Saturday 24 December 2016

Perilous Island 1: Tarzan and the Lady


We've finally decided that we enjoy playing Pulp Alley so much that we're going to run a series of linked scenarios.  Fortunately for us, I already have a copy of the existing (and most excellent) Pulp Alley campaign book: Perilous Island.  We'll use that; it fits well with the type of leagues that I've created and played in our past games, though there will be some adaptations to the fluff to make it more based in or near Africa, at least to start with.

The background (condensed version)

Eminent archaeologist Lord Darrow goes off grid to search for a lost civilisation.  His daughter (Lady Elaine Darrow), also an archaeologist, is currently at a dig on the fringes of civilisation.  Various leagues attempt to enlist her aid in finding him.

As written, scenario 1 ("Hidalgo Fire") is set in the Mexican desert.  However, that seems an unlikely location for Tarzan and his apes, though the other leagues would be at home there.  Instead, we'll relocate Lady Elaine's expedition to the Congo jungle.  So, here we go...

Hidalgo Virunga Fire

This scenario revolves around Lady Elaine's campsite; she is the major objective.  Because we had 4 players, we increased the table size and doubled the number of minor objectives.  As well as Lady Elaine's tent, maid, luggage &c there were a number of other items of interest scattered about the table, thus providing plenty of opportunities for squabbles between the various leagues.

Placement is interesting: each league places 1 model in turn, with restrictions on how close they can be to an enemy or a plot point.  You can see in the picture above that the Nazis managed to surround the campfire, the Safari were concentrated in the north, Tarzan's forces were scattered through the west and south, whilst the Snake Cult hid in the trees to the east.  [Also note that not all the models are marked; some were in the part of the table that is out of the picture, whilst I swear that some were just too hard to find in the jungle when I examined the image!]

Early Moves

As might be expected from such a chaotic setup, the action swiftly dissolved into a series of semi-independent vignettes:

Stahl Helm had found a discarded fedora and whip; he was trying them on and had just about worked out how to make the hat fit over his helmet (2 successes scored out of 3 needed) when he was attacked by the cultists' giant snake.  The two of them fought and wrestled for most of the game with neither gaining any real advantage, much to the relief of the other two leagues.

Koko the gorilla tried to grab Lady Elaine's maid.  He almost had her, but she broke away and ran screaming through the forest and across the stream.

Captain Goode and Lady Constance both tried to pluck a rare purple orchid, but succumbed to the mind-numbing, soporific scent.  In the end, an ascari managed to retrieve the blossom and carry it off.

Caesar fought Ernst, the Nazi grenadier, for possession of an ancient dagger.  The simian lost, but his place was taken quickly by Koko, the gorilla.

Alain Quartermain approached the pit beast gingerly.  In a stroke of good fortune, the jungle terror was asleep; the hunter retrieved the camp's radio from its lair with ease.

The Lady run

Under the noses of the NazisTarzan charged in, picked up Lady Elaine and ran for cover.  She struggled a bit, but the feisty archaeologist was not strong enough to resist the jungle man [the plot point challenge was a test against might, which is one of Tarzan's best characteristics!]

The three other leagues (SafariCult and Nazis) made a tacit agreement to pursue Tarzan as he tried to escape with Lady Elaine.  Sir Henry (a fairly mighty man himself!) caught up with the jungle lord,  but wasn't able to wrestle the maiden free.

In the meantime, Herr Stengel went quietly about acquiring minor plot points for the Nazis.  He had already raided Elaine's tent; the softly-spoken German now persuaded her maid to come with him as well.


At this point, the world seemed to explode!  Secret agents had planted bombs all around the campsite [scenario special event] and these went off all together.  In a slight change to the written scenario rules, we allowed 2nd and subsequent blast markers to be overlaid with each other to create an even bigger bang.  The other leagues really didn't want Tarzan to get away!

As enemy reinforcements were arriving, Tarzan broke free from Sir Henry and dashed through the flames. still carrying the semi-conscious Lady Elaine.  His danger sense served him well and he timed his run perfectly to avoid taking any injury from the land mines.  With one bound, he was free!

Ernst had been trapped between another explosion and an angry gorilla.  Surprisingly, he survived for longer than anyone had predicted initially, though in the end Koko flattened him and took the ancient dagger plot point.

Mopping up

Skeech, one of Tarzan's simians, had been chasing Jasham the sharpshooter for pretty much all of the game.  Neither was able to gain the upper hand: the cultist kept missing the nimble ape whenever he had a shot and the simian didn't have a decisive enough advantage in hand-to-hand combat.  However, in the final turn of the game, just when it didn't make any real difference any more, Skeech finally caught up with his foe and banged the man's head against a rock until he stopped moving.

Nadeem spotted an unusually large land snail crawling amongst the overgrown ruins.  He shinned up the pillar to retrieve the animal and, even though some ascaris shot at him, was successful in capturing this plot point [I just hope that the cult leader is a nature lover, else Nadeem might be in a bit of trouble for this.  He was sent out to retrieve Lady Elaine or her diary, after all!].

As Tarzan fled, something fell from Lady Elaine's grasp.  Sir Henry dived through the flames to grab her lost diary.  He was just able to clutch the precious book and protect it with his body before he fell unconscious from the smoke and heat.

Having backed off from the fight with Stahl Helm, the giant snake now went after Herr Stengel instead.  Although the serpent managed to knock the man down, it was too late to retrieve any plot points.  Instead, it slid away quickly when called by its master to retreat, leaving the German with his trophies.

A few more acts of petty revenge were carried out... several leagues.  However, by this time everything was settled; nobody had any realistic chance of acquiring any more plot points.  All the survivors melted away into the undergrowth just as the authorities arrived to investigate the noises of battle.


That was a cracking start to our campaign!  I think all four players enjoyed it immensely (I know that I did) and we're looking forward to the next match already.

The next 2 scenarios in the Perilous Island campaign are designed for only two leagues, so we'll need to make some adjustments.  The simplest solution would be to have one pair of our four players play in scenario 2 and the other pair face each other in scenario 3.  I suppose that other arrangements could work as well.

Final scores were very close, but for the record:
  • Tarzan: 4 victory points, including Lady Elaine.  Tarzan delivers, the simians were disappointing and for once Koko wasn't strangled unconscious by the cultists' snake!
  • Safari: 3 victory points.  A solid performance, though somewhat unlucky to have 2 characters drugged unconscious by a flower.
  • Nazis: 3 victory points.  Herr Stengel went quietly about his business gathering evidence whilst other league members shot, wrestled and punched all manner of enemies.  A clever setup.
  • Snake Cult: 2 victory points.  The cult always seemed to be on the back foot in this game; their usually overwhelming numbers just weren't in evidence at any of the critical points.  In particular, the high priest grabbed an early plot point [Lady Elaine's luggage] and ran off with it, leaving his minions leaderless.  I hope he's happy with a set of women's clothing and a snail!

Sunday 18 December 2016

HotT: Santa vs the Barbarians


Once a year, sometime in December, I pull my Santa army out of storage and use it in a game of Hordes of the Things.  If you're interested then here are the previous reports:

As you can see from these battles, Santa and his friends have faced all manner of enemies, but today's fight would pit them against a new foe: a musclebound, unwashed, barely articulate mass of Conanesque Barbarians!

This would be a straight up fight, with no special rules or scenario plots.  On with the story...

The Forces

In the red corner, trying to topple the festivities and loot & pillage Santa's workshop, we have:
  • Barbarians:  24AP of steroid-abusing narcissists with very little self-control.  This force is made up mostly of heroes and warbands with a few shooters as well.
  • Kung Fu: 24AP of inscrutable orientals.  A mix of heroes, blades and hordes, plus a cleric.
In the blue corner, defending all that is decent, right and proper:
  • Santa: 24AP of elves with firearms, polar bears, an animated toy cannon and hordes of snowmen.
  • Tileans: 24AP of Condottieri/mercenaries.  Pikes, crossbows, heavy cavalry, assassins and a flying machine.

The Game

From the outset, the attackers charged across the battlefield:
  • The Kung Fu army raced for the hill in front of Santa's house.
  • The Barbarians tried to close with their enemies as fast as possible (since the defenders had a lot of missile weapons!).  A single barbarian archer unit was sent to claim the other hill.
On the other hand, the defenders all edged forwards slightly, apart from the Tilean flying machine.  This made a huge, sweeping flank move and ended up on the other side of a forest, out of sight and out of mind.

As expected, Santa's shooters and artillery knocked backwards elements in the barbarian line.  This would make it much more difficult to mount any kind of coordinated attack.

Santa couldn't resist attacking the isolated barbarian archers on the hill.  It helped that flying elements are not penalised for being downhill of an opponent, but even then everyone was surprised when he wiped out the bowmen.  By far the most likely result would have been a simple recoil of the archers, which wouldn't really have bothered the barbarians one little bit.

Sensing a challenge, the barbarian general ran and leaped up the hill to confront the enemy's hero.  Some of his warband followed him, whilst others surged forward into the snowmen.

Here's the thing about hero vs hero fights in Hordes of the Things: unless there's a tie, the loser dies.  As a rough rule in HotT, the loser of a fight recoils unless their combat score is doubled [pretty much impossible in this situation] -  but not when it's a hero facing another hero.  Oh, no - I guess they're just too stubborn to retreat or something like that.

So, Santa and the Barbarian king fought each other.  The odds were in the barbarian's favour as he had support from some of his tribe.  He duly rolled a better combat score than Santa (just!) and the man in red went down.  Game over, man!

The loss of their leader caused Santa's followers to panic.  Some fled the field immediately, whilst many of the snowmen were slaughtered by rampaging barbarians.

On the other side of the board, the Kung Fu army charged down from their hill into the Tileans:
  • With some luck on their side, the orientals smashed down the units at both ends of the Tilean line.
  • Although the Tilean assassins tried a sneaky rear attack, they were put to flight easily by the Kung Fu reserve.

After this, it was only a matter of time before the eastern hordes rolled up the Tilean force.  By the time  the Tilean general fell, his army was in tatters and demoralised.  Nobody even noticed when the flying machine slipped away quietly!

Then it was just a question of mopping up, whilst deciding which force would get bragging rights from looting the toyshop!  A barbarian warband was first to reach Santa's house, but these impetuous warriors fell to the magical defences.

The Kung Fu priest attempted to break in to the workshop, but his efforts were all thwarted.  Finally, the barbarian heroine was the one to smash her way in, capturing the stronghold and finishing the game.  Mind you, by this time there was only a single defending element left on the table (a Tilean pike unit), so Santa's defeat was complete and somewhat inevitable!


I don't think that the defenders really had a plan in this game.  Either they should have moved aggressively for the 2 hills and used the height advantage to hold them against all comers, or else they should have stayed on their baseline and used their reasonably good firepower to disrupt and damage the attackers.  Instead, they advanced slowly to the point where the attackers could neutralise both of these potential advantages.

The big (indeed, huge) turning point was obviously when the barbarian chieftain confronted Santa.  I hadn't read the rules in detain at that point and consequently hadn't appreciated that:
  1. Santa would not be disadvantaged by being downhill.
  2. Hero-vs-hero fights are exceptionally deadly.
As leader of the barbarians, I didn't then have as much of an advantage as I thought I would - and the loser of this fight would have their general destroyed.  That would likely result in the loss of their command and, in due course, cost the entire game.  Truly a lot depended on this one combat!

Well, we know how it turned out.  But it could have gone the other way so easily...

Finally, here's a shot of the Tilean flying machine hiding behind the forest, just to prove that it did exist!

Sunday 11 December 2016

Super Dungeon Explore: Stilt-town Zombies


Fresh off the painting table this last week: more Super Dungeon Explore figures.  This time, it's the Stilt-town Zombies warband.  Why are the called that?  Well, apparently the local villagers build their houses on stilts so as to provide themselves with some protection from this group of marauders.  Oh - and this warband consists of zombies!

Spawn Point

All SDE warbands have either 1 or 2 spawn points.  These are the places where the rest of the warband comes from, so it's important for the heroes to destroy them as quickly as they can.  For a zombie warband, the monsters come from a Grabby House - a deserted, rundown cottage that has been overtaken by eerie crystals and glowing lights.  Models close to such a spawn point gain the Grabby attribute, which means that the heroes cannot break off combat or move past them.

Shamble Priest

The leader of a zombie warband is a Shamble Priest.  It's not clear whether he/she/it is undead him/her/itself, or is just plain evil.  Either way, this character has some debilitating ranged magic powers and (as might be expected) the abilities to create fresh and encourage existing zombies.  As well as a bizarre sense of fashion...

The Zombies

There are 3 classes of minion in a group of Stilt-town undead.  Firstly, there are the huge pudge zombies.  It's not often that you'll come across a model in a game which has Disgusting and Gross attacks & attributes, but here is one such creature.  Since the Disgusting attack is ranged and poisons all opponents in a straight line, I think it's fair to say that its exact nature is best left to the imagination.  Similarly, when a pudge is destroyed it makes an immediate attack against adjacent enemies, so I imagine that it bursts and sprays them with innards or something like that.  Best if you don't think about this too much...

The second class of zombie minion in this group is the stealthy Prowler.  These are somewhat unusual (for a zombie) in that they're very fast.  They also have an ability which can heal the Shamble Priest if they (i.e. the prowlers) inflict any wounds.  Sounds useful...

Finally, here are the classic zombies; in this setting they're called Swampies.  Individually they are fairly slow and weak, but they do have the grabby and mob attributes.  This means that the heroes cannot retreat from a fight once they have engaged and that the zombies get extra attack dice for each other member of the mob.  Don't get caught; they'll swamp you!


You can tell from this group shot that I painted the shamble priest some time before the rest; the model's base is quite different.  Actually, I finished the zombies themselves a few weeks ago; it was only the houses which remained incomplete until this week.  Did I mention before how much I dislike painting crystals?  They're quite common (indeed, universal!) on spawn points for Super Dungeon Explore...

Thursday 8 December 2016

Robin Hood and the Forest Road, part 2

<==  Part 1 is this way


In the first installment of this tale, we left the Sheriff of Nottingham about to knife a pinioned outlaw, whilst Robin Hood was beset by the Black Knight and distracted by Yorick the Jester.  What happens next?  Read on...

Ups and Downs

As the Sheriff stepped forwards, the desperate outlaw struggled violently with his captors.  His sudden energy took the soldiers by surprise and the forester broke free [Well, I didn't expect that!  As the Sheriff, I was fairly confident of winning this fight.  Nottingham had a combat score of 3, versus the archer's C2 - reduced to 0 by the presence of 2 extra enemies.  With a d6+3, all I had to do was score double the outlaw's d6+0 for him to be killed.  But it wasn't to be...].

Annoyed, the Sheriff lunged at the archer again.  This time, he didn't have his 2 crossbowmen to aid him, but even so the odds were still in his favour.  We threw the dice; the outlaw rolled a '6' (C2+6 = 8) and the Sheriff got a '1' (C3+1 = 4).  The Sheriff's combat score was doubled and so he fell down, dead.

There was a moment of stunned silence, followed by the (muted) singing by the outlaw players of a well-known Bob Marley song: "I shot the Sheriff!  But I didn't shoot no deputy..." .

As the Sheriff was a Leader, his force then had to take a morale test.  This scattered them even further than they were already; one or two ran away for good.  And it was all going so well for the authorities before that!

To cap this, the Sheriff's band was reduced to half strength very soon afterwards (next turn?), resulting in another morale check and a thinning of the ranks of those left.  At least Yorick and the Black Knight didn't run away!

At the edge of the river, Robin Hood broke off his combat with the Black Knight and ran towards the fight between Little John and Guy of Gisborne.  Little John had run straight into the centre of a group of enemy soldiers and even though he had felled a couple of them, the big outlaw was now surrounded, injured and fighting for his life.

This left Yorick and the Black Knight free to finish off the nearby outlaws, though they made heavy going of it even then.

The Sheriff's men-at-arms had been slowly shepherding a number of civilians towards the edge of the table.  When the double morale-check disaster struck, some of these civilians were very nearly off to safety (and thus would have scored 3 victory points each for the authorities).  Instead, they were now lost and abandoned in the forest as their guides fled!

Despite everything, Robin was too late to help his friend.  Little John fell to the ground, got up again and fought on briefly before Guy of Gisborne delivered a fatal blow that stretched the massive outlaw flat on the grass.

This loss took Little John's band below half strength; the resulting morale check caused most of his remaining outlaws to scatter or flee.

In a moment of hesitation, Robin ran for the forest [his warband had just been reduced to half strength when another outlaw was killed].  When he recovered his wits, he was perfectly placed to shoot at the Sheriff's men who were pursuing him.  Despite his acrobatic dodging, Yorick took one of Robin's arrows in the chest and died immediately.  Warned by this, the Black Knight ducked, the second arrow missed and he survived with nothing but his pride injured.

There were small skirmishes all over the table as the remnants of the 4 warbands hunted each other down.  Surprisingly, the losses from these little battles tended to be very even, thus reducing the forces even more - but no-one was prepared to concede; everyone still felt they had a chance to win the game.

Guy's squad was still above strength (barely!).  Some of his men started to usher the civilians away from the gory scene of Little John's fall when one of them spied movement in the nearby trees.  "It's the outlaw chief himself!" the man cried as he took off in pursuit.  The nearby knights were either more cautious or slower-witted; they weren't quite so quick off the mark.

The Fight

This was the prelude to what was probably the most prolonged and dramatic piece of derring do that I have ever seen in a wargame; easily worthy of an Errol Flynn movie!  Although there were a handful of other models still on the table, they all fought each other to extinction or joined in this last, great combat.  What you're about to see ended up involving the few remaining figures from all 4 warbands.

Here goes:

Robin is heavily outnumbered by Guy and his men

...but he doesn't give up easily!

One man-at-arms falls to Robin's sword

Robin is forced back, Guy pursues

The White Knight rejoins the melee

Robin is forced back again 
...and again

He shoots a quick arrow at Guy, but the knight's armour saves him from death

The White Knight steps up to protect his boss

Guy attacks again, but once more is driven to the ground

They're getting close to the river now.

The White Knight continues to force Robin backwards

Guy continues to add pressure 
A forester comes puffing up to distract Guy.

Another forester tries to join in 
...just as the first one is cut down

The White Knight is floored by Robin, but Guy steps up to engage Robin instead.

The last remaining outlaw runs in and stabs the fallen White Knight

Now it's Guy who is outnumbered.  Robin knocks him to the ground, but his armour holds (again) 
Guy gets back up, but he's surrounded and outnumbered.

He forces one of the foresters to step back a few paces

...and uses this slight respite to kill the other archer.

...before turning round and sweeping Robin's legs from under him

Before Robin can recover, Guy's sword is at his throat.  Robin yields and the last archer runs away.


That was, without a doubt, the most tense and exciting finish to any game that we have played for a long time!  Both sides were completely involved and felt that they had a very good chance of winning, right until the very last throw of the dice.  In the end, none of the civilians were taken off the board, but both sides scored very high for eliminating enemy models.  It has to be a marginal win to the authorities, though: they had 1 man left whereas the outlaws had none!

Man of the Match: Sir Guy of Gisborne, by my reckoning.  He defeated both Little John and Robin Hood.  His heavy armour saved him on numerous occasions as well; it's as if he had a charmed life.

Most Useless: This has to be Friar Tuck.  His brief appearance was anything but heroic!  Although the Sheriff of Nottingham came to an unlikely end and could therefore be considered for this award, , he had been quite an effective leader up to that point and therefore doesn't qualify.