Tuesday 20 September 2016

Publication Day: The Iscariot Sanction

Exciting news! The Iscariot Sanction is out today, in all good bookstores. A prequel to The Lazarus Gate, this book tells the story of the Othersiders, and how they became so delightfully wicked.

Amazon Link

Waterstones Link

Titan Publishing Link

If you buy it, read it, love it, please do pop over to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review, however short. It really does make a difference.

And don't forget to check out the Alternate Realities Blog Tour!

And if that's not enough to whet your appetite, try a short extract. I spoil you guys, I really do...


‘Everything is ready as you requested, sir,’ said Mrs. Bailey. She sounded weary. She had been working all day to dress the drawing room for Sir Arthur Furnival’s latest soirée. Velvet drapes ran floor to ceiling, gathered double like something from the Lyceum stage, while long tables were adorned with black cloths and silver candlesticks were dotted about the room, supporting a hundred candles.
‘Splendid!’ Sir Arthur replied. ‘That will be all for now, Mrs. Bailey. My thanks again for working so hard at such short notice.’
The middle-aged woman made a small curtsey and left the room. Sir Arthur continued fiddling with his cravat, when finally he saw in the mirror his valet enter the room.
‘Ah, Jenkins, there you are. Be a good fellow and help with this cravat. It really is proving quite irksome today.’
Jenkins looked grave, and strode forward with a letter in his hand. ‘I’m terribly sorry, sir,’ he said, ‘but I think preparations might have to wait. This just came for you.’
Sir Arthur took the letter, and knew instantly what it was. The wax seal on the envelope was imprinted with a cameo of Apollo, and that could mean only one thing. He tore it open while Jenkins adjusted the cravat. Within moments he looked quite dapper again, but his spirits were somewhat deflated.
‘I think you had better send apologies to my guests, Jenkins,’ said Sir Arthur. ‘I simply can’t conduct a séance the day before an assignment.’
‘Of course, sir. It does so take it out of you at the best of times, if you don’t mind me saying.’
‘Oh, don’t fuss, Jenkins,’ Sir Arthur chided. But his valet was right. Sir Arthur’s powers as a medium were celebrated amongst London’s intelligentsia, but it was a dangerous path that he trod. And a lonely one at that—beyond the séances and club meetings, he was shunned by society, as were all his kind. And normal folk were right to do so, for since the Awakening the path of the psychic had proven to be fraught with danger. How he longed for those days when he’d simply been the awkward boy with ‘unusual’ talents. It had been frightening at the time, but at least then the world had been ordinary. Who would not crave a little of the ordinary in these troubled times? But what was done was done. He tried to push such thoughts aside, and focus on the here and now. ‘By the way, Jenkins,’ he said at last, ‘did you enquire as to who my assistant might be this time?’ Over the years, Jenkins had almost become as much a member of Apollo Lycea as Sir Arthur himself, and his inside track with the club’s messengers and servants proved most useful.
‘Yes sir,’ and again Jenkins looked most serious. ‘It is Miss Hardwick, sir.’
Sir Arthur sighed, and sat down in his favourite armchair to read the letter more carefully. ‘After the last time, I’m surprised the old goat lets his daughter anywhere near me. Although it was she who damn near got me killed.’
‘And saved your life, sir,’ Jenkins reminded his master, helpfully.
‘Yes, that too,’ Sir Arthur muttered. He looked up at his valet, a sense of foreboding creeping over him. ‘I need to prepare myself. Send word to the guests first; tell Mrs. Bailey she is excused for the evening, and give her my apologies. In fact, best not mention that the séance is cancelled; the poor woman has worked very hard today. And then prepare my case.’
‘Very good, sir. You’ll be needing etherium, I take it? How much shall I pack?’
Sir Arthur’s eyes blazed for an instant before he replied, coolly, ‘If they’re sending me out with Lillian Hardwick, you’d best pack it all.’

Monday 19 September 2016

A Bit of Barbaric Splendour

When I was writing Broken Legions for Osprey, the Barbarian warband lists were ultimately condensed in the editing process to a single list. However, two lists were playtested - the Western Tribes and the Germanic tribes - each with fewer options, but more flavour.

A few people have expressed interest in playing the original version of these lists, allowing them to theme their collections a little more strongly. The Germanic Tribes list also has a different warband special rule from the one that made the final cut.

These rules are mostly balanced, and were tested in the initial round of playtesting, but they aren't the final version. Therefore I wouldn't like to say that they're 100% perfect! However, if you do want to have a go with these rules, do let me know how it goes.

If nothing else, I figured it'd be of interest to see what ends up on the cutting-room floor during the design process. Enjoy!

Download the Rules here!

Friday 16 September 2016

Alternate Realities

I've been in the thick of work for some considerable time, and regular visitors may have noticed more than a few games design posts from me of late. Fear not, fans of Victoriana and the Apollonian Casefiles: for The Iscariot Sanction is almost upon us!

Released on Tuesday 20th Deptember, the second book in the series is a prequel to The Lazarus Gate, and is a dark tale of the Otherside. To celebrate its release, I'll be doing a week-long blog tour, and there'll be at least one other little surprise along the way. I'll keep you posted here and on my Facebook page of course, but for now, here's the tour schedule.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Broken Legions: Design Notes

**An edited version of this article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of Wargames Illustrated. Produced here by kind permission.

Broken Legions came about as one of those fairly rare gigs in the life of a games designer. A company (in this case, Osprey) already had an idea for a game they wanted to print, and approached me to see if I was interested. The pitch was evocative enough to grab me, but broad enough to give me the freedom that I need to get the creative juices flowing. In a nutshell, it was: “We want a game about fantasy Romans, set in a quasi-historical alt-history setting, with monsters and mythology. Oh, and we’d quite like some campaign rules please.”

With a brief like that, how could I refuse?

Step One – the Concept

Whenever I design games, even historical ones, I tend not to start with history books. (“We can tell, you hack”. Oi, no heckling from the back row please…). Broken Legions was no exception. History is important when you come to write the detail of the thing, but what you need for the initial plan is some kind of hook. And not just a hook that appeals to a niche market (in this case, people who like skirmish games and who also like Roman miniatures), but to the widest audience possible. I look to movies, comic books, novels – pop culture. For Broken Legions, which from the start was meant to have a hefty twist of myth and magic, I looked to those awesome matinee movies with Ray Harryhausen special effects, swords-and-sandals epics, TV shows about Grecian warrior princesses, and children’s books about mythology and ancient monsters. This approach led me to come up with the core concept: Broken Legions is a game primarily about legendary heroes leading small bands of followers to glory in battle. Their quest is to search the dark places of the world, beyond the fringes of the Roman Empire, and locate artefacts of great magical power. By collecting – or destroying – these artefacts, they can secure power and position for their nations (or even families) for centuries to come.

From that concept, I had a good think about the type of rules I wanted. How many miniatures should there be per side? How granular should the rules mechanics be? Should monsters be part of a warband, or an AI-controlled force of nature? Should there be Argonauts? Okay, that last one was a no-brainer. Of course there should be Argonauts. However, they’re not quite as you know them, instead being a cult descended from the original crew, who are opposed to the Romans several hundred years later.

Granularity vs Simplicity

The core concept of a game informs every decision I make for the rest of the process. I write the top bullet points up on a whiteboard, in fact, next to my desk, so I don’t get tempted to stray too far from the design aesthetic. Here’s the 5-point list I came up with for Broken Legions:

1.      It’s all about Heroes!
2.      Warbands are small, so mechanics are detailed.
3.      Gods are fickle, powerful, and omnipresent.
4.      Monsters cannot be controlled, and will ruin your day.
5.      Warbands should offer a variety of archetypes.

Those top two points are at the top for a reason – when I wrote the core mechanics, they were the bits that dictated the level of granularity in the rules. I started testing out a game in which an elite force might only contain five or six models, and a similarly pointed ‘horde’ force might be only twelve strong. With so few models, you can afford to delve into detail a bit more, because you’re less likely to forget who’s who in a warband made up of characterful individuals. Broken Legions isn’t a game where you roll a bucketload of dice and take models off by the handful; it’s a game where every individual counts. The order in which you move your models can be vital to your strategy. Combat is an involved process, with your stats, spells, and weapons racking up a variety of modifiers, positive and negative. It can actually be tricky for basic warriors to land a decisive blow, and so you have to carefully outmanoeuvre your opponents to get a decisive charge or outnumbering bonus, otherwise you risk getting bogged down in protracted single combats. This can be a bad thing indeed, because you need those warriors free to claim objectives and search ancient treasure hoards. Essentially, there’s a whiff of an RPG about the mechanics, which really appealed to me, as RPGs are all about heroism and larger-than-life figures.

To increase the granularity of the rules, and produce a wider spread of results, I opted for a D10 system rather than my usual favoured D6s, so that even a lowly Barbarian Warrior can land a blow on a Demigod (however unlikely it might be). The basic mechanic involves either a Rest or a Contest. A Test means you roll a D10, add the relevant characteristic (such as Accuracy for shooting, or Agility for jumping over things), and aim for a 10 or more to succeed. You can stack modifiers in your favour to make these rolls easier. A Contest, on the other hand, is when models each roll a D10 and add or subtract and relevant modifiers, aiming simply to beat their foe’s score – this is particularly common in melee, or when engaging in a battle of wills against an enemy priest.

Mighty Heroes

The heroes themselves come in three flavours: Mighty warriors, spellcasters, and sneaky spies. Each of these guys have their place—strong warriors are needed to lead their men fearlessly into battle; Druids and priests can have a major effect on the game with well-timed miracles; spies can steal back the initiative from your opponent (a pretty vital mechanic), or stop enemy heroes from performing pesky Heroic Actions (anything from singling out an enemy model for a hail of arrows, or beseeching the gods for aid).

And what about those gods? Remember I said they were fickle? Well, your heroes can bend the knee and pray to the gods for help, but there’s a chance the capricious pantheon will smite him verily for being a big wimp and calling on them too often. Likewise, whenever a priest performs a miracle, he must roll an extra dice. If he’s successful, and scores a 10 on the bonus die, he becomes reinvigorated by the energy of his patron deity. If he fails to perform the miracle, however, and also rolls a 1 on the die… you guessed it, he gets smote! (Or should that be smitten? I can never remember).

Menacing Monsters

In the end, I decided that monsters (most of them, at least) can’t be controlled by the players, but instead are “Wandering Monsters” with a simple three-step AI system. Generally, they’re encountered in specific scenarios (although in the demo game we played at Wargames Illustrated HQ, we had a Minotaur “spawning” from an objective. Hilarity ensued).

Monsters are really, really tough, and pretty quick to boot. There was always a risk that they could become a marginal part of the game – with players running around trying to claim objectives and kill each other, monsters needed to be able to catch up with the flow of play so as not to become sidelined. Thankfully, due to the modest proportions of the average gaming area, the speed of the monsters, and the fact that they activate before the players’ models, this is rarely the case. Players generally find that they have to deal with the monsters before they get eaten, which is easier said than done!

Something for Everyone

When I was designing the warbands, I wanted to make sure that there were plenty of options to suit not just a gamer’s preferred style of play, but also the hobbyist’s preferred type of model. The faction present in the game cater for a variety of aesthetics. There are three flavours of Roman (vanilla, gladiator surprise and, erm, priesty ripple), Barbarians (all of which draw from a single list, but that’s something I’d like to expand on later), Egyptians, Argonauts (obviously), Parthians, and Dacians. Each of these warbands has been given a fantasy twist based on the setting. For example, the Barbarians get Wulfkind (werewolves); the Egyptians get Eternal Warriors (mummies); Dacians get Ghouls and Strigoi, and so on. If you want to play the game as a straight historical skirmish, you don’t have to include these elements at all. If you want to play only mythological battles, you can go heavy on those elements. Likewise, depending on the warband you choose, you could go heavy on ranged weapons, or cavalry, or chariots. You could take lots of cheap troops, or a few elite troops. You can tool up your basic warriors with all the wargear under the sun. You can purchase extra miracles for your priests to dominate the foe through magical means. The lists are flexible enough to cater for pretty much any style of play.

The other way to add spice to the warbands is through the inclusion of “Auxilia”, or swords for hire. There’s a list of nine in the book (and I’d like to write more), from the mighty Cyclops to the fully customisable Demigod (you can choose his/her skills, blessings and weaponry based on the deity of your choice). You can have a Centaur riding alongside your Parthian Cataphracts, or a vampiric Daughter of Lamia skulking amidst your Celtic warrior warband. Whatever takes your fancy!

During campaign play, you need to pay Auxilia an upkeep in points after every game in order to retain their services. If you start to do badly and don’t earn enough points to pay them off, they up sticks and leave your warband. Such is the downside of dealing with mercenaries, especially ones that aren’t human.

Hitting the Campaign Trail

One of the things that the guys at Osprey specifically wanted from me was a campaign system, ‘a bit like Legends of the Old West’ (there’s a blast from the past, eh?). So, how to go about it?

In a campaign, you start off with a small warband, and earn a number of points at the end of each game based on your performance. The more points you earn, the more warriors, Auxilia and/or wargear you can buy for your force. You’ll need to pay your Auxilias’ retainers from this total, so gathering a mercenary-heavy force can prove very costly, if powerful.

Models also gain experience, allowing them to boost their characteristics (making those all-important Tests easier), gain special rules, or even seek out artefacts of power, like magical swords and blessed amulets. Lowly warriors can become fully fledged heroes, proving that the gods really can smile on the brave. Of course, on the flipside of that, models that are taken out of action during a game might suffer serious injury or a bad case of death, leaving you with a shortfall to fill before your next game.

If my previous efforts are anything to go by, players really get into the spirit of things during the campaign turn (aka the ‘post-game sequence’), goading their enemies as they make those injury rolls, and celebrating the discovery of arcane treasure as though they’d actually found the real-life Golden Fleece.

There you have it – that pretty much sums up my approach to Broken Legions. I’ve tried to be as permissive as possible with regard to what models people can take, drawing upon as many different archetypes and ancient nations that I could feasibly fit into this one book. Hopefully the rules themselves will provide adequate grit for the competitive players amongst you, and be simple enough to learn for the casual gamer. There’s a lot going on in this one book, and the constraints of physical pages and deadlines have meant that I still have other ideas bubbling away for this setting. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to realise those ideas in the future.

Broken Legions is out now, available from all good bookshops, or direct from Osprey Publishing here

If you like the artwork previews in this blog, check out some other work by the wonderfully talented Alan Lathwell here (he was also the illustrator of my Sleepy Hollow book).