Sunday, 11 August 2019

On the Waterfront: an SSD game at Pattayavium

Mark has sent through another Song of Shadows and Dust report set in his apocryphal South East Asian trading post of Pattayavium. As always, he's done a rollicking good job!


The context 
Pattayavium is my Graeco-Roman trading settlement on the shores of the Gulf of Siam. It’s a haven for misfits, miscreants, ne’er do wells, and a few sober souls. It’s an entrepôt for the country trade and, occasionally, long distance trade. There is no waterfront as such, just a sandy bay suitable for hauling ships out of the water, and loading merchandise into lighters for larger vessels moored offshore. But there is a waterfront quarter, where most of the godowns and shipping-related business is located, and it here that we set our scene. The photo shows the stage, with the actors in starting positions. See the Faction notes below to make sense of this.

Feisal and his shore party are mostly in the alley at C L supervising the slaves who will load the cargo. The crew on the ship are not available, they’re there to deter unwanted boarders. Sulpicious and his thieves are drinking in the imaginatively named Red Tavern. Barabbas and his gang will enter at lower R, you can see them waiting just off-table. Cicero is coming on at top R, and el-Rashid at lower L. Not all civilians and slaves are visible because of the buildings blocking LOS. 

The blue dice sitting in the bay are to measure the progress of cargo loading. It will take 18 slave loads to get it all aboard. Once on the bridge of lighters a slave cannot be attacked or obstructed and takes 2 actions to deliver the cargo and return to shore. Slaves carrying cargo always get 2 free actions (Short move loaded, Medium move unloaded) per move.

The rocks in the front corners of the photo are to hold down the base cloth because of an electric fan blowing over it.

The factions
The participants in today’s drama are:

Captain Feisal and his crew (185 points)
The captain and shore party of the Baluchistan-based merchantman “Marianne” anchored just offshore ready to take on cargo. Their objective is to get their cargo items onto the ship, using the slave stevedores assigned, without paying the standover gang.
*  Feisal: Q3 C3 P. Armed, Barbarous, Leader, Greedy
*  Osama, Turbit, Zahedin: Q4 C3. Armed, Barbarous, Greedy

The cargo - for the record - is chilli powder, dried sea cucumber, powdered elephant bones, and other spices. Also some woven carpets and rosewood timber. All destined from the Chinese market.

Barabbas and his gang (196 points)
Pattayavium’s most notorious criminal and some of his henchmen. Their objective is to obstruct the cargo loading unless Feisal pays a “services fee”. 
* Barabbas: Q3 C3 P. Armed, Hard, Leader, Streetfighter
* Plautus, Marcellus: Q4 C2. Armed, Streetfighter

Sulpicious and his gang of thieves (193 points)
This roving band of pickpockets and snatch purses happens to be in the area and is always on the lookout for unwary marks and unattended goods. 
* Sulpicious: Q2  C2 P. Free disengage, Grey, Leader, Quick
* Abdullah, Balyan: Q2  C1. Free disengage, Grey, Quick
* Malik+Presha: Q3 C1. Agile, Free disengage, Grey, Nimble, Quick

Iunius Cicero, rabble-rouser (78 points)
Cicero is one of the settlement’s perennial troublemakers, and a thorn in the side of the authorities and elite citizens whom he castigates from street corner soapboxes. Today his plan is to gather a mob of civilians and burn down the Customs House. He has an imaginary grievance against the officials there.
* Iunius Cicero: Q3  C2 P. Demagogue, Plebeian

Haroun el-Rashid, freelance assassin (90 points)
This bounty hunter is hoping for a payday from the Prefect, as two characters on the Wanted Dead or Alive list are in the neighbourhood: Barabbas of course, and Cicero (who has overdrawn his limit of official tolerance).
* Haroun el-Rashid: Q2 C4. Armed, Poison, Quick, Stealth

Assorted civilians
There will be various civilians going about their lawful occasions, including a gang of slaves hired by Feisal to do the heavy lifting of his cargo from the godown where it is currently stored, to the beach and onto the ship.
* Civilians and slaves: Q4  C2. Plebeian, Rabble (14 each)
* Artisans: Q4  C2. Armed, Plebeian (29 each, or 38 w/sling or 44 w/bow.
Artisans is my subclass of non-character civilians who are less passive, such as farmers, hunters, bouncers, slave drivers and so on.

So with five factions (albeit two of them comprising only a single character) hopefully they’ll be lots of action.

Turns 1-3
The order in which the factions move each turn is determined by drawing cards. The stevedore slaves, though not part of Feisal’s faction, move at the same time.

Iunius Cicero, his head full of voices, passed through the marketplace as he made his way towards the Customs House. His progress wasn’t very fast because he kept tripping over vendors and shoppers through not paying attention. By the end of Turn 3 he was still only about halfway to his destination. Here he is just passing the rice vendor.

At the same time, Haroun el-Rashid entered the waterfront quarter from the other side and started looking for his potential targets. He turned left up the street, which providentially brought him to a position from where he could see Barabbas and some gang members arguing with a group of seamen. He waited in the shadows for an opportunity, not wanting to make his move while Barabbas had friends at hand. But then  all the gangsters, led by their boss, after another exchange of insults with the sailors, turned and loped right past him down the street towards the beach. Here he is keeping Barabbas under surveillance.

Sulpicious and his gaggle of thieves finished their drinks in the Red Tavern and sidled out, individually so as to not attract attention. They split tp and sauntered in different directions looking for opportunities. No picture, this lot are averse to being photographed.

Feisal and his crew, and Barabbas and his gang, faced off and held “full and frank discussions” about who was going to do what to whom. Feisal refused to buy off the gangsters and called his whole shore crew together (they had been scattered about looking after the cargo and slave stevedores) to confront them. After a while Barabbas decided to change tactics and led his men off to the L, down to the beach, with the idea of physically preventing the cargo loading. Here is the confrontation, Barabbas in the foreground waving the sword, Feisal beyond, 2R with the grey beard.

Meanwhile, by the end of Turn 3 the slaves had begun loading cargo on the “Marianne” with 2/18 loads safely on board.

Turns 4-6
Sensational news! Barabbas has been murdered in broad daylight, down at the docks! 

Here is what unfolded. As Barabbas and his henchmen moved down the street towards the beach, thinking unkind thoughts, B got ahead of the other two because a group activation failed. Then he encountered a distracting snake charmer. Haroun el-Rashid had been keeping close to B, waiting for his chance. On turn 6 a perfect opportunity arose: (1) B rolled turnover so neither he nor his henchmen could move; (2) he was also distracted by the snake charmer, which I ruled meant the Assassin could get the ambush bonus against him (it’s not in the rules as written): (3) Haroun el-Rashid rolled well enough to break the distract effect on himself, and make the attack. 

Street fighters like Barabbas are hard to beat, but he fell on a modified final score of 13-6. It was close. The Assassin’s “stealthy” extra ambush bonus was the key.

The gang members Plautus and Marcellus were stunned. They both survived their morale tests but will now be Q5 with the death of their Leader. 

In other news ...
Cicero reached the open area in front of the Customs House and began to speak, quickly attracting bystanders, many of whom knew he was always good for a bit of “fake news” and a laugh.

Balyan, one of Sulpicious’ gang, sensing a good opportunity, mingled with the gathering crowd. Other thieves were now scattered around the table, with Sulpicious himself and Abdullah working the marketplace, and the children Malik+ Presha sizing up a couple of respectable citizens lounging on a balcony. So far only Sulpicious has made a successful heist (a thief must be in contact, and then roll 3 activations, to lift a purse and make a clean getaway).

Feisal detailed one crew member (Turbat) to follow Barabbas’ gang at a safe distance to keep them in sight, while he and his other two men went down to the beach, anticipating the gangsters plan.

Here’s a shot of the tabletop at the end of a turn 6. The slaves have now loaded 5/18 cargo. I ruled they are not “passive civilians” subject to the influence of a demagogue (so they will ignore Cicero). Possibly these slaves don’t speak the koine anyway.

Turns 7-9
At this point I decided to make some changes to the status of Barabbas’s gang in order to keep the game balanced. So, despite the death of their Leader the other gang members will retain their Q4 status. And another gang member, Simeon, appears on the nearby table edge as a reinforcement.

They might be Pattayavium’s most notorious criminals but without Barabbas the gang is not very effective, it seems. Once again poor activations saw them split up. Simeon remained near his entry point, perhaps coming to terms with Barabbas’s death. Marcellus and Plautus doubled back up the street with the aim of denying the stevedore slaves access to the stacked cargo not yet loaded. They could start to destroy it if Feisal doesn’t cave in and pay the “services fee” demanded. It’s only fair. But as they moved, they became separated and only Plautus reached the cargo stacked outside the godown.

Feisal and his crew saw the gangster and reacted at once. Turbat ran as fast as he could and attacked Plautus, knocking him down. Then Osama also rushed up and killed the prone bandit. The photo shows this scene. Also note Sulpicious, that prince of thieves, standing innocently at the L. Having picked just about every pocket available, he and his associates now plan to see what pickings can be gleaned from the unwatched cargo.

Meanwhile, Iunius Cicero is having his best day ever. He has gathered a crowd of civilians, and persuaded them the Customs House is the source of all evil and must be destroyed. He’s ready to lead them inside next Turn. On the rear fringes of the crowd (now a mob) Haroun El-Rashid, and Balyan (one of the thieves) tiptoe away. The assassin has decided not to try to bite off too much in one day, and he heads off-table to report his success and claim the substantial reward for ridding the town of Barabbas.

Elsewhere the thieves gang is doing well. They have now lifted seven purses without raising any alarm. Only small sums because the locals down here are not wealthy people, but it all helps.

Here’s a photo of Malik+ Presha swindling a couple of respectable citizens out of their handkerchiefs and loose change.

Turns 10-12
Sulpicious and his thieves, after a successful day at the office, headed to their rendezvous and safe house at the Red Bar to divvy up the days takings. Money and valuables worth 20 gold coins in total, including two loads pilfered from Feisal’s cargo while it wasn’t being watched.

Iunius Cicero and his mob milled around outside the Customs House, which burned merrily. Concerned citizens not involved in the arson are converging, and I wouldn’t like to be Cicero when the mob slinks away and the Watch arrives.

The two remaining members of Barabbas’s gang achieved some respectability for their faction by finally getting together and attacking Feisal and his men. They killed Osama, and almost got Feisal too, but he was a bit too fast (only a pushback, but nearly doubled!). But it hasn’t been a good day for the gang, with the deaths of their Leader and Plautus for no real result.

The captain and shore crew of the Marianne have seen off the threat of the standover thugs, with the loss of one crewman. Some of their cargo has been pilfered by thieves, but 10/18 is now aboard and the reminder should be on board by nightfall. The Customs House fire shouldn’t affect loading too much, unless the authorities, when they appear, conscript the slave gang to help put it out.

The civilians played their roles too, as a mob for Cicero and as marks for the thieves. But the subgroup of ‘artisan’ civilians never got involved, they were a dead end. They were all in a group (discussing crop prices no doubt) and out of LOS of the demagogue, and too dangerous for the thieves to approach. But on the last move they ran towards the burning building, and might be in a good position, as honest citizens, to apprehend the main culprit.

Here’s a final photo showing positions at the end of Turn 12.

Wash up 
The main game of Feisal v Barabbas and their factions has been a clear win to Feisal. Sulpicious and his team have done well but their impact on events was marginal. Haroun el-Rashid the assassin had an excellent day, executing a perfect hit and getting out early. But I’m going to give the “minor factions” award to Iunius Cicero, for as skilful a piece of demagoguery as ever has been seen. Pity it’s likely to end with him nailed up in the sun.


  1. Hello Nic,
    Great battle report !
    I didn't think that so numerous factions could be used all together in the same game.
    Does it's still playlable ?

    1. I have had fun with four player games in the past. Mark seems to have worked this out just fine. :)