Sunday 27 February 2022

Fantastic Battles - How Murder Valley got it's name...

After what can only be described as a 'bit of a week', I settled down for a medicinal game of Fantastic Battles with JB this week. JB reprised his role as Witch-King of some rather nasty and stabby Dark Elves (the dark-armoured evil looking beggars at the top of the pictures), while I assumed the mantle of the Red King leading an army of loveable and - mostly - fluffy beastlings (lower half of the photos).

The battlefield consisted of a range of hills, all covered by either woods of rough ground (snow drifts), with a valley in between, also smattered with snowdrifts. On a whim we called it Murder Valley. What could possibly go wrong? Let me count thy ways!

1) Mishaps to start with. Some of my skirmishing beastlings deserted ahead of the battle, the thegns on their chariots were suffering from mange, and one of the levy blocks were late! The elves only had an enthusiastic unit and two late units.

2) The Red King, with an army using the highlanders trait as a racial trope (giving them melee advantages on hills), and having deployed on a line of hills, decided to advance into the valley below to allow his many, many, shooty troops to come within range.

Throughout the early part of the battle, the Wyrd Sister (beastling magic-user) rode along on the back of one of the moohemoths, doing her little summoning dance and accruing a summoning pool for later use.

On the beastling left, the hare piper (captain) had command of the situation. He sent the remaining skirmishers into a snow drift to pepper a column of menacing elven axemen. His bog trolls, meanwhile, turned their attention to the elven raptor-riders, hurling boulders as round as a man is tall and crushing the elves and raptors with little or no discrimination (in this they were aided by bows of the beastling levy in the centre). The hare piper kept the mjowls in the rear ready as a mobile reserve. Everything was going to plan!

3) The Dark Elves had a couple of scout companies with the emerge trait. They were intended to burst-forth from the snow drift and pin the skirmishers in place to await the advancing axemen. Unfortunately, they did not emerge in the desired location. Instead, they came up under the hare piper, whom they promptly assassinated!

4) The beastling left flank was now entirely out of command. While the skirmishers and bog trolls held their ground sensibly, the loss of the piper (and the sudden arrival of the elven scouts) clearly spooked the mjowls who turned tail and fled. As fast flyers, they made it almost the table edge in the one more and then, in the next turn (and still out of command), they continued to fly off!

In the centre, the loss of the elven raptor-riders opened the way for the beastling thegn chariots to hurl themselves against the Witch-King himself (and his giant dragon). They were promptly joined in the melee by the elven blood cauldron which tipped the balance somewhat to the elves.

On the right, after firing off several volleys of arrows, the beastling levy were charged by a unit of crazes witch-elves. The moohemoths moved forward to threaten the flank of a unit of spearmen, but were prevented from engaging when another unit of elven scouts emerged from the snow drift (this time arriving where intended).

On the left, the elven scouts turned around and hit the beastling skirmishers from the rear while the axemen continued their steady advance. The bog trolls (now within the command range of the Red King himself) turned around to face them, but it all looked a bit too late to save the skirmishers.

In the centre, the beastling chariotry were holding on by pure grim determination, struggling to cause fits against the Witch-King's dragon. To the right, the moohemoths charged the scouts, while the Wyrd Sister finally unleashed her summoned fury, creating a large unit of poisonous shroomlings to hold up the elven swordsmen. On the extreme right, the witch-elves and the beastling levy were both a whisper away from breaking.

5) The beastling chariots scattered, as the moohemoths, fresh from trampling the elven scouts, attacked the flank of the spear unit. In the following turn, the dragon, flush with it;s own victory, swept into the flank of the moohemoths. The doughty bovines could not resist the dragon's attack and broke, causing a ripple of resolve loss than causing the nearby levy to break as well, thus spelling the end of the beastling's hope for victory.

6) ... and because he could (she could? I don't know, its sometimes hard to tell with elves...), the Dark Elf rogue attacked the squirrel captain who had been commanding the Red King's centre, quickly aiding the global decline of the red squirrely population.

And thus, it came to be revealed how Murder Valley got its name. At the end of the battle, the Red King still lived, with a unit of levy and his bog trolls still in good order, together with the shroomlings. All other beastling forces (including three captains) had fallen or fled. The Witch-king stood/flew victorious, halvng lost only the flattened raptor-riders and a unit of scouts to the moohemoths.

So to summarise the learning points:
1) Not much I could have done about the mishaps. Bad days happen.
2) When you have an advantage with terrain, use it! There was no need for mee to advance as the elves were the attackers and were badly out-bowed. They would have had to come to me anyway, and across poor terrain!
3) The death of the hare piper proved, ultimately, catastrophic. But it played out as such a beautiful narrative part of the battle, that his death will be remembered through the generations!
4) Bad things happen when you lose command of your army.
5) At the climax of a game, the ripple of resolve loss can prove costly. Rally with forethought. 
6) Some Dark Elves are just evil wee bastards.

Friday 25 February 2022

More Money than Sense: PDEE underwater with the Utterley-Barkinge Co.

More of Mark's prehistory month madness!


Followers of previous underwater adventures reported here will recall, no doubt, the inability of anyone involved so far to bag an Apex Predator In Mesozoic waters. Distinguished aquanautic shikaris such as David Attenborough, Bianca Castafiore, and Lucifer Hardlove, have failed to return from previous expeditions.

The high fatality rate of participants has only added to the allure of the expeditions, to bored celebrities and the idle rich. This years’ venture by the Utterley-Barkinge Time Travel & Landscape Co. was marketed specifically as a chance to break the Apex Predator hoodoo. It was fully booked within hours, despite the astronomical price tag. Some folks just have more money than sense.

The alacrity with which the expedition was subscribed may have had something to do with an announcement by the Time Patrol that Apex Predator marine reptiles will now have Bulk = 4, rather than Bulk = 6 per the previous ruling. This means they will be that much easier to bag, though still more difficult than their land dwelling equivalents who have Bulk = 3.


In due course the expedition members were set down in some shallow bay of the Tethys Sea, and they posed for the traditional group photo. 

⬆️ L to R: the best-selling authors PG Wodehouse & HG Wells; Professor Sir James Dixon (Master of St Janet’s College Oxford); Tipton Plimsoll (the US dog food millionaire); and the international finance supremo JP Morgan III. At extreme R is Juno Utterley-Barkinge, the expedition guide. The expeditioners are armed with the new explosive-head spearguns, except Wodehouse and Plimsoll who prefer the traditional glaives.

The next photo shows the party setting off after Big (very big) Game. ⬇️ At the start only two bottom-feeding lamniform sharks (pack predators) and a starfish (special rules) are on the table. More beasts - plesiosaurs (pack predators), liopleurodons, dakosaur, ammonite (apex predators) - will be diced for after every round of hunter activations has finished.

The hunters have 8 Turns to bag at least 1 apex predator and return to the pickup point, or they’ll run out of air and/or miss the pickup and be stranded 80 Million Years BCE.


Two Turns in, and the hunters are off to a good start. ⬇️ Professor Dixon killed the brown shark with two speargun hits as it swam up aggressively, then he was attacked by the blue shark, which missed and was finished off by PG Woodhouse (glaive thrust) after being wounded earlier by Juno Utterley-Barkinge.

⬆️ No-one has yet spotted the Liopleurodon that has entered behind the party. It is swimming at high level, up near the surface but in range of spearguns (with a -1 shooting mod).

After 4 Turns more beasts are onstage: a gigantic ammonite (apex predator) and a plesiosaur (pack predator). The ammonite is at low level, the plesiosaur is at high level. Beasts which do not make a reaction move during a Turn move M at the end but must stay beyond L of any hunter. ⬇️

⬆️ The Liopleurodon came down to low level and attacked the hunters, wounding Professor Dixon but missing all its other attacks. Several hunters attacked it, and it now has 3 wounds. Note also the yellow markers. These mark where kills happened, for predation purposes. The Starfish it also on the move now. It always moves S towards the nearest dead or wounded hunter. 

Turn 5, and the moment we’ve all been waiting for. JP Morgan III (seen here posing by the left hind flipper) shoots three speargun bolts at the Liopleurodon. Two are hits, the beast amazingly doesn’t attack him, and he becomes the first time-traveller to officially bag a marine apex predator. ⬇️

Not surprisingly, considering the hunters are mostly super-rich egomaniacs, Morgan’s success sparked jealousy, and all the others now want to emulate him. Juno Utterley-Barkinge is having a hard time enforcing group cohesion. By the end of Turn 5 the party is moving towards the Ammonite. ⬇️

⬆️ Another apex predator has appeared, a Dakosaur is now at upper left.

By the end of Turn 6 the hunters have their first casualty, as the Ammonite kills Professor Dixon ⬇️ although it receives 2 wounds from shooting by other party members and starts to move away.

On Turn 7 the Ammonite is attacked by Tipton Plimsoll, he fails and the beast wounds him. Then another hunter - possibly HG Wells - also fails, and the Ammonite gets a Predate reaction, so it attacks Plimsoll again, and kills him. ⬇️ It is left to Juno Utterley-Barkinge (seen here behind the beast) to finish it off with her speargun . The other surviving hunters retreat towards the extraction point as their air supplies begin to run low and their timers start to beep.

And here’s the final position at the end of Turn 8. ⬇️ The remaining beasts retreat as the Utterley-Barking submersible appears, to return the surviving hunters to their own time.

⬆️ Blue markers show where Professor Sir James Dixon, and Tipton Plimsoll, were killed by the Ammonite. Yellow markers show where beasts were bagged: 2 yellows for the sharks, 3 yellows for the Liopleurodon and the Ammonite.

The apex predator hoodoo has been broken, as John Pierrepont Morgan III and Juno Utterley-Barkinge have both bagged these beasts.

Sunday 20 February 2022

Evil Spirits (2/2): another PDEE season with the Grey Wolf Clan

The newly installed Chief of the Clan has chosen the suitably-impressive chiefly name of Great Lion.

Now, Great Lion hasn’t been chief very long, but already (a) he is thinking like a politician, and (b) he needs a big success to consolidate his position, and (c) there are scores to settle with the Trout Clan from previous seasons.

Soon enough Red Feather (the clan’s most respected shaman, and an expert at reading the way the wind is blowing) comes to him with some disquieting advice. The wandering spirits that caused the recent outbreak of sickness are still hanging around, and have taken possession of the Trout clan. They may try again to take over the Grey Wolves too.

Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it. The best clan hunters prepare for an expedition to the Trout clan cave, to exterminate the evil spirits. Great Lion himself will lead, and Red Feather will come along too, for spiritual support and medical services.

The party comprises 5 hunters (spear armed) as well as Great Lion (club) and Red Feather (healing). They approach their objective with a mix of resolve and dread. Looking down on the Trout valley and cave from the top of a convenient hill, a ghastly sight meets their eyes.

⬆️ The bodies of Trout Clan members are scattered around the valley, mostly near the cave entrance. All are dead, and pack predators (3 Lions, 3 Hyenas) are feasting on them. Red Feather advises that all the predators must be killed, as by eating the dead bodies they will become evil spirits themselves and spread sickness to the grazing animals on which the Grey Wolves depend. This, then is the mission: the hunters must kill all the predators on the table. No more than 3 unpatched wounds, and 1 death, among the hunters though. Otherwise Great Lion’s leadership could be called into question, and the Clan won’t have enough fit hunters to ensure the food supply for next winter.

Three Turns in, and the hunters are playing it ultra-cautiously. ⬇️ They are rolling to activate on white dice only. Great Lion, Red Feather, and 2 hunters are hiding in the scrub patch at lower L. The other 3 hunters have snuck up on one of the lions and killed it with spears, at the cost of 1 wound.

⬆️ The yellow markers are the bodies of Trout clan members. They are predation points, which has the effect of lessening the aggressiveness of Predate beast reactions. I should also mention that Red Feather can “heal” hunters who have 1 wound only, if he spends an entire activation in contact with them, and activates 1D6=3+.

By the end of Turn 6 another lion has been brought down, and another hunter wounded. ⬇️ Red Feather has already patched up the first hunter wounded, and has now ambled over to the second casualty, aiming to fix him during Turn 7.

⬆️ None of the other hunters has moved during this time, all successfully activating on 1 white dice each per turn, then keeping stum. The last living Lion got an Attack reaction to a hunter in the scrub who failed an activation, but that was followed (a fail by Red Feather) by a Predate reaction , and the nearest compliant item was a Trout corpse.

Great Lion decided it was time to take on the rest of the Evil Spirits now, so he signalled for the hunters to continue the attack. After another 3 Turns (end of Turn 9) this is the situation: ⬇️ All three Lions are now down. In the centre of the photo Red Feather is patching up another wound inflicted by the last Lion as it was speared. 

⬆️ Over on the Left, one Hyena has lunged forward and attacked the Spear line as it Skulks forward, causing yet another wound.

Several beast Predate reactions, which would normally compel them to move M towards the nearest wounded / dead hunter, have been superseded by the closer presence of Trout corpses. I’m now thinking this might have advantaged the hunters too much, especially in conjunction with Red Feather’s medical repair skills. So for the rest of the game I decided to (a) remove all corpse markers (they have been picked clean), and (b) the next time Red Feather fails any activation he runs out of medical supplies.

But it was all too late. The Hyenas killed one hunter, but by the end of Turn 12 they had all fallen to a flurry of thrown spears. ⬇️ It didn’t help that the beasts failed 4 attack rolls in a row as the hunt came to an end.

Great Lion is jubilant. He has led a highly successful hunt, eliminating all the evil spirits. His hunt-leadership style of cautious movement and mutual support is noted favourably by most of the hunters. His position as Chief is now secure.

Only 1 clan hunter has been lost, way less than everyone had feared at the start of the hunt. There are 3 patched-up wounds to consider (the 4th wound was on the hunter subsequently killed) but Red Feather is confident all these will heal quickly.


The days are getting shorter now, and the snow will be here some time during the next moon. Preparations are made for the traditional Last Hunt, to ensure the clan has enough food to make it through til Spring.

This year the clan is experimenting with a new kind of trap that is easier to make than pitfalls. The men past hunting age, and boys, have dug lines of small pits between some of the gaps through which the driven game might escape. A beast crossing these risks a broken leg. The chances are: Giant grazer 67%, Herd grazer 50%.

Beasts can escape off any table edge, or by swimming the river where the hunters cannot follow (can’t swim and attack). But beasts reaching the river will sometimes prefer to turn and run along the bank rather than swim. This is determined by a die roll, they swim across on a 4+. Stampeding followers will always follow the leader.

The scouts report enough game has gathered in the river valley for the drive to begin. There must be about 30 bulk, including 2 adult Aurochs (Giant grazers) and assorted baby Aurochs, Ibex, and Reindeer (all Herd grazers). It’s a mystery where the Mammoths have disappeared to this season.

The hunting party is 5 hunters: 3 x Spear, 1 x Bow, & 1 x Fire. They aim to kill at least 20 bulk. There are 2 hunters hidden in each scrub patch. Hunter ‘Smokey’ (with the fire) will come on from the S edge (at R).⬇️

After 2 Turns the carnage has aleady begun as some panicked beasts flee over the scarps or fall to the traps. ⬇️ An Aurochs, an Aurochs calf, and a Reindeer are the kills so far. The hunters are spread out in a sweep pattern. Smokey is in the Centre, it is the reactions to his fire that have caused most of the beast reactions so far. One hunter is over by the river at top R, having loped over from the opposite scrub to plug a hole that seemed to be forming. The other three hunters are strung out along the bottom edge of the photo. Bow, in the centre of the line, starred shooting a bit too early and almost spooked some of the herd grazers in the wrong direction.

Another Turn sees the other Aurochs (adult & calf) stampede away from the fire and over the scarp (lower L). That’s 14 bulk in the bag so far. Not enough. The rest of the beasts are gradually moving towards the river. Now the hunters must ensure enough of them are brought down before they escape. The main thing to avoid will be a stampede across the river. ⬇️

And another Turn. The net is closing, although one Ibex has made a break for it by jumping into the river, where it will be safe from the hunters. ⬇️

And the last Turn. ⬇️ Three beasts have escaped: one by swimming the river, and two (one of which is wounded) by successfully evading the traps. But the hunters have killed 2 Giant Grazers & 8 Herd Grazers, a total of 24 Bulk. This meets their target of 20+, so the Grey Wolf clan finish this disquieting season on a high note and can anticipate a Winter with only the usual hardships.

So we say goodbye to our Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers until next time.