Monday, August 14, 2023

Rich Grimmond 2023 - Other Games

Out of step with the world.

Late last month I attended the Rich Grimmond 2023 event in Richmond, Virginia. While my brother Adam was busy playing games of Mordheim and Forbidden Psalm (for the The Rot of Hondious event), and Eric was taking photographs, I was free to interview attendees for Dragged into Turbolasers (listen to that here), and play other games, many of which were designed by people in attendance!

Day 1:

The first game that I played was Caliban28, a monster hunting game being developed by Mike DeBolt (gundamofficialhobby) with Grant (underworldalliance). In Warhammer 40,000 lore, Caliban was a feudal world covered with inhospitable forests teeming with ferocious creatures ready to devour a man whole. In order to survive, humanity was forced to hole themselves away in castles and fortresses built upon land that had been perilously divested of trees. The world was also the homeworld of the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter, with the young Primarch Lion El'Jonson being discovered amongst the forests slaying warp-tainted beasts. The game is set before the coming of Lion El'Jonson, and pits 2-3 Knights up against a horrifying beast.

The game takes inspiration from the wildly expensive Kingdom Death: Monster, which pitted a small group of survivors against a terrifying creature, oftentimes strongly outmatched. Unlike Kingdom Death: Monster, where the creature’s actions are dictated by a deck of cards, in Caliban28, one of the players controls the creature. The other players each create a character, either a Knight or retainer and equip them with gear for killing monsters: proto-power armor, chain blades, bolt pistols, and a whole host of classics from Warhammer 40,000. The game places a strong emphasis on fear, as confronting gigantic Chaos-touched creatures would be a terrifying experience. To emulate this, every time the player wishes to perform an action that involves the creature, they put a stress token on a stress tracker, and then have to take a fear test by pulling a piece from a Jenga tower. That’s right, a Jenga tower! The group of players controlling the monster hunters all share a communal Jenga tower, so every piece you pull from the tower only makes it more challenging for your peers. If you topple the tower, your character suffers some form of mental collapse, the severity of which is dependent on how full your stress tracker has become. If you topple the Jenga tower too many times, the monster hunters lose immediately.

Darkness also plays an important role in the game. Your characters each have two torches which they can throw to illuminate a 3 inch radius. If your character is illuminated by a torch, you are allowed to ignore your first fear test each turn. The creature can put out the torches so you need to be mindful of the torches that you have and use them wisely. The creatures themselves are powerful, having a host of devastating martial abilities and magical spells to quickly dispatch a wayward knight. In the game that I played, Mike controlled a manticore and Grant, Eric, and I each controlled a Knight. We were able to come away victorious, partially due to our unusually good luck with the Jenga tower. I am excited to see more from this game and eagerly await when the ruleset is made publicly available.

Knights in proto-power armor advance slowly into the den of a fearsome manticore who has been terrorizing the local populace.

The manticore finally revealed itself, roaring in defiant rage at discovering intruders in its realm.

The Knights throw down torches to illuminate the battlefield in order to lessen the terror of facing the loathsome beast in combat.

One of the knights doused the beast in gout of burning promethium, causing it to struggle to put the blaze out.

Dead by Lead
The second game I played was a cowboy western skirmish game designed by Alex Van Allen (av.hobbies) of Tabletop Wizards. The game is called Dead By Lead, which is published in the magazine Blaster. Alex brought a handful of copies of the game to demo during the weekend.

The game has you build a small band of outlaws or lawmen to face down other similar gunslingers commanded by your opponents, all set in a fictional town (Bloodstone) in the American west. Alex brought along a ton of painted cowboys, and myself and four others each chose one, created a character (choosing one of the many varied professions in the rulebook: scout, rustler, drifter, enforcer, pursuer, and leader) and deployed in the ruined town game board. Each of these characters is defined by four characteristics: 1) Iron, which represents how skilled the character is with firearms and bows, 2) Brawl, which is how good the character is in melee combat, 3) Grit, which is the character's toughness, and 4) Luck, which is a way to help your character cheat death.

At the start of a turn, each player rolls a D12 to determine who has initiative, the person rolling the highest number activates their character first. Each character can perform two actions a turn, like moving, shooting, or melee. Some of these actions can be performed more than once (like movement), so a character could perform two movement actions to get into a good position for the following turn. 

To shoot at an enemy model, you first have to determine if they are in line of sight and are within the range of the weapon. If both of these things are true, you can shoot at the enemy model. To determine how difficult it is to hit the target, you draw a card from a standard deck of playing cards (with the Jokers removed). This is referred to as the "Aim Deck". The number on the card drawn determines the minimum you need to roll on a D12 to be successful (a face card has the numerical value of a 10). The level of cover your opponent’s character has affects how many cards are drawn from the Aim Deck to determine difficulty. If the character has no cover, only a single card is drawn from the Aim Deck. If the model is in standard cover (50% of model covered), two cards are drawn from the Aim Deck and the higher number is selected as the difficulty. Once the difficulty is determined by drawing from the Aim Deck, the shooting player rolls a D12 and adds to that value the Iron characteristic of the shooting character. The D12 value + the Iron characteristic has to equal or surpass the difficulty to be successful. Beyond the Iron characteristic of the shooting character modifying the dice roll, there are a number of other modifiers that can come into play. If the opponent's character is in standard cover, the shooting character has to subtract 1 from the dice roll. Once you successfully hit your opponent, you roll a D6 to determine which part of their body you hit: 1) left leg, 2) right leg, 3) left arm, 4) right arm, 5) chest, and 6) head. The location of a wound will affect the subsequent actions of the character (a leg wound subtracts one from their movement). The number of wounds a character can take is determined by their Grit characteristic. If the number of wounds a model receives exceeds their Grit characteristic, they are killed and removed from the board.

The game can get pretty math heavy with all of the modifiers, but I think after playing it a few times, a lot of that would become almost second nature. The game that we played was over quickly, given the fairly low Grit characteristics on the models, and how devastating being hit just once can be (adding a refreshing level of realism that is usually fairly minor in miniature games). I think the game would really shine when each player has a few miniatures under their control and they start playing through some of the scenarios included in the rulebook. If you ever wanted to recreate your favorite spaghetti western films, you should consider buying a copy at DriveThru RPG

Alex brought copies of Dead by Lead and an excellent ruined town to play the game.

As soon as the lead slugs started to fly, gunslingers were on the ground bleeding.

Day 2:

Flames of Orion
On the second day of the event, I had the pleasure of demoing a playtest version of Flames of Orion, a game of mech combat designed by Steve (sovthofheaven) of the Under the Dice/Hive Scum fame. From my understanding, he was dismayed by the steep learning curve of Battletech, and decided he would just make his own ruleset, one which people could be playing in a matter of minutes. The game that we played had 4 players, Paul (wyrdstoned), Brad (bitsbibsorks), Blerz (blerzcraft), and myself, each of us fielding two mechs. Paul graciously let me use two Battletech miniatures that he had painted. Just as Steve had intended, we were playing the game in almost no time using the Quick Start rules. 

At the start of each turn, players roll for initiative and the person with the highest roll activates their first mech. The other players then activate one of their own mechs in initiative order. When everyone has activated a mech, the player with highest initiative activates their second mech, followed by the other players in initiative order. Each mech can perform 2 actions a turn, but performing the 2nd action causes your mech to generate 1 HEAT. If you are not careful and accumulate too much HEAT, your mech will overheat and explode. At the end of each turn, each mech has to make a HEAT check on a D6. On the roll of a 1-2, the mech generates 0 HEAT, on a roll of 3-5, the mech generates 1 HEAT, and on the roll of a 6, the mech generates 2 HEAT. In our game, no one was very cautious about accumulating HEAT. There is a Purge action which you can use to remove 1D6 HEAT, but no one ever used it.

If a Mech ever reaches 10 HEAT, its reactor overheats and the mech is disabled. You then have to roll a D6 to see if it explodes. The mech explodes on a roll of 3-6. This explosion has a radius of the Mech’s HEAT value, so the explosion will almost certainly affect any nearby mechs. One of Paul’s Mechs was the first to reach 10 HEAT and explode, taking out a number of other mechs as a result. After the smoke settled, there were only two mechs left on the battlefield, one of mine and one of Blerz’s, though mine was at 9 HEAT. In a gamble, I attempted a shooting action, hoping to disable Blerz’s mech before mine overheated and exploded. Unfortunately, I was not able to damage Blerz’s mech and mine unceremoniously exploded. I had a really good time with Flames of Orion, and am tempted to purchase some Battletech miniatures of my own to continue experimenting with the game.

With the Quick Start rules, we were waging war across an acrid wasteland dominated by leaning pyramids in less than ten minutes.

Two mechs cautiously set out, hoping to ward off death on this inhospitable desert planet.

Combat rages on as the accumulated heat of some of the mechs get dangerously close to critical levels.

Hero Quest
After the Richmond Library closed on Saturday, everyone moved to a game store in Midlothian, Virginia called Battlegrounds to keep up the festivities. Scott (scotomancer) brought along his personal copies of Hero Quest and Warhammer Quest and offered to run some sessions of the games. I had never played either of the games, so I jumped at the opportunity to join in a game of Hero Quest mid session with Gage (noclearcoat), Shane (7he_blindman), and Martin ( I took command of an Elf Warrior just after they used the spell Pass Through Stone and trapped themselves in a room with two dangerous Chaos Warriors. Miraculously, I managed to prevent the Elf Warrior from dying with the help of the other adventurers. As the Elf Warrior’s character card says, they are a “master of both magic and the sword”. Scott guided us through the first two Quests in the game. We managed to emerge from both victorious, but not without lots of bumbled combat rolls. I can see why Hero Quest has such a strong following so many years after its initial release. I am very thankful for Scott giving me the opportunity to play it for the first time!

The Elf Warrior dispatches an Orc Warrior. They are truly a master of both magic and the sword.

As I hope you can see from this post, Rich Grimmond had lots to offer outside of The Rot of Hondious narrative campaign. In just two short days, I managed to play more tabletop miniature games than I normally play in a full year.

- Greg Wier


  1. Good stuff - the Caliban game seems similar in some ways to the Doomed game just released by Osprey Games. I hears an interview with the author of Dead by Lead on the Cast Dice podcast recently and it sounded interesting, it might be something I will pick up and try at some point.

  2. I would like to check out The Doomed, myself. Especially since Ana Polanšćak painted miniatures for the book! Beyond knowing its theming, I don't know how it plays.