Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Frostgrave: Cult of Violet Shadows

The Cult of Violet Shadows here don't have an backstory beyond "sinister demon-worshipping cult who think human sacrifice is neat" but they sure are popular despite that.

I've been using them for all manner of random humanoid nasties in the McCullough fantasy games for a while now, and they're even been my crews for a few games of Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago.

Many of them are lightly converted with hand and weapon swaps and the odd bits and pieces from other kits.

I went pretty light on ranged weapons, which turned out to be a fortunate choice when second edition came out and put serious limits on how many shooters you could have in Frostgrave.

Since they were also seeing use as my own crew now and then, I made up a few oddball figs for that purpose.  They've also come in handy in a few TTRPG games as boss monster encounters with the regular grunts as minions.

Here we've got a Summoner College wizard and his apprentice, as well as a zombie for some casual necromancy.  I'm particularly happy with the eerie lantern the boss has stuck on the end of his "staff" there.  The bit actually comes from GW's old Mordheim human sprue, which is sadly out of production after its contents were removed from Age of Sigmar with the release of the Cities of Sigmar book. 

And here we have two models (left and right) to swap in when we manage to cast Possess successfully, and a third that hits the table as a summoned minor demon.  I find it's useful to have variant figs for Possessed soldiers so the opponent doesn't forget which models are currently hosting demonic horrors, and the unified look of everything suits my fancy more than random models.  Most of the conversion parts are leftovers from Wargames Atlantic's excellent giant spider kits, which gives you a plethora of extra limbs.

Ghost Archipelago & Frostgrave - Serpent-Men

Today's post showcases more of North Star's modular plastic kits, this time the serpent-man boxed set for Ghost Archipelago, along with a few hybrid kitbashes using parts from the Frostgrave Cultist box and heads from a Stargrave sprue.

Group shot of all 23 miniatures. 

The serpent-man figs are quite a bit bigger than the Frostgrave humans are, and come with larger 30mm bases.  They're fairly slender though ("gangly" would be a fair descriptor) and not as bulky as many modern 28/30mm scale stuff like GW's bloated figure range.

Scale shot with some Frostgrave soldiers.

I've done three kitbashed "hybrid" serpent-men, partly as a test to see how compatible the kit's weapons are with the smaller human kits.  I think they work pretty well, as long as you don't mind a bit of Implausibly Huge Sword syndrome.  Their hands (which are part of the weapon bits) are pretty much identical in size, so no need to worry about sculpting them yourself, just clip at the "bracelet" and attach to the wrist on the human arms the same way you would with some of the optional cultist bits (eg that neat wavy-bladed left hand dagger).

(Left to right) Hybrid serpent-man swordsman, spellcaster, berserker.

The actual serpent-man figs seem to have been somewhat poorly received, the main complaint being their lack of tails and supposedly short arms.  Personally I quite like them as-is, they have a distinctly unnatural look with an anatomy that parodies the human form without wholly departing from it.  Their arms aren't short at all, it's their legs that are quite long, an effect made more noticeable by their hunched shoulders and forward-jutting heads.  As for tails, well, I like Sleestaks just fine, and they're just as tailless.  A competent modeler could easily sculpt their own short tails if wanted, but I'll pass.

Warriors wielding twin blades, backed up by a pair of crossbowmen.

These guys have actually seen more table time in RPGs and Frostgrave than Ghost Archipelago, which kind of died off locally about the time I finished the original batch.  The hybrids are newer, of course - their reptilian heads only came out with Stargrave.  I'm sure these figs would be happier someplace less snowy than Felstad, but it's probably warmer in the catacombs beneath the city.

Spearmen (spearserpents?) both with and without shields.  Those wavy blades are just neat.   

I could see using them in scifi games as well.  In Stargrave they'll make nice randomly-appearing Primitives.

Serpent-men with shields and hand weapons, some converted from other blades, as well as a dagger-wielding torchbearer. 

They can be (and have been) used as part of a player's crew as well as NPC creatures, although it's probably a good idea to adopt a unique color scheme or do some conversion to tell the NPCs apart if doing so.  Or use them in Frostgrave, where serpent-men don't normally appear at random.  Wizards are notorious for having oddball henchmen.

Two-handed weapon users.  As you've seen above, it's easy to convert the blades on these for use as really intimidating single-handed weapons.   

Frostgrave: Faces of Felstad Gallery & House Rules

Gallery showcasing various mercenary adventurers that can be found in and around my version of the city of Felstad, along with their Frostgrave rules and character backgrounds.  The latter should be useful for NPC ideas for people doing fantasy roleplaying games as well.  Not enough D&D parties with the kinds of hireling sell-swords that used to be the norm in the days of old, despite the apparent popularity of the OSR movement.

Hund One-Hand was once a typical outlander mercenary from the Northlands, trading his fighting skills to softer Southern armies for gold and a bit of glory.  He lost his hand and gained his moniker during an incursion of walking dead from the Graveyards, and spent months recovering from fever brought on by his infected wounds.  Some say the fever wrought a change in him, while others believe his tales of encountering and barely defeating a vampiric knight during the battle that maimed him.  Regardless, since his recovery he has adopted a new career - vampire hunter.

Hund retains his great strength and combat experience, and wields a customized warhammer ("Great for driving in the stake once you've got them down!") that many would struggle to lift with two hands.  The stump of his left arm has been covered in a snug-fitting fur and leather bracer that supports a wicked wooden stake ("Just the thing for a quick finisher when some bloodsucker leaves you an opening!"), with spare stakes tucked away beneath his flowing cloak.    

Despite a lack of hard evidence ("They just crumble to dust when you stick 'em, you know!") Hund is quick to tout his skills as a vampire slayer, as well as issuing ominous warnings about the plague of bloodsucking fiends that haunt the lands, unnoticed by most until too late.  It must be said that his definition of "vampire" seems broader than is generally accepted, and his claims of encountering vampire wolves, vampire boars, vampire gnolls, and even a vampire bull seem a bit hard to believe.  Expressing one's doubts within earshot is ill-advised, lest one be declared a minion of the walking dead.

Hund still fights for pay, but his new "specialty" sees him working alongside adventurers and wizards more often than not.  Felstad's haunted reputation and the call for fearless fighting men has drawn him to the region.  To date his encounters in and around the city have been with skeletons and ghouls rather than vampires, although surely that can't last. 

In Frostgrave terms, Hund One-Arm is a unique specialist soldier with the following rules:

Move 6 Fight +4 Shoot +0 Armor 11 Will +3 Health 16

Light Armor, Custom Warhammer (Hand Weapon with +1 Damage), Vicious Spike (see below)

Recruiting Cost 100gc

Special Rules:
Unique Character:  A crew can hire only one Hund One-Arm.  His gear cannot be altered, added to, or used by other models.  He has no open gear slots.  If two or more crews contain Hund One-Arm, all but one must be vile imposters trading on his good name and reputation!
Vicious Spike:  In the unlikely event of Hund actually encountering a vampire (or any other supernatural creature with a legendary weakness for being staked in the heart), he may use his spike rather than his warhammer in combat to deal +5 extra damage, which stacks with any extra damage from scoring a critical hit.  After inflicting this extra damage the spike breaks off and cannot be used again until "reloaded" in the same way as a crossbow.
My Hand Is Full:  Hund has more trouble carrying loot than most models.  It takes him two actions (one of which may be a movement action) to pick up a loot token, and when encumbered he suffers an extra -1 Fight. 

So, pretty much a Barbarian with slightly lower damage, slightly higher armor and health, a nasty special ability that will rarely come up in play outside of Blood Legacy games, and a serious drawback if used as a loot hauler.

In other fantasy settings, Hund One-Arm could easily be found offering his services to adventuring parties as a professional vampire slayer.  Exactly how overstated his abilities are is up to the GM, and his reputation in any given region may range from "cunning and skilled exterminator of undead" to "dangerously delusional madman who sees vampires and their minions everywhere."  In D&D terms he's probably a fighter with a high strength and constitution, poor dexterity (he's both muscle-bound and missing a hand), and mental stats that range from poor to excellent depending on whether you believe in vampire bulls or not.

The Greenfletch Bowmen, a band of stealthy archers who are definitely not bandits taking advantage of the thawing of Felstad to scout out potential victims bearing rich loot from the city ruins.  Not at all.  Ridiculous idea, really. 

These bowmen have served in the retinue of many different wizards, always led by the scarred rogue known as One-Eyed Jacques.  A skilled archer despite his blind eye, Jacques is a master of stealth and his natural caution verges on paranoia.  His origins are unclear and if pressed on the subject he seems to enjoy inventing absurd and contradictory tall tales explaining his personal history. 

Jacques' men are less talented (or at least less lucky) than him and there's a regular turnover in their ranks as they're devoured, dismembered, decapitated or otherwise slaughtered by the horrors of Felstad.  The pay for a competent bowman is excellent though, and there never seems to be lack of replacements for any who fall on an expedition.  Only Jacques' wariness about becoming too well-known keeps the Greenfletch Bowmen from expanding beyond a small band into a proper mercenary company.

In Frostgrave terms all the Greenfletch Bowmen use the Archer stat line, but One-Eyed Jacques himself has Move 7, 2 extra Health, Will +2 and the following special rules unique to him:

Unique Character:  A crew can hire only one One-Eyed Jacques.  His gear cannot be altered, added to, or used by other models.  He has no open gear slots.  If two or more crews contain One-Eyed Jacques, all but one must be vile imposters trading on his good (?) name and reputation.
Stealthy:  One-Eyed Jacques gains +2 Fight when defending against Shooting attacks.
Ambush Leader:  Other friendly Greenfletch Bowmen within 3" of One-Eyed Jacques gain +1 Fight when defending against Shooting attacks.
Definitely Not Bandits:  Jacques and his men are almost as trustworthy as the rumors say.  If any of them carry a loot token off the table, when rolling for that token's value after the game reduce any gold coins found by 100, to a minimum of zero.  

Hiring One-Eyed Jacques costs 100gc and allows you to hire up to three more archers as Greenfletch Bowmen (who will benefit from his Ambush Leader rule and suffer from Definitely Not Bandits as well) for the normal cost.  All of them will count as specialist soldiers subject to the usual limitations.

Jacques himself is essentially a Ranger with a dagger rather than a hand weapon and has a strong defense against Shooting that he shares with any of his men nearby.  He's obviously more effective the more followers you buy with him, but they all make truly terrible loot haulers so maxing out your specialist slots with them can easily cost you the game - or at least your profits from it.

In other fantasy settings these guys could be outright bandits, but Jacques is cleverer than most and is more likely to try to hire on with a likely, employer to get a feel for whether they're worth the risk of  robbing later on.  In a roleplaying game the Greenfletch Bowmen will never fight fair if given a chance, using ambushes, trickery, hostages and knowledge of their targets to get whatever advantage they can.  None of them are much use in a brawl, but they're all decent shots, good at sneaking around, and Jacques himself is a surprisingly believable liar and a competent leader.  They aren't particularly bloodthirsty though, and are ultimately all about the loot so paying them off is sometimes a viable strategy.

The hulking brute know as Head Taker is a former gladiator from the southern kingdoms, where he established a fearsome reputation in bouts against serpent-folk, shark-men, and the usual run of condemned pirates, demon cultists and buccaneers.  His success was his own undoing, eventually earning the ire of so many local snake-man tribes, ocean-kin clans, sinister priests, and pirate brotherhoods that he found it wise to seek greener pastures.   

The thaw of Felstad provided a golden opportunity to "retire" to the North, initially travelling there as the bodyguard of a long since deceased wizard.  He now works freelance, trading on his mighty axe and terrifying demeanor to pay for his "vacation" from the fighting pits and arena sands.  Whether he'll survive the formerly frozen city long enough to let tempers cool and allow him to return to what he regards as his true calling is still unclear, but the occasional assassination attempt by old foes keeps him here in chillier climes for now. 

In Frostgrave, Head Taker has the stat line and hiring cost of a Barbarian but wears leather armor (in the form a heavy cloak made from the hide of a bear he strangled after it attacked him while he was "tending to business") increasing his Armor to 11.  He also has the following special rules:

Unique Character:  A crew can hire only one Head Taker.  His gear cannot be altered, added to, or used by other models.  He has no open gear slots.  If two or more crews contain Head Taker, all but one must be vile imposters trading on his good(?) name and reputation.
Intimidating Showmanship:  Any soldier that wishes to move into combat or force combat with Head Taker must pass a TN12 Will roll first.  If they fail they stop 1" away (or remain where they were if forcing combat) and their activation ends.  This does not affect creatures, animals, demons or constructs, regardless of whether they're part of a crew or not.
Trouble On His Trail:  Roll one die before each game immediately after Head Taker is set up.  On a 1-5, he starts the game at half his normal Health, as he is either recovering from injuries inflicted by the latest assassination attempt on him, or from the hangover from celebrating the defeat of the latest hired killer.  This penalty doesn't stack with any from being Severely Injured in the previous game, so he simply remains at half Health in that case.

Basically an improved Barbarian 75% of the time and a much worse one 25% of the time.  If you're using him in cooperative games (where there are no enemy soldiers to intimidate) you might extend the effect to suitable creatures/enemies, eg anything sentient and cautious enough to be be wary of approaching a guy showing off with his giant two-handed axe. 

In other fantasy settings and RPGs, Head Taker is a burly fighter with a strong sense of gladiatorial showmanship, embellishing his (very effective) fighting style with fancy moves and showboating to please the crowd out of force of habit.  He's a hunted man and might seek the company of adventurers to have a few stout companions in case the next assassin proves to be more skilled than the last dozen he's dealt with.  If the players get to know him, they'll discover that he enjoys singing (loudly, but not with great skill), dislikes the ocean and boating in general, and his real name is Edegar.

The Brazen Skull Brotherhood are an elite and well organized force of mercenaries, at least by the dubious standards of the Felstad sellsword community.  Unlike most of their kind, the Brotherhood specializes in "adventuring work" rather than conventional warfare or everyday thuggery and leg-breaking.  Tomb robbing, dungeon-delving, monster hunting, accompanying heroes on dire quests, these are the group's strengths.  Or at least so they claim.  

Brazen Skulls can be found for hire in virtually any large city, as well as any place that's seeing a boom in bands of mysterious strangers, arcane weirdness, monster infestations and the like.  The settlements around Felstad have attracted agents for the Brotherhood who are happy to provide discerning wizards with skilled and professional bodyguards for their expeditions - for a suitable price.

In Frostgrave terms, members of the Brazen Skull Brotherhood can be hired as any of the core book's soldier types (standard or specialist, with the usual limit on specialists) but have the following special rules:

Expert Teamwork:  Whenever a Brazen Skull is receiving a support bonus in melee from one or more other Brazen Skulls, they add a further +1 to their Fight score (total, regardless of how many supporting Brazen Skulls there are).  Whenever a Brazen Skull shoots into melee, when randomizing which figure is attacked you may re-roll any result that would strike another Brazen Skull once, taking the second result.
Death Benefits:  When a Brazen Skull model dies, their employer must pay 25gc per slain model in the next post-game phase.  If the player is unable or unwilling to make this payment, randomly select one other Brazen Skull per 25gc shortfall to leave the warband and keep track of the unpaid debt.  No further Brazen Skulls of any kind may be hired until the debt is fully paid off.

Brazen Skulls are obviously better the more of them you have in your warband, but the more you have the more you risk having a bunch of them die at once and saddling you with significant death benefit payments.  The organization doesn't include any really heroic types, so there are no captains with these benefits. 

In fantasy RPGs or other settings, the Brazen Skulls have a reputation for being expensive but reliable mercenaries who happily hire on for "adventuring" work alongside bold heroes and potent spellcasters.  Most sellswords prefer traditional soldiering with more predictable risks and the ones who are willing to take chances are often either poorly trained or untrustworthy, giving the Brotherhood a niche to offer their services.  They aren't cheap and they still aren't hero-caliber fighters, but they're better than most mercenary types a party of PCs might find for hire.

Not all of Felstad's explorers are cunning spellcasters, nimble treasure hunter or skilled warriors.  Someone needs to carry the loot their more talented companions manage to recover.  Every party needs a flunky or two to do the heavy lifting.

If we're being generous, these louts would qualify as thieves or thugs.  When that's the best thing you can think of to put on your resume you really deserve to be carrying a torch in a haunted ruin or monster-infested dungeon.

The gent in the center is only one who's ever earned a name, that being Bloody Jack Fracks.  As you can see, he's dripping gore all over the place.  He started off as a bit of a joke about a thug who managed to get knocked to one health in four games running without actually dying, but he's gone on to serve as a "scenario special" in several homebrew games.  In one he was an injured NPC that the players are trying to rescue (or at least interrogate) before he gets the rest of the way dead.  In another he was part of a bandit trap, faking his apparent injury with the old "bladder full of pig blood under his clothes" trick.  And he's reprised those roles in several RPG sessions since.

In Frostgrave, I'd have Jack use one special rules to reflect the blood he's dripping all over, whether it's his own or a swine's:

Blood-soaked:  When determining the behavior of uncontrolled creatures with the Animal subtype, unless they are already in combat they will use their actions to move toward this model as rapidly as possible without coming into 1" range of other crew, engaging in melee with the Blood-soaked model if possible.  If there is more than one Blood-soaked model on the table creatures will move toward the closest while skirting around other creatures.

At the players' option, some other creatures (many Undead, some Demons) may be affected by this rule as well.  Creatures with ranged attacks will ignore them while stalking Blood-soaked prey.

You could also use this as an optional rule for normal games when using the wounding rules.  To do so, each time a living model (ie not Undead or Construct types) becomes wounded, roll a die.  On an odd result, the figure gains the Blood-soaked special rule until the end of the game.