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Friday, 29 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 12: Reek of the Fens

 

And that wraps it up for our look through Secrets of Shandisholm, thanks for joining us...
 
Wait a minute. You haven't told us anything about this adventure yet.
Well I don't want to spoil the surprises for when people play it.
 
You can't just skip over this last section, there must be something you can say about it.
All right then. Let's talk about characters. The Reek of the Fens has four main characters, Tuatha from Shandisholm. Of course you can make up your own, these are just examples. Because it's designed to introduce the game dynamics we've got one character who's brave, one who's perceptive, one who's wise and one who's agile. There's a shooting character, a herbalist, a geomancer and the group has a spear and a lantern so they're a well-rounded group.
 
You mentioned Cynefridd last time, she's the group leader?
Yes, the daughter of Harri Howl the chief. She's accompanied by Braden, a loyal friend who dreams of joining the tribe's hunters. They've persuaded Ifan, the village's champion archer and trusted by the Howl family, to accompany them and as they are leaving they find themselves being followed by Callmauwr, a strange and reclusive child with an obsession for scrawling patterns. These four make up the main group. They can be played all by one player or split between 2-4 players with a GM controlling the other characters they encounter.
 
What kind of things do they come across?
The adventure uses the scenarios from the previous section, with a list of models involved and any special conditions and objectives specific to this adventure. There's a Fae chase, some mischievous Pixies, saving a lone homestead from a Spriggan raid, being stalked by a supernatural being, breaking into a camp to retrieve a stolen object, trying to win the confidence of a troupe of Yaltogs...
 
And a special scenario?
Rescue at Mael Fen, the climactic attempt to retrieve Cynefridd's brother from the hands of his captors... or is it? This is quite a complex board setup on a 4' by 6' board, but can be played as two linked scenarios if your table isn't big enough. We've played it with the mountain trail represented by some string laid out across the tabletop and it worked just fine. Of course, we'd love to see pictures if you go the whole hog and make terrain for it!
 
Any news on when Secrets of Shandisholm will be available?
We're expecting delivery next week. The pre-orders are still available at oakbound.co.uk (in The Woods and SystemMech sections) and will be until Monday 8th August, so you've got just over a week to grab a copy at the special discount price. The first two miniatures boxes should be available from the 8th, a Spriggan Band and the Myeri Clan. They're on their way from the casters and the box wraps are being printed at this moment. As soon as I have them I'll get some pictures up.

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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 11: Scenarios

 
Game time! Tell us about these scenarios then, any general guidelines?
There are eight different scenarios in this section, but of course they're just examples and ideas. Players are encouraged to come up with their own scenarios and we'll be releasing a lot more in the future. All but one of the scenarios takes place on a 4' square board and will last around 60-90 minutes. The Chase has a bigger board at 6' by 4'. All the scenarios have conditions which end the game, but if none of them are met they all last a maximum of 12 Game Turns. Of course you can keep on playing if you wish, but 12 turns gives a good length and degree of challenge.
 
How are the scenarios laid out?
Each scenario has a title, a bit of flavour text describing a situation which might fit the scenario, objectives for two sides, special rules and conditions, a map showing sample board layouts and deployment zones etc. and some suggestions for how you might use the scenario in a narrative.
 
There don't seem to be any force lists for either side.
No, it's players/GM's choice. we've given an idea of what forces you might use, but play them a couple of times and you'll get a sense of what size/type of forces are appropriate. They'll be very dependent on how you're using the scenario, what characters are involved in the narrative and what models you have to hand. If you want a tricky situation for the characters to encounter ramp up their adversaries. The sample adventure gives a good idea of how these scenarios can be adapted for different situations.


What have we got then?
There's the usual tabletop staples- the one where the monster is hunting you, the one where you have to retrieve an object, the one where you have to reach a feature on the board and trigger an event... Then there are some quite different situations such as trying to steal an opponent's livestock, a hunt, burning down a settlement and trying to turn a village against one another.

What if more than two players are playing?
The scenarios are listed as having a 'Side A' and 'Side B', there's nothing to say that more than one player can't be on each side. We have some scenarios for more players, these will be released over the next year in one form or another.

Set the scene then, where are we off to for our first adventure?
It begins, unsurprisingly, in Shandisholm, a village in tumult following the disappearance of the chief's infant son. Whilst the village elders debate and organise the chief's daughter takes it upon herself to set out with a few friends to look for her brother...
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Monday, 25 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 10: Modelling

We're into the final week of looking through the pages of Secrets of Shandisholm, but it includes some of the most exciting stuff for me, the modelling articles and narratives. We're keeping the pre-order prices up on the website for the first week in August to give people who are waiting to get paid a chance to join in. Heard from the printers last week that all's going well, the books should be arriving from them any time in the next fortnight.


Modelling pages! That's great to see, not much attention paid to that in many game rulebooks.
Tell me about it, but I think it's what the hobby's all about. Creating these amazing worlds not just in your head but in 3 dimensions in front of you. The glorious feeling of knowing you made all of it!

Assuming you can make glorious terrain of course, some of us just don't have the time, patience, skill or budget for that.
Terrain-making doesn't have to be hard, expensive or that time-consuming, that's part of the purpose of these pages. Most of the materials we've used are cheap and easily available, and the techniques are quite easy to get good results with.

Or you could just go and buy ready-made terrain.
You could, but where's the fun in that I say! And it almost certainly isn't cheaper...

What's in the modelling section then, is it just terrain?
No, there is quite a bit of terrain stuff- modelling round houses, realistic trees, cheap solutions for nice-looking hedges and walls, and a look at the modular terrain we made to test and play The Woods on. If you were at Attack! Devizes last weekend you probably saw our board going through its paces. The modelling pages explain how to make everything on there. We've also got a section on how I go about sculpting miniatures, with a step-by-step look at sculpting Harri Howl, Toisech of Shandisholm, and some pages looking at the diverse array of miniatures available to choose from. I'm especially excited about the painting tutorial which the amazing David Stafford (aka Mr Saturday's Mumblings) has put together. Mr Saturday's Mumblings really inspired me to begin blogging almost 5 years ago, and without that there would almost certainly be no Oakbound Studio now.


You mentioned the miniatures ranges available, does that just cover Oakbound?
It's never been my intention for Oakbound to try and compete with all the other brilliant small miniature companies around. I'm far more interested in working in harmony, so if there's a miniature out there which fits the world/creature/theme I'm working on with Oakbound I like to point people to it. If nothing else it saves me having to sculpt another one! Warlord Games and Gripping Beast have been brilliant about allowing me to use their Dark Age/Celtic miniatures in this publication. Dark Sword, Troll Outpost, Wargames Foundry and Krakon Games also have excellent and compatible miniatures in their ranges.

So we've explored the world, learnt the rules, found some miniatures to use and built a nice gaming board, now do we play some games?
Absolutely! High time we looked at some scenarios...!
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Friday, 22 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 9: Storytelling

We're over halfway through Secrets of Shandisholm now, and with only a week left to get those pre-orders in and save 33% off the retail price! So let's crack on with today's pages, the Storyteller's guide...


What does a game of The Woods actually look like then?
A good question. Very variable is the answer. It depends what kind if game you want to play and what suits the situation and number of players. Sometimes it plays like a game of Mordheim or Malifaux, two warbands fighting it out across the table with a player controlling each. Other times it's more like D&D, with players controlling a character each against a GM who runs the NPCs. Between those two extremes there are lots of possibilities, the Storyteller's guide begins by suggesting some different setups. We'll look at particular scenarios next Wednesday, but they'll generally involve retrieving something, getting somewhere, attacking something or protecting something. Fairly standard tabletop situations, but going straight in for the kill isn't usually the best way of achieving the goal.

Is the Storyteller's guide like the GM section?
Pretty much, although you don't need to have a GM to play. The guide discusses the benefits of a GM and the aspects they can bring to the game. It then describes some ways of making game environments more in-depth which can be applied whether or not you have a GM. This includes things like varying the difficulty of Actions, playing very small games or much larger games, secret agendas, creating narrative campaigns, seeing Skills as more than adjustments to the rules, building characters from the folk listed in the bestiary and taking games out of the Mortal Realm and into other weird and wonderful realms. There's a bit on game balance for people who worry about that kind of thing and the all-important Rule of Cool.

What's the Rule of Cool?
If something wouldn't normally succeed, but it would be amazing for the narrative if it did then the Rule of Cool says it somehow succeeds.


Doesn't that mean players can do what they like?
It's an attitude thing, which is central to SystemMech and The Woods. If you're interested in competitive play, tournament-type stuff concerned with the perfect force and intricate tactics then you CAN play SystemMech that way... but to get the most out of the story-lead elements you really need to be playing with people who are working together to create the world. That doesn't mean there's no competition, but it means that winning and losing become relative terms since the narrative is the goal. If there's difference of opinion which needs solving there are two guidelines- the GM is always right, and if you don't have GM toss a coin to decide.

I look forward to seeing the scenarios next week, what else have we still got to cover?
There's a decent chunk of modelling and painting articles, including an excellent Tiarna painting tutorial with Mr Saturday (Dave Stafford) whose blog inspired me to start this one in the first place. Then there are the scenarios, then there's a complete adventure "Reek of the Fens" which combines them together in a narrative campaign. That's Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week sorted.
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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 8: Skills, Traits and Items

So, you promised to tell me how you become a Fateweaver...
Sure. Well, for most characters you'd have to buy a Geomancy Skill or an Augur Skill. Geomancers are artists who direct and predict the flow of Fate by drawing patterns, usually in sand or carved into rock or wood. Augurs have an inherent ability to twist Fate around them to suit their needs. Sometimes they're aware they're doing it and can learn to control it, sometimes things just happen around them.

I buy these abilities?
Yes, they're called Skills, they're one of three things you can buy once you've gained enough points to advance your characters....


During each scenario they take part in characters will be awarded Objective Points based on what they manage to achieve. In between games these Objective Points can be spent, advancing the character's abilities. There are three things they can do with their points- Skills, Traits and Items.

Skills are bonuses and special abilities that get applied to character themselves. This includes Geomancy and Augury, also having animals under the control of the character and the Warrior Skill, which allows them to pick further Skills from the Warrior table. Traits are like negative Skills which you can apply to your opponent's characters in the same way. Some only last for the duration of one game, others are permanent.

Items are useful objects you can pick up along the way. Items are normally bought at settlements for a 'Ring cost'. To acquire Rings you simply trade in your Objective Points for the same number of Rings. This process is irreversible, you can't change Rings back to Objective Points to spend on Skills and Traits. Sometimes Items and Skills combine, for example many Warrior Skills are only of use if you have the appropriate weapon. The weapon alone might give you a slight advantage, but the weapon combined with the Skill makes your character very formidable. Unfortunately for this reason Warrior Skills are pretty expensive.

The cost of Skills and Items doesn't just reflect how 'good' they are in the game but also how rare an Item is or how hard a Skill is to learn. A sword, for example, gives different but equivalent bonuses to an axe. However, a sword is a lot more expensive because axes (being domestic items used for cutting firewood etc.) are a lot easier to come by and less difficult to forge.

There are a lot of Herbs in the book as well
Yup, a whole section on herbs, where they can be found and what they do. Having a Herbalist in your party is a smart move as they are the ones who can identify different plants and prepare the various potions and poultices which make the herbs effective.

Can you increase your character's Core Stats by spending Objective Points?
You can. It gets more expensive as you get further advanced though, so making a '2' (average) stat into a '3' (trained) is relatively cheap, '4' to '5' is a lot more expensive and '5' to '6' requires a lot of Objective Points.
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Monday, 18 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 7: Action Tables

Good morning. Thanks to everyone who came and saw us at Attack! Devizes at the weekend, we had some good games and unleashed a lot of terror upon the Mortal Realm! Another look inside the pages of Secrets of Shandisholm today, this time we're talking about Action tables...
 

Let's get down to it then, what Actions can I spend my Stamina on?
There are 6 tables of Actions in the book: Movement, Relational, Shooting, Grappling, Instinctive Reactions and Fateweaver Actions. Movement, as you'd expect, covers walking, jumping, climbing, sprinting etc. Relational is to do with interacting with other models and the board, speaking, coercing, investigating, operating machinery (although there's not much in the way of machinery in the lowland forests!). Shooting covers loading, aiming and shooting itself. Grappling is a bit more complicated, there are Grapple Reactions you can make if you see someone charging at you and Grapple Actions you can perform if you win the fight. The better you do in the fight the more options you have. Fateweaver Actions are like spells which can be cast by characters whose profiles list them as Fateweavers. Instinctive Reactions are Actions which can be performed in response to something else happening, for instance being shot at or targeted with a Confuse Fateweaver Action.

Shooting and Grappling must be quite interesting without dice rolls.
Shooting is based on Accuracy, if your Perception is good and you're steady under pressure you have a better chance of hitting the target. This is modified by what else has happened, so your accuracy decreases if you've moved as well, and decreases further if your target is moving fast for example. You can boost your accuracy by performing Aim actions before shooting. Once you've calculated your Shooting Range by following the easy calculator on the Shooting page you measure that distance in inches. If you can reach the target you've hit, otherwise it's a miss. So there's a combination of being able to accurately guess distances and plan ahead so that your Actions and those of the target give you the maximum chance of hitting. Hit models are knocked back and must take an Instinctive Reaction as well as sustaining damage. Being hit by a missile weapon isn't as lethal as being pounded in a Grapple, but it seriously affects your ability to make the most of your next Activation, especially if you've run out of Stamina and have to Fall Prone.

And Grappling?
Grappling is a bit more complicated. Planning the attack is important as if the fight goes badly for you it can get serious very quickly. First you initiate the Grapple. This is essentially a charge, but if your opponent can see you coming they get to react which can make a substantial difference to the outcome of the fight- so a stealthy approach is often best. Next you calculate Grapple score. This is based on the model's Finesse (Strength plus Agility) but is modified by circumstances, for instance if a model's Centre Front Line isn't touching their opponent's base it means their opponent has managed to move to the side of them (Wide Spacing them) and their ability to defend and strike back is reduced. Each model's remaining Stamina is added to their Grapple score as all efforts are committed to fighting for their lives and if the initiating model managed to launch their attack unseen they can add the Stamina spent initiating to their score as well. Again, there's a handy calculator for working this out. The model with the highest Grapple score wins and the amount they win by determines how many of the Grapple Actions they can choose from. These include hitting your opponent and knocking them to floor, but also more subtle tactical moves like pushing them backwards, Wide Spacing them and using the advantage to escape from the fight. Different weapons and skills also give special abilities in a fight or reduce the cost of Grapple Actions. For example a model with a spear can keep an opponent at a 1" distance, preventing their blows from landing as long as they keep winning rounds of combat.


How can you swing a fight in your favour if things are going badly?
It's difficult, as it would be if you've misjudged your opponent. There are ways though. Having support is crucial, if there's a friend to step in and help you out they'll almost always swing the balance, it's really hard to fight two opponents at once (but a shield helps). There really is no substitute for planning the attack carefully. If you can finish a fight in one round and get away that's the best situation, if the fight continues into the next turn and your opponent has a chance to respond and get help into the Grapple then things can get messy. At the start of each successive round of Grappling (the start of every Game Turn) models have a chance to Break Off and escape from Grapples, so if all else fails you can run away. But whether you escape unharmed or not depends on how fast you are and how strong your Decisiveness is.

What are these 'Maximum Values' which crop up on the Action pages?
Maximum Values are a safeguard against ridiculous stats. They don't often come into play, but just sometimes you get a model whose stats are unbalanced to the extent they are able to do things they wouldn't reasonably be able to. For instance, models with very high Courage but low Agility could still move long distances since Movement Actions are based on Dexterity, a combination of Agility and Courage. The Maximum Move Value prevents this by limiting a model's movement to four times its Agility, no matter how brave a model is if it isn't agile as well it can't move fast. Effectiveness of Grappling is constrained by a Maximum Value based on Strength, no matter how quick a model is weak blows won't be effective. That's why most of the Grapple modifiers modify your opponent's score down, not yours up. Maximum Shooting Range is decided by Perception and Maximum Charisma by Wisdom. Every core stat except Courage therefore governs abilities on one Action table, which balances the effect Courage has of increasing both Stamina and Decisiveness concurrently.

The Fateweaving table is unique to this book?
Yes. Fateweaving's great fun, I recommend warbands/adventuring parties always have a Fateweaver of some kind! They really do give you the edge if you can position them right, keep them safe and have them store up enough Stamina.

So Stamina stacks does it?
Not usually, but Fateweavers have a special Gather ability which means they can save Stamina between turns for the purposes of casting more potent spells.

How do you become a Fateweaver?
We'll look at that in the next section, Skills and Items. Stay tuned!
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Friday, 15 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 6: The Rules

Alrighty then, let's get down to how this thing works...


We're about a third of the way through the book now, and we've just hit the rules section. Is there a reason you put it together so it takes so long to get to how to play the game?
Absolutely, several in fact. First and foremost it's because this is envisioned as a sourcebook, not a rulebook. We've included the SystemMech rules in it so that it is a complete game in its own right, but the emphasis is on exploring the world and the creatures that inhabit it. That can be used as the background for any game system, not just for SystemMech. In fact, the rules section begins with a way of importing characters into SystemMech from other game systems and for converting the stats given in the book for use in other popular game systems. Secondly the rules themselves are just there to support the stories as they unfold on the tabletop. The narrative always takes precedent and so it made sense to start by introducing the narrative rather than the rules. Lastly it's because the middle of the book is easy to find so you can locate the rules section quickly when playing. There are also reference tables at the back.

How like other games is SystemMech? And how is it different?
It's similar to many tabletop miniatures games in that you have models representing the characters and they are moved around on the table by measuring distances in inches. There's shooting and combat, staples of pretty much all tabletop games. The crucial differences are that SystemMech uses no dice rolls or card draws to determine success. You won't be asked to roll to hit or draw to see what happens. Instead your models can perform a range of Actions which stack and combine with the Actions of other models and the situation on the tabletop to determine their success. Whilst shooting and combat are present they aren't always the best choices, combat is particularly lethal if things don't go your way. Models can coerce, charm and intimidate enemy models to gain advantages and control over them, and order friendly models to perform Actions out of the normal turn order. It's a bit like playing chess, you need to think a few turns ahead to plan strategy.

Sounds complicated.
Not really. Most of the rules section consists of Action tables, the core principles of the game only takes up a couple of pages. As I say, it's narrative-driven, so planning ahead is only a must if you're bothered about strategy.

What are the core principles then?
There's Perception- that's what your models can see/sense around them. Each model has a Perception Range ( circular area centred on their base) and a Field of Vision (an arc in front of them), anything in those areas can be Perceived and have Actions targeted at it (so long as it isn't obscured by terrain). Then there are the 5 core Statistics each character has: wisdom, perception, courage, agility and strength. These combine to give secondary stats which affect the game, for instance a character's Decisiveness (when they Activate in a turn) is based on wisdom+perception+courage. Their Stamina (how much they can do in a turn) is based on courage+agility+strength. Shooting range draws on Accuracy, which is courage+perception (how well the model can see and how steady they are under pressure) etc. They also have Endurance, which is how much damage they can sustain. That's pretty much it, with elaboration and clarification, except for the one definite legal restriction- no pre-measuring!

 
What sort of size games are the rules designed for?
I guess you'd call them Skirmish or Warband games. Half a dozen or so figures per side. Of course, you can go RPG style and have one character each in a party of adventurers with a GM or you can play like any other skirmish game, one player's band against another. The scenarios in the book are mostly for a 4x4' board and last 60-90 minutes.

Not mass-combat then?
By all means put as many models on the table as you like! But it's a question of how many profiles you can keep track of. If they're all the same probably no difficulty in having 20 or so models on a side. There are plans to build a mass-combat system into SystemMech in the near future, but that's not really what this sourcebook is aimed at.

And SystemMech is available apart from The Woods?
Yes. It's available to download free from the Oakbound website. SystemMech itself is a blank game system which can be imported into any world you like and customised to suit. For instance, we're currently doing starter boxes of SystemMech with the Legends of British Steampunk background and will be picking up Factious Waste, our dystopian near-future world, as soon as time allows.

It's also registered Creative Commons.
Yes it is. That means you can download, copy, distribute it, use it in your non-commercial publications as you like. It's a very granular system with lots of space for creativity and customisation so we'd like to see as many people using it in different ways as possible. The only thing we ask is that if you're wanting to use it in a publication or event you'll be charging for you contact us about a small license fee beforehand, just so we don't lose out and can keep putting out in depth sourcebooks like this one!
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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 5: The Bestiary- Animals


We looked at 'folk' on Monday, now we're looking at 'animals', what's the fundamental difference?
Folk are controlled by players, the players have full control over what their characters will do. Animals are controlled by characters, so the player who owns the relevant Wrangler or Packmaster figure dictates their actions. If that character goes unconscious or leaves the board (or the animals are uncontrolled for any other reason) they revert to Instinctive Behaviour which is listed under each profile.

There are quite a few animals listed here, how are they used in games?
They can be ridden by characters- all animals are potential mounts although the riding model must be able to reasonably do so. They may also be 'willing' or 'reluctant' to be ridden by certain character types which affects how easy they are to control. Animals are also useful to specific characters, for instance the Draoi can have a Raven familiar and cast Fateweaving from either their viewpoint or that of the Raven. In design the animals were grouped into three categories: Strong animals, Fast animals and Spotting animals (those with good Perception). Of course, some are mainly included for use in scenarios. Protecting a flock of sheep or trying to sneak past the lair of a bear for example.

Are they all familiar animals?
There's a section of Animals of the Mortal Realm, animals we'd be familiar with (badgers, bears, deer, foxes, crows etc.), and a section on Animals of Other Realms, stranger creatures that have been brought (or found their way) into the Mortal Realm. That includes the Eanabuis, the butcher birds of the Coral knights, Whist Hounds, Water Leapers etc. There's also a page of Sidhe Animals, these are the Faerie equivalents of the Mortal Animals, identical in every way except that most are wiser and/or capable of things Mortal Animals aren't, such as speaking.

What do badgers do?
Gotta love badgers... they don't do an awful lot to be honest, but they are strong for their size and the Pixies like to ride them. They share the badgers' sets quite often.
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Monday, 11 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 4: The Bestiary

Good afternoon all, start of a new week. Today we're looking at the next big chunk of Secrets of Shandisholm, the Almanac and Bestiary which contains background and rules for over 50 different creatures. Some natural, some less so...


This section takes up a big chunk of the book, what kind of creatures are there here?
The section is split into two, the 'almanac' which has what you might call 'races' of intelligent creatures and the bestiary which has a selection of animals. Some of the creatures in the almanac will be familiar: Leprechauns, Kelpies, Pixies etc. Some are more obscure such as the Fodden, Bauchan and Glaistig. We'll talk about the animals in the next post.

How are the pages organised?
Generally each creature has its own page. The type of creature is listed at the top, followed by a description of its features and character. If there are special rules pertaining to it these are described underneath. There's an illustration of each creature, one of three symbols showing whether it belongs to the class of Woodfolk, Fenfolk or Hillfolk and a stat diagram showing its Wisdom, Perception, Courage, Agility, Strength and Endurance.

Is there a marked difference between the Woodfolk, Fenfolk and Hillfolk?
It's more a guide to where you're likely to encounter them, but the types of folk do have their own characteristics which reflect their environment. For instance the Fenfolk tend to be morose and introverted, Hillfolk are eerie and mystical and Woodfolk are attuned to the natural world.

Are there stock special rules which get applied or are they unique to each creature type?
There's a mix. Things like Aura of Fear (which prevents models from approaching unless they have a high Courage stat) crop up quite frequently, but they get modified by the creature's own stats so some are much scarier than others. Then there are creature-specific abilities like being Pixie-Lead or the irritating habit groups of Boggarts have. They all Activate together and can pool their collective Staminas to perform Fateweaver Actions, so a large group of Boggarts can be a tricky proposition to deal with.


Do all creatures of one type have the same statistics?
As stock, yes. But they can be customised. For example there's a case where a game calls for a Chief Yaltog (weasel-like nomadic creatures who are a bit of a bully), he has the same stock profile as a Yaltog but an extra point of Wisdom. There's a section in the Storyteller's guide later in the book on creating player characters from these creatures as well.

So these are normally encountered as NPCs are they?
Depends how you want to use them. A party of player characters will normally be a group of Tuatha, Fae or Myeri, or a mixture of the three. A game might pit those characters against some creatures from the Bestiary or a GM might introduce creatures into a game where two parties of characters are playing against each other. There's no reason a party couldn't include creatures from the Bestiary as they are, the character creation rules are just there to allow for more customisation if required.

Do you have a favourite?
Nuckelavee! Haha, no actually my favourite creature type is the Bugul. It's a sad little creature which lives in the forests. Bugul have a beautiful singing voice but are physically the most repulsive beings ever to have existed. They have tiny wings and sing of their dreams of soaring care-free through the open skies... it's a sad thing.


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Friday, 8 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 3: The Myeri

Concluding this week's look at the main races in Secrets of Shandisholm, here's glimpse of the Myeri:

 
 
 
I'm thinking the Myeri will be where a lot of people's interest in this world lie?
I'm certainly excited about them. They're a blend of some things which have been massive influences on me- the Heroquest Fimir, The Dark Crystal, the art of Alan Lee, Irish folklore, Polynesian carving, Inca social structures, walking in the Dartmoor countryside. It's fair to say I poured a lot of my favourite things into them!
 
You already hinted that these guys aren't all that terrible.
They're morally ambiguous, as are most of the creatures in The Woods. They are demonised because of their looks and the Fae made them out to be terrible monsters. Rumours of sacrifice to dark powers keep the Tuatha well away from their marshland homes. They're certainly cautious of others and don't like visitors, they've suffered great persecution and don't find it easy to trust others. Make no mistake, if they do decide to fight they are deadly warriors.
 
Where do they come from? I take it they aren't part of the Fae's entourage if they hate the Myeri so much.
Not at all. The Myeri's origin is shrouded in mystery, but their own myths say they were created by a god called Dagda and were intended to be a perfect society, which is why they have a caste system based on physical traits. For some reason Dagda then rejected them and cast them from their home realm, leaving them wandering through the Void until they happened upon the Mortal Realm, emerging out of the sea. They were sustained on their travels by a piece of coral from their homeland which resisted the crushing horrors of the Void and guided them to the new land. Unfortunately the power of the coral drew the attention of the Fae, which sealed the doom of the Myeri and caused them to be scattered into the fens.

 
 
How is their caste system reflected in the rules then?
Myeri belong to four types. The Oibrithe (workers), Losbastun (warriors), Draoi (mystics) and Tiarna (leaders). No type is considered above the others, they all have responsibilities to the clan and are just seen as different roles. A Myeri character's statistics are set depending on their caste. For example, Oibrithe are 'standard' like Tuatha but will all have an additional skill which represents the work they undertake. Losbastun are faster and are trained to fight in one of three styles, each of which gives them a different advantage. Draoi are Geomancers and Tiarna either come from Oibrithe or Losbastun stock and have skills appropriate to their background. Then there are the Coral Knights, tasked with questing to other realms to retrieve the lost coral, the Meirge who patrol the borders of the Myeri's land and the Scealai- wandering poets who carry news between the clans.

There are already quite a few Myeri miniatures available from Oakbound, will we be seeing more?
I'm just finishing the sculpts for the Myeri Clan Box right now, so yes. There will be 9 more sculpts available in August, watch this space for details! The box will have 5 Losbastun and 4 Oibrithe models, with parts to make up a Tiarna, Meirge, Scealai and Draoi instead of the 'stock' figures.

More creatures next week?
Yup, next week we'll fly through the Bestiary. There are over 50 different creatures in it so it will have to be fleeting!
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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 2: The Fae

Today's visit to the world of The Woods takes us to see the Fae, and really THEY STARTED IT!

Fairies are these little people with wings that grant wishes, right?
Not really no. If you asked some of the Tuatha that question they'd probably say yes, but he Tuatha don't really remember what the Fae were like. They think of all the folk from other realms which live around them as faeries but the Fae are quite different.

And the Fae brought the other folk into the Mortal Realm?
As servants, labourers beasts of burden and creatures to be hunted, yes. Only the Myeri and the Nuckelavee aren't Fae imports.

What are the Fae like then?
Tall, athletic, beautiful, graceful, delicate and incredibly cruel. One of the things I love most about folklore is that it tends to turn expectations on their head, beautiful characters are often evil- there's a lot of moral ambiguity. We went for the same idea with The Woods, fair is foul and foul is fair etc. The Fae are haughty, proud, decadent and conniving. They are organised into Rades, a powerful noble and their sycophantic followers. They come from a realm called Annwyn which is ruled over by the courts of the king and queen. These sovereigns have ruled for as long as any of the immortal Fae can remember and have been at war with each other for just as long. Their battles are fought with intrigue and manipulation, playing the Rades off one another to gain leverage over their opponent. Scheming and plotting the downfall of another is the Fae's chief pastime.


They sound nice. How do they get on with the Tuatha?
They got on with them very well. The Fae are a sterile people and when they discovered the Tuatha they saw something in the mortals which reminded them of themselves and decided to adopt them as children rather than press them into servitude. The Tuatha were give privileged position in the Fae cities, but the Fae had misjudged their character. As the Tuatha grew more like the Fae in cunning and manipulation their capacity for violence also increased. The Fae are a bit squeamish about actual violence, they like to see it but not to participate. The Tuatha had no such trouble with it and seemed to enjoy inflicting physical pain in person. The Fae became anxious about the Tuatha's capacity to rise up against them and so they fled the Mortal Realm, leaving their servants behind and a handful of Fae to watch over the mortals and see that they didn't grow strong enough to threaten the Fae realm.

No Fae left in the Mortal Realm then?
There are the watchers- the Fae Walkers who are charged with oversight of a particular region. Then there is always the occasional Rade which decides to go hunting in the Mortal Realm for sport. Many of the animals the Fae reared for hunting were left in the Mortal Realm when they abandoned it so are prized trophies for a Rade. There's also the Fae Martial, the standing army of Annwyn which is responsible for keeping check on the errant Rades and guarding the borders of the Fae realm.

There are rules for creating Fae characters in the book, what's distinctive about them?
The Fae are very different to Tuatha. They are limited in some capacities, most of them aren't physical strong for example, and their dislike of proximity to violence means they don't do well in a fight. However they have some unique special abilities to make up for their shortcomings. They are all Augurs (that is, they can Fateweave through natural ability) and they have the ability to 'dance' in and out of the Void which surrounds the Mortal Realm which means they can appear and disappear all over the board.

Very irritating I'd imagine.
They can certainly be a nuisance if you don't know how to deal with them.

Where to next?
We're heading down to the swamps of Mael Fen to see the Myeri. As always, any questions just leave a comment and I'll pick them up next time.
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Monday, 4 July 2016

A look inside Secrets of Shandisholm- part 1: The Tuatha

For our first look inside The Woods: Secrets of Shandisholm let's start at the beginning. Once again I'll get a friend to ask the questions....
 

The Tuatha, they're basically humans, right?
Pretty much. They're approximately equivalent to the European people of the Bronze and early Iron Age. They are the original inhabitants of the Mortal Realm and Secrets of Shandisholm is largely about the origins of and reality behind their complex folklore. The book starts with the Tuatha because it made more sense to explain what they believe and understand of the world and then dive behind the surface to expose the real story of their relationships with the Myeri, the Fae and the folk who have been left stranded in the Mortal Realm.

Trey Granger noted that the Tuatha de Danann which appear in Celtic folklore are quite different to these Tuatha.
Yes, the Tuatha de Danann are depicted as a supernatural race which were pitted against the evil Fomorians. There are definitely similarities and echoes in the mythos of The Woods, but the Tuatha aren't the Tuatha de Danann. 'Tuatha' just means 'people' (Tuatha de Danann=people of the goddess Danu) and these are the people who naturally dwell in the realm. In culture and link to Celtic folklore they're probably closer to the Fir Bolg.

It's a nice sketch of a warrior maiden there.
We were very fortunate to have the amazing Solly Solomon do some character and animal sketches for the book. She actually worked from photographs which we were given permission to use. This one is of Elverynel and was taken by Rebecca Magdalena Photography.

Text looks kinda hard to read.
Yeah, the photo doesn't do it justice. This book is a mock-up using digital printouts and it hasn't photographed very well. Actually the background is very light and the text stands out quite well.

 
The map shows an area called the Ring Wood and surrounding countryside, I assume that's the setting of the book. What is there around?
The Ring Wood is a dense area of forest in the lowlands of the Mortal Realm. It lies between the Drakkenmere and its fens on one side and the steep highlands on the other. The principle Tuatha settlement is called Shandisholm and gives its name to the entire surrounding region, hence the title. In the centre of the Ring Wood is a grove of ancient trees called the Heart Forest which is a mysterious centre of 'magical' energy. The other side of the Drakkenmere from Shandisholm is Mael Fen where the infamous Marsh Demons live. There are other Tuatha settlements of various kind scattered throughout the wood and the Old Lowland Road cuts across the upper edge on its way into the mountains. The events of the book take place in this region but it's only a small part of the Mortal Realm. We didn't want to try and map the whole thing as it's part of the fun for players coming up with their own sections of the world.


Couple of sample characters?
That's it, yes. Each of the three 'main' races featured in the book (Tuatha, Fae and Myeri) have their own section on creating characters of that race and a couple of sample profiles. The other creature types are listed together in the bestiary and almanac.

What's distinctive about the Tuatha then?
They're very much the standard template. They aren't particularly good at anything (although they'll all have a specialism) but they aren't restricted either. The Tuatha are very much ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations and coping as best they can.

What's next?
In the next instalment we'll be looking at the Fae, who are a very different matter altogether! As always, any questions leave a comment and I'll try and answer.
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Friday, 1 July 2016

The Woods: Secrets of Shandisholm- Pre-orders now live!

Secrets of Shandisholm pre-orders are now LIVE over at Oakbound.co.uk/systemmech and Oakbound.co.uk/the-woods



I've become aware over the last few weeks that having spent 6 months writing the book I somehow expect everyone else to know it intimately... so I got a friend who has only heard me mention it to ask some things they'd want to know. Here are my replies, an introduction to the world of The Woods:

What’s this Woods thing about then?
The Woods is Oakbound Studio’s fantasy world, a world based in the myths, legends and folklore of the Celtic people. Secrets of Shandisholm is the first sourcebook set in this world and explores the lowland regions of the Mortal Realm.

What’s this Mortal Realm like?
This part of the Mortal Realm is very much like Britain in the Bronze Age and early Iron Age. It is a place of enormous and dense woodland, barren heath, fens and downs crowned with monolithic stones. The inhabitants of the Mortal Realm are the Tuatha, a human-like people whose lives are governed by superstitions and beliefs about the little people who live in the forests around them.

Only these aren’t mere Wives’ Tales….

A long time ago the Myeri and the Fae found a way into the Mortal Realm. The Myeri came from the seas, fleeing some ancient horror which had pursued them across the Void from their own homeland. The Fae were drawn to the Mortal Realm by the great power possessed by the Myeri. The Fae are a beautiful and proud race, and also cruel beyond belief. They placed an enchantment over the Myeri, took their power and cast them into the desolate fens and swamps. Then the Fae turned their attentions towards the other inhabitants of this land they had discovered.

The Fine Folk, as the Tuatha called the Fae, do nothing for themselves. They live in luxury, surrounded and served by countless slaves they have taken from the many realms they have conquered. These slaves they brought to the Mortal realm to build their palaces, mine for rich minerals and gemstones, weave their clothing and forge their jewels and armour. In the Tuatha, however, the Fae recognised something of their own qualities and the people of the Mortal Realm were not subjected to slavery. Instead they were nurtured as pets, almost as children, living alongside the Fae in their great cities. But over time the Fae realised the Tuatha were more like them than they could have imagined. The mortals learnt cruelty and violence fast and the Fae fled from the Mortal Realm in fear of the beings they had created. Their servants they left behind to fend for themselves. And so it came to be that the secluded, hidden parts of the Mortal Realm were populated by weird and mystical creatures from myriad other realms, trapped and far from home.

As civilisation fell apart around the Tuatha they reverted to a primitive state, abandoning the cities of the Fae and rebuilding ancient homesteads. Their memories faded and the stories became twisted with time so that now they barely remember the Fae. But still their paths cross those of the stranded folk, former servants of the Fae, some of whom are kindly, many who are not.

And that’s all in the book is it?
Yes, that’s the beginning anyway. Then there’s an explanation of the region around Shandisholm, the principle Tuatha settlement in the lowlands, a study of the nature of the Fae and Myeri, a comprehensive bestiary of folk and animals (native and other-worldly), a bunch of scenarios, a full adventure, some modelling guides and the SystemMech rules.

Ah yes, the SystemMech rules, tell us about those.
We’ll have a more in-depth look later in the month, but if you want you can download the core rules right now at oakbound.co.uk/systemmech and see for yourself. It’s a tabletop roleplay game, that is, it is miniatures-based and narrative-focussed. Each game tells a small part of the story. SystemMech is quite different to other RPGs as it uses no dice rolls or card drawing. Each model has a Decisiveness value which determines when in the turn they activate and a Stamina value which determines how much they can do, then players choose from the action tables what combination of actions they want the model to take. Some actions are more effective if others have been performed first, or if the model can’t be seen doing them for example, so you have to think ahead a bit to make your actions effective. Everything is tied to five core aspects of your characters (Wisdom, Perception, Courage, Agility and Strength) so it’s quite ‘realistic’ in terms of how well an individual can perform.

And lastly, something a lot of people have commented on, the cover?
Ah yes, the wonderful Alan Lee Fomorian painting. It’s a favourite of mine and so I got in touch with Alan to see if it would be possible to use it, to my amazement he said yes! He’s such a nice guy. The painting was used on the cover of a book of Irish folktales by Michael Scott, whose retelling of the Fomorian myth I drew on heavily in creating the Myeri.

This character has appeared in fantasy gaming before though?
Yes indeed. I believe he and the story were also part of the basis for Games Workshop’s Fimir race, which sadly didn’t develop very far. My first miniature gaming experience was playing Heroquest as a child and the Fimir were my favourite monsters so the Myeri are definitely a bit of a tribute to them. They’re very different as a race though (as we’ll see next Friday) being a blend of the Skeksis and Mystics from The Dark Crystal, the Irish Fomorians and Polynesian tribes and myths.

I look forward to seeing more.
We’ll be looking through the book every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in July. If anyone has specific questions leave them in the comments below and I'll try and answer them when we get to the appropriate section.


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