Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Song of Shadows and Dust - three game campaign

I sat down on Friday night with gaming chum (and all round good guy) Andrew for a short, three game, campaign of Song of Shadows and Dust. The campaign was set in the outer suburbs of Antioch, c.80 BC. The two factions were, as it turned out, very evenly matched. They were composed as follows:

I was running the Kybiosaktoi, a 'merchant' guild specialising in the receipt and on-sale of seafood and other maritime acquisitions.

Strato Monophthalmos (Faction leader)
Q3 C3 60pts

Philokrator (Foreign bodyguard)
Q4 C4 42pts
Armed, Barbarous, Heavy Drinker, Protect

Erato (Witch)
Q3 C1 40pts
Dynast, Poison, Short Move, Threatening

Apollonios (Retired veteran)
Q3 C3 52pts
Armed, Danger Sense, Hard

Antiochis (Henchwoman with spear)
Q4 C3 36pts
Armed, Bellicose

Zeuxis (Henchman with oar)
Q4 C3 32pts
Bludgeon, Grey

Europa (Apprentice with sling)
Q4 C2 36pts
Agile, Grey, Quick, Sling

Andrew was trying out a new merchant's guild of his own. The theme was a Palmyrene merchant-cum-underworld mob boss and his henchmen. With the exception of his bodyguard who was identical to mine - I suspect they drank together when not on duty - Andrew's merchant-thieves tended to be a bit lighter on their feet with better quality but had worse combat factors than my lot.

Sneaky Merchant (Faction leader)
Q3 C2 62pts
Leader, Lucky, Opportunistic

Famous Courtesan (Alluring lady of the night)
Q2 C0 38pts

Femme Fatale (Assassin)
Q2 C3 65pts
Poison, Quick, Stealth

Foreign Bodyguard
Q4 C4 42pts
Armed, Barbarous, Heavy Drinker, Protect

Apprentice with Cudgel
Q4 C2 36pts
Bludgeon, Grey, Quick

Snatch Purse
Q2 C1 35pts
Free disengage, Grey, Quick

Q3 C1 22pts
Agile, Danger Sense, Nimble, Stubborn

I was the defender and set up the table. The time of day chart said that it was dawn and so only eight civilians were placed on the board. Both players rolled the 'Seize the Suburb' scenario which meant that both of us were trying to move into a new territory and had to stake a claim on three key buildings. In this case it was a tavern, a fountain house, and a third, small but well located house.

We then rolled for the variable special rules that some of the characters had - my witch Erato was a 'dynast' which in the context of the scenario meant that her reputation would proceed her and she may be either hated or loved by the civilian populace. For game one, the people were nonplussed. They thought they recognised her name but were not too sure.

Both of our bodyguards were heavy drinkers which meant that we could never be too sure what state they would be in at the beginning of the game. Andrew's bodyguard ended up being 'reckless', while mine was suffering from a temporary bout of cowardice.

My Kybiosaktoi got the initiative and their leader took the main party down towards the fountain and small house but then rolled a turn over. Apollonios and Zeuxis were left standing idle on a roof top.

The merchants set off on their first turn and, either leaping over alleyways or running up lanes, they managed to seize control of all three key buildings. 

Through a succession of bad activation rolls, the Kybiosaktoi managed very little over the next three turns as the Merchants clocked up an unbeatable lead in victory points.

Europa, my young apprentice with a sling, finally managed to leg it across some roofs to contest ownership of the fountain house

However, while the rest of my faction struggled to keep up, her position was overwhelmed and the Palmyrene femme fatale shoved her off the roof. Europa survived the fall but was immediately set upon by the Merchant leader.

Europa survived the initial assault from the Merchant and managed to stand up. At that point, her friends finally made it into the fray. Philokrator took one massive sweep at the Merchant leader and, rather artfully, clove him in twain. Seeing their employer die, the Femme Fatale, Snatch Purse and Apprentice with cudgel all fled the table. The remaining Palmyrenes decided that, discretion being the better part of valour, it was time to go.

Although I ended up being the last faction standing, Andrew's Palmyrenes actually won the game based on the objectives and came out of it with an accumulated nine victory points. These victory points would put him in good stead in the future but were not enough to buy an immediate faction advance.

Being the victor, Andrew was able to recruit a new leader with all the same special rules. Luckily, none of his faction members who fled the table were became stigmatised and would not be unduly affected in future games.

In the second game Andrew was the defender and set up the table. For objectives, he rolled 'Aeneas' Bees', meaning he had to collect a beehive - placed by me - and throw it inside a building along my base edge - chosen by him. I rolled the generic 'Looking for Trouble' objective which meant that my faction was just out... well... looking for trouble. It was midday and so 12 civilians populated the streets.

Erato, my witch, was unpopular with the locals which meant that civilians would be less likely to come to her aid if she were attacked. My bodyguard's inebriated sate mean that he was now hard, making his a bit tougher in melee, while the Palmyrene's bodyguard was reckless again. 

In this shot you can see the sack (a sack of bees!) under the eaves of one of the tiled buildings. My leader and his bodyguard maintained a reserve position on the roof tops between the sack of bees and the building that Andrew's faction would have to throw the bees into. The rest of my faction took up a position in the streets and alleyways below to stop the Palmyrenes from getting to the bees in the first place.

The Palmyrene merchants deployed in a group with a direct approach up to the bees.

The courtesan in the pay of the Palmyrenes ran elegantly up the alleyway and began distracting my faction members while that skinny wee urchin grabbed the bees and ran off back down a lane, away from both my minions and the target building.

Avoiding my thugs, the following turn he ran through the temple yard and...

... in the turn after that, came out the other side - very close to the target buildings. Meanwhile, the main body of my faction were still struggling to activate due to the distracting proximity of that most alluring young lady of dubious reputation. Apollonios, my retired veteran, did manage to take down the Palmyrene assassin but as a result, a nearby civilian activated and joined my enemies.

The urchin managed to get to the target building but didn't have enough activations to lob the bees inside. Above him, Strato and Philokrator started to get into position to intercept the bees.

Strato dropped to the ground and confronted the urchin. He knocked the lad to ground and the bees were dropped. The angry swarm attacked the boy and he was taken out of action. Strato shrugged off his bee stings because, well, he's a bit like that.

 Meanwhile Apollonios continued to pursue other Palmyrenes through the temple grounds but didn't manage to catch them.

Erato the witch confronted the Palmyrene snatch purse and in the struggle between wee boy and wee woman, the wee boy won and she was pushed to the ground.

While all this is going on, the Palmyrene merchant-leader (the successor to the decapitated chap from game one) grabbed hold of the bees and his apprentice with a cudgel came to defend him while he tried to open a door or window of the building. 

Just then, that drunken scut Philokrator, Strato's bodyguard, dropped from the roof top and once more used his rhomphaia to great effect.  He brutally killed the apprentice and the merchant was forced to make a morale check which he failed dismally, fleeing the table in disgrace.

At the end of game two the Kybiosaktoi were well and truly the winners having taken out enough of the Palmyrenes to secure 10 victory points. So we were now one victory each after two games. The campaign victor would be decided by the next game.

With my victory points I purchased a faction upgrade, choosing 'Dirty tricks', the ability to negate one of the Palmyrene faction's special rules once in the next game.

I was the defender and set up the table. It was midday again and so 12 civilians were placed. In general the civilians didn't have a huge impact in any of the three games we played. Partly because each were set during a time of day when there were less civilians around, and partly by coincidence as most of the action happened far from civilian eyes.

This turned out to be detrimental to my cause as in the third game Andrew's Palmyrenes rolled the 'Keeping the Peace' scenario where they lose victory points anytime a civilian dies. In a further detrimental turn-for-the-worse, my objective in the third game saw me caught unawares. Andrew was able to deploy most of my faction across the table leaving me in a rough old starting situation.

On the upside, Erato's dynast roll resulted in her being much loved by the local populace. The heavy drinking Philokrator turned out to be slow this game, while his counterpart on the Palmyrene side was clumsy.

The first couple of turns saw the scattered Kybiosaktoi trying to regroup. I knew that Andrew's Palmyrene merchants would try to press their advantage and pick off my faction members one-by-one if he could. 

The problem for me was that even with some good activations, only four of my team (Strato the leader, Philokrator his bodyguard, Europa the apprentice with sling, and Erato the witch) were anywhere near each other by the end of the first turn.

Poor Apollonios started the game inside a courtyard and struggled to climb out. He fell from the roof on his first attempt but luckily escaped serious injury.

The Palmyrene merchant leader advanced gallantly in the first couple of turns but some poor rolling for group moves meant that he ended up isolated. Europa, climbing up onto a roof top, took a shot at him but only knocked him down.

Some more bad rolling - this time for my faction - saw the Palmyrenes get their act together while the Kybiosaktoi more or less twiddled their proverbial thumbs. Europa managed to drop the snatch-purse with another well aimed sling bullet but the Palmyrene femme fatale got into combat with Erato, the poor, old, elderly, frail, witch, and took her down with a single sharp stab before legging it out of the way.

Seeing an opening - the merchant leader was isolated momentarily - my leader, Strato, made for the enemy leader. If I could just manage a quick kill here I felt that I could bring the game back in my favour.

As it turned out, I couldn't. Strato managed to get knocked down and surrounded. Lying there on the ground, Strato looked like his days as a mob boss in Antioch were numbered. In the Palmyrene turn, their leader attacked. The only way the Strato would not be quick-killed would be to roll a 6/1 split in my favour.

Miraculously, that is exactly what happened. A 6/1 split resulted in a draw and Strato was alive for another turn. White knuckles were present on both sides of the table. The Palmyrenes were in a strong position but the rest of my faction were gradually closing in.

"Oh, but no," says Andrew, "but my leader is 'lucky', he can reroll any one dice per game..." 

Things were looking pretty grim. and the chance that he would roll another 1 were slight (about 15% actually).

"Ah ha!" says I triumphantly. "My faction have the 'dirty tricks' advance. "I'll use it to foil your luck!"

Safe. He survived! Strato actually survived. Well, for one more tense turn anyway. The next turn the Palmyrene body guard got in there and finished him off with a brutal kill. 

But it made for an exciting game.

With the loss of Strato, my faction's chance of victory was over and victory for the game, and the mini-campaign, went to Andrew and his Palmyrenes. The campaign ran easily and while the civilians had little effect, more games or different die rolls could have seen very different result - and I do realise how obvious a statement that is.

I am very hopeful for another campaign in the near future - a longer one with more victories...

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