Wrath of Ash campaign play – our first run of Against the Clans!
Last night, I finally got a couple of mates over to run multiplayer WoA (as opposed to Solo WoA, detailed HERE), huzzah. Since they’re already familiar with Castle Ravenloft we decided to skip straight to Adventure 6 - with the short campaign rules - and I’m really glad we did.
I set up beforehand, drawing random heroes and starting treasures, but picking the powers using mostly the suggested ones from the book. So we got stuck straight in: I was Keyleth the Elf Paladin (with +2 Sword – YES!!), Mmzomba was Tarak the Half Orc Rogue (with dragon’s toothpick), and Bob was Quinn the hirsute/bald Human Cleric (with ring of shooty stars). Tarak got the first turn, decided by d20, in every game, we blabbed through the sparse flavour text “dem some monstees in dem hills, kill dem, etc.” and off we went.
NB – after playing through the first couple of solo WoA quests it quickly became apparent that the Human Cultists were entirely out of place thematically, and there was negligible reference to Cultists in the adventures/chambers/etc, just as the Kobold Skirmishers were similarly completely out of place in Castle Ravenloft. Since they’re all 1XP monsters, and the Kobold Skirmishers fit perfectly into the kobold theme of WoA, I swapped them over straight away. Cultists still don’t quite fit CR, but are definitely more suited as Strahd’s minions than kobolds. Clearly WOTC had a lot of left over moulds so this is my method for dealing with the surfeit. No doubt we’ll get a perfectly themed set of drider and umberhulk minis in Legend of Drizzt but with their numbers fleshed out using a bunch of chainsaw/laser pirate ninja robots. Actually that would be weirdly cool. But thematically dubious. I digress...
WoA definitely plays differently to CR. You somehow feel more in control. The heroes’ powers mostly seem more useful and reliant upon other heroes (e.g. the cleric’s healing utility heals himself and another hero for 2hp each, as opposed to the CR dwarf healer’s “4hp to one hero” soothing word) but they’re not necessarily over-powered, because the scenarios are more challenging. The sentry monsters quickly expand the map and fill the board with more monsters, and the tiles themselves – being mostly corridors or bends, and occasionally dead-ends – develop more definite directions than in Castle Ravenloft, which is mostly made up of open spaces. You’ll find yourself doubling back or agonising over which direction to explore more often, which I think is better than just heading for the nearest available unexplored edge.
Anywho. Continuing our usual tactic in CR of exploring as fast as possible and dealing with the consequences later, we quickly unfolded the map and soon found ourselves swarmed with bad dudes, angry at us for robbing their homestead. The much maligned attrition encounters of CR (i.e. “you’re getting old, lose some hps”) are still present but much fewer (and usually give you a roll to avoid the damage), and there are occasional encounters that spawn treasures or something good, but which also tell you to draw again and inevitably have something bad happen to you too. Some of the encounters refine the monster deck and ensure that the next couple of monsters are themed to the encounter (e.g. Duergar Outpost produces, surprise, surprise more Duergar), which is nice. After an encounter our cleric quickly found himself stuck in a cage, with reduced AC and no movement, as the monsters around him closed in. So our rogue popped over and spent his turn freeing the cleric, which is another great example of how little encounter details add to the cooperative nature of play.
I should mention that this quest (quest 6: Clan Bash), being a campaign, uses the treasure token rules, which are awesome. The treasures in WoA are significantly more powerful than in CR, but the tokens mean that you only get a treasure very occasionally, most of the time you’ll be finding good old bags o gold instead - yay! If you survive the quest you can spend this on gear at the end of the adventure. We mucked up a bit at first and were just drawing treasure cards instead of tokens and after a couple of turns had to do a bit of “retro fiddly cardy discardy” to re-balance what had just happened, but no harm done. The treasure tokens add a nice pacing to your hero’s development, because drawing treasure cards every time you kill a monster can feel a bit like drawing Gold Treasures in Descent. Especially if you pick up the Crossbow of Speed, or Captain America’s Shield TM. With the slow drip-feed of treasure tokens you really feel like you’re earning your spots instead.
Since the game still plays out very quickly, like in Castle Ravenloft, our rogue soon stumbled upon our goal – the dire chamber tiles. The Dire Chamber causes a bunch of tiles to be placed all in one go, with a bunch of monsters to go with it, along with the boss of that Chamber - we randomly drew Meerkat, the Kobold Chef. I mean Chief. I mean Chef. I was off on my own little jaunt across the board when this happened so I started legging it to catch up to my beleaguered friends as they held off the Chef’s swarm of henchmen. A bloody battle ensued and we burned through our healing surges in short order as the various monsters around the board (along with my paladin) started converging on the showdown Chamber area and kicking in our party’s heads. The rogue and cleric concentrated their Daily attacks on Meerkat (okay, it’s actually Meerak) and he put up a valiant fight with his cooking utensils and minions bringing us to our knees, a mere smattering of hps left between us.
With 3 hp left, Meerkat was faltering, but he still dealt the finishing blow to Quinn the hairy-baldy Cleric (during Tarak’s turn), and it was my turn to go next. The only Daily power we had left between us was my Righteous Smite (3 damage on a hit, 1 on a miss) and I had one turn to get to Meerkat and put the hurt on him – otherwise it would be Quinn’s turn again, who had 0hp and we had no healing surges, i.e. we would undoubtedly lose. My rolling throughout the game had been typically awful (anyone actually know the odds of three ‘1’s on consecutive turns??), I had just two measly kills to my name, whilst the rogue and cleric had been showing up my so-called paladin by racking up piles of the dead. As I counted the 6 squares from my paladin to Meerkat and checked my Speed – 6 – we realised that everything rested on this final Righteous attack.
Bob and Mmzomba covered their eyes and groaned as I picked up the d20. . .
. . . And rolled a naked, waggle-it-in-your-face, unadjusted, naturalist 20! SMITE!!! And there was much rejoicing. I blew our last few xps on levelling up and took the other SMITE power card as my new Daily. We turned over the top 3 treasures and bought everything we could from the mystified local villagers (couple of potions of recovery and some thieves’ tools for the rogue) with plenty of change left over to blow on booze and wenching. Spurred on by our ultra close victory we set off into the next Clan home...
It would turn out to be the lair of some rather nasty orcs, and to cut a long story short we came down to almost exactly the same finish. I was off meandering, we were down to 0 surges, the Cleric and Rogue were pulling all the weight and doing all the fighting, with optimal use of the Cleric’s (totally awesome) Blade Barrier and Astral Refuge powers and also the Rogue’s Furious Assault (wicked rolls using the Dragon’s Toothpick were dealing out some serious damage) and then I nipped in at the last minute to SMITE the Orc douchebag in charge and snag us the win, once again.
The third adventure would be against the hapless Duergar, and by this point we’d found our groove, tooled up between adventures again and plowed through the dungeon using our Kobold and Orc boons (which allow you to discard a single Kobold and Orc monster respectively – which is actually way more help than you think it sounds) to clear a path before kicking some serious arses on the way. The major hiccup came when I suffered from Dragon Fear - after Ashardalon whispered some horrible stories in my ear about what he did to puppies - and was stuck out of the action on a faraway tile. Again. I’d take 1 damage for each new tile I entered and so was hanging around in this one corner chipping away at minions when the Rogue/Cleric dynamic duo stumbled upon the Duergar King/Boss/Whatever. But this time they were well prepared and minced him up with Blade Barriers, Caltrops and a little bit of careful kiting. Eventually I took the plunge and decided to catch up to my team – I charged through tons of tiles suffering grim amounts of damage and shouting “Let me SMITE him!!!”
But the weary Orc Rogue had other plans and, quite rightly, wanted some glory for himself. He kicked the poor Duergar boss in the balls leaving him on 1hp, then jumped off his tile and started goading the poor evil Dwarf with denigrating remarks about his mother. The Duergar chief’s time to act came and he leapt for the mouthy rogue... and landed on the final whirring sword from the Cleric’s Blade Barrier. As his innards sprayed the ceiling in circular patterns, his armies fled and the Cleric and Rogue danced a jig of victory. I sullenly wandered on over and kicked his skull across the floor, mumbling under my breath about missed SMITING opportunities.
In summary – the campaign game is much more fun. The stakes are much higher as you go along because you’ve been running with the same hero for longer, so you inevitably grow more attached to them. Building your character and gaining gold and gear over Adventures is exactly what was missing for me from Castle Ravenloft, and WoA provides an elegant solution. The possibility exists of heroes becoming too powerful, but a lot of the items are one shot per dungeon, the gold comes in a random trickle so you don’t accumulate items too quickly, and you can only benefit from one bonus to AC or To Hit at a time – so it’s the sort of situation that could occur during a regular non-campaign game too. But the random nature of the events and monsters, and indeed treasure draws, means you still remain on your toes at all times, and victory is rarely guaranteed. I’d love to see more of these campaign games, and they’re so much simpler than the homebrew campaign rules we were using.
Looking at the final campaign, Adventure 13 – Assault on Firestorm Peak, there appears to be some very challenging scaling offered by the adventures as the harder Chamber cards kick in and you have to draw more Encounter cards. If you fail just one quest you also got knocked down to only 1 healing surge for the rest of the campaign. Needless to say we’re very much looking forward to get stuck into that!
FYI - the two Vast Gate Adventures also tie together in a peculiar mini campaign: if you LOSE the first adventure, you carry on with the second adventure in a linked narrative. But if you WIN, presumably you start from scratch when you play the second half?! This seems to indicate that perhaps an earlier iteration of the game employed the campaign rules all the way through the book. The door rules for example, could easily be integrated into every single game of WoA, yet they only appear in a couple of quests, just like the Treasure Tokens. Clearly they are drip-fed to you for ease of digesting the new rules elements, and to give the quests their own unique flavour. Personally, I think you’d have to include them in the Mysterious Chamber adventure which can indeed by played 14 times as it advertises, but which might become slightly dry if the only element you changed each time was the final Chamber.
NEGATIVES: my tiles are still fraying ultra-tiny fibres of paper which have smothered the table cloth we play on – much more so than the CR tiles did, the cards do seem flimsier than CR but I sleeved them all straight away anywho, the minis may come misshapen, only a few of mine did – but are easy to fix with the old hot water/cold water switcheroo, and the cultists should just be swapped out straight away imho. For those who didn’t like Castle Ravenloft the core gameplay is not altered significantly enough for you to enjoy this instead. Luckily for us though, you guys are completely crazy because...
POSITIVES: more interesting heroes with more cooperative-dependant powers, better and more creative treasures altogether, new and interesting encounters that go a long way towards rectifying the attrition of CR encounters, entirely new enemies with interesting new tactics including the awesome Sentry monsters, Treasure Tokens and super fun campaign play for the win, Doors, Chambers with alternative endings, NPCs, Boons, Tiles that go somewhere and finally a mahoosive fucking big red Dragon to fight. In short: this game is the dog’s bollocks.
Hope that was worth the read for some of you, and sorry about the big break in the middle!
EDIT - just found the scrap of paper with our final bits and pieces on it!
AGAINST THE CLANS 3 PLAYER: Kobolds, Orcs + Duergar Boons + 900gp
ND (Keyleth, Paladin) level 2: Caltrops, Healing Potion, Sword +2, Gauntlets
of Ogre Power