Northern Crown: Defending the Trading Post

One of my bucket list role-playing games has been Northern Crown ever since the setting was first published in the mid-aughts. In a fantasy-infused version of North American in 1650, the Republic of Sophia has sent an expedition in support of a lonely trading post on the western shore of a long lake named after the French explorer de Champlain, charged with exploring and claiming the lands there for the republic.[1] And so the heroes arrived at Ira and Jerusha Allen’s trading post, just in time to fend off marauding bandits who have come to raid the storehouse.

The layout that our GM, Tom, came up with to represent the trading post was pretty damn impressive — especially because he had it hidden under the surface of his game table. We started thinking we were just going to be using a Lego canal ship, then Tom broke out the Heroscape terrain for the interlude where we freed the sasquatch from cruel portagers, and then he said, “We need to move all this,” and started pulling up the table surface to reveal the diorama pictured above.

[1] I’m told it’s loosely the plot of Pathfinder‘s Kingmaker adventure path, reconfigured for the lands and peoples of Northern Crown, using a loose renditiong of Pathfinder rules, with elements from Dungeon Crawl Classics and FATE.

Arkham Horror LCG: The Gathering

Wendy and Roland's marker cards cluster around the Attic location, teeming with clue tokens.

Wendy and her friend Roland explore the attic of the nightmarish Escher monstrosity her home has become.

At the risk of excess melodrama, the Arkham Horror card game has been a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel for me. Fall’s traditionally a busy time of year for me, with both Carnage in the offing and my professional commitments. Once it was pretty clear that the game would be available November 10th, I wanted to make a point to get the first game in as soon as possible. Usually, I get a game and it takes two or more months to get some people together to play it, especially in November as we’re all wiped from Carnage and the holidays are ramping up. So I was pretty happy that my friend Tom was free last night and interested enough to give the game a try. Three and a half hours from purchase to play is probably a new record for me.

The first session is always a learning experience. Fantasy Flight’s new model of a short rulebook and a longer, encyclopedia-style volume of rules concepts worked pretty well. The short Learn to Play rulebook basically walks you through setting up and playing the introductory scenario. I noticed what seemed to be some discrepancies in card names and numbers when assembling the encounter deck, so I think that may have affected this particular session, since not every ghoul made it into the encounter deck.

Like Netrunner, Arkham has an action economy. Each investigator can do three things on their turn, selected from a list of choices, including things like draw a card, gain a resource, investigate a location and so on. Figuring out the efficiencies of the game — when and how is it best to gain resources, for instance — is going to be one of the first steps to being a better player.

In this first session, Tom and I took the approach of pushing through the investigators’ act cards as quickly as we could, reasoning that the advancement of the agenda would only make ours lives more difficult. In retrospect and without divulging spoilers, that may not have been the best choice, as it meant we didn’t spend time exploring every location or drawing useful cards from our decks.

On first blush, I like the way the game plays. It has an elegance that comes from how both Netrunner and Eldritch Horror mapped mechanics to their respective themes. It’s very role-playing game-like, with unexpected developments built into a scenario and not necessarily loss conditions, but “worst result” situations.

I’m a little concerned that there’s not a lot of meaningful replay value in an individual scenario, unless one enjoys taking every possible character configuration — now Wendy armed for combat, and then Roland as a hyper-investigator, and how about Daisy with guns! — through the story line, which reminds me an awful lot of grinding characters through certain entries in the Final Fantasy console franchise, or playing against progressively higher difficulty settings. The flip side of that is Fantasy Flight has a steady stream of expansion products planned that I may never have time or inclination to go back to the core box scenarios, unless I’m teaching the game to newcomers.

Netrunner certainly taught me that one new product every month will challenge my ability to squeeze in both modifying decks to take advantage of new investigator cards and carving out times with friends to play through the new scenarios. Deckbuilding in Arkham is less onerous than Netrunner, happily, as it’s a single 30 card deck and players don’t develop a new list for league night every week.

And I’m curious to see how deckbuilding works out over the course of a campaign. If people play the scenarios as they’re released, rather than waiting until the full cycle’s worth of cards are available, how many of them are going to utilize the rules for paying to swap cards in and out?

Paying the Price of Freedom

A screencap showing the pop-up notification for unlocking the Wraith: Price of Freedom. The Wraith, a female superhero dressed in black, takes a defensive stance, holding a knife and club in her hands.

Price of Freedom Wraith was the last of the Freedom Six variants I had to unlock in Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game. I left her until the end because frankly, playing against the Chairman is a pain even when you’re not playing to a particular win condition. So on this occasion, Ray and I played together over Steam

It took two games to make the unlock happen. The first crashed and burned because Prison Break unleashed a torrent of underbosses and thugs. By the time they were done, the Fence had restored Chairman and Operative both to their starting HP, thanks to all the constructs getting wiped out.

The second game, we subbed the Visionary is for the Scholar, in order to get some more control over the Chairman’s deck and trash. The final line-up was Wraith, Tachyon, Haka, Captain Cosmic and the Visionary. Playing Brain Burn on the first turn removed a lot of the Chairman’s bite, as suddenly there were no thugs to pull from the trash and we could focus on underbosses. Savage Mana appeared almost immediately, and we stashed all the underbosses underneath it until we got the Operative out of the way. And Captain Cosmic granting out of turn power uses is always helpful. In fact, Wraith dealt the final blow to the Chairman on the Visionary’s turn, after she dinged a Dynamic Siphon with a Mind Spike.

At this point, it won’t surprise anyone that I took the opportunity to experiment more with OBS. This time was more a stress test, seeing how well it could record the gameplay and stream to YouTube at the same time. While it worked pretty well — OBS’ CPU usage hovered around 15% and the bandwidth stayed on target — there was one major hiccup: there was a network traffic issue that caused YouTube to report it wasn’t getting any data at all for a couple minutes. I wasn’t able to monitor what that would look like to live viewers, but apparently the data kept flowing, as YouTube’s recording plays back without interruption, after it had some time to process. I would like to see what that kind of interruption looks like to viewers. Does the player pick the stream back up as soon as it can, or do they need to press play again?

The local recording looks good throughout, though, so that’s a plus. The one thing to keep in mind is that when OBS is set to use the stream encoder settings for a recording, that also means video resolution, which is scaled from 1920×1080 to 1280×720 for YouTube. D’oh.

I also want to tinker with the audio settings. There are instances of peaking and crackling in the recording. I’m curious whether that’s to do with levels — which never hit the red in OBS, from what I saw[1] — or sampling, because OBS defaults to sampling everything at 44.1 kHz.

[1]Harkening back to

Boarding Man’s Promise

 Skull & Shackles convened this week for what turned out to be the taking of Man’s Promise. We did a bang-up job of securing the sterncastle, as well as repelling a band of grindylows. Dealing with the goons Plugg sent down into the bilges proved more troublesome, but ultimately soluble.

Our GM Mike did a bang-up job with the miniatures, right? He built both the Wormwood and Man’s Promise and painted most of the figures you see — excepting Usidore the Blue, of course.

Decked!: Servants of the Black Goat vs. The Diva and Her Boys

The dark mistress of the wood’s fecund legions tangle with the entranced lunatics of the King in Yellow in this Call of Cthulhu match. Servants of the Black Goat is a deck I built that started out as “feed 0-cost Miskatonic weenies to the Three Bells,” but over rounds of testing — we have enough local players to make non-tournament get-togethers way more feasible! — it transformed into a strictly Shub-Niggurath deck, using Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris to slow down rush characters and enable Savio Corvi’s general awesomeness. The heavy Dark Young contingent was chosen mainly as the subtype to resurrect with Dark Rebirth, rather than their abilities which really didn’t come into play. Additional candidates for Dark Rebirth in this deck included Servitor and Cultist.

This is the first in a series of games recorded at a Cthulhu LCG tournament hosted by Brap’s Magic in Burlington, Vermont. In the coming weeks, we’ll have two more tourney match-ups, and a casual game played between rounds.

Visit Decked! on YouTube, and hit the subscribe button to keep up to date with the latest videos.

Decked!: The Professor vs. Tennin Institute

That digital pack rat of a hacker, the Professor (Alex) brings to bear almost every program and piece of crufty old hardware he can against Director Roy’s Tennin Institute as it furtively advances agendas, assets, ICE and anything else on the board.

Fast forward icon made by Daniel Bruce from, and is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Decked!: Custom Biotics vs. Nasir Meidan

Decked! returns with a Netrunner match-up between the cyber explorer Nasir Meidan, with Roy scrounging credits from thin air to pay for his probes into the developing agendas of Haas Bioroid’s Custom Biotics, headed up by Alex, eager to prove not only his division’s ability to produce marketable products, but also their offensive defensive techniques against virtual intruders.

Click through the video to visit the official Decked! YouTube channel, where you can subscribe to get updates as new episodes post, and browse the archives as they grow. Decked! is produced with facilities provided by Vermont Community Access Media in Burlington, Vermont. You can also watch it on VCAM 15, or on VCAM’s web player.

In this episode, and the one to come, I made a back-up recording of the overhead angle of the table. This way, in post-production, I could either cover up switching mistakes I made during the recording, and skip over the longer pauses in play.

Decked!: Tennin Institute vs. Ken “Express” Tenma

Decked! returns with the follow-up Netrunner match between Roy and Alex. This time, the tables have flipped as Alex’s runner, Ken “Express” Tenma, takes on the Tennin Institute, headed up by Roy.

Click through the video to visit the official Decked! YouTube channel, where you can subscribe to get updates as new episodes post, and browse the archives as they grow. Decked! is produced with facilities provided by Vermont Community Access Media in Burlington, Vermont. You can also watch it on VCAM 15, or on VCAM’s web player.

Decked!: Whizzard vs. Jinteki

We’re kicking off something new today. Embedded above is the first episode of Decked!, a web series of people playing board games, in homage to shows like Magic Matchups, Team Covenant‘s living card game coverage and Tabletop. We kick off with a round of Android: Netrunner, in which my friends Alex and Roy pit the relentless trashing might of the anarch Whizzard against the Jinteki corporation’s layers of traps and misdirection.

Click through the video to visit the official Decked! YouTube channel, where you can subscribe to get updates as new episodes post, and browse the archives as they grow.  Decked! is produced with facilities provided by Vermont Community Access Media in Burlington, Vermont. You can also watch it on VCAM 15, or on VCAM’s web player.

Fate of the Norns: Fafnir’s Treasure

Join me in welcoming Dan as a contributor to Held Action. You may remember him from Carrion Crown, Mummy’s Mask and Carnagecast. This time, Dan’s written an actual play report of running Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok, which has proven quite popular at Carnage and around Vermont. Take it away, Dan!

This past Saturday, down at Brap’s Magic, I ran a one-shot session of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok, using the quick-start rules, pregenerated characters, and adventure provided in the Fafnir’s Treasure sourcebook. I was joined by Toby, Hunter, Jake, Cory, and Tom.

After a bit of explanation of how the Runic Game System works, and a rundown of the pregens, we had this lineup:

  • Toby: Sigyn the Maiden of Ratatosk (a taunting agility-based fighter)
  • Hunter: Fjori the Skald (a spellsinger)
  • Jake: Jokull the Galdr (a runecaster)
  • Cory: Vanadis the Seithkona (a witch)
  • Tom: Turbog the Ulfhednar (a wolf’s-head, a strong warrior who can assume the shape of a wolf)

Once the characters were chosen and folks read over their various abilities and such, we got right into it. After here, be warned: spoilers for Fafnir’s Treasure abound!

The scene opened on the docks outside the Icelandic town of Evingard — the party’s ship had been attacked by ice krakens, but made it to town, sailing though the sunless days and moonless nights of the Fimbulwinter, their way lit only by the stars.

A Viking longshop lands on a landscape of plastic green hexes. The hero figures approach the walls of Evingard.Abandoned by the ship captain, they wandered to the gates of the town, only to find scorch marks on the walls, arrows all over, and a bunch of dead, dying, and wounded townsfolk — the guards quickly explained that the town was seemingly cursed: the mine was shut down, there were undead polar bears attacking every few hours, and to make matters worse, the town was playing host to Volstagg the Einherjar, an emissary of the Aesir, and Aud the Son of Muspel, an emissary of the Jotuns. Either of these immortal beings could destroy the whole town, if the mood struck them, but the guards were afraid that if they fell to fighting, they’d level the town and everyone in it.

While the guards were explaining what was going on, Fjori took out his harp and played a song about the Apples of Idun, a powerful healing melody, and helped many of the wounded to live on.

Counter clockwise, from lower left: Toby, Cory, Hunter, Jake and Tom sit around the game table.

Counter clockwise, from lower left: Toby, Cory, Hunter, Jake and Tom.

They headed into the town, seeing the poor and destitute eking out a miserable existence, beset by frostbite, while the wealthy strut around in silks and jewels. Truly, all bonds of human kindness have broken down during Ragnarok!

The gate guards had mentioned that there was a tavern called the Burning Boar in town. Expressing a desire to see a flaming pig, Sigyn exhorted everyone to head there for some drinking and maybe to meet this Einherjar, Volstagg. Well, the tavern didn’t have an actual pig on fire, but it *did* have an abundance of delicious raspberry fishcakes! A true Nordic delicacy, but the tavernkeep, Sven, refused to say where he got raspberries in the time of the Fimbulwinter, when the sun and moon had been eaten by wolves.

Well, after a bit of knife-throwing with the guards, some drinking and more of those fantastic raspberry fishcakes, our heroes went up to speak to the Einherjar, Volstagg. Volstagg explained that he seeks Andvarinaut, the Ring of the Niebelungs. He would use the gold it makes to finance the Aesir armies when the last battle comes. While he told the story of Fafnir and the treasure, though, Vanadis slipped into the shadows and out into the town. She crept to Astrid’s House of Pleasure, where she had heard that Aud, the Son of Muspel was staying. While the others discussed things with Volstagg, Vanadis asked Aud what he wanted — well, of course he wanted Andvarinaut as well! Many armies can be paid from the gold brought forth from the ring.

Eventually, everyone regrouped at the Burning Boar. They drank, they sang, they talked about the problems in town. Vanadis wanted to investigate the mines, so they did talk to Magnus, the mine-owner — but he did not want to discuss the matter. So, they decided to go after the great treasure. They wanted supplies, though, and alas! did not have enough skatt to buy skis or snowshoes or any other supplies. Reasoning that the town would reward them if they dealt with these supposedly unkillable bears, they decided to investigate. The townsfolk told them that they had tried everything to kill the bears — swords, arrows, fire, everything, but the bears just keep rising and coming back. Turbog tracked the bears, and determined they were coming from the forests to the northwest, so they headed out.

A near skeletal bear charges across a field of green Heroscape tiles at the heroes.It didn’t take long before they encountered a ragged bear, a miserable white specimen that looked as though it had been killed over and over again. It roared and charged at them!

The bears claws were deadly, and its icy breath chilling — but when Sigyn enraged it with her snide taunts, Turbog slew it with his maul. They burned the body as best they could, but they couldn’t know if it would stay dead. They chose to press on.

After camping in the night-black woods, the dark chill kept away only by their campfire, they headed further into the snows. It wasn’t long before they found more bears.

IMG_1763Jokull called on the power of the World-Tree to create an alka to erode the bears’ life-force, Vanadis invoked her seith to snap their bones, and Fjori unleashed his song of the Long Knives, spurring his friends to ever-greater heights of combat prowess. The bears did not stand a chance before the onslaught of these mighty heroes.

No matter how many they killed, though, the bears kept coming.


Sigyn taunted the bears, slashing at them with her sword. Turbog took the form of a deadly blood-wolf to savage them. Fjori sang of the long knives, and he stabbed them in the back when they were attacking others. Vanadis snapped their bones, and called on the dead sun and moon to heal her compatriots. Jokull’s runic powers called forth the alka of Yggdrasil to harm them, and used his crossbow to send them flying. Eventually, after slaying bear after bear, taking grievous wounds themselves, they reached a deep crevasse at the base of the mountains, the ground falling away into darkness.

Jokull and Vanadis studied the crevasse, consulting the runes and reading the omens. They determined that the crevasse was full of the stuff of Niflheim, and was corrupting the bears, making them even more deadly. They didn’t know what to do, at first, but then Vanadis opened herself to the spirit of the mountains, using her seith magic to become a living conduit for the will and desire of the landvaettir.

The spirit spoke through her, and told that it knew of the corruption leaking from Niflheim in the crevasse. It said that it would fall into the crevasse and bury the foulness, but only if they did something for it, first. It knew of a place of comfort and springtime nearby, and it wished to feel that spring weather upon its mountaintop again.

They had no idea how to accomplish this, so they went back to Evingard to talk to Sven again. As the local tavernkeep, he seemed to have a pretty good handle on what was up in town. Eventually, with much mead and skilful cajoling from Sigyn, they did get him to reveal where he was getting those amazing raspberries — from Ivar the druid. They surmised that a druid might dwell in the stone circle they’d seen outside town, so they headed there to beard the druid in his den.

It took some yelling, some pounding on the walls, and a bit of smashing things up to get Ivar to acknowledge them, but eventually he grudgingly opened his manse to them and brought them into his lands — his druid’s power kept his land green and growing, even in the midst of the eternal night of Ragnarok. With some doing, the party gained Ivar’s trust — at least, enough for him to tell them what he would desire if he were to make the three or four day hike to the mountain, and then the week of work to make it feel the spring again. It turned out that Ivar is Ingvar’s son — Ingvar being the chieftain of the Wolf Clan and ruler of Evingard. He was exiled for marrying his sister, Ingvar’s daughter. He wanted the exile lifted — not to live in Evingard again, but freedom to travel there as needed. Tutting a bit at this indecorous behavior, everyone decided to talk to Ingvar anyway — what does it matter of Ivar marries his sister Bera? the world would be over soon anyway, let men and women seek what solace they can, ere Garm’s third howl.

Ingvar, at least, was easy to find — his hall was the greatest in Evingard. Explaining that they could solve the bear problem, Ingvar’s guards led them to the old war-hound. Stroking his beard, Ingvar heard their plea. The old man weighed the plague of bears against his son’s misdeeds, and decided that it should be left to Jadvyg, the Angel of Death.

Entering the frozen cemetery, the party were struck by how silent it was, even inside the town walls. They found the Angel of Death in the House of Hel in the burying ground’s center. Speaking to her in the silent darkness of that place, they had to speak carefully — Jadvyg suffers neither fool or idle chatter. She asked them about the Einherjar and the Son of Muspel — she had heard they spoke with the immortals, and she wished to know whom they would serve. At first, the party tried to hedge their bets, and avoid a decision — but the crone would not have it. She gave them one chance to decide and decide now, and how they chose would tell her everything she needed to know about them and whether or no she should support their plea to help Ivar.

Well, they could not decide. They talked about it, but were unsure whom they should support — until Jokull the galdr realized the best course of action — to let the runes decide. He raised up his bag of runes and wyrded one solitary rune — and the runes indicated they should serve the Aesir.

Jadvyg nodded, satisfied. She send a message to Ingvar that she would support lifting Ivar’s exile. Ivar traveled to the mountain top and in due time the rumbles of a great avalanche were heard. The foul current of Niflheim were drowned in a thousand tons of snow and rock, and the bears returned to being regular bears. Ingvar rewarded the heroes with a feast and a thousand skatt, and they prepared later to head out in search of the treasure for Volstagg — but that is a story for another time.

And that is where we ended it — they got a little ways into the hunt for Fafnir’s treasure, but not very far before time was up. Everyone had a great time, and found the runic system to be pretty easy to use once you got used to it.

I’m looking forward to running it again!