Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Pulp Alley: Hunt for the Sailor


It's been quite a while since the last game of Pulp Alley in our Perilous Island campaign.  Indeed, I'm shocked to discover that it was over a year ago [At Death's Door], so we really must do better!  This is an attempt to get back on track...

The Scenario

A whole shipload of  mad, old sailors.  But which is the one who voyaged with Lord Darrow?
"Soerabaja Manhunt" is a scenario that is set in a seaport in Indonesia; it revolves around the hunt for a crazy, old sailor who was an accomplice of Lord Darrow (and therefore may know something about the nobleman's disappearance).  

Our campaign is set in Africa rather than south-east Asia and I don't have the models to produce much of a colonial town, so there are a few changes.  These are in detail only: the game is set in a remote fishing village on the coast of Mozambique which is so insignificant that it doesn't even have a name!

Tarzan and his allies have tracked down the last known sighting of Lord Darrow to a tiny fishing village.  But the Cult of Hanesh and Sir Henry's safari are close on his heels.  All are searching for the secret location of ... Perilous Island!


The five sailors (objectives) were scattered around the board, as were some other figures just for decoration (the missionary, his wife, some villagers...).

Terrain was defined thus:
  • Moving through water (i.e. the river or the sea) would be perilous.
  • The rope bridge would be completely safe - unless any character on it or at either end spent an action to damage it.  From that point on, the rope bridge would be extremely perilous.

Once we had done that, the players took turns in placing the following perils.  Each of these would have a 5 inch diameter "danger zone" around them and would move d6 inches in a random direction at the end of every turn:
  • A swarm of angry bees.  Who knows what might set them off?
  • 2 local warriors/thugs.  They don't like strangers.
  • A muttering witch doctor.  He doesn't like pretty much anything.
  • The village drum (it's VERY LOUD).
  • The chieftain's pet leopard.  It's led around the village by a small boy and is supposed to be tame, but sometimes it forgets.

The Forces

This was a 3-player game.  It looks as if our 4th player (Stahl Helm's Nazi Doom Squad) has dropped out for good.  The remaining leagues were thus:

Tarzan's Jungle Alliance

  • Tarzan the mighty
  • Koko, the huge gorilla
  • Caesar, the simian leader
  • 3 other simians

Sir Henry's Safari

  • Sir Henry (rich lord)
  • Alan Quartermain (legendary shot)
  • Captain Good (willing, but a bit of a duffer)
  • Lady Constance
  • 3 ascaris
Sir Henry used some of his Wealth to hire another soldier.  He also used a considerable number of contacts to select a random event for the game: the natives were all stirred up and every peril would be extremely perilous instead.  That sounds like it would make life hard for all but the most powerful characters!

The Snake Cult of Hanesh

  • Al Masudi (cult leader & overlord)
  • Taguerja (the giant snake)
  • 3 sidekicks, one specialising in stealth, one in shooting and one in wrestling.
Al Masudi used his Dominion to recruit a couple more cultists.  These two were armed with grenades.  Honestly, however many cultists we kill there seem to be even more the next time!

The Game: near the canoes

Straight away, Koko charged at the puny men who were trying to reach the Zanzibari sailor.  If he could help it, the gorilla wasn't going to let the Safari have any access to this objective!  Koko's rush contacted Alan Quartermain and two ascaris, but failed to hurt any of them.

There followed several rounds of indecisive fighting, with neither side able to prevail.  One of the ascaris had a golden opportunity to hurt the gorilla when Koko didn't notice him (in Pulp Alley, only a dice roll of 4+ counts and so Koko's 4d8 brawl of 1, 1, 1, 3 was a distinctly unimpressive total of 0 successes) - but the man wasn't able to capitalise on the ape's mistake.

Eventually, Alan Quartermain dodged out of the brawl and ran over to speak to the nearest sailor.  This mariner was only too eager to talk (Quartermain drew a FREE PASS for the plot point challenge) - but he wasn't the man who had travelled with Lord Darrow after all.

Now that he was outnumbered by only 2 to 1, Koko splattered the ascaris and set off in pursuit of Quartermain - but the white hunter had too great a lead and the great ape couldn't catch up before the end of the game.

The Game: From the Missionary's House to the Pier

Sir Henry and his party had arrived at the village on the steam launch.  He left several members of his party to settle affairs with the boat's captain, whilst he advanced towards the missionary's house to speak to the sailor who was visiting there.

However, before Sir Henry could reach the building, Tarzan ran around the side of the house, picked up the sailor bodily and shook his prize into submission (Tarzan just loves might-based challenges; this sailor attempted to resist physically!).  Sir Henry took a potshot at the jungle man as he did this, but the bullet went wide.

For what it's worth, Tarzan's captive wasn't the right sailor either...

Unnoticed up till now, one of the Cult's assassins had been stealthily creeping up on the white men.  He suddenly revealed himself and tossed a grenade at Sir Henry.  The plan was a good one, but the cultist hadn't reckoned with the dash and pluck of the Englishman: Sir Henry batted the bomb away and then shot back, dropping the attacker in his tracks.

Near the jetty, another of Sir Henry's ascaris fell - this time to a crazed local.  Hmm, maybe using his influence to increase the risk from all perils wasn't such a great idea after all?

His compatriots didn't fare any better, either.  Both Captain Good and Lady Constance tried to interrogate the launch's captain, but he was having none of it and knocked them both out (in hindsight, maybe he simply pushed them overboard?).

"If you want something doing properly, do it yourself...".  With a sigh, Sir Henry returned to the launch, tailed at some distance by a wary Tarzan.  Being made of sterner stuff than his minions, the nobleman had no difficulty at all in interrogating the boat's captain, despite the latter's evasive manner.

Once again, it turned out to be the wrong sailor; he had never heard of any fellow called "Darrow", had never sailed to any mysterious islands, wasn't mad, indeed he wasn't really a sailor at all, it's all a big mistake really...

By now, Sir Henry was too far away from the remaining action to quiz any more sailors.  To add to his woes, when he returned to dry land in order to have a better line of fire, he was attacked by a swarm of tropical bees!  Fortunately for him, they didn't do any real damage...

The Game: in the Jungle

In the undergrowth behind the missionary's house, Caesar and a companion simian had noticed a lost, wandering old sailor.  The pair tried to reach the man and managed to drive off one of the lower-level cultists.  However, time was not on their side as the cult's giant snake came gliding along.  It swiftly put paid to the simian; it never really stood a chance.

Caesar was desperate, outnumbered and outclassed.  He puffed himself up into a frenzy, hooted, pranced and prepared to do battle with the serpent (a couple of fortune cards boosted his Brawl up to 5d6, which would have had at least a chance against the snake's 4d8).  But as the ape caught the reptile's eye, the little ape wilted - he remembered the age-old truth that giant snakes eat monkeys, not the other way around (the Cult cancelled one of Tarzan's fortune cards, leaving Caesar with only 3d6)  Predictably, Caesar lost the fight.

Contemptuously, the serpent didn't bother to finish Caesar off, but instead ensnared the bewildered sailor in its coils and made off towards its master (it got the wrong sailor, even so).

As the Cult leader and the snake glided across the rope bridge, Caesar regained his senses.  He hobbled up to the river bank and attacked the bridge's mooring ropes.  This immediately made the crossing Extremely Perilous, but the snake just wound itself around the remaining supports and carried on to the far bank without injury.  Curses, foiled - it would have been a spectacular act of revenge, had the plan worked!

The Game: the Native Village

Right from the start of the game, the village belonged to the Cultists.  One of their assassins threw a well-aimed grenade at their only challengers (two of Tarzan's simians) and blew them to pieces.

After that, it should have been a simple matter of talking to the drunken sailor who had just come out of a native hut, clutching a bottle of whisky.  However, this was a mean, fighting drunk!  He flattened both of the cultists without even spilling his drink, then swayed on the spot and looked around pugnaciously for more opponents.

The Game: End Play

Al Masudi, the cult's high priest, strode into the village, followed by his giant snake.  His hypnotic gaze reduced the drunken sailor's resistance to nothing; the dominated man followed his captor like a lamb.  (Although there was a chance that this objective would be a false lead, it turned out to be the real target after all; this was indeed the aged mariner who had sailed with Lord Darrow.  And now he was spilling everything he knew to the Cult of Hanesh!).

There weren't many other players left on the table now; the extremely perilous environment had taken out almost all the ally and follower characters.  Caesar was still there and was the closest non-cult figure to the village.  In desperation, he tried to cross the failing rope bridge, only to slip and fall into the fast waters below - caught by his own act of destruction!

As the last turn was about to start, it looked as if the cult had the game sewn up.  Their leader was quizzing the drunken sailor behind a hut, whilst the snake was positioned to intercept anyone who even attempted to move.

Indeed, Tarzan was on the wrong side of the raging river.  Even if he could escape the peril he would simply be too slow to reach the objective.  However, he had a plan: he held a Secret Path Fortune card which would allow him to treat the perilous area as normal terrain, thus swinging across the river and entering the fray unexpectedly - hurrah (just don't expect me to make the correct apeman noises here!).

It was all for naught, though, as other players have nefarious plans too!  The Cult turned their victory from almost impregnable to absolutely certain by playing a Parley card at the start of the last turn.  This completely shut down even the faint possibility of dislodging the old sailor from their grasp and thus gave Al Masoudi all the time he needed to find out what the mad, old mariner knew.

Tarzan did swing across the river (just because he could!), but other than looking impressive this didn't now achieve anything.

Meanwhile, Sir Henry re-boarded the steam launch with his followers and cast off.  Presumably he was trying to steal a march on everyone else and voyage towards Perilous Island?  If only he knew which way to go...


The river and the various natives, bees, leopards &c were originally going to be simple perils.  That would have made it much easier to move about the table, especially from one side of the river to the other!  It would also have meant a lower attrition rate amongst the lower-level characters, only one of whom survived the game (that was Sir Henry's Turkish mercenary, who followed him everywhere and stuck to him like glue).  Sir Henry's use of contacts to stir up trouble and make everything extremely perilous certainly changed the feel of the game a lot!

As always, the players enjoyed the game immensely, despite the challenging environment.  Most of the mobile perils (i.e. the natives, bees &c) were fairly ineffectual - I was especially disappointed that the leopard hid itself away on the far side of the village and refused to come out!  Against this, the leagues took many losses from simply attempting plot points.  That's just how it played out...

Next game should see these three surviving leagues try to land on Perilous Island itself.  That should be exciting!  Hmm, I wonder why it is called "Perilous Island"?  There couldn't be anything dangerous about it, could there?

Final scores:

  • The Cult of Hanesh: 4VP (1 x minor objective, plus the major objective).  A worthy winner, sneaky and callous.  Tarzan's simians suffered particularly badly at the Cult's hands.
  • Sir Henry's Safari: 2VP (2 x minor objectives).  Minor characters found the objectives hard going, but the top guys managed to talk to 2 of the sailors.  Unusually, there wasn't much shooting from this very firepower-dominated league...
  • Tarzan's Jungle Alliance: 1VP (1 x minor objective).  What happened here?  The league did a lot of fighting, but didn't come close to most of the objectives.  Perhaps they were spread too thin?


  1. Excellent report & looks to have been a great time for all! Very interested in your swarm of bees device, as we have been pondering the Swarm of Insects for Frostgrave trying to come up with something that will work!

    1. Thanks, Terry. Yes, it was fun, though a little bit on the perilous side :-) !

      The making of the bees (2 attempts) is described in these articles:

  2. Good heavens, what a game! It looks like old and sneaky once again trumps young and enthusiastic.

    1. Thanks, A J. As an older gamer (well, not *that* old, really), I'd like to think that the youngsters can still learn a thing or two from myself and my peers :-) .

  3. That was a fun read. It's good to see the return to the campaign, Pulp Alley makes for good batreps.

    Love the plastic Bee marker. Fantastic.

    1. Glad you liked it! The campaign was stalled for a while since I didn't have suitable terrain for a port. However, now that I have my coastal tiles, we should be able to play the next scenario (the approach to Perilous Island) quite soon.

  4. I always enjoy these, I always root for the Jungle Alliance so it’s tinged with a moment of sadness...

    1. Thanks. I was rooting for Tarzan and his buddies as well :-) . At least the gorilla didn't get throttled by the Cult's snake - that's happened too many times in the past!

  5. Superb Write up that correctly catches the desperate nature of the action.
    Extreme perils meant that most of the low-level characters were plying in the last-chance salon from the outset.
    They also made sweeping movements difficult, so most characters remained close to their starting points.
    This broke the action into a number of small brawls - whihc the write up captures perfectly.

    If I learned one thing fomr this game it is "Beware the man with fez, grenade and an insane glint in his eye".

    Set course for the Island!!

    1. Thanks, Steve. Yes, that's pretty much how it was...

  6. Great looking tablr srt-up and a very good report of another action-packed game!

    1. Again, thanks for your interest and support!

  7. That's the first time I'm seeing your 'swarm of bees piece' in action. Very unique and a brilliant idea!

    1. It's the first time we've used the bee swarm; I'm just a teeny bit disappointed that it didn't do more to strike fear and terror into the game :-) .

  8. Excellent game report. I liked how you split it up into scenes. Looked brilliant as well. Had forgotten about those awesome bees you made.

    1. Thanks, Simon. When the action is split up as much as this, it doesn't make sense to present the story in a turn-by-turn fashion. Reader would have been constantly jumping from one scene to another. Instead, describing each "quadrant" separately from start to finish seems to work quite well.

  9. Great battle report! Looked like lots of fun. THANKS for playing and sharing Pulp Alley.

    1. I don't think I've had a game of Pulp Alley which *wasn't* fun, so thank you :-) .