker ones a boost.

Garrek’s Reavers:

I really love the Slaughterpriest model, and wanted to toss him in with these guys. He’s a kind of magic/anti-magic fighter. Very strong, definitely changes the mood of the warband up. He comes at the cost of the warbands two best fighters, however and doesn’t have much defense, so it’s a bit of an all eggs in one basket sort of situation. He hits hard, but he’s got a lot of utility as well. The Stun keyword is one I came up with, and plays as follows: “If an attack with the Stun keyword is successful, place a charge token next to the target fighter.”

 

Steelheart’s Champions

Not a huge change for these guys; Thunderborne is more of a tweeked version of Steelheart than a radically different approach, trading some of Steelheart’s attack power for some major defense. I tried to play around with making these guys a little more guard focused.

 

Ironskull’s Boyz

(In development. Weirdnob Shaman, anyone?)

 

Sepulchral Guard

Really love the skeletons, but they’ve definitely fallen behind a bit on the power curve. As such, I wanted to give them a slightly boosted alternative. Wagnar isn’t quite as good at attacking as the Warden, but he brings some serious spellcasting mojo to the warband, and I like the twist of having him raise the undead by magic. Unholy Dissolution is my attempt to get around the fact that your fighters have to die – giving your opponent glory – in order to get inspired.

 

The Chosen Axes

Another warband that I felt needed a boost. This time the alternative fighter isn’t the leader, but one of the other fighters. He’s a bit more powerful than them, but, like I said, they need the extra oomph. Runic Power is the big one here; it’s a card that I feel like they should have had from the beginning.

 

Spiteclaw’s Swarm

More magic! And, like the necromancer, an alternative version of the warband’s original resurrection mechanic. I played around with a lot of different versions of the warpstone ability, and I’m really happy with this version. Powerful, but extra volatile, yes yes.

 

The Farstriders

(In development. How about a pair of Gryph Hounds?)

 

Magore’s Fiends

(In development. Skullgrinder. Definitely a Skullgrinder).

 

I also want to add some Nightvault Alternates as well. Already did a couple of them:

 

Eyes of the Nine

More Daemons! These guys seem like they’re all about ranged attacks, but their attacks are all really weak, so we’ve got here more dangerous horror (which also gives you an alternate way to get the blue guy on the board) and gives you a stronger ranged attack. His Inspired reaction is just there for fun, sending him capering around and dancing out of range of enemy attacks.

 

Zarbag’s Gitz

I love the grots. Only problem? Not enough of ’em. This gets rid of those pesky squigs and gives you a proper hoard of gobbos, trading the hitting power of the squigs and Drizgit’s solid statline for extra synergy. The standard bearer is key here, allowing your hoard to start swarming right from the very beginning without needing a lot of push shenanigans or overly restricting your board choices. You’ll have to fight smarter to make up for the weaker and squishier fighters, though.

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Warhammer Quest

(Repost from BGG thread here)
I. Under a Twisted Sky

Red dust swirled across a desolate sky in thick copper clouds, bearing upon it noxious brimstone fumes and a heat like unto the very forges of Sigmar. The wailing cries of a hundred thousand gibbering horrors floated in the howling wind.

The sounds were coming nearer.

Vienar Braxis crumpled to his knees in the dust, unable to take another step. His breath rasped in the confines of his golden helm, thick and labored. He touched his gauntlet-clad fingers to his side and looked at them. His armored hand came away smeared red with blood.

The wound was deep, assuredly mortal.

He felt a cold chill of fear. Not another reforging. He couldn’t bear another. Each time he was brought back through that veil of lightning the memory of his Christibelle faded a little further from his mind.
She had been dead a thousand years ago on a world which no longer existed, and the memory of her was all he had left, the only thing to which he could cling. When she had left his mind completely, he thought, then the slender tendril of sanity would snap, and he would be lost to the abyss.

The wailing was coming nearer.

He turned back. There were two other men slumping through the red dust, now far behind, their golden armor tarnished and their fur cloaks limp and torn. A sharp cry cut the air, but this one did not speak in the undulating shriek of daemon tongue. Vienar lifted his eyes and saw his aetherwing bank and descend, and he felt a ghost of a smile play at his lips.

The iridescent bird descended in a flutter of indigo and vermilion. Its clever eyes took in the state of its keeper, and Vienar thought he saw sadness in the bird’s gaze.

“I thought you were dead for sure, Jixitla,” he rasped.

The bird squawked and hopped a little, indignant at the suggestion.
Vienar looked ahead. He could see the swirling silver light of the portal, perhaps a quarter of a mile on. It might as well have been a thousand leagues. He would not rise again, and he knew it now for a surety.

He lifted a clumsy and quivering hand to his neck and he removed the object which hung there. An ornate amulet cast in a strange metal for which he knew no name. The object seemed to quiver and writhe in his palm. He would not look at it. For this, they had crossed the realms. For this, they had walked the red desert and done battle with the very creatures of hell. For this, he was going to die.

He hung the cord about the aetherwing’s long neck. The bird shied away from it at first, as if it disliked the feel of the strangely cold metal against its body, but it did not refuse the burden.

“Go,” Vienar choked, “through the portal to the Lord-Castellant. He’ll know what it means. We can only hope that it does not come too late. Be swift, Jixitla.”

The bird peered at him for a moment longer, then lifted off, winging onward towards the swirling silver glow.

Vienar lay back. He reached a weak hand to the storm saber at his side, his fingers struggling to close around the handle. He gazed up into the nightmare blackness of a dead sky.

I’m dying again, Christibelle. Don’t leave me. I won’t forget. I won’t ever forget.

The wailing calls were coming nearer.

* * *

I loved Silver Tower. I think it was a great design that did an incredible job of blending the vibe of old-school Warhammer with a modern design sensibility, and showed off the new Age of Sigmar aesthetic in a way that managed to overcome my reluctance to engage with the setting.

Shadespire brought me back into the Games Workshop fold after a decade long absence, but it was Silver Tower that made me fall in love again.
I’d come really close to pulling the trigger on Gloomhaven back when it was first coming out; I even had a preorder in that ended up getting canceled due to a stocking mix-up. The more I thought about it afterwards though, the more it seemed like I’d dodged a bullet. I don’t have time for a hundred and fifty mission campaign, I don’t have a room in my house to devote to leaving one game set up indefinitely. I’ve got a kid now, and I wanted a game that I could pick up and put away more easily, something that would return a maximum investment of fun for complexity and time. And I’d fallen deep down the hobby rabbit-hole thanks to painting Shadespire warbands. And then there it was: Silver Tower.

It’s a great game but, like so many Games Workshop products, it has a feeling of being slightly under-baked, a nagging sensation that the rules aren’t quite smooth enough. Too many edge cases and ambiguities. The difficulty didn’t seemed tuned especially well, with it veering from cakewalk bordering on dull to brutal deathtrap in an instant. Since it’s a solo adventure, it was easy enough to work past those hiccups, but it still left me wanting more. And I had all those Underworlds warbands lying around… surely there was something I could do to develop the system further.

I started tinkering, shifting a few design elements here and there, beefing up the challenge and streamlining the experience a bit. I wrote some new encounter tables, designed some Adversary reference cards (the failure to include them is by far the game’s biggest flaw from a production standpoint) and started working on a new respite and ambush system.

Then I picked up Shadows Over Hammerhal. I knew it wasn’t designed for co-op, and two full campaigns of first edition Descent: Road to Legend have burned me out pretty hard on one versus many dungeon crawls, but I figured I could make it work.

Oof. If Silver Tower felt under-baked, Hammerhal seemed like it wasn’t even ready to go in the oven yet. The rules were cleaned up a little, the setting was great and the expansively told story was a treat. The game itself – though granted I wasn’t playing it quite as intended – left me totally cold.

I decided to overhaul the whole thing. Wouldn’t it be neat, I thought, to combine the two games into one overarching campaign? Nothing like Gloomhaven or Road to Legend’s monstrous undertakings, but significant all the same.

I thought it might just turn out to be pretty cool.

* * *

Design rule number one: don’t overburden the system. The beauty of the new Warhammer Quest, to me, is that it plays really smoothly and simply. A few sheets of stats and abilities, a couple decks of cards, then a little handful tiles, dice and minis. It’s refreshing. No more tackle boxes of different status tokens! I didn’t want to dump a ton of overhead onto that. It needed to be just as sleek as Silver Tower – if not more so.

I did add a couple components, spare bits borrowed from Underworlds to ease some bookkeeping burden. The Activation markers from that game serve to denote rooms which have and have not been searched – replacing the checklist in the rulebook from Hammerhal – and Glory markers make for nice level-up tokens to accommodate the new character development system. Wound markers work for the ambush system. Finally, the skill cards from both games are discarded. I’ve got something a little more exciting in mind.

Total component adjustments: three simple token types added, two of which only replicate something already present in the game, one deck of cards removed. Not bad.

That should give you an idea of where I was focusing my development, on what I perceived as the game system’s problem areas: Character Development, exploration and those darn ambush/respite rules.
We’ll take ’em one at a time.

* * *

Character Development. A staple of dungeon crawlers, noticeably absent here for the most part. As you quested you would gain skill cards randomly drawn from a single pool, and as the campaign went on you would sort of refine your choices, hoping to eventually get a set of abilities that fit your hero properly. It wasn’t that great. Heroes seemed overpowered pretty much from the start of the game and only became more so as it went on.

I did like that you weren’t juggling piles of cards and tokens to denote your granular advancement, however. That wasn’t something I wanted to lose. I also wasn’t ready to go full on D&D with a pencil-written character sheet. Then I had an idea inspired by the new wave of legacy games coming out.

Stickers.

Permanent changes to the hero sheet itself keep bookkeeping extremely simple while still giving a bit more ways to develop your hero throughout the game. And who doesn’t like stickers? Each hero gets a personal sticker sheet of advancements, and the skill deck is split into several simple skill trees, divided by the nine traits (adding in Totemic and discarding Crazed). Instead of getting cards, heroes place new skill stickers directly on their hero sheet. This accomplishes several things, in my view. I can add new skills and rebalance the ones already in the game without needing to professionally print cards, and it reduces the number of ancillary parts to each hero. Everything they have is “at a glance” right there on the card. And, again, stickers are cool.

* * *

Now onto the nitty gritty rules adjustments. The first thing you’ll notice is the new Scout action, and the Map and Torch cards placed on the two spaces on the Fate board formerly used for treasure and item cards. These tie into the new exploration and ambush rules. It was obvious that I needed to make a big change in order to make the Hammerhal stuff work as a solo game. Eventually, I ended up discarding almost all of the quest design from that game. No big loss, in my view. Sorry guys.

I didn’t want to lose the random dungeon exploration from Silver Tower, but wanted something different from the card deck that still seemed similar enough to not feel incongruous. So the game needed two subtlety different rules systems that would play well together and not give of the sense of being bolted together. That’s the big challenge here, and I’ll get to it in a minute.

Digression time, not a fan of the Hero Phase/Adversary Phase turn structure. It makes the game too much of an efficiency puzzle for my taste: kill all the enemies before they can do anything. Essentially, the game often boils down to the players working to prevent incident rather than reacting to it, and that just kills the fun. There’s a variant that’s been floating around in which a figure’s Agility determines its place in the initiative order that I quite like. So that heroes and adversaries go back and forth. Since I was re-writing all the hero skills and adversary rules, it was easy enough to integrate this change more fully.

Now, I don’t think it’s any secret that the respite and ambush rules in Warhammer Quest just kinda suck. As written in Silver Tower, they’re bordering on nonsensical, and were completely discarded and redone in the first FAQ. The new version wasn’t much better though. Ideas that I like: the sense of danger gradually increasing as the campaign goes on and the concept of having moments of rest in which the heroes have a chance to get their bearings after a tough fight. Things I don’t like: everything else.

I much preferred the Search action from Hammerhal to the way it was tied in with respites in Silver Tower, so that was an easy change. I wrote a couple search tables in the style of the encounter tables, and use the tokens to mark which rooms have something to find, and that was that.
But what to do about those ambushes? Obviously they need to be there to spice up the action and give the quest some dynamic shifts, but the way they’re written in both the Silver Tower and Hammerhal rules leaves me cold. I don’t like the fact that it’s an all or nothing thing that comes down to a single dice roll. You can’t really do anything to affect it, you just have to ride it out.

Goodness, I haven’t talked about Unexpected Events, have I? I feel pretty much the same way about them as I do about ambushes, so let’s just cover that together, why don’t we?

* * *

The Fate dice system. Well done. Unexpected Events. Badly done.
I don’t like them in Silver Tower, where it seems like you’re flooded with events and familiars all the freaking time, and I don’t like them in Hammerhal where it feels like they never happen. So here’s a simple fix: Toss one of the unused renown markers on the Fate board (let’s make it one of the scary Silver Tower ones, how about Black). Every time a Fate dice is discarded, advance it one space. When the marker makes a circuit, an event takes place. Nice and clean. Predictable unpredictability. Improved pacing.

I took the same concept with Ambushes. Now you make an ambush roll every turn, but if you fail (the difficulty now determined by the party’s overall achievement level) you don’t go directly to having an ambush, but instead add a danger token to the current chamber. You also add one when there’s a respite. If you end up with three tokens in one chamber, then an ambush happens.

Here’s the catch, though: When you take a Scout action, you can devote some of your time to staying on alert and add that dice to the Torch card. When you make your ambush roll, you can take any number of dice off it and roll them too, choosing the result you like. This gives you something else to do with your dice in the downtime, but it also produces a really great source of tension. You can go into a battle with a good stock of dice saved up on those torches, but then you’ll get entangled in a nasty brawl. Ambushes can now happen during a fight already in progress, so you’re going to need to keep those Danger tokens off. As the battle wears on, your supply is going to dwindle. Do you sacrifice a chance to attack or heal so that you can shine a light in that dark corner over there? It just feels right, and feels thematic. It’s easier to stay on guard when you’re not in the thick of it.
There are two big advantages to both these changes. I feel that they actually draw the player in more because they give you a sense of knowing that something bad is coming and keeping you in a state of tension. It’s not a binary on/off thing, and the clock is always ticking. You can see that eye going around the circle, you can see the danger tokens accumulating. For minimal rules overhead – I don’t think these rules are any more complex than those written – you get increased engagement and smoother pacing.

The second advantage is that it gives me a few more knobs and levers to fiddle with when designing dungeons and adversaries. The Bloodreaver Hornblower can blast his trumpet to increase the number of danger tokens, the sorcerers of Tzeentch can wind the clock of Fate a little more swiftly, and all sorts of rooms and events can adjust these new bits back and forth. Granted, some of these effects were already (clumsily) represented in the rules, but the additional granularity offered here makes it work.

* * *

Okay, okay, this is going on way too long. What other rules changes are there? Lots of little tweaks… Movement, healing, attack ranges… There’s a new exploration system to simulate your journey through the winding tunnels beneath Cinderfall, a new damage type – Poison, which starts out like any other wound and gradually becomes more deadly if you leave it untreated, and more! Look, just read the rulebook. It’s a pretty svelte 9 pages, which is a fact I’m hugely proud of. Could have done with more illustrated examples maybe, but this is a one man operation here. Maybe in the next draft.

But you don’t play Warhammer Quest for the rules. The rules are important sure, and I think that these changes are going to improve the game experience in a major way, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re in it for the Adventure.

If I’m happy about the slender size of the Guide Book, I’m even more happy about the expansive scope of the Adventure Book. It clocks in at a hefty 80 pages, which is, appropriately, about the length of the Silver Tower and Hammerhal adventure books put together. It comprises a reworked and rebalanced take on each of the eight Trials in the Silver Tower, an expanded and redone Cinderfall adventure section that incorporates the White Dwarf side-quest system, and, as its centerpiece, a totally new way to explore the undercity of Hammerhal Aqshy.

The basic idea is that there are six levels beneath the city, each of which offers an array of increasingly dangerous chambers. When you explore, you will roll to determine which chamber you have found, eventually working your way to the stairs leading further down. It works similarly to the exploration cards from Silver Tower, but is broken into a series of smaller areas. One quest in Hammerhal, then, would usually be comprised of three levels, each of which is made up of 3-5 chambers.

Quest Example

At the lowest level of each quest lies a mysterious portal to the terrifying labyrinth of madness which is the Silver Tower. Only by delving deep and discovering all eight portals can you hope to collect the fragments of the mysterious amulet and thwart the plotting of the united Gaunt Summoner of the Tower and Chaos Sorcerer Lord Radomir in their efforts to infiltrate and destroy the great city of Sigmar.

Hammerhal Quest Book Example

Silver Tower Quest Book Example

Eighteen quests and six side-quests, two dozen hero classes (and counting), forty new and revised adversary groups and a totally redone ruleset. I don’t know if this is the epic cooperative campaign you’ve been waiting for since Shadows Over Hammerhal came out, but it’s the one I’ve been waiting for. And now it’s done.

* * *

Well, sort of done. There’s a ton of flavor text yet to write to flesh out the personality of the game and tell the story properly – at the moment it’s only about half finished. The game itself is, however, more or less feature complete. You can play the game now from start to finish.

I’ve put in literally hundreds of hours of work designing and playtesting this, and it’s roughly where I want it to be. There’s still a lot of work to be done, however. Cleaning up the rules text, balancing the encounters and abilities and of course the requisite metric ton of proofreading.

This is not a final and finished release, it’s more of a beta version. But it’s all pretty much there. If anybody else is interested in giving it a spin, you are more than welcome, and I encourage any and all feedback.

I’ll put together a little guide on Miniatures and cardstock and sticker paper and stuff in a little bit. The bottom line though, is that if you have or can proxy the miniatures, then anybody with both Warhammer Quest games and a color printer is going to be able to play this with relatively minimal effort. Follow this link here to download the files and have at it. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1kAcQ_YeMOlJXoSvgOqhDoB5jXz… I’ll be updating them as I go along, and there are a couple gaps still, but what’s here is enough to get started. The core of the game is done.

Note that the game is intended to be used only by people who have purchased both Warhammer Quest games. It is meant to give you another way to play with what you’ve already bought, not to replace it. Silver Tower is out of print, but can still be acquired relatively easily (but move quickly on that), and Hammerhal is still being produced as of now. All images and adapted text are the sole property of Games Workshop, and this project remains publicly available at their discretion. All original text and design is my own.

Enjoy.

In Bondage

Has there ever been a cultural icon quite as baffling as James Bond? Year after year Bond films are vomited forth from the bowels of the film industry, churned out one after another to continually mediocre result. For more than half a century we have watched, inexplicably devoted to these half-baked and lukewarm cinematic excretions. Yet in all that time, under the shepherding of dozens of directors and writers, nine actors portraying the character over a quarter of a hundred films and counting, never once has the series produced anything of real quality.

There are no classic movies in the James Bond series. There are only Classic “Bond movies,” as if they were a media all unto themselves, divorced from the rest of film, an inevitability that must be accepted on its own terms as if no alternative existed. They have become an institution by right of mere longevity, their actual merits essentially irrelevant. They continually follow the trends set by other films, and for following slavishly in the footsteps of more original works are heralded for their innovation and boldness.

The movies are never especially good, and their individual cultural impact negligible at best, and yet for some reason we continue to care. We live in a continual fervor over who will next take up the mantle of this brutish, crass, and violent dullard. As if it mattered. Perhaps this year a black man will portray the thuggish revenant of imperial Britain, or maybe a woman. When a minority Bond is the one stumbling through a checklist of aged and tedious clichés, only then can we congratulate ourselves for the accomplishments of the progressivists.

Why have we become so attached to this regressive power fantasy of postwar England? Why does the series continue to stay relevant despite its profound and avowed anti-relevance? Why has it lingered on while the other examples of ephemeral and cheap escapism belonging to its era have faded from view?

I don’t know. I just know that there will be another Bond movie coming out soon, and then another and another. Here we sit, tickets clutched in our hands, waiting with the shining eyes of awe-struck children, content to watch a spectacle of no more value than if the corpse-marionette of a desiccated Hugh Hefner were sent dancing across the stage by some obstinate and obscene puppeteer.

I, for one, have seen enough.

Battles of Westeros: War of the Five Kings Campaign Expansion

First, a little history lesson.

Battles of Westeros is a board game released back in 2010 by Fantasy Flight Games. An adaptation of the BattleLore system to the world of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels. It had a good handful of expansions over the next couple years before fading away. Late 2015, it was given its final farewell in the form of a clearance priced holiday sale burn-off. What killed it? Tough to say for sure. Bad timing, maybe, as the TV series hadn’t yet taken hold of the public quite as fully as it has now. Command and Colors fatigue is a possibility. I mean, how many adaptations of Richard Borg’s lovely little battle system do we really need? The BattleLore brand didn’t help either, as the fans of the old game were probably irritated about it haven’t been abandoned in favor of this setting. Then BattleLore second edition comes out, and Westeros exits stage left.

Still, it had a good run. Taken together, we’ve got three full factions and three supporting factions. Boxes and boxes of lovely minis, with something like fifty scenarios to play. Not to mention a pretty decent skirmish generating system.

But it wasn’t enough.

I’d picked up the game during the holiday sale and found that I quite enjoyed it. A large part of the reason for purchasing it was to get back into miniatures painting, as I’d given it up something like fifteen years ago and always felt a bit of a pang to take another whirl. I played a few scenarios, a few skirmishes, I painted dozens and dozens of minis, back aching and eyes squinted. I kept thinking, however, that I could do more with it. There is an embarrassment of riches inside these boxes, with hideous numbers of tokens and bits that hardly get used. Couldn’t one simply take those pieces and… well, find a use for them?

I knocked together a couple custom skirmish cards, but it still wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve always detested setting up scenarios in games like this, glancing back and forth from book to board to make sure these pieces and those are all just so. But the skirmishes felt weightless, too insubstantial. BoW is a fast and furious game, relatively speaking, and there’s little reason not to simply throw your men upon the blades of the enemy and hope for the best. That’s when it hit me: what I had here was unique suited for a campaign expansion. Piles of excess components, large numbers of units from multiple factions, a system already in place for creating customs skirmishes and a rich world and narrative just waiting to be brought to life.

The life-span of the game provided just enough material to fully enact the War of the Five Kings storyline from Martin’s books. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best part of the series, and it would be a delight to have a campaign game which replicated it. A Targaryen or Night’s Watch expansion, while fun, would have been extraneous. And without the Tullys, Clans, Baratheons and Brotherhood, the narrative would have suffered from excessive gaps. It was too perfect.

I’ve always loved campaign systems in board games, miniatures game in particular, and I’ve often flirted with the idea of designing them. This time I was going to do it for real though. I had everything I needed and more.

But how to go about it? The thing about designing a campaign add-on for an existing game is that you’re basically making a whole new game, but with a huge number of constraints. First, the campaign must be mechanically and thematically congruous with the existing gameplay. Second, the campaign must offer a deep and compelling experience without being so complex or involved that it distracts from the meat of the game. Third, and most important is this: the campaign must affect the individual battles in a meaningful way, and the battles must likewise affect the campaign in a meaningful way. The last consideration, an important one specific to fan-made expansions, is that the thing has to look good, and be relatively easy and affordable to produce at a level of quality which will come within spitting distance of the current game.

For the past eighteen months or so, I have been designing, tinkering, playtesting and prototyping. Now, as the final elements of the design slide neatly into place, the game is ready for release. All the relevant files will be uploaded into the wild, for you to use as you see fit. This is, after all, the final goal: that anybody out there who possess this fine game and has an interested in what I’ve made will be able to make and play it themselves with relatively minimal effort and expense.

I am very pleased, at long last, to present: Battles of Westeros: War of the Five Kings.

 

 

 

Voir Dire

It is the fourth day of the rapist’s trial. He sits flanked by three lawyers in gray suits. He wears black. A hundred men and women file dutifully into the room. They sit on an old oak bench.

The defense lawyer stands. He faces the people in the jury box and he clears his throat.

“Alright, everyone here who has ever been raped. Raise your hand.”

“Everyone here who’s ever been stalked. Raise your hand.”

“Everyone who’s ever been the victim of sexual abuse.”

“Who’s ever been harassed at work by a member of the opposite sex.”

“Who’s been pressured into giving consent because they were afraid of what would happen if they said no.”

The lawyer nods at the judge and the judge speaks. “You may go.”

Fifty women lower their hands and leave the room, while fifty men sit back down.

The man in the black suit smiles. The woman sitting beside the prosecutor prepares to face a jury of her peers.