The heroes start the third week with a huge 48-28 lead in CTs, but after showing them my analysis on the defender ability and its relation to the important increase in armor from 4 to 5 or even 6, they agreed to nerf it to bring back some challenge and fun to the game. We ruled that from now on, the ability would only work on Throgrim himself, i.e. any monster attacking him from up to 3 tiles away will suffer a -1 penalty to both range and damage.
At the end of last week, the heroes bought the Great Bazaar in addition to the Bazaar Tamalir already had. My purchase this week was forced again because of The Twins rumor, and so I spent another 5 XP to get Phylactery which I absolutely need to stand a chance in the final battle, if it really comes to it. Alric was sent to Dawnsmoor.
The party used their Staff of the Wild to move from Tamalir to the Gardens of Tarn. The staff does not only allow them to move at double speed on the overland map, it also allows them to make only one encounter check if they so choose. That didn't help them though - they encountered Patch's Raiders in the Shadowy Copse, and they got ambushed to boot!
One of the hero players, after having read the rules on encounters when he had gotten the game, had been very concerned about the lethality of being ambushed before we had even started playing Road to Legend. He argued that it surely would result in a total party kill if we did nothing about it, but of course we agreed that we should try it out first. But since he had several weeks to think about the problem, I expected him to have an idea how to deal with it - and he didn't disappoint me. When visiting Tamalir after completing last week's dungeon, he had insisted on buying a standard set of throwing daggers and to give them to Kenor. You'll see why in a minute...
The encounter being an ambush, of course I placed my monsters as near to the party as I could to deal maximum damage to the sleeping heroes. But because they had placed Thorgrim with his grapple ability in the sleeping bag on the northern "entrance" to the starting tile, because I knew what they were up to with the throwing daggers, and because I wanted to protect my two command master monsters from harm during the first turn, I decided not so split my forces and placed them all at the eastern entrance instead.
On the heroes' first turn, Kenor made a battle action with the throwing daggers, and attacked Thorgrim and Rin with them, trying to wake them. The throwing daggers do only pitiful damage, so this was a clever way to make sure at least two heroes would be able to do something on the first turn. And Kenor made two nearly perfect dice rolls: 0 damage to Kenor, and 1 damage to Rin! The only upside from my evil point of view was that also attacks on their own companions were boosted by their command 2. So at the cost of 2 and 3 wounds respectively, two hereos were awake now, and especially Thorgrim could move in to prevent the monsters from entering the starting tile, grappling them.
Sarina and Vsleepsoundly failed their roll to wake up, so I had two soft targets at least when it was my turn. Yes, my land-based attack forces were unable to get past Thorgrim, but my soaring razorwing could fly by allright. He attacked the sleeping Sarina and was able to hurt her, but alone was not able to kill her. Unfortunately the razorwing didn't have the movement points left to retreat behind friendly lines, and with the help of the party's command 2, Rin shot it down the next turn without problems, saving Sarina.
The other monsters were able to deal 7 wounds even to Thorgrim, and during the next two turns almost managed to kill Vluckyone. The final attack of Patch himself before he would die brought Vluckyone down to three wounds only, and I had enough threat to add a gold die! Had this die only rolled three damage...but it rolled three surges instead, and so all the encounter did was to provide the party with another 2 CTs and some wounds. But it was already clear that the nerf to the defender ability had brought back some game balance again, as with a little bit of luck I could have killed two heroes!
Wounded but not dead, the party arrived at the Gardens of Tarn and bravely entered the dungeon, knowing that at its third level, the juicy reward of The Twins rumor would await them. To reach that level however, they first had to survive...Fire and Ice (28).
Hellhounds. More precisely: Copper hellhounds. Umh, yay? At least their razorwing minions sounded interesting - high speed and flying is always good! The Overlord's free Hordes of Things power card states that two skeletons, beastmen or banespiders may be added, but since on this level this would not really be fitting, we interpreted it more freely and added another two razorwings to the mix, one of them a master thanks to Brilliant Commander.
Above you can see the situation for the first two turns in the dungeon. I had place most razorwings in the room with the chest behind the doors, and had only placed my two extra razorwings in the icy parts of the dungeon (the beastman figure actually represents the master razorwing). I figured the heroes wanted to go for the chest first, and that I could use the two razorwings plus any monsters I would be able to spawn to attack them from the rear.
I guessed correctly, but before they attacked, the wounded heroes first returned to Tamalir to heal for two turns. Only Thorgrim and Rin stayed in the dungeon guarding, and I was satisfied with this and didn't attack. I had pondered opening the door and rushing in with the two master razorwings, but two attacks on the main tank of the party wouldn't accomplish much most probably, so I patiently waited and collected threat and more cards instead. No need to rush - time is on the Overlord's side in this game!
When they finally attacked, I had the right cards to slow them down and harass them. Some hero (I think Rin) opened the door with the intention of firing some arrows at the monsters behind - and got paralyzed by gas instead. Vtumble rushed towards the room trying to blast Blaze from afar - and fell into a pit. So then Thorgrim paid his whole fatigue to move in and attack Blaze - and even a dodge didn't save my first master monster. Ah well, I didn't expect the hellhounds to do much anyway. That also saved us a discussion on Blaze's curious rule: "Any hero hit by Blaze's attack suffers two burn tokens instead of one." Er, why "instead of one"? Do normal hellhounds cause burn tokens? Not as far as I know, so what exactly does this sentence mean? Any hint would be appreciated - send me a mail if you can solve this puzzle, thanks!
Anyway, my plan of spawning and attacking the party's weaker back worked. A skeleton patrol and some ferrox appeared out of nowhere, and moved in! I think the heroes forgot that razorwings can fly, and so thanks to Thorgrim conveniently leaving my monsters a path through the corridor without the chance to grapple them, they did so - hurting the soft targets like Vouch and Rin. And then, one turn later...
...my skeletons and flying razorwings softened up Rin, and my ferrox jumped into the pit I had created earlier, happily suffering some damage, became enraged, and killed Rin! Since his backbiter bow was cursed, that meant 5 CTs for the Overlord.
I nearly managed to kill Vdamnmage too, but a raging master skeleton missed once, and he barely survived. Damn! I also seriously wounded Sarina too, but she survived as well. Then all monsters except for Frostfang were dead, and I no more opportunities for a kill presented themselves. The heroes opened the chest...and again, didn't find a treasure. They're definitely on the unlucky side with chests now! They collected another CT for that bad luck, though.
Frostfang didn't pose a problem for the heroes afterwards. They skidded into the room, Frostfang breathed for some marginal damage, then he died. Copper hellhounds... I managed to play Trapmaster in the meantime, preparing for the next level. But even though I only managed to kill one hero in this dungeon, the fun was definitely back! With a little more luck, I could have easily scored two more kills, and that is perfectly fine for a first dungeon level. The monsters actually were more than just simple speedbumps again!
The heroes then healed up in town and proceeded down to the next level...the Downward Spiral (19).
This level allows the Overlord to play chest or door traps on cerain tiles, and I had a Curse of the Monkey God on my hand. This fitted perfectly with the skeleton monster option, to which I added a master beastman and a normal one with my two free power cards. Normally, I would place all my monsters near the level boss, trying to slow down the heroes on their way to him with traps and spawns. With the monkey curse on my hand though, I already knew what job lay ahead for my sniper skeletons and placed them behind the corner of the long corridor. I even spawned a beastman war party with them to give them an impressive command 2.
The curse hit the heroes when they tried to collect the gold pile, and again it was Vnotamonkeyagain who had the honor. As stated in my pregame analysis, I really had expected Rin to be the runner of the party, having higher armor and more combined movement points and fatigue, but as it turned out it was always Vnotamonkeyagain that got transformed. As you can see, the Sniper upgrade shined again: Rin shielded the monkey, and with every other Overlord I would have had a much harder time to get the kill, although I also had some damage-dealing trap cards on my hand and Trapmaster out if everything else would fail. But as it were, I simply ignored Rin and shot the monkey down for 4 CTs - the guarding Rin could only stop one skeleton from shooting. To be honest, I'm not sure why no other hero had positioned himself in front of Rin as a second obstacle, preventing me from being able to shoot at the unarmored monkey. Note also at what insane range all this happened - their command 2 against my command 2 and Sniper made this possible!
Even after the monkey's death, this long corridor was the perfect place to attack the heroes with the boosted skeletons. My plan was to spawn two dark priests in their back once they had entered the corridor, which was nice in theory but turned out to be a total failure in practice, as my master dark priest missed and the normal priest rolled near-minimum damage. At least Vbackfromtown received another curse token for killing the master, and the skeletons and all but one master beastman fell to the heroes' swift and deadly advance, however not without doing some damage before dying.
In the meantime, the master giant had slowly moved to the door and opened it. I don't think giants are good level bosses: At move 3, they are way too slow and can easily be outmaneuvered, and their max damage at copper is only slightly higher than that of a beastman, but way more unreliable. He managed to get one attack in, doing one(!) point of damage against Kenor, and then died.
The chest contained one treasure (I think it was the Crystal of Tival again), but before the heroes managed to leave the level, a second beastman war party appeared and killed Vdoublecursed who was waiting at the glyph to go to town next turn. Yeah, 5 CTs, which makes this level the first one in this campaign where the heroes actually gained less CTs than the Overlord!
Maybe I could have managed to score even another kill on this level if I had thrown all the resources I had at the heroes, but I had decided to save them for the next level - I really wanted them to fail The Twins, as even with the Phylactery and Soul Ward already purchased, I feared losing other avatar upgrades I dearly want - Focused, for example. So the dark charm, the two crushing blocks and the spiked pit stayed on my hand, patiently waiting to see how The Twins level would look like.
What followed was our first rumor level, which turned out to be highly original and a lot of fun to play! I've decided not to show a picture of the dungeon layout so not to spoil you in case you haven't played the rumor yet. And if you do, you'll know how it looks like anyway. Still, be aware that this section contains heavy spoilers!
Being a "special" level, it isn't revealed completely as normal dungeon levels are. Instead, it had three areas. The starting area containing a master hellhound and a bunch of skeletons. I love it how all monsters except one normal skeleton died even before it was my turn...not. That would happen again for all other areas in this level, as they were quite small and contained mostly fragile monsters. Ah well, patience is a virtue, and so I calmly hold on to my good cards and collected threat.
The next area, one of the ogres died instantly, as did the master bane spider. I decided now was the time I had to do something to slow them down! As Vtrapbait moved, he first fell into a spiked pit for 4 damage, and crawled out of it only to be crushed by a block on the adjacent tile! The crushing block card allows the hero to roll four power die to try to get surges to prevent damage...and he rolled four surges. For those interested: The odds of this are approximately 1.2%, but at least he received the two extra damage from the Trapmaster. Additionally, the block threw him back into the pit, where he sulkingly decided to stay for the turn. That was fun!
Next turn, he crawled out of the pit again, moved again...and got hit by my second crushing block! Fun indeed. Only...he managed to roll four surges, again. Sheesh, I guess all these transformations into a monkey made him somewhat resistant to traps or what...I was so annoyed I even forgot to throw him into the pit again.
Shortly thereafter, I cycled my deck for the first time. As it turned out, I would draw all the three trap cards again shortly thereafter, and put them to very good use - but I'll come to this in a minute. First, the heroes discovered the effect of the magical runes on this level, wounding most heroes slightly. Even Thorgrim, not being used to get wounded at all, received some damage which will become important later on.
Because of the magical runes preventing the party from splitting up effectively, they decided to leave the chest for later and instead opened the door to the last area containing the mirror imaged sorcerer and the twins. Good thing the twins were still sleeping, otherwise they would have witnessed what the first action was the heroes did - move past the sorcerer and the master bane spider, to collect the money in the room before everything else! Maybe the twins then would have realized what motives these heroes drive, and refused to come with them later...
Thorgrim rushed in next, and grappled the sorcerer. Technically, he grappled the bane spider too, but it went down directly afterwards anyway without a chance to strike back. Then, it was the monster's turn! The sorcerers get +2 damage and aim when attacking someone both bodies have line of sight to. Well, since Thorgrim was the only one both would be able to see, they attacked him - rolled 9 and 10 damage respectively, and suddenly even the mighty Thorgrim was seriously hurt!
A word on rules lawyering is in order here. The rules say that once the sorcerers are dead, the monsters can attack and kill the twins. What prevents the Overlord from killing the sorcerers all by himself though? Simply let them attack each other, and with the help of other monsters they would go down quickly - and then the monsters could kill one of the twins to prevent the heroes from completing this rumor! Since heroes are allowed to attack each other, why shouldn't the monsters be prevented from doing the same?
This makes the rumor almost impossible to complete successfully though, and in my mind is heavily against the spirit of the game. So without telling the heroes, I refrained from doing so to give them a fair chance - it was hard enough as it is already. However, I will bring the suggestion on the table sooner or later that the heroes shouldn't be allowed to attack each other as well, as a lot of loopholes and abuses are possible otherwise. Fair is fair, no?
Anyway, back to the heroes and their attempt to save the twins! They killed the sorcerers next turn, and now the twins awakened and could be moved by the heroes. Now the tricky part began: Try to escort two armor 1, 6 wounds, move 4 villagers to the nearest exit! I knew my greatest chance of killing a twin was now, on the turn the heroes had killed all monsters in the room. They had moved the twins so that they were shielded, and had covered many tiles with line of sight, but did not have any guard orders ready as they had been busy doing killing blows this turn. Next turn, they all would have guard orders up, as the twins were so slow anyway, which would make getting to them much harder!
But again, the Sniper ability saved the day for the Overlord. I had saved a skeleton patrol for just this purpose, and spawned them. They were quite far away, but are fast and have great range - and even more important, can shoot through one obstacle! So it was no problem for me to move all three skeletons near the party, and shoot at the twin behind Rin. My only fear was a miss, as I did not have an aim card ready...
...but no skeleton missed, and that was that. Mission accomplished, yes!!! I had managed to save my two avatar upgrades, which was a great relief!
I really think the Skeleton King has it easiest in this rumor, if he has snipers. But even if my skeletons had failed, I would have had some more aces up my sleeve! I still had the dark charm, saved to be able to kill one hero to remove line of sight to be able to spawn monsters near the twins (I couldn't have used the dark charm to attack a twin directly, as they are not heroes). If that had failed, I had also saved a card I've never used before: Gust of Wind. That card would have allowed me to spawn a razorwing flock, which with their high speed would have been able to reach the twins too - although it might have been hard to get through the heroes' guard orders. To prevent those, I could have used my crushing blocks and spiked pit...
But as it were, plan A had been enough to do the job. I love it when a plan comes together! So I still had all these cards left to have some fun, now that the serious part was over. First, Vhighestdamageoutput got charmed and blasted Sarina for 13 points of damage - yay, the dark charm actually got through this time! With her armor of four, she only had 3 wounds left. A crushing block took care of that, for another 4 CTs for the Overlord.
Next up was Thorgrim, who was still heavily wounded from the runes and the two sorcerers. The second crushing block finished him off, and I was really glad I managed to kill the tank! Even if I never will be able to do this again, it felt good to have it done at least once. Of course, the 4 CTs I received for him didn't hurt either!
But I still had the spiked pit. Well, Vpitblockblock had only two wounds left from all the traps before, and had no healing potion left...a perfect match, don't you think? Yet another 4 CTs for the evil side.
Now that they had failed their objective and most heroes were fully healed again (one way or another...), they decided to go for the glyph and chest at least. The chest contained two treasures, and then the last two remaining heroes went to the glyph to return to Tamalir. I had spawned another beastman war party the turn before, which unfortunately failed to kill Rin because the master had missed, but he was wounded...and I still had threat left. So I spawned some blood apes, and also had one normal beastman left from the previous spawn. Only one blood ape was able to reach Rin at the glyph however, but I also had rage on hand - and I nearly managed to kill Rin as well! He only had one(!) wound left. One measly wound, argh! To add insult to injury, both the beastman and the second blood ape came only one tile short of reaching him. I even had two charge cards on my hand, but...I lacked two threat to play one of them! So in the end, Rin escaped with his one wound, feeling the hot breath of the beastman and blood ape in his neck, only one tile away...can you get closer to killing a hero than that? I don't think so. But I had no right to complain, as I had not only prevented the heroes from completing the rumor, but also accumulated a nice sum of CTs in my game of catch-up-to-the-heroes, and finally had some real options to buy upgrades.
The last two weeks I had been forced to buy the two avatar upgrades, although as it turned out I didn't have to, as the heroes failed at The Twins. Hindsight is 20/20...but now I finally had the time and the CTs to upgrade my eldritch monsters to silver, the first milestone in every Overlord's career. I'm curious to see what difference that will make! Lord Alric put a siege token on Dawnsmoor, although I didn't really expect him to be able to raze the city - and indeed, the heroes moved to Dawnsmoor. However, I rolled another encounter, and again it was an ambush...and I was one happy Overlord. But only so long as I saw what they encountered: "To Fight in the Shadow", which consisted of three manticores.
Every Descent player and their sister is raving about how powerful soaring monsters are in outdoor encounters, but maybe they should play with my heroes from time to time. Additionally, Manticores are large, awfully slow (speed 3!) and have a pitiful attack in copper.
Well, I knew that, but the heroes did not. It seems they had read about the power of soaring monsters too, as they immediately began to worry about the encounter, talked about fleeing and how overpowered ambush encounters are. (Sidenote: Because of my argument about how the defender ability breaks the game, they had jokingly dubbed me the "JL" = "Jammerlord", meaning "whining lord" in English. Now I had to laugh out loud hearing them whine about the encounter, about soaring, about ambush and whatnot...guess they are "Jammerheroes" in their hearts, too )
But it came as I had predicted: They soon found out how pitiful manticores are, and with the command 2 at their disposal, range was never a problem for them. Here's a picture from the first turn of the encounter, which happened in the Marshy Valley.
Again, Kenor woke up the two ranged heroes with his throwing daggers (rolling 0+2 and 1+2 damage, again!). Then, they shot down the Manticores out of the sky with ease, suffering only minor wounds. Another easy 2 CTs for the heroes!
Arriving at Dawnsmoor, the party decided to attack Sir Alric, as I had expected. I shuffled the location deck, drew a card...and it was the Marshy Valley again! How boring. The battle went as expected, too: Sir Alric's minions did some damage, but not nearly enough to really threaten a hero. Of course I didn't want to risk my only lieutenant, so once most of his minions were dead, I spent the 16 threat I had to move some spaces, make a final battle action, and then move off the map. This lieutenant wasn't ready to fight yet; with better minions and, more important, some treachery, he will face the heroes again, but not now! The battle action against Sarina proved to be useless, as the first attack missed and the second failed to penetrate her armor.
So Sir Alric was back at the Overlord's keep again. This was fine by me, as all I want from him at the moment is to be near the heroes, and I have a hunch where they go next...so I will move him to the Bitter Downs again next week. As soon as he has a companion and some treachery at his disposal, he will play a more active role and actually put some pressure on the heroes!
The week ended with the heroes visiting Dawnsmoor, and drawing another rumor: Dust to Dust, placed in the Bitter Downs.
This had been a quiet week, which gives me the time to step away from the game for a bit and tell you about our gaming environment. We're playing Descent in the hobby room at a friend's house, and he is also the most enthusiastic and most active player of our group (apart from me, maybe). He strategizes the most, reads and re-reads the rules, plans most of the party's moves and purchases, and sometimes even goes so far as moving other player's figures without their immediate consent, being so emerged in his tactical thinking. This happens all in good fun, of course.
Anyway, one reason that we didn't start to play the game sooner was that he was not content with how the game has to be packed up after each session, and rebuild at the start of the next one. Road to Legend has nice boxes to tuck away the cards and campaign sheets to take notes, yes, but it's a hassle nonetheless. So he thought, what about if we don't have to stash away the game after each session, and instead can leave the gaming table as it is for next week?
Even with a nice big house, of course they didn't have a spare room just for us Descent players (and I daresay his wife and kids would have protested if we had occupied a room just for that purpose!), so he got a bit more creative. He designed and built a table which can be lifted up into the ceiling, which had an opening big enough so we could leave all the pieces, dice etc. on the table. And voila!, the room was free again until next week, when the table would be moved down again via an electrical engine, for us to continue the game where we had left off.
So you get an idea how it looks like, here's an animation of the Descent's table's descent:
Conclusion: I'm not the only nerd in the group it seems.
The next week saw Sir Alric reappearing in my Overlord keep and moving to the Bitter Downs again. His previous attempt at razing Dawnsmoor had never been meant to be serious; his only mission had been to keep the heroes in the south. I had known they wanted to get secret training, which meant either going to Olmric's hut or Skika's tree. Of course, going to Skika's tree would have meant I would have been able to raze Olmric's hut on silver level with my plot card, so chances had been high that they would go there first. However, Shika's tree had the Spiritwalker skill which I feared for several reasons, and which I would like to delay appearing in the game for as long as overlordly possible. So the purpose for Alric's attack on Dawnsmoor had just been to provide yet another motivation for the heroes not to go north. Now it was clear that they had intended to go to Olmric's hut first anyway, but I couldn't have possibly know that for sure, and there had been little else to do for Alric in the beginning anyway.
The heroes remained in Dawnsmoor, training some skills. Kenor learned Taunt, Rin Acrobat and Sarina Battle Cry. And this calls for a smart-ass comment from the Overlord: What?!? Unless I'm really missing something here, this is a spectacular waste of great skills! That Sarina got Battle Cry makes a lot of sense: She's Unmovable, so she's already trying to do as many battle actions as possible, and her Ring of Quickness is a great help in that regard as well. But giving Taunt to Kenor is questionable. I can see the heroes' rationale behind it, as his Ironskin ability negates my skeleton's pierce, and they are my main arsenal of monsters. But with their fantastic speed (7 at silver!) and their incredible range (+4 to start with), I can see a lot of skellis simply maneuvering out of Taunt's range. I believe that the skill would have been much better on Thorgrim! He is the real tank of the party, with higher base armor, higher base hitpoints (+2 thanks to his tattoo) and better defensive equipment. I can see how Throgrim's Grapple ability might make the Taunt somewhat redundant in certain situations, but nonetheless I think he would have been the natural Taunter instead.
But what really leaves me puzzled is why the fantastic Acrobat skill was wasted on Rin? Rin is a low-armor ranger who can shoot through one obstacle thanks to Precision, so why on earth should he move through enemy figures or obstacles? Yes, he can move over pits and lava and whatnot now without getting hurt, but I consider Acrobat to be an offensive skill, not a defensive one. Do you know what I had really feared? Thorgrim with Acrobat! The main party tank moving through the enemy frontline unhindered to grapple my important second-line monsters like master beastmen, skellies, sorcerers, or my lieutenant in an overland encounter... Now that is a scary thought! As it is, I think I have to thank the heroes for helping the evil course with their distribution of skills. (Maybe I can persuade them later to give Spiritwalker to Sarina...? )
The following week, I bought a point in event treachery. Finally, the real fun can begin! And I don't mean "crushing blow the heroes to death" by that, which might be the most powerful strategy but is not fun, neither for the heroes nor the Overlord - it's boring. Sure, I will use CB to remove some annoying items, but I'm looking much more forward to use all the other fun treachery cards! Maybe because I am a Magic: The Gathering ex-junkie, but I just love to customize decks. Besides, surprising the hero players with cards they do not expect, messing with their carefully thought-through tactical moves, can be a very powerful weapon in and of itself. I'm sure there's a Sun Tzu quote on that...
Sir Alric patiently moved to the Smokeblue Hills. I had pondered letting him wait in the Bitter Downs, fortifying the next dungeon the heroes would explore on their way to Olmric's hut with his Doom power. But I think I have a better destination, now that I know where the heroes are going next and what they want to do there! And they make this plan even more rewarding by surprising me and staying another week in Dawnsmoor, healing and buying new dice (which, to be fair, made a lot of sense for them). Both Sarina and Kenor upgrade one of their black dice to silver and add a fourth black die. Even though simply adding two black dice would have been cheaper, they have learned from Vfivedice's bad experience, who thanks to his Master ability had five black dice to start with. What sounded great in theory came back to bite him more often than anticipated: Every time a monster had one wound left after an attack from him, he was unable to spend fatigue to add another die to finish it off! Upgrading your dice first and leaving your total number of dice at 4 seems to be preferable.
A propos number of dice: I have written a small treatise on die mechanics, damage and armor in the strategy forum on BoardGameGeek, expanding on the previous rant about the Defender ability. Nothing ground-breaking really, but if you are interested to read it, follow this link.