(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.
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.
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.