Ragnarok: Age of Wolves Scenario Development: A Mere Hoard!

Clint Staples

Here at D-Infinity, life is not all playing games with your friends ... Sometimes there is serious work to be done - like playtesting games with your friends! This weekend I got to play Ragnarok: Age of Wolves as we developed a scenario for an upcoming series of products. This set of releases will be much like the recently released, "The Hunting Party", and the Warbands and cardstock miniatures for Vikings and Dvergar that our publishing partner, Skirmisher Publishing has listed on DriveThruRPG. The working title is " A Mere Hoard", and will feature the scenario described below in its final form, as well as a Warband and cardstock minis for the Meretrolls, one of the factions in RAW Core, with a few new developments.

The background for "A Mere Hoard" is based on the archeological record, specifically of bog finds of valuables, weapons and "bog people" that have been found in numerous places in Scandinavia, and many date to a time before the Viking Age. The last, Bog People, refers to the extremely well-preserved corpses of unfortunate folk of that time, who appear to have been intentionally, probably ritually and sacrifically, interred in the bog, where their bodies have been "pickled" and preserved by the qualities of the bog itself. The bodies are generally bound, and appear to have been stabbed or strangled before their "interment". Similarly, weapons and valuables have also been discovered, often with the blades of swords broken or intentionally bent, armor hacked, effectively rendering them unusable. This is generally accepted by archeologists as symbolically killing or destroying the items, as the people were, as a sacrifice.

Enough archeology. Back to the Scenario.

Bogs, one of which might as accurately be called a "Mere", have a sinister reputation among the men and women of the Mythic North. Tales of ancient sacrifices - in which the spoils of war: weapons, wargear, jewels and gold, but also the prisoners taken in battle, might be given to the gods or spirits (disir) of the Mere - have circulated in meadhalls for centuries. Strange lights in the nighted bogland suggest that those gods might still be active.

And there are other reasons why the mere is a place to be feared. Trolls are known to haunt the fens and marshes, lurking in their depths to drag the unwary to their doom. Moss-shaggy, heavy shouldered, and well camoflaged, these creatures are said to sit still as stones, or submerged in the mere, for hours awaiting their chance. Poets speak of the troubles of Hrothgar Dane-King - and of the troll that currently stalks his hall, said to have been born in the meres of the Dane Mark. Grendel has been the bloody-taloned Night-King of Heorot for years.

But in the Age of Wolves, eveyone is desperate. And things are tried that in a calmer time might never be attempted. Beasts and monsters stalk the land that have not been seen for generations or longer. And new threats seem to arise even as the sun retreats, and the world grows cold and dim.

"A Mere Hoard" is an "exploration" of the frozen bogland home of Mearcsteppa's meretroll horde by an outside force. Any warband can work for the invader, and we could have gone with the Vikings of Hringstead, or the Yttrsholm Dvergar (the cardstock minis and warbands for both are hot-linked above) . But one of the players requested that we try out another faction that we have been working on - The Ormlatr!

The Ormlatr ("The Leavings of Wyrms") are creatures that have spent too much time in the proximity, or service, of a powerful Orm, or Wyrm. Ormar (plural) are corruptive, and over time, their wyrmic nature begins to manifest itself in their servants. Eirik Wyrmson, the focal figure for the campaign laid out in RAW Core is an Ormlatr who has (thus far) managed to remain among men (admittedly lawless brigands for the most part). Other men, or other creatures, that are less hardy or fortunate, become so definitely marked by the orm they serve that they can no longer move among men.

As suggested above, it is not only men that can be so transformed. Other races, and creatures, as well as the "lesser" young of an orm also are numbered among the Ormlatr. Eirik's mount -  a drakkar, less powerful than an orm, but still a terror on the battlefield - is only one such. We will cover the Ormlatr in more detail in a future article, and of course, in their own Warband. The playtest Ormlatr warband is led by Anlath Skullsplitter, a powerful ormlatr who serves Hrotfang, the same wyrm that Eirik Wyrmson does, but is his bitter rival. Anlath has spent a century in Hrotfang's service, and is far more fully "marked" by it. He has also forced or convinced other ormlatr of Hrotfang to serve him.

 

Set-up for "A Mere Hoard"

I used the neoprine game mat (Cold Creek, from Inked Gaming) as the frozen mere, added some stands of pines on the ridges to either side, and some scrub and a rock outcrop. I also added a tomb in the middle of the field, as the repository for a magic sword that would serve as one of the treasures.

The Ormlatr are as gold-hungry as their sires and masters, and have few qualms about entering the fens to retrieve it. Mearcsteppa's trolls become aware of the invasion, and move to stop it, inviting some wolf troll allies to aid them. The fight is on.

The Ormlatr player lost the contest to deploy, and spaced her monsters, berserkers, and brigand archers, more or less evenly across her deployment zone, Anlath anchoring the her left flank. Mearcsteppa matched her foes filling the brush in the center with meretrolls, herself in their midst to stiffen them. She sent two great wolves (allies brought by the wolftrolls Hela Halftroll and Wulfric the Grey) to run along the left hand ridge and slaughter the archers who were certain to assail the cliff for better shooting. Hela and Wulfric would take the other ridge. You can see the original deployment below. Mearcsteppa's trolls are at the top of the frame. The second image shows the the Ormlatrs; turn one movement - the main change of which is Anlath moving from the left hand ridge into the center of the field - perhaps intending to counter Mearcsteppa.

That was their plan.

But there were treasures to deploy. I gave each warlord two treasure counters to deploy, allowing them to place them anywhere outside of their deployment zones, then roll to see whether the deployments stuck. This was a simple 10 or less roll on 3d6, but I think this will change a bit in development. As it happened, three of the treasures moved about and one stayed as placed. Treasures are the primary reason for the Ormlatr incursion, so that side would get significant Victory Points for each treasure in their possession at the end of the game. The trolls, having left the treasures where they lay for centuries, are more concerned with seeing them stay there. So they don't need to collect them, but gain a lesser number of extra VP for each one on the table at the conclusion of the scenario. There were free to pick them up if they wanted to, and could then move them, but also risked losing them if the holder of the treasure was slain. As usual for RAW, since no one wants to die, each side would deduct any lost Health of their warband from their final VP totals.

Below: In the foreground, you can see the archers scaling the hill as the great wolves charge to intercept them. beyond, the meretrolls advance with some of their number holding their flank in the scrub at the top of the screen, Mearchsteppa following and emboldening her lesser kin. At the top of the image (for the most part offscreen unfortunately) Hela and Wulfric head for the treasure on the ridge, unapposed now that Anlath has moved into the middle ground.

The battle was short and bloody.

Over the course of 3 turns:

- The wolftrolls found the archers tougher meat than they expected, an settled into a protracted bloodbath on the cliffside.

- Hela claimed a treasure early, then charged down the opposite hill into melee with the lesser ormkin and omrlatr, Wulfric at her side, hoping to mop up with the meretrolls and Maercsteppa there as well.

The firespitting of Anlath and his lesser kin told upon the meretrolls, and Anlath succeeded in a spectacular Outright Kill on Mearcsteppa with his firespitting in the mid point of the battle. Wulfric tried to turn the Norn's decree aside with "Avert Fate", a spell which allowed him to negate the attack if he could equal the attack roll with his spellcasting success. But Fate was too strong, the attack roll too high. Wufric failed to equal it with his spell, and Mearcsteppa fell. Hela, having slain an ormlatr on the ridge, charged down, too late to aid Wulfric, who died as Anlath, wounded by the meretrolls, struck down the troll sorcerer.

Outright Kills are always a risk in RAW, and can take out even the strongest foe with a single sufficiently powerful attack roll. This makes Warband balance a crucial decision for a warlord. A small army of powerful monsters or warriors can do a lot of damage, but is more significantly at risk of OKs, because more incoming atttacks are directed at a single model and the smaller army suffers the loss to a greater extent than a larger force. On the other hand, a large army of weaker creatures, may have the numbers and dice, but may not be able to concentrate their strength at need.

Having some powerful creatures as well as some less powerful can be as important in winning as good tactics and dice-rolling. Of course, having a consistent "flavor" or theme for your warband, and a good backstory is important, and adds a lot of fun to game play.

Because it was late, and the game decided, we forgot to total Victory Points, but the Ormlatr carried the day, retrieving a few treasures AND dealing some more signifcant casualties. Since it was late, we also did not make survival rolls for those who fell. This is more important in a campaign game, because survivors are not dead, and can return to your warband.

"A Mere Hoard" will see more testing, and tweaking, in the coming weeks, but worked quite well already. Look for it in a couple of months on Skirmisher Publishing's DRiveThruRPG, along with the warband and cardstock miniatures for the trolls. The Ormlatr, will also show up there, but will be a little longer.

Thanks to Tom and Penny for helping with the playtesting.