Meanwhile, on the Bench: Canals of Syracuse Magna

“As you near the water’s edge, the corpse-coloured province of Syracuse Magna looms in the distance. A thick, dark cloud hangs above it, and the iron-black sea reeks of stagnation and raw sewage. The omnipresent drizzle turns into thick gobbets of oily water falling from the sky. The sound of the heavy rain patters loudly off your driver’s metal hat.

You hug the coastline tightly, giving enough berth to the multi-storey hab blocks that loom uncomfortably outwards over the waters.  She picks an entrance to the maze of waterways and crumbling tenements that make up the district and the motor-skiff ambles lazily into a sluggish canal. A thick film of oil and offal covers the surface of the canal, and everything here reeks of rot

Despite the dilapidation and flooded tenement blocks, there is a semblance of life here. Citizens and labourers shuffle around in the shadows and under the cover of overhanging buildings. You catch the glint of every pair of eyes following you as your motor-skiff chugs down the canal.”

”Welcome to Syracuse Magna. May the light of the golden throne shine on you! Now get off my boat!”
making plans

With a brand new chapter of our Dark Heresy campaign about to begin, set in the decaying province of Syracuse Magna, it was the perfect opportunity to pursue a dream I’d had since I had been flicking through old issues of White Dwarf as a kid – having an awesome game board.

The idea of building a modular board grew organically from the premise. Syracuse Magna needed introducing in a bang – a three-way brawl between the players, some noble House Guard and some local scum.

The campaign book I’m basing the plot off has an interesting map in the beginning – something that looked like it would be really fun to set aside most of a session for a proper honest-to-Emperor dice-fest. It had at least a dozen guys on each side, with the implication of more ‘further away’, multiple levels, heavy weapons, firebombs and boats.

The map from the book, courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games. The names have been obscured in a vain attempt to not tip off my players too much

What started out as something that could be sketched on my wipe-clean hex map evolved as I started to plan the multiple levels. There needed to be guys shooting down from above, so I’d need to build walkways (obviously). Walkways would need something to connect to, so there would have to be buildings (obviously). Heck, the canal needs to be at a lower level from the rest.

At this point, it was becoming increasingly apparent that I was deluding myself into thinking I wasn’t going to build a game board. I had recently had a clear out of my old Elysian drop troopers, and that had freed up a dangerous amount of capital in the hobby fund.

The best laid plans…

The original plan was stuck to as closely as I could with the time I had given myself. Some parts fell by the wayside due to time constraints, such as the inlet board.

Originally I had wanted to go all-out and create full resin canals, but I couldn’t figure out how best to make those modular – I have no use for single-purpose terrain.

That sweet, sweet smell of freshly-lasered MDF

The game board from TTcombat would fit the bill – cheap and lightweight, it would be easy to store and I could get a lot of different configurations out of it.  They should be stackable too, so I picked up some of the TTcombat venice plaza sections of different sizes to add a bit of height variance where appropriate.

I would pick up a bunch of different bits of scenery too, that way I’d have a tool kit of stuff that I could draw upon wherever and whenever my players decide to get into a fight. It could be an open dockside, a drowned slum or abandoned city block.

Just the right height – not impassably tall, but still an obstacle
world building

Assembly began in earnest. I love the TTCombat range for its detail and ease of assembly, and everything in this pack was no different. The broken factory and shipyard went together like a dream, and the containers would be to swell my container collection to a more healthy 9 in total.

I had also assembled some silos from pringles cans which would serve to boost the height significantly and provide more things to drape walkways off.

The crates were a bit fiddly to assemble but they came together in the end, and I made the conscious decision to glue them together in lumps rather than have dozens of loose crates scattered about my board. Where I would lose a tiny amount of customisation, I would gain massively in convenience. I’ve had loose bits of terrain floating around on boards before and the novelty wears off immediately after the first accidental nudge of the table.

Dry fitting the pieces. It’s looking like a board!

As I was doing more research into scenery options, I naturally gravitated towards various Malifaux resources, including the sewers walkway and downtown walkway sets by Plascraft. I can knock rickety wooden walkways together with some PVA and balsa wood easy peasy, but I can’t knock together something that looks like it wasn’t, uh, knocked together. I picked them up off ebay for cheap, favouring the un-coloured plastic sets over the pre-painted ones.

They were an absolute pain in the ass to assemble – they were made of the kind of plastic that mocks every kind of adhesive except superglue. I went through four tubes of superglue and seventeen fingertips before everything was finally assembled, and it was only when it came to basecoating I realised I should have bathed the whole set in acid and set it on fire before starting, as it took three coats of base coat before the paint would stop pooling on the oils left on the plastic. Not cool.

When they were done they looked great – they fit in to the theme beautifully, they’re lightweight, sturdy and flexible enough so they can be knocked around a bit without any paint chipping or structural damage.

I was, however, putting off the longest, hardest (and as it turned out, most damaging to me personally) part of the project – the boards themselves.

foaming at the mouth

I had looked at dozens of different game boards, trying to decide how to design the ones I now had taking up space on my bed. There were plenty of Mordheim and Malifaux game boards on Pinterest and Google Images that tickled my fancy, but none that I could realistically achieve by myself in the time frame I had allotted.

My first attempts with glue and sand were pretty abysmal and not what I wanted at all. I wanted a cobbled/tiled/flagstone look, but the only textured plasticard I could find was expensive and sold by the A4 sheet, I needed something that could cover large areas for not very much money.

I came across some enterprising individual on a Mordheim forum who had used a biro on some thin polystyrene (the kind your supermarket pizza comes on) to draw on flagstones and cobbles. Perfect! All I need to do is find some in my local area and draw some on, right?

My finger hurts just looking at this

Turns out, nowhere sells such a thing, and I wasn’t about to buy and unwrap a dozen pizzas. I finally found some sheets of kids’ craft foam in my local book store and picked up two packs just to be sure. It was the perfect material – much tougher than polystyrene but that just meant I had to push a bit harder. Should take the strain of gaming more, right?

Each one of these sheets took about two hours

You have to press really really hard with a biro to get the indentation. I broke the ball out of four pens making these, and the ones that didn’t lose their ball will never write again due to weird internal rupturing of the ink cartridge.

By the end of the ordeal I couldn’t hold a pen for a few days afterwards. I had lost feeling in the end of my thumb from gripping the pen so tightly and I had a huge blister on my middle finger from where the pen rested. Over a month later I still don’t have very much feeling in my thumb any more, and the blister has turned into a huge callous. Yay hobbying!

Aside from that though, the sheets came out great. For what was essentially 25p a sheet, they were great value for money if you don’t value physical hand health that much. Time to stick them to things!

This was a pleasingly messy project

The sheets were carved up in accordance to the random scribbles I had made on the wooden boards. Harking back to my brief, I wanted them to be usable in pretty much any arrangement, so they needed to be (relatively) even all the way round.

I also wanted to have a conscious divide between cobbled areas and muddy paths where the roads have worn away decades ago. Making these tiled areas variable shapes and sizes meant depending on the arrangement of boards, you could get wide streets, tiny claustrophobic alleyways or snaking dog-legs between buildings.

Two thicknesses of plasticard were used for the edging (black and white)

A few of the boards went against the brief and I edged them with lollipop sticks as a boardwalk or dockside. I needed a dock in the first fight, and I didn’t have the time to figure out how to carve up one of these tiles and make an inlet. Perhaps a project for another time.

The mud was made with a nice big pot of polyfilla I had lying around in powder form at home. When mixed up in some old Chinese tupperware, you can apply it liberally with finger and spoon to create some weird shapes. Some tiles and sand pushed into it for texture helped finish it off.

Dry faster, damn you!

With all the boards in strange primary colours,  things were beginning to look a bit Legoland. I was happy that I had got this far and I was apprehensive about applying colour to them. If the paint didn’t take, I was out of options.

Duncan be praised

Well bugger me, they came out better than I’d ever dreamed they would. I killed off quite a few brain cells applying the black undercoat – I lost count of how many rattle cans I went through over the course of this project.

A light dusting of grey over the black helped break up the big chunks and would make painting easier down the line.

I’ve been painting for 20 years and the power of an undercoat still amazes me

The wood sections would get a light dusting of brown spray and painted up the same way as the other wood sections of the map. The cobblestones were highlighted with a slightly lighter grey, and splodged liberally with brown and green washes applied with a spongy bit snipped out of a miniatures case.

A final highlight was drybrushed with Rotting Flesh. In all the descriptions of Magna it would be described as a decaying, unhealthy place, and everything from the wood to the stone to the metal would have a slightly unhealthy tinge to it.

The path sections would get a thick’n’heavy coat of brown. It was time to get muddy.

Hahahaha holy shit I really hope this dries clear ahahahaha

I picked up some water effect stuff to make bases for the Undertow and this was a great opportunity to use some more of it up. It is very thick, and used for creating water effects like splashing water, so it would be perfect for giving me an unpleasant moistness to my mud. It would also double as a sealant for the polyfilla, as I discovered very quickly that despite it looking great and being super easy to work with, it chips like a bitch.

I applied it liberally and smooshed it into the surface of my board. trying to let it pool in the crevices and get wiped off the raised areas so it would look more like standing water.

I had my concerns at this point that it would look more like a river or literal standing water rather than mud, then realised it didn’t matter. It could be used for either depending on what I might need!

The stuff was touch-dry in less than an hour, but I let it dry overnight just to be safe.

The test fit

When everything was dry, next day I pushed the boards together, sprinkled some terrain on it and set up my antagonists for a photo shoot. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Yeah, I was pretty fuckin’ chuffed with how these came out. Everything just worked. I was utterly impressed by my ability to paint all the wood in the same dead fleshy colours, despite many of these projects being painted months apart and in some cases, very drunk. The multiple layers worked really well too, something I was going to revisit later on and finish off more of. Everything looked swell, and with only one night to go before the big day, it couldn’t have worked out better.

It was time to assemble the board ready for the final fight.

The board was set up before the players arrived, I just needed to bring it in when the fight started
Some close-ups of the interior. The players will enter at the far end.
It was difficult to contain my excitement at this point. It had turned from random bits of wood and garbage plastic into a living, breathing dockside
Death in magna

I stuck as close as I could to the original map, and made concessions for the areas that didn’t work. I didn’t have the time (or inclination) to make ANOTHER boat, so we used the nose section from a previous TTcombat purchase  which actually turned out great.

The core structures were shuffled around too – the warehouse in the far corner didn’t fit on the tile I had put there and was better suited to being more central so it could be interacted with more. I commandeered some of my old 40k scatter terrain that was most fitting to the scene too – a few bits of ruined building that would stand in for, well, anything really. The one in the bottom left of the map would house a cheeky chappy with a hunting rifle that would just be a massive dick for the whole fight.

The rest of this post is just images, vaguely structured in the order they were taken. I lament not taking more pictures or documenting it better, but luckily many of my players took plenty of snaps on their phones.

So, for your pleasure, I present one of my life-long dreams achieved;

The acolytes approach, wary that they have entered an area with a fully 3D map and models
The noise of the manufactorum to their right drowned out the sound of gunfire until they were practically in the middle of the firefight
An armoured barge had been forced down a dead-end canal by raider boats, and the criminal crews spot a new ship entering, assume it’s enemy reinforcements and open fire
Keenly aware they are under fire, the Acolyte Primus jumps to shore and commands the others to do the same
A raider approaches, manned by an Undertow heavy gunner with a crank cannon. One of the Acolytes pops smoke to try and save them from becoming Swiss cheese
The Techpriest ices the first sniper on the silo, despite the rain imposing a -20 to hit
A lot of things happen except people leaving the boat. A mixture of poor Climb tests, failed Pinning tests and decisive inaction leads to them being rammed by the raider
The tiny Techpriest scampers up a silo to blast an Undertow sniper with her hellgun. Also pictured: the elusive Dreadquill GM
The mad Adept dives for cover and returns fire with any grenades she has to hand
Pop pop pop watching heretics drop
Things started to get a little capsizey

Our brave naval Acolytes eventually all managed to get off their sinking ship (hopefully not too heavy-handed a metaphor for future endeavours…) and brutally murder some starving poor people trying to feed their families see off the criminals and protect the shipment.

The day was won by the Acolytes, and they even won grudging thanks from the House Guard protecting the shipment. It sounded like everyone had as much fun playing as I had building, and we all learned some valuable lessons about the importance of having Willpower as your dump stat, why shotguns with the Scatter trait are so deadly, and just how long you can stay on a sinking ship before your team-mates start to try and bounce grenades off your head.

I’ll get you next time, Acolytes!

Orthesian Herald: session 5 – The Flickering Eye

Navigator Mahd’Naz sends the translation estimates back to the Captain – 8 days in the warp to the Gangue system through calm warp currents to find the fabled treasure ship, The Rightful Remit.

The warp shutters roll down over the viewports, emergency lumens wash the bridge with a crimson glow and everybody lights their incense. As the Unbroken resolve hits the warp translation point, it fires a single defiant salvo from its macrocannons as unreality opens up and swallows the little ship whole.

First steps into the Nomads
Pleasant tidings

This was to be the first, and likely last, of the quiet warp translations. During the week, only two Warp Encounters were rolled, both getting “All’s Well!” results. A little disappointing from a GM’s perspective but hey, not every warp journey can be a harrowing trip into the hell of hells.

During the transit, Explorator Freeman and Von Gunn decide to take the two newly-appointed Battery Lords, Brassfang and Falconet, on hunting patrols through the bowels of the ship. Since the battering at the hands of the Battlegrounds raiders there were a few decks on the keel of the ship that were considered unfit for duty and sealed off. Voidships in the 41st millennium are designed with plenty of obsolescences in mind, but they do have a habit of picking up vermin and stowaways, so they need to be checked every so often to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

Freeman had divvied up the broken underdecks into sectors, and they would sweep a different sector of each underdeck each day while in the warp. Von Gunn would also use it as an opportunity to have a bit of friendly competition between the two Battery Lords and to encourage them to blow off steam this way, rather than getting antsy with the macrocannons.

It was just a minor point, but it was a neat little addition from the players to explore more of their home and stake out their claim on it.

Our journey to Gangue was over.

The system map for Gangu, detailing all the important celestial bodies
A dead race and a dying sun

The translation into the Gangue system was as painless as the journey. The crew had already acquired a system map before leaving Mercy, so all that remained to do was let the passive augurs sweep the system and report back.

Gangue is one of hundreds of systems visited, catalogued and passed over by explorers of the Nomad Stars. Since Skylar himself, it has remained mostly unexplored or unexploited, mostly due to little immediate interest: sun-blasted worlds to its frozen reaches, only a smattering of looted ruins and planets ill-suited to colonisation.

Flickering Eye: A stuttering pulsar, bathing the system in hard radiation from its death throes.

Gangue Minor: A sun-scorched world closest to the star and scoured clean of life by its fiery breath.

Gangue Prime: A dust choked graveyard littered with the alien ruins.

Gangue Secundus: An icy jungle moon covered in frozen spore-towers and cloaked in a toxic fog.

Shard Halo: A vast asteroid field billions of kilometres in length scattered across the outer reaches of the system.

The Flickering Eye of Gangue
The Flickering Eye of Gangue
the goldilocks zone

A brief discussion rippled across the crew – where to go first? The nearest planet to the outer reaches where we had translated into was the obvious choice, but would we expect to find anything there? Active augur sweeps told us Gangue Secundus was a frozen hellscape, and Gangue Minor was a scorched, radioactive hellscape.

The only hellscape that didn’t require excessive equipment was the planet in the Goldilocks Zone – not too hot, not too cold. Set a course for Gangue Prime!

After three days of intersystem travel, the Unbroken Resolve enters high orbit of the planet and runs a focused scan.

Gangue Prime is a desolate wasteland with a dirty grey surface choked by clouds and dust. From orbit, you detect vast maze-like ruins covering many parts of the surface but little else. 

You also clearly detect the presence of a great monolith standing proud from the surrounding ruins and wreathed in an invisible cloud of electromagnetic turbulence – the giant crystal structure is unmistakably something unique.

The maze-like hive spans much of the northern landmass, rising up above the great dust sea, with the black monolith at the centre like a precious jewel – Impossible to bring a craft within more than a few km of the mirror due to violent ionic and magnetic storm around it.

The monolith in the centre of the ruins, but imagine the ruins expand across the continent. (artist unknown – pinched from the internet)
into the maze

Everyone was eager to step foot on their first alien world, so the crew piled into an Arvus lighter and dropped orbit. The fly-by of the monolith revealed it would be impossible to land anywhere near, its projected aura of electromagnetic turbulence causing problems to the lighter the closer it got. The crew set down a few kilometres out in a clearing and disembarked.

Atmosphere is thin here, you can survive unprotected for at least a few hours, though the caustic air will make breathing uncomfortable

The alien hive is eerily empty – a collection of labyrinthine trenches and open pits surrounding the mirror like the carvings of a giant madman. They glisten with rainbow light as though oily, even as they crack and crumble with age.

The passageways are cramped for humans, and the hive mazes are empty, as though the xenos and their works simply vanished overnight. The only sound is the moaning of the wind as it blows through enclosed maze-spaces and across desert outcrops.

An idea of the alien ruins from the inside. (artist unknown – pinched from the internet)
Exploring the labyrinth

As the players explored the ruined maze, many of them made attempts to maintain bearings or create EM-breadcrumb trails so they could find their way back. Confoundingly, the maze seemed to reject any efforts to map it or tame it in any way.

There was no signs of life, no psychic signature or presence of warp fuckery – the construction of the maze by strange xenos minds was anathema to human pathfinding sensibilities. Players found themselves double-backing on themselves, becoming lost or somehow following the same path as they just left.

These were handled by a string of Logic, Navigate (Surface) and Scholastic Lore (Astromancy) checks, with Insanity Points being handed out for any particularly bad failures as the character’s minds began to fracture at the seemingly impossible construction of the maze. After ten hours of stumbling around, the Arch Militant smelled something familiar – the distinctive odour of burning aviation fuel and charred metal…

You come to a section of the maze that has been torn apart by some flying vehicle, plowing a smouldering furrow through the crystalline walls. Bits of smoking wreckage lie everywhere, and you can just about make out through the acrid black smoke a shortcut to the centre of the maze.

The wreckage is that of a heavy lander that must have crashed when it encountered the same ionic and magnetic storms caused by the central structure.

A Search or Awareness -20 check of the site revealed the following;

You notice a similar livery painted on the craft as displayed on the armsmen who ambushed you in Port ImpetusCharred and broken corpses are strewn everywhere, so twisted blackened you mistook them for detritus from the lander. A Willpower +20 check was required to resist another doling out of Insanity Points. It was at this point that some of the more physically-orientated characters began to understand the importance of not using Willpower as their dump stat.

The players were on edge. This was clearly a Fel Dynasty craft that was fouled by the electromagnetic storms around the monolith. What were they doing here?

As they pondered, the Explorator and Voidmaster uncovered something in the wreckage – a single drop-crate that survived the wreckage and encrypted with Fel Dynasty codes. It would take a little while to crack, so the crew decided to move on through the hole in the ruins that the lander had created. The Explorator insisted on staying behind to break it open, something he would later come to be very thankful for…

As you pick through the wreckage towards the great crystalline structure in the centre of the labyrinth you hear the sounds of gunfire and animalistic grunting. The snap of lasgun fire is unmistakeable, but there is a single noise that pierces the veil and sends a shiver down your spine. A single, howling, primal “WAAAAAAAGH!”

What’s that coming over the hill?
A run-in with the locals

The crew stood on a ridge overlooking the monolith in the centre of a vast dust bowl about 200 metres across. In the centre, a mob of a dozen or so feral Orks were bearing down on some Fel Dynasty armsmen behind a rocky outcrop.

As the crew took their bearings (and rolled for Initiative), they noticed a half dozen Orks lead by a huge brute break off from the pack and thunder across the open dust bowl towards them.

The crew had 100 metres and superior firepower on their side, but would that be enough to take them down before they got close? A few players had faced Orks in 40k RPGs before and knew they weren’t to be trifled with, and the players who didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the Green Menace’s infamous toughness knew that it would be a Bad Thing to let them close the gap.

As they were sizing up the potential killing power of the scattering of plasma pistols and flamers in the party, there was a gutteral roar from behind them of a powerful engine starting up. Screeching over the ridge behind them came Explorator Freeman on an Astartes-pattern Scout Bike and Zilla riding shotgun on the sidecar. Its twin bolters spewing hot explosive death into the ranks of the Orks, and the tide of battle became considerably more balanced.

Zilla and Freeman ride into battle on a broken Xbox battery pack

The fight was set up to introduce long range combat and to give the players a taste of fighting Orks in the lowest-threat way as possible – having them start a long way away with no ranged weapons!

The fight was set up as a 1cm:1m scale, so the Orks would be on the players in less than 10 turns. They knew that if even one got through, it would cause a world of hurt to whatever it touched. Two plasma pistols from the Captain and the Astropath (a convenient last-minute Acquisition from Mercy!) could put out reasonable damage when they hit, and the twin bolt pistol death from the Arch Militant made decent work of whatever he was aiming at. The Missionary was at a disadvantage of only having a flamer, so spent most of her time shouting profanities at the ravening xenos horde.

The twin bolters from the scout bike chewed up Orks like there was no tomorrow;

Twin-linked bolters

Front-facing, 90m range, Basic, s/2/4, 1d10+5, pen 4, Clip 48, Reload 3Full, Twin-linked, Tearing

(Twin linked: +20 to hit, uses twice as much ammunition, scores an additional hit if the attack roll gets 2+ degrees of success)

Dakka dakka dakka!

The Orks were only a few turns away from beating our heroic crew to death with their own severed arms and our players were starting to feel the heat. Arch Militant Von Gunn came up with a decisive Plan B – he had a bunch of demolition charges and an appetite for destruction. By setting all the charges around the ridge they were standing on, they had an opportunity for an explosive retreat if things went sideways.

In the final few nail-biting turns of the game, the bikers had thinned the Ork horde enough so the small-arms fire could cause some damage. They had identified the big Ork as some kind of leader and were focusing fire to try and take him down. They had worked out the rest of the Orks might break if he could be stopped.

They also discovered a nice little surprise the Green Tide had to hand – crude Stikkbombs they lobbed at the bike when it got close enough. In an utterly tragic cosmic coincidence, all the Orks carrying stikkbombs had been killed before they could get close enough to use them or even before the players had identified them as a threat. I’ll get you next time, gadget…

The Captain and the Astropath finally put down the Ork leader with repeated blasts of max-strength plasma pistol shots and the last two Orks began to waiver. Unfortunately for them, they had just (and FINALLY) strayed into flamer range of the Missionary, who had been lamenting not taking a long range weapon for the entire fight.

Tips for pros: fire kills Orks dead.

This is an amusing quirk of the system as to why fire is so effective. Orks have a naturally low Willpower because individually they’re a cowardly lot. Get a bunch of them together though and Orks get a +10 to their Willpower tests (for Fear and Pinning) for every other Ork within a close proximity. Lots of Orks don’t run from a fight.

When you are hit with a Flamer, two things happen. First you take the flamer’s damage, which at 1d10+4 isn’t going to upset an Ork who will soak most of that damage anyway. However, they then have to take an Agility test or catch fire. Orks have a terrible Agility, so they tend to catch alight quite often. Once on fire, you have to take an unmodified Willpower test or you are forced to do nothing except run around screaming. You don’t get your Mob Rule bonus for this, and Orks tend to fail unmodified Willpower checks quite a lot.

When you’re on fire, you take D10 damage per turn, ignoring armour. Again, this is unlikely to trouble an Ork who can shrug off at least 8 of that. However, fire also gives you 1 Fatigue per turn. Exceed your Toughness Bonus and you pass out from asphyxiation and burn to death. Each level of Fatigue also imposes a -10 to all your tests, making it harder and harder to put yourself out each turn.

So what you have is a bunch of flaming Orks running around screaming, unable to put themselves out until they all pass out and become sautéed mushrooms. Yay fire!

The aftermath

The final two Orks were toasted, and one of them turned to flee. The Missionary’s bodyguard Alyss leapt forwards and plunged her chainsword into the fleeing Ork, finishing him off.

The Captain surveyed the scene and emptied the plasma pistol canister into the mangled Ork boss, just in case. He’d heard about their regenerative abilities and figured he’d rather not risk it.

The team gathered their wits, reloaded their weapons and made straight for the Monolith.

The Asus Prime Kidnapping – Inquisitor Battle Report

“Emperor preserve us, Asus Prime is the only planet I’ve known that you can smell from space. Penal states, prison nations, cheap labour and, unfortunately, where our target is lurking. Quick in and out – we don’t want to be about when the chain gangs find out there are offworlders in a security blind spot…” 

The brief

The Asus Prime Kidnapping is a short mission between two small insertion forces on the prison planet of Asus Prime, both trying to collar a person of interest in both their investigations; a middle man for a xenos artifact smuggling ring called Krannich.

The fight takes part in a security blind spot, a loading bay near Krannich’s area of operation. It has been specially selected as a place that is overlooked by the local enforcers and relatively devoid of roving chain gang patrols – the perfect place for a shady meetup.

The warbands

In the north of the map, Inquisitor Jekt is accompanied by a hardened ganger called Conan the Unkillable. Jekt is a dirty fighter, relying on brute force and underhand tactics to overcome his foes, and Conan is a mercenary with a powerful healing mutation. Inquisitor Jekt had inserted onto the planet with the intention of dragging Krannich off for interrogation to find out how deep this smuggling ring goes.

In the south, Takoda Tedd and Major Farideigh are sneaking in to try and capture Krannich as well. Tedd is a trusted ally of Inquisitor Xerxas who has several interests on Asus Prime and carefully controls and monitors the flow of artifacts on the planet but Krannich is upsetting that balance of power. Tedd is accompanied by Farideigh, an old warden on Asus Prime and now a powerful ally in sneaking past the light sequences and guard patrols to close on their target. They need Krannich alive to find out who instructed him to muscle in on Xerxas’ turf.

A view from the north side of the board

In the centre of the arena is Krannich, two of his goons, a loading servitor and a Penal guard watching over the loading area. Krannich believes he is meeting a contact looking to buy a new batch of xenos curios from him. Little does he know that it was a decoy to lure him away from his safety net, and now he has two Inquisitors circling the loading bay, waiting for their time to strike.

The meeting point, with Krannich, his goons and a loading servitor

The environment

It is dawn, and the crimson sun of Asus has begun its slow crawl across the horizon. Owing to the low light and the constant throb of nearby industry, there is a -20 to Awareness tests for hearing, and sight is reduced to 1/5th of a character’s Initiative. Anything over that is a -2 penalty per inch to Awareness tests for sight.

There are also roving chain gangs, albeit some distance away. If/when either of the warbands sound the alarm, they will only have six turns to grab the goods and make it off the board before a horde of angry servo-enhanced chain gangers arrive to butcher everything in sight.

The loading servitor remains (largely) neutral. He’s got a job to do, and by the Omnissiah he’ll do it against all odds. He doesn’t care for the fate of the galaxy, the battle for the Emperor’s soul, or the conflicting ideologies of two radical Inquisitors over the supply and demand of xenos artifacts. All he cares about is getting those damn crates on that damn truck, and he’ll be oblivious to anything otherwise. After all, who on Terra would really need to mess with crates of ore or a knackered loading truck when the fate of billions of souls are at stake?

Gotta do everything around here…

The action

The game begins, and both players have openly committed to a sneaky approach. With only two characters each, and a good mix of Initiative and Speed orders, the game goes back and forth between the players very quickly. Even with Sneak actions, the players rapidly move forwards to their targets while the guards amble around (using a scatter dice) and the loading servitor carries out his to-do list for the day.

The first event is Major Farideigh taking is upon himself to see to the outlying Penal guard called Zaal. His dust mask and rebreather don’t help him hear the Major noisily clanging his way up the ladder right near their starting corner. By the grace of the Emperor, he walks clean over the Major’s head and stares longingly off into the distance on the other side of the tower.

“Hmm, must have been a rat”

In the other corner, Conan and Jekt are making great progress. Jekt dives behind the truck, waiting for the patrol of the servitor to grant him the cover he needs to circle round clockwise and approach the meeting point from the east. At this point, the players are still unsure of the servitor’s motivations, so are treating it with due suspicion.

Conan watches from behind the water tower

Meanwhile, Farideigh has seen his moment to strike. He leaps up behind Zaal and puts him into a Militarum Death Grip, determined to take him out silently and efficiently. At this point, it’s worth noting that we were at somewhat of a loss of how to deal with this combat using the Inquisitor rules as written, as we felt that the normal unarmed sneak attack wasn’t really appropriate. We borrowed the Grappling rules from Dark Heresy to keep the game flowing – opposed Strength checks (with a bonus to the grappler for getting the jump on Zaal) to either cause damage or break free. It is a tense few turns of Zaal going bluer and bluer in the face…

“Glurk.. Urk… Ack…” – Zaal’s final words

Meanwhile Jekt is still trying to find an opening between crate runs to make a break for it. Conan, on the other hand, decides the best way to complete this stealth run is by fucking everything up in the biggest, loudest way possible. He piles into the truck and starts looking for the On Button.

“Gee whizz I sure do hope nobody tries to hijack my truck today”

There is a quite crumpling sound in the distance as Zaal goes tumbling off the character roster.

Long. Live. The king.

During this exchange, Takoda Tedd has been making a beeline for the meeting point. He has ducked and weaved through the guards quite expertly, pushing himself up against a window to eavesdrop anything interesting from inside. One of them hears movement outside, but sees nothing and makes the professional bodyguard decision not to follow up on that line of inquiry.

“Wow, the rats sure are noisy today”

Jekt reckons he has figured out the servitor’s pattern and is ready to make a dash for it, and Conan has found the keys to the truck underneath the overhead sun visor (damn those critical success 001 rolls).

It might be crappy work, but at least you have crate job security

Jekt dashes behind cover just as the hauler truck roars into life and suddenly lurches forwards. It is at this point that Conan realises his plan extended only to starting the truck, and he plows it through a pile of barrels.

Gangway, peasants!

The loading servitor has to accelerate to a jog to place his second crate, but by the Emperor he takes pride in his work. The truck belches smog and noise as Conan cackles hysterically at the wheel. The guards correctly determine that this commotion is probably beyond the work of rats and pile outside to investigate.

“This can’t be good…”

As Conan prepares to receive the award for Greatest Distraction Ever, Jekt secretes himself into the shadows to observe the guards and determine the best time to strike.

“Well at least our day won’t get any worse than this.”

Conan wedges the throttle open and bails out of the moving truck as it careens through more scenery and off the board. Luckily for him there’s some nice soft concrete blocks and steel barrels to break his fall and he survives the incident without a scratch. A great cracking sound is heard for miles around as you hear the servitor’s heart breaking – how will he ever deliver the final crate now?

During this commotion, Farideigh and Tedd are alerted to the presence of another party. They don’t know who else it could be, but whoever it is has clearly upset the guards and made some kind of distraction. Never one to waste a good thing, Farideigh drops from his tower and moves towards the meeting point. Tedd meanwhile commando rolls in through the window, just in time to come face to face with the guards returning to check in on their boss.

“Uhh… squeak squeak?”

They draw their weapons and Tedd fumbles for his guns, both apparently victims of the element of surprise. Tedd squeezes a few shots off but they explode off the hab walls around his target.

“Can I interest you gentlemen in the Good Word of our lord and saviour, the Emperor?”

Jekt has found his opportunity to strike. The guards have been distracted by another distraction, and he draws his crackling power sword and moves in to butcher them. These guards, not burdened with an abundance of critical thinking skills are instead apparently expert swordsmen, and avoid all the incoming attacks from the Inquisitor and the gunfighter.

It’s about to get messy for someone.

Jekt manoeuvres one of the guards out of the doorway onto level ground to better his chances. The other guard steps in to try and carve up Tedd. A very dejected loading servitor returns to make his final delivery.

“Who ordered the twin clamps to the face?”

In the meantime, Conan has pulled himself together and found a little hidey hole to watch the carnage unfold. He is pretty pleased with himself at this point, and decides to never roll any more actions for the remainder of the game as a little reward to himself for being so great.

Welp, my work here is done. *Brushes hands*

Jekt makes short work of the first guard. One blow is all it takes, cleaving him from shoulder to hip in a pretty brutal display of a power sword’s effectiveness.

“Is nobody going to sign for this damn crate?”

Tedd catches a sword to the arm which throws his aim off, and he’s unable to cause any significant damage to the guard to stop him raining blows down on him. Farideigh is still to far away to assist, so it looks like Tedd may fall to the hapless NPC guards!

Unwitting third party to the rescue!

Jekt steps in to combat the second guard, inadvertently saving Tedd’s bacon and freeing him up for more thrilling heroics. The second guard is cut down with ease, and Tedd unleashes a torrent of fire at the imposing silhouette in the doorway. They connect but only stagger the Inquisitor, not causing enough damage to save Tedd from becoming power sword confetti. If only there was another unwitting third party to rescue him!

“I said BUDDY, are you going to SIGN for this PACKAGE?!”

Jekt is grabbed by the clamps of the disgruntled work force and finds himself locked in mortal combat with the loading machinery. He laughs in the face of such danger, until he sees the damage stats for those power clamps.

Tedd is never one to look a gift horse in the mouth for a third time, and immediately rushes for Krannich. Luckily he is small, lightweight and pliable in his old age, so Tedd tucks him under his arm and makes a break for it.

Krannich is nabbed

Unfortunately for Jekt, he is unaware that the mission is slipping away from him clamp by clamp, as he tries to land a finishing blow on the servitor without losing an arm to the angry plant machinery.

He’s champin’ for a clampin’!

Farideigh arrives, although he apparently was here for several turns, just “waiting for the right time to strike”. Tedd is unconvinced. They defenestrate Krannich.

There will be words about job roles after this.

Jekt lands a clean blow on the loading servitor, severing its head completely from its body. He is tired, sweaty and covered in blood and clamp fluid. At least he’s cleared the area single handedly, and can go on to claim the VIP for himself, right?


During this terse exchange, Tedd and Farideigh have exfiltrated the hab and are about to begin their final leg to the board edge. Only a handful of successful Sprint actions are between them and victory…

“On three, we go.”

As Farideigh barrels off with the VIP under one arm, Tedd is ambushed by a fusillade of fire from an unseen gunman on overwatch! Conan had apparently spent the entire game moving a grand total of twenty inches waiting for his time to strike.

Conan’s autogun chews through Tedd’s cover

Farideigh is inches from the board edge. He only needs two run actions or one non-risky Sprint action to sieze the day. He has decided that discretion is the better part of valour, and Tedd can take care of himself.

Farideigh chooses his battles wisely

Inquisitor Jekt suddenly bears down on him brandishing his big angry power sword, intent on carving Farideigh a few new breathing holes. He only needs to wound Farideigh enough to slow him or knock Krannich from his grasp.


He swings and misses over and over, Farideigh’s survival instincts being too strong to allow himself to be hit by the hissing energy blade. When it comes to Farideigh’s turn, he only needs to pass a single Initiative check to break from combat and seize a victory.

The dice tumble and it comes up a success. Farideigh breaks from combat, crosses the board edge and wins the day.

The last snapshot of the carnage as Farideigh clears the board edge

The wrap-up

So it was a victory for Xerxas’ crew, Tedd and Farideigh, although a phyrric one. Tedd is badly injured and left to the devices of Jekt and Conan, although whether they stick around to secure him or flee the now painfully close angry chain gang (2 turns left!) is a story for another time.

Jekt is a new character from one of the players, and this was an opportunity to play test him in the field. He has a host of weird and interesting bits of kit, such as wrist-mounted single shot webbers, caltrops and poison dart launchers to emphasize his dirty fighting style. Many of them were left unused, as the sheer awesomeness of the power sword was too much to contend with. The fact he cut down three NPCs in quick succession only highlighted this, with some points that he might be a bit too overpowered being countered with an understanding that he never really came up against someone his equal – he was an Inquisitor standing in a field of faceless unarmoured goons. What did they expect to happen? Expect to see Jekt pop up again in the future for further road testing.

We were left feeling a little let down by Tedd, whose prowess in the field over many years of service has given him quite the reputation for being the last word in a hollow-point argument, but he was routinely unable to land anything more than glancing blows on even the unarmoured characters.

Conan was another new character as well – he was never injured so we couldn’t test out the strength of his Regeneration mutation, so he’ll likely be popping up again in the future and given a good seeing-to. His gun is strong but he’s not a brilliant shot (low 50s), so we felt it balanced out.

Farideigh was contending Jekt for Most Valuable Player – silently taking out the Penal guard, reaching the hab unnoticed and then snatching the VIP out from underneath Jekt’s nose without firing a shot. There were many times he intended to lay down cover from a smoke grenade or take a few pot shots into close combat to try and save Tedd, but a dud grenade roll and a constantly shifting three-way combat means he never had a safe shot to take.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable match to partake in. Two characters aside made the game fly by, with players always rolling dice with nary a breathing space between characters. It’s a dangerous thing though, with only two characters each, if one is even slightly inconvenienced (like being pinned or stunned for a turn) you are suddenly at a massive disadvantage. Both players managed to make it through to the final turn without any characters suffering though, and we were all genuinely surprised at how well the sneaky tactics worked.

What’s next

We’ll be seeing Jekt and Conan return in another story, likely to follow up any secondary leads to Krannich and his smuggling ring. Although Farideigh escaped with Krannich, his loyalty lied with Tedd and Tedd’s master. With Tedd’s fate unclear (is he at the mercy of Jekt, the roving chain gang, or did he slip away), Farideigh is at an impasse. Stick with the mission and turn Krannich over to Xerxas, or see if his own master would be interested in such a valuable asset…?

Blood in Golgotha Mines – Inquisitor Battle Report

Colonel Vaux blew warm air into his hands. It was dark underground, but at least they were out of the blasted wind on the surface. He looked back over his shoulder towards his Inquisitor. The man’s face was lit only by the dim green glow of his auspex, playing on his scar and making it look like a fissure deep through his skull. 

“There are six potential stashes. I’ve marked them on your dataslates.” The Inquisitor spoke flatly, as though they weren’t just about to kick down the door of a dangerous gang’s hideout.

Vaux heard the familiar clicks and muttered prayers of Guardsmen checking their weapons and reciting litanies of readiness. He did the same, sliding a fresh magazine of Kraken penetrator rounds into his bolt pistol. 

“You have been briefed on the crystals. I expect a full report when we convene.” With those words, the Inquisitor disappeared into the gloom ahead.

For this Inquisitor skirmish, two warbands clashed over possession of Chaos-tainted Yu’Vath crystals in the gloomy, frigid depths of the Golgotha mines.

The warbands

On one side is the warband of Inquisitor Tarrik Vanth, a radical Ordo Malleus Inquisitor with strong Xanthite beliefs – an ideology that espouses the use of Chaos to defeat Chaos. He is a battle-hardened Inquisitor, with a shoulder-mounted psycannon and a sword containing a bound daemon.

His comrades are all Imperial Guardsmen, recruited from across the subsector to his personal retinue. His second in command, Colonel Vaux, is backing him up for this dangerous endeavour. He is an eagle-eye shot and a dab hand with his power fist. Sergeant Honies the Medic and Trooper Gene Ric made up the rest of the warband.

On the other side were cultists of the Crimson Wake, devilishly cunning and deadly combatants dedicated to Chaos Undivided. They were lead by the Arch-Heretic Karo, a cunning combatant with several dirty tricks up his sleeve.

He was backed up by Gorthar, a Khorne-aligned pugilist and Mucus, an ancient warrior who has been battling with the Crimson Wake for longer than his three brains can remember. The final member is Tlashkala, a plasma gunner that was exposed to the open warp, twisting his flesh and turning his blood to plasma.

The battlefield

The game was set in the underground mines of Golgotha, deep beneath the surface of the fourth moon of Ulsvar IV. It was designed to be a checkpoint that had been overtaken by a gang, and they had used the tall sections as watch towers.

An overview of the terrain

The board was dominated by an excellent lasercut MDF kit from Wargames Tournaments. I have extolled its virtues before on the Dreadquill Instagram account, and no doubts will do a proper review of it on here before long, but suffice to say that it’s an excellent piece of terrain that can fill a board, and flat pack down to fit into an A3 box.

The rest was filled with a few tall towers joined by bridges and a few pipes and barrels for scatter terrain. The six loot tokens were scattered roughly in the centre of the board at various heights to encourage some Thrilling Heroics.

Like a bridge over troubled sewage

The mission

Both warbands had the same brief – end the game in possession of as many Yu’Vath crystal tokens as possible. We used red translucent Blood Bowl block dice to represent the discovered crystals.

Across the board there were six golden loot tokens, representing a stash of weapons and gear that the gang had secreted away that *could* contain the crystals. Both teams knew where all the loot stashes were, but did not know which stash contained crystals.

Starting positions and stash locations (North is the furthest edge)

Checking a stash costs one action, and the character must make a Sagacity test to see if they can identify any crystals in the stash. If they fail, they can spend another action to test again, with a cumulative +10 modifier each time they test (after a while they should get better at knowing what to look for!).

Once they pass the check, the character has correctly identified whether or not there are crystals in the stash. Roll a d6: on a 4+, the stash contains Yu’Vath crystals. On a 1-3, the stash is just worthless ration bars and shoddy smuggled small arms. Whatever the outcome, remove the stash token – it’s assumed the character tears the stash apart looking for crystals, and others will be able to tell at a glance that it contains nothing.

You can carry as many crystals as you like, but it costs one action to pick each one up. The winner would be whoever carried the most crystals at the end of the skirmish. If one warband was driven off, any crystals left behind on the board would belong to the remaining warband.

The conditions

The Golgotha mines are dark, and very little light trickles through the built-up machinery overhead. You need to pass an Initiative -10 test to be able to see anyone.

The battle

The Crimson Wake move in

Both warbands begin by attempting the stealth approach. The Crimson Wake have the most success with this, infiltrating North across the board from their South-East starting position without raising any alarms. Gorthar manages to surprise the ganger in yellow (pictured above top left) and tears both his arms clean from his sockets. Gorthar then helps himself to the ganger’s stash token, finding the first Yu’Vath crystal.

Vanth’s warband in the North West corner have less luck with the stealth approach, being spotted in the second turn as Trooper Gene Ric prats about at the top of a ladder. The alarm is sounded by an optimistic ganger, who finds himself torn to shribbons by a devastating fusillade of psycannon fire from Vanth on the lower bridge.

Mucus engages Inquisitor Vanth early on

Mucus had made excellent progress across the board, moving quickly under the cover of the ample terrain. He charges Vanth, and the pair exchange vicious blows that would have felled any of the other characters several times over.

Tlashkala blasts Sgt Honies full force with his plasma gun

Tlashkala and Sergeant Honies have a surprise encounter around the ground floor stash token. Unfortunately for Honies, Tlashkala is quicker on the draw, and splashes white-hot plasma across his body. Honies is critically injured but not out. Tlashkala is content that Honies is dead, and presses forward North to assist Mucus.

Tlashkala rushes Mucus’ aid

By this point, several turns have passed of causing brutal injuries to one another, but neither gaining the upper hand. Even with Tlashkala assisting, the two cannot seem to down Vanth permanently, but nor can Vanth cause a crippling strike on his assailants.

Karo “assists” by shooting wildly into combat

Karo moves forwards and uncovers the second Yu’Vath crystal in the stash that Honies almost died to protect. He is also pretty convinced that Honies is dead, and decides the most helpful thing would be to fire indiscriminately at the combat with Vanth and two of his team “mates”. Luckily for everyone his shots go wide, so he snatches up the Yu’Vath Crystals and skirts around the skirmish looking for the final objective.

Moments before Gene Ric leaps two storeys to back up his Inquisitor

Meanwhile, Vanth’s allies have been scouring the rooftops for signs of further gangers or stash tokens. Vaux is utterly convinced that his Inquisitor doesn’t require assistance, and moves to gather the most Westerly loot stash. Trooper Gene Ric has less conviction, and dives off the gangway directly into combat, kicking Mucus in the head on the way down.

Gorthar climbs to the tallest stash

Since his run-in with the yellow-coated ganger, Gorthar has been resolutely clambering the outside of the central building, making for the stash token on the tallest building. He spies Vaux and Gene Ric heading his way and makes a quick getaway, narrowly avoiding detection. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.

Vaux finds *another* empty stash

Vaux continues his mission, and the second stash he checks is empty as well. Gorthar in the background has uncovered the third and final Yu’Vath crystal. With Gorthar in possession of two crystals and Karo carrying the third, the Crimson Wake have technically won, if only they can get off the board in one piece!

Only three characters are not involved in the Vanth vs Mucus dogpile

At this point in the game, Vanth has been duelling with Mucus for almost a dozen turns and several in-game hours. Only Sergeant Honies (above, at the base of the central structure), Vaux (above, Westerly side) and Gorthar (above, halfway up the central tower) are not involved in the massive brawl under the central structure.

The tide of battle seems to turn as Vanth suffers the worst of his injuries and spends a few turns stunned on the floor. However, the fortuitous timing of Gene Ric’s aerial arrival has distracted the Crimson Wake reavers long enough to think that Vanth is dead, and give him a few turns of precious recuperation. Gene Ric battles on valiantly, armed only with his trusty short sword.

Vaux and Gorthar duel, but Gorthar takes his chances with the ground

Vaux finally eyes up a heretic trying to make off with some crystals down the outside of the central structure. He opens fire while stampeding towards him, desperate to turn the tables in his favour. Gorthar on the other hand, is weighing up his options. He has done the maths and concludes he would likely lose that fist fight, so he tries to disengage from combat and flee with the crystals.

It doesn’t go well

One tragic mis-step later leads Gorthar to go tumbling to the ground, just in time to crush the freshly recovered Sergeant Honies to death*. Gorthar staggers to his feet and makes a break for it, but not before Vaux can fill his head full of holes with armour-penetrating bolt rounds.

*At this point, it’s worth mentioning that Honies was not crushed entirely to death. He was crushed into unconsciousness, where he slowly but inevitably bled to death over the following few turns. Being crushed to death sounded a more heroic way to go out.

Karo unwittingly enters Vaux’s killing field

Karo has decided that the melee with Vanth is all done and dusted (both he and Tlashkala failed to realise Vanth was still alive, or even that he had pulled himself to his feet after Mucus brushed his teeth with a chain axe). He makes a run for the exit, but notices several Yu’Vath crystals on the ground and hungrily goes to grab them.

Unfortunately for him, Vaux still had a perfect aim lined up at Gorthar’s body, where Karo had now thrown himself. Vaux plugs Karo a few times but he leaps for cover, and Vaux cannot put the killing blow onto him.

A bloodied Vanth chases down the fleeing Mucus with his own chain axe

Meanwhile, Gene Ric had broken from combat intending to grenade whatever was left standing, but Vanth annihilates Tlashkala with furious psycannon fire. The combat has left Vanth with barely any health remaining and bleeding from every body part, but he had disarmed Mucus (literally) and chased the foul mutant down.

At this point, Vanth decides to pick up the remains of Mucus’ severed arm, still attached to revving chain axe, and plunges it into the mutant’s back. Some say these two lovebirds are still fighting to this day.


Vanth succumbs to his wounds, and strays into unconsciousness as his body (finally) runs out of blood. Mucus goes to perform a killing blow, but BAH GAWD OUTTA NOWHERE Colonel Vaux launches an aerial power fist strike straight onto Mucus. The attack leaves everyone (literally and metaphorically) stunned, and Mucus uses the opportunity to slink off into the darkness, deciding not to take his chances with the totally uninjured basejumping maniac with the power fist.

Karo comes round, and as Vaux is in the middle of reloading, sees his chance to make a break for it. He grabs the two nearest Yu’Vath crystals to him and disappears under the cover of the southern building. Trooper Ric makes one final blast of las fire at the fleeing Karo, but fails to make any difference to the outcome.

The conclusion

It was a hard-fought game, with Karo escaping with two Yu’Vath crystals and leaving one for Vanth’s men to scoop up in the aftermath of the skirmish.

Karo’s warband came off the worse; Karo barely escaped with his life, Mucus thoroughly battered with a mangled arm, Gorthar lying face down with a head like swiss cheese and Tlashkala had been used to repaint the local scenery a nice shade of Heretic Red.

Vanth’s warband was not so bad off, Vanth slipping into unconsciousness could be fixed with some field medics, and even though his face was almost severed from the rest of his head, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice much difference after he’s recovered. Sergeant Honies will be honored (and replaced), but the other two warband members seemed to emerge largely unscathed.

All in all it was an excellent game, with plenty of drama and excitement. At no point could I work out who was winning, as the power struggle seemed to change almost on a turn-by turn basis. Although Karo made off with more crystals, their warband indisputably came off worse, and would seriously struggle in a followup game.

Moving forward

There’s a few things I would do differently to run the game. The biggest would be to introduce a time limit of sorts when I feel like the game is running its course. Although I enjoy playing Inquisitor ‘to the bitter end’, when one player has to leave when the game hasn’t *entirely* resolved, it can be a bit of a rush to come up with an epic climax.

Playing again, about halfway through the game I could announce some kind of time limit (5 turns?) before the gang summoned reinforcements that would overwhelm the warbands, so they have to grab what they can and scarper. I think that would help keep the tension high, and prevent the game from descending into a battle of attrition.

Both players now have the bug, and after the tidy up we spent almost an hour eyeing up 54mm models for their warbands.

Will we see Vanth and the Crimson wake clash again?