Friday 22 April 2016

Age of the Wolf - Wandering Bards

Age of the Wolf is a very nice campaign system, but it doesn't include all standard SAGA elements. I've previously discussed how players could incorporate Priests and Swords for Hire units into campaigns. One SfH unit that is perhaps unlikely to be selected as a mercenary though is the Wandering Bard (although I think players should be allowed to do so if they wish).

Bards can be useful in games (especially since they generate a SAGA die). But I think many players also consider them something of a liability - especially when facing Vikings!

So I've had a think about how to include them and think it's all down to fate...

The post battle fate table on pg. 20 of the supplement allows warlords to choose their own fate if they roll a 6 followed by a 6. Warlords choosing their own fate? I think not!

This 'choose' option could be used to introduce all sorts of things to the campaign. Here's my take on how it could be used to introduce bards.


If a 6 followed by a 6 is rolled on the fate table (pg. 20), replace 'choose' with the following.

The Warlord's growing reputation is spreading far and wide and has attracted the attention of a Bard. The warband is immediately joined by a Wandering Bard who takes up an available unit slot (ignore if no slot is available). The bard insists on accompanying the Warlord and must always be selected as part of the warband. Standard Swords for Hire Bard rules are followed. In addition to any other future victory spoils, the Bard's wild tales of death and glory mean that the warlord gains one extra Reputation point. A warband may only include a single bard. If a second bard is rolled on the fate table, roll again.

Bards slain in battle use the non warlord casualty table previously described for priests (just replace the word 'priest' with 'character').



Wednesday 20 April 2016

Age of the Wolf - More Observations

After more reading of the Age of the Wolf (AoW) supplement I thought I would offer some additional observations (and hopefully some useful suggestions). Only those folks who went to Salute will have the new publication (apparently it goes on general release in May). However, I thought it might be useful to deal with some of the likely queries before it goes on general release. I'll try to keep this as straightforward as possible and cover issues in the order they appear in the book (note - there will be things I overlook so please do add a comment if you spot anything else and I'll update this post). I've also posted this information on the SAGA forum if you prefer to enter comments there. 

Before I get started it's worth reiterating the point that I made in my recent review. The supplement reads as though it was written before Crescent and Cross (C&C) was published. Some quirks will relate to that fact. 

pg. 9 Devout Trait. The Devout trait allows a Warlord to be accompanied by a priest. Players should note that the rules for this priest are specific to AoW and not the same as those detailed in C&C. 

pg. 11 Ulf the Quarrelsome. Ulf is listed as a Hero of the Viking Age that may be used as a warlord with preset motivations and traits. In The Raven's Shadow the Irish Warband rules state that Ulf is not a Hero of the Viking Age and may not be used as a warlord. I think The Raven's Shadow rules should be followed in this regard. 

pg. 16 Homeland Scenario. Homeland is listed as an Invasion Scenario where a Campaigning warband attacks a Defending warband. When the Homeland scenario is played in normal games, each player bids to see who is the defender and who is the attacker. In AoW the situation could therefore occur where the Campaigning warband invades a Defending warband's territory but ends up being the defender in the buildings... I don't think this is too much of a problem. If this situation occurs, just imagine that the Campaigning warband has invaded and is in the process of pillaging when the Defending warband arrives with reinforcements to drive away the attackers. It still works fine I think. 

pg. 18 Setting up Terrain. This is just an observation, but note AoW states that terrain may be set up in any mutually agreeable manner. C&C terrain set up rules can therefore be used without difficulty. 

pg. 19 Warlord Casualties. Two tables are presented for determining what happens to a warlord 'killed' during a battle. One table is for winning warbands, the other is for losing warbands. No advice is given for what to do if there is a draw. I suggest that if there is a draw, each warband should be treated as though it lost (so slain warlords are dealt with using the Losing Warband table). 

pg. 21 War Banners. The AoW rules refer to the original rules published in The Raven's Shadow, without reference to the modifications introduced in C&C and subsequently detailed in the Dark Ages faq. I suggest the updated banner rules are used (ie. in addition to standard rules, war banners automatically remove 1 fatigue from their unit at the end of each Activation Phase if the unit hasn't been activated in that phase).  

pg. 23 Jomsvikings. Jomsvikings are included as a 1 point mercenary unit. In my copy of the main rule book, Jomsviking Swords for Hire are described as a 2 point unit. I wonder though if this reduction in points in AoW is a deliberate design decision by the author (due to the extra point of wealth needed) and therefore don't propose that it is 'corrected'.  

pg.23 Hearthguard Minimum Unit Size. This is just an observation. Players should be aware that there is no minimum unit size. However, the minimum size of a hearthguard unit that can be fielded in AoW games is two figures. I can think of at least one warband where this may prove quite useful... Minimum sizes of warrior and levy units that can be fielded remain as per the standard SAGA rules (4 figures). If units of levy or warriors drop below four figures, they remain on the roster but may not be fielded in games. Note that small units can be merged so there is little risk of a warband ending up with many small units that cannot be fielded. 

pg. 28 The Burh (new scenario). Now this may be me, but there looks to be a discrepancy in the description for troop deployment (within L of the walls or gate if outside the burh) and the accompanying figure (seems to suggest deployment only within L of the centre of the gate). There are also two quarter M radii illustrated in the figure, but I can't see any reference to what they are for in the text. Simplest solution is to simply follow the text description I think. Since the defender has a defended obstacle and gate with any number of buildings permitted inside the burh *and* starts the game with only a single unit of hearthguard in reserve, I'm guessing this may be a difficult scenario for the attacker to win...

Other Suggestions:

1) Victory Points. There is no discussion of how many victory points warlords are worth. In the standard game, warlords are worth 3 victory points and Heroes of the Dark Ages (named characters) are worth 7 victory points. Since even standard warlords will acquire traits and special rules in AoW I think this difference in points will need to be addressed. By the end of the campaign standard warlords with randomly determined abilities may be more powerful than the more costly Heroes. The simplest solution is to make all warlords (including Heroes) worth either 3 or, better still, 7 victory points. My suggestion though is to start off standard warlords at 3 victory points, but increase their value to 7 when/if they acquire the 'Hero of the Viking Age' special rule (pg. 10).  

2) Priests. The rules for C&C priests are not included in AoW. The simplest solution is therefore to ignore C&C priests and use AoW as written. If players wanted to incorporate C&C priests, the Devout trait (pg. 9) could be modified to permit a randomly generated Warlord Priest. d6 roll 1-2 = Religious Advisor; 3-4 = Warrior Priest; 5-6 = Enlightened. I also propose that non-warlord priests can only be recruited by Atheling Warlords that roll 'Reinforcements 1D6 Hearthguards' on the Fate Table (pg.20). In this situation the player may either recruit the specified hearthguards or recruit a random priest. Priests take up a unit slot on the roster. Atheling Warlords are those with a Power rating of 15 or more - Power being a value determined by resources and available units.

If a standard priest is killed during a game a roll should be made on one of the following tables:

Winning Warband 
1-3 Minor Wound. The priest is ok and accompanies his warband into battle as normal.
4-5 Heroic Wound. The priest fought a heroic battle gaining a reputation point for his warlord. The priest may continue as normal. 
6 Seriously Wounded. The priest is seriously wounded and must miss the next game to recuperate. 

Losing Warband
1-3 Seriously Wounded. The priest is seriously wounded and must miss the next game to recuperate. 
4-5 Dead. The priest has been slain in battle and is removed from the roster. 
6 Captured. The priest counts as seriously wounded (as above) but is also captured by his opponent. A ransom must be paid, so the priest's warlord loses one Wealth and the captor gains one Wealth. 

3) Swords for Hire. Only two Swords for Hire units are mentioned in AoW. These are Steppe Nomads and Jomsvikings. I really think it is a shame that other Swords for Hire Units are not included since they work so well as mercenaries. My suggestion is as follows. Swords for Hire units can be included as mercenaries using the rules detailed in AoW for Jomsvikings (pg. 23). In summary, a Sword for Hire unit can be included as a single point mercenary for an additional point of wealth. For example, if a unit of Angry Monks was hired it would form a single 1 point unit for an overall cost of 2 wealth (1 wealth for including mercenaries and an additional wealth for the Swords for Hire). Since they will cost an additional Wealth resource, I suggest all Swords for Hire units cost only a single point (even if their rulecard states they cost two or more points). Standard rules for hiring Swords for Hire will apply (eg. Monks cannot join Viking warbands). 

OK, that's it for now. This is a long post but hopefully everything is relatively straightforward. It's worth pointing out that given the volume of information presented in AoW, the relatively small number of queries and anomalies presented above is a testament to how well written the supplement is. Yes there's a lot to digest in AoW, but it really is worth the effort. I'm looking forward to reading about how other folk get on with it. 

Sunday 17 April 2016

SAGA Age of the Wolf - Review

I've now read through the new campaign supplement for SAGA and thought I'd offer a quick review and some first impressions.

I really like this! It's very obvious that an awful lot of thought has gone into creating the campaign system. I believe the supplement was probably written before Crescent and the Cross (C&C) and this does have a few implications though.
Of course, Age of the Wolf (AoW) is specifically aimed at the Viking period so doesn't include C&C warbands. Indeed AoW splits warbands into Eastern and Western factions. Pagan Rus are an Eastern faction so will never meet up with the Strathclyde Welsh for example (phew!). But it also means that the C&C rules for priests and most Swords for Hire (SfH) units are not included, which is a shame. The specific way that warbands are developed means that it may be difficult to include priests. I think a workaround may be to consider priests as a hearthguard unit and introduce them using the post battle fate table. We'll see what this means later. Warlord priests would require extra tinkering to fit, but I think could be done.
The only SfH units mentioned in the supplement are the original Jarl Sigvaldi and his Jomsvikings and the Steppe Nomads. But without too much effort I believe the rules governing their inclusion as mercenaries could be expanded to other SfH units. I suspect a FAQ on priests and SfH will be asked for by players.
Ok, time for a deep breath. Here's how the campaign works.
Each warband is led by a warlord. Warlords may be motivated by land (King's Domain), wealth (Dragon's Hoard) or reputation (Skald's Song). Starting warbands begin with 2 points of each resource and may acquire (or lose!) more as the campaign progresses. I think the rules concerning these attributes should have been more explicit in how they affect warband composition. But if I have understood things correctly from the roster sheet at the back of the book: land provides levies, wealth provides warriors and reputation provides hearthguards. A starting 4 point warband selects troops using its available resources, with each resource defining the maximum number of permitted troop type. For example, a warband can start with a maximum of two points of warriors with the remaining two points chosen from either levy or hearthguards. These can of course be split into smaller units. Since during the campaign units of levy can be upgraded into warriors and warriors into hearthguard, this isn't really a constraint. The maximum number of units allowed is 12. The rules state the campaign works for warbands between 4 and 12 points, but since 12 hearthguard cost 3 points a Bróðir of Man warband could, with enough campaign seasons, potentially include 36 points of hearthguard (this would need a lot of reputation points and is a bit extreme...)
Warlord generation looks to be a lot of fun. Once their motivation has been established, warlords are randomly assigned two traits. Traits are quite varied and range from Hard Ruler to Quarrelsome. Traits give warlords unique characteristics that can help them during the campaign.
[edit: it's worth noting here that one of the traits is Devout and allows the warlord to take a priest. But this is a special AoW priest and doesn't use the same rules as those introduced in C&C. The priest cannot be killed and must remain within VS of the warlord. No SAGA dice are needed to move him. A modified Devout trait could introduce warlord priests as described in C&C, perhaps rolling to randomly determine the type of priest the warlord becomes?].
Warlords also have an additional special rule to supplement their standard Resistance, Determination, We Obey etc. Special rules are also randomly determined and appear to borrow heavily from the rules given to existing Heroes of the Viking Age (eg. 'Bravery' allows the first point of fatigue to be ignored - just like Harold Godwinson). Specific Heroes of the Viking Age such as Harold are also allowed. A table provides guidance on their inclusion and describes their preset motivations and traits.
The campaign can include two or more warbands, but the author recommends 4 to 6 as being a good size.
Campaigns are split into seasons. The rules recommend six seasons, but any number could be played. At the beginning of each campaign season, warlords decide whether they will Raid (acquire wealth), Campaign (acquire land) or Defend (acquire reputation). If raiding or campaigning, players also select who they will target. This is now where things get interesting and demonstrates the depth of thought that has gone into the system. By cross referencing each players campaign actions on a table different types of battle are generated: raids, invasions, encounters, ambushes or pitched battles. Each type of battle is accompanied by a table that includes three different scenarios.
For example if Mighty Kyle's Norse Gael decided to raid my defending Anglo Danes then the table reveals that a Raid Scenario will be played. Raid scenarios are randomly chosen from The Escort, Harry and Burn (a new scenario detailed in AoW) or Sacred Ground. Note that the scenarios are weighted, so The Escort is selected with a d6 roll of 1 - 3, while Sacred Ground would require a d6 roll of 6.
During each campaign season, warlords can also strike alliances with other warlords adding extra spice to the mix.
After each battle there will be winners and losers - and possibly dead warlords... But this is all covered by two warlord casualty tables. Basically, if you win the battle but your warlord is 'killed', then in reality he/she probably only received a wound and can continue in the campaign. A losing warlord could be killed outright (or captured). If a warlord is killed they can be replaced, perhaps by a son who starts with the Blood Feud trait against the warband that slew his father! The rules don't actually state what to do if there is a draw. I suggest players should both use the losing warband table. That should encourage players to play for a win!
Dead levy, warriors and hearthguard are dealt with a little differently. For every four men killed, only one is actually permanently removed from the warband roster. Hearthguards benefit from a resilience rule meaning the first model removed from the battle is ignored. So to permanently kill a hearthguard, the warband would have had to lose at least 2 figures in the actual played game.
Victors are awarded extra land, wealth or reputation depending on whether they campaigned, raided or defended. The winner also receives a campaign point. Needless to say, campaign points help to determine the overall winner at the end of the campaign. But beware! More powerful warlords can gain campaign points just for realising their motivations, even if they lose a battle.
A lot going on? You bet! And there is more!!
At the end of each battle, warbands can recruit fresh troops (for free). Recruited troops must be added to existing units and no unit can include more than 12 figures (standard SAGA rules). So some thought needs to be given to the initial warband composition. Powerful warlords may at this point purchase a war banner. This is added to either a unit of warriors or hearthguard and follows the standard rules for banners. Warbands may only field a single war banner.
Warlords then roll on a fate table. Low scores could result in famine (loss of land), whilst higher scores could result in reinforcements added to existing units or forming new units. Interestingly, a favourable fate roll may allow a unit of levy to be upgraded to warriors or a unit of warriors upgraded to hearthguard. The fate table may also result in acquisition of land, wealth or reputation.
[edit: one option on the fate table is to recruit d6 hearthguards. Perhaps powerful warlords could instead recruit a random priest?]
Wealth is apparently easier to gain than land. If a wealthy warlord needs more land (perhaps to help satisfy his motivation), then he can spend 2 wealth points to purchase 1 point of land.
A warband may find itself attacked by a more powerful rival. In this situation the attacking player can dictate the points being played - yikes! But all is not lost. The weaker warband can hire mercenaries (including the previously mentioned Jomsvikings and Steppe Tribes) to pad out his force. Fortunately standard mercenaries cost only 1 point of wealth, no matter how many are required. But you only get standard foot warriors. Of course, mercenaries only stick around for the game they were hired to fight in. At the end of the battle they slink off from whence they came and so aren't added to any rosters.
[edit: Jomsviking Mercanaries provide one point of troops for one extra point of wealth. I think the same rule could easily apply to other SfH units without breaking the system (eg Angry Monks)]
There are even rules to cover situations where players are unable to meet up to play a game and so hold up the campaign. Danegeld may need to be paid by the player who isn't pulling their weight and the attacker takes 1 point of either land, wealth or reputation from his snivelling victim. Harsh!
The supplement includes five new scenarios that look like they will be fun to play even outside of the campaign setting. These include Forest Road Ambush, Harry & Burn, The Burgh, Scouts and The Hazel Wands.
So some final thoughts. It looks like a slim volume and costs £15. But as the above overview perhaps suggests, there's quite a lot in there. It's a very well thought out system and (other than the stumble with the link between troop types and resources), very well written and clearly explained. Yes it sounds complicated and involved, but once players start their campaign I honestly think it will energise dark age battles.
Should it have been published before C&C? Yes. But since it hasn't I'd have preferred it if some of the extra elements (such as the full rules for priests) had been directly worked in. Priests could have easily been awarded in the fate table for example. I would have also preferred that there was more inclusion of SfH units in the mercenary section. But these are minor quibbles really and Age of the Wolf is a solid supplement to a well established and much enjoyed game.
Now go and write your own Saga!
[edit: Here's a scanned copy of the roster sheet. At some point Gripping Beast will be making this available as a download]

Saturday 16 April 2016

Salute 2016

You know you've over done it, when you have to stash the goods back in the car because your arms are aching with the weight...!



A pretty good haul this year I think.



As for the show, well I'll just leave you with this...





We said hello to the guys who wrote Blood Eagle and they very kindly signed our copy of the rules.



The Mad Max boys had definitely gone that extra step in their presentation!



The models were stunning!



Viking ships.



Lots of Viking ships.



Those Viking ships (and the rest of the terrain for that matter) were all scratch built - just wow! The game was being played using a version of Lion Rampant. I asked about the 3" rule and they admitted they relax it for friendly units. Good chaps!




Really liked the fire effects on this table.



Frostgrave was everywhere of course. This table was by 4Ground.



I don't even know where or how you would store this...



I definitely prefer the Renedra plastic castle to the Warlord one. Not that I can afford either of course.



"beam me up Scotty!" - sorry...




And the winner of the most figures on the table award goes to... But seriously some of these were simply stunning!






Yes it's still the same table!





The terrain looks simple in comparison to some of the other games but this take on 1066 looked interesting.




Apparently, the English haven't yet won a game in this take on Agincourt...



Here come the Martians....




The sheer effort that goes into some of these tables is amazing...



The photos really don't do this justice. If Essex had gone to Bristol...





Not only was the terrain stunning, but the figures were all excellent.



The Wargames Illustrated board looks like it might have been played on a fault line ;-)



That's it for another year. Time to sit down with a glass of something and read through 'Age of the Wolf"...


Wednesday 6 April 2016

Blood Eagle - The Fateful Bridge

Wulfestan ran his finger along the edge of his axe, flinching at the sudden sharp pain.

"It's been over a week Sigered, what do you mean the pagans are still here?"

Sigered looked across at his Thegn.

"They have sent raiding parties far and wide. I don't believe they intend to leave soon".

"Hmm" grumbled Wulfestan, "and what of those we sent back across the marshes?"

The priest shuffled his feet...

"They remain there. It is said a mighty warrior now guards the bridge."

The Thegn scowled.

"Send some spears. Let's see how mighty the pagan is when skewered like a Michaelmas hog!"

"They have been sent..."

The Thegn put down his axe and squinted at the holy man.


"They have not returned."



On the far side of the forest stood a bridge. Beyond the bridge lay a dank and noisome marsh. Upon the bridge stood a man. Clad in mail and wielding an axe, the man looked towards the forest, ever vigilant.



The man's name was Vandil. On either side of the bridge lay the bodies of Saxon warriors. Their shields sundered and their bodies hacked.



Johan and the rest of his men sat atop a low hill. Their armour and weapons lay about them.

Alongside Ox and the veteran Kalf, Johan was joined by two novices, eager for battle.

Refusing to sit, Ulf the berserker twitched.

"Be calm Ulf" said the Jarl in a soft voice.

"The Saxons sit praying to their one God. They send mere boys to face the mighty Vandil."



Wulfestan and his warband emerged from the trees. The day had come when these Viking Raiders would be sent back across the sea for good.



The Thegn was accompanied by Sigered the priest and the beast slaying Huscarle hero, Alric. Alongside them marched three Spearmen and two sling armed Skirmishers.



Wulfestan sent a warrior to his right and two warriors and Skirmishers to his left. Ahead stood the bridge.



Vandil watched as the Saxons advanced.



One of the Skirmishers turned to his companion.

"Can you swim?"



"This honour is mine" exclaimed Alric.

"So be it" said Wulfestan



As the two great warriors approached each other, Sigered stepped forward and started to chant blessings.



The pagans watched as the two warriors exchanged blows upon the bridge. The Huscarle took aim and attempted to break his opponant's shield. But the blow was deflected.

"Time to lend a hand" said Johan.

The Vikings reached for their armour.



"Wait Ulf!" Shouted Johan.



Johan and his men carefully chose their path through the marshes and moved towards the bridge.



The two Skirmishers ran to the river and with a yell one jumped into the torrent.

"But can you swim?!" shouted his companion.

Without responding, the Saxon sank beneath the surface.



Seeing the half naked berserker charge onto the bridge, the remaining Skirmisher let loose with a volley of stones. But his aim was wide.



Meanwhile on the bridge, the two warriors continued to exchange blows. Behind the Saxon his priest continued to chant blessings.



As the berserker raced across the bridge, the Saxon warriors took aim and let fly their spears. But Ulf moved like the wind and the spears flew wide of their mark.



The two warriors on the bridge continued to exchange blows, but each refused to yield.



Another Saxon threw himself into the raging waters...



... and was never seen again!



As Johan raced to support Vandil, the Saxon Huscarle suddenly lunged forwards and brought his axe down upon the veteran Viking. Vandil staggered and dropped to his knees.



But heroically, he clambered back to his feet and pushed Alric back.

[a single hero point was enough to save the day for the Vikings!]



"Enough!" cried Wulfestan "Fall back!"

The Saxons withdrew from the bridge and eyed their foe.

[six turns had elapsed and the Saxons had failed to cross the bridge]



The Norsemen gathered around Vandil, slapping him on the back.

"Let's rid ourselves of these biting flies and return to our ship" cried Johan.

As his adversary disappeared into the mist that blanketed the marsh Wulfestan turned to Sigered.

"Fear not priest, there is more than one path across the marsh."

Get to the Ships!