Monday, August 6, 2012

For Instant D&D-style Sandbox Wilderness Adventure, Just Add Players: "Runebound"

This past Wednesday night we were slated to finish up our play through of Warrior Knights which we'd begun the previous week.  Unfortunately, poor Dean had to contend with yet another unexpected crisis:

"Xcell 1 (a critical bioreactor) just went 'Fuck you, I’m on a break'!  Sorry guys, but it’s looking like a late night for me.  You can still game just not at my place."

Fortunately Andrew had five games prepped, including the D&D-esque, hex-based sandbox wilderness crawl Runebound.  Since all of us are fans of the venerable Fantasy Flight classic, the competition really didn't stand a chance!

Players begin by selecting one character out of a possible twelve fantasy archetypes.  By rolling Movement Dice, these character traverse through a realm of varying terrain (including plains, hills, swamps, roads, and forests) encountering monsters, enduring skill tests and earning Gold and experience whenever they succeed.  Just like any traditional RPG, these things can be levied for better equipment and superior stats.

As players progress through the game they face increasingly difficult challenges until someone manages to overcome three of Margath's lieutenants (thus collecting Dragonrunes) or someone actually manages to defeat the High Dragonlord himself in mortal combat.

Since this is a pretty major gloss-over job, you can check out a full PDF of the rules right here

Now, although Fantasy Flight claims that the game can be played in two to four hours, that's virtually impossible to do with four players.  In order to achieve some semblance of a finale in one evening we decided to adopt the following three variants:

(1)  Instead of having one big amalgous market deck, characters can visit specific shops and locations in every town.  You can go to the Weaponsmith for Weapons, the Armorer for Armor, the Tavern for low-level Allies, the Guildhall for High-Level Allies, the Enchanter for Artifacts, the Ritualist for Rituals and the Rune Master for Runes.  Not only is this more intuitive it make a helluva lot more sense thematically.    
(2) You only need one Experience Point to get to Level One, then two for Level Two, three for Level Three and then four for each subsequent level-up. 

(3) Whoever kills the first red Dragonlord wins.  Bonus props if it just so happens to be Margath!

In another slight wrinkle, Andrew pooled characters together from several expansions, giving us a wide variety of choice.  Here's how the character selection broke down:

Andrew selected Bogran the Shadow.  

Chad picked Sir Valadir.

I became Trenloe the Strong. 

And Mike was looking quite fetching as Andira Runehand.

And here's what the board looks like at the start of the game (take particular note of the initial spread of available goods and the divided market decks sitting off to the right).  

Turn One

I got to play first, moving Trenloe from the central city of Tamalir to Dawnsmoor in the southwest.  In the town's market I spent all three of my initial allotment of Gold to buy a Dragontooth Hammer.  

Chad followed suit but failed to find anything affordable at the Dawnsmoor Armory.  

Mike ventured to the colorfully-named Hanging Woods to the northeast and encountered a Razorwing.  After defending himself from a Ranged attack, he managed to slay the beast in the Melee segment, scoring a coin, some experience and a Mind Value level-up!

Andrew travelled from Tamalir into the Ashen Hills.  He failed to get a free attack after whiffing his pre-combat Climb challenge and then got clobbered in the Ranged segment for a point of damage.  He bounced back in Melee, however, killing the creature and leveling up his Mind Value.  

Turn Two    

I trekked from Dawnsmoor to the equally off-putting Misty Plains and ended up tangling with a Sky Full Of Wasps.  I took a strike from their long-distance assault but managed to kill them by tapping my newly-acquired Hammer in the Melee round.  This gave me a level up, which I gladly applied to Trenloe's Body Value.  

Chad took on a Green Challenge in the same region.  He was blind-sided by a deadly Assassin On The Loose, taking two damage in the Ranged segment.  After a woefully poor Melee roll of 4, Valadir was forced to take a third wound.  And then, during the second round of combat, the Assassins managed to fell the mighty knight with two more points of damage!  Even after re-assuring Chad that "if yer gonna die, do it early", it was still cold comfort.   

Mike's character Andira hiked to the Western Hills and expertly avoided peril in the Ranged Phase against a new foe.  She wasn't quite so lucky in the hand-to-hand fight portion of the fight and was forced to take two Hearts worth of damage.  Andira bounced back in the Magic phase, frying her opponent for an experience point and scoring a coin to boot!

Now wounded, Andrew was forced to roll one less Movement Die for Bogran.  After limping back to the town of Forge, he paid one Gold to heal himself and then hired a Highway Guardian with his last three Gold.  As such, we applauded his restrain for not blowing all of his money on ale n' whores.  
Turn Three
Trenloe stumbled back to Dawnsmoor, spent a Gold to get patched up and then made a Griffon-line straight for the Tavern.  Borderline destitute, I couldn't find any hirelings who were willing to work for trail rations and the occasional hand job.    

Chad dispatched Valadir to the Misty Plains where he managed to battle and defeat something called a Golden Skull Wielder (?) during the Melee phase.  He scored a Gold coin and then leveled up his Mind Value.

Mike headed back to Tamalir to spend his meager coins on healing two points of damage and then retaining a willing (and obviously very open-minded) Rune Seeker.  

Andrew stumbled into a Ghost Stag while exploring the Ashen Hills.  Bogran delivered two points of damage during the Ranged Phase, but his Guardian was wounded (appropriately) during the subsequent Melee.  After successfully defending against a Magic assault, Bogran delivered the deathblow during his second Ranged attack.  

Turn Four 

I got jumped by a beastie while traversing the eastern grasslands, forcing me I'm to suck up two points of damage in the first Round.  Despite this, I managed to drop my foe with three damage in Round Two and collect two much-needed Gold.  

Chad ventured north-east, looking to avenge well...himself against the triumphant Assassin that bested him earlier!  This time he successfully defended during the distance attack and leveled two points of hurt during the subsequent hand-to-hand combat.  Although he managed to polish off the Assassin in the next Melee phase, he certainly didn't get away scot-free; suffering a point of damage during the Ranged Phase.  The three-coin reward that followed served as a welcome balm to these minor abrasions.

Mike had Andira strike out west towards the Flametail River.  Along the way he stumbled into the Lair of, Bakkon.  After a Swim test to avoid Fatigue, his Rune Seeker managed to win the Ranged skirmish and deal a point of damage.  He failed to defend himself during the Melee, however, and his life total dipped by two.  Andira had her revenge in the Magic phase, however, making sure that Bakkon ended up nice n' crispy!

While Bogran was a-wanderin' along the Thelsvan Highway, Andrew rolled a successful Mind-based reaction test to avoid the coils of Hungry Worms.   He then managed to slay the beast in one expertly- timed Ranged attack. 

Turn Five 

I'm off to Riverwatch to blow my, go shopping, but after paying two Gold to to heal Trenloe the Semi-Congealed I'm only left with a single coin.  As such, the one-use, two-damage-avoiding, dirt-cheap Shell Shield seems like a pretty good deal so I figger 'What the hell?' and pick it up. 

Chad visits the Weaponsmith in Tamalir but everything's a bit too rich for his blood so he just settles on healing three points of damage.    

Mike heads due North to Nerekhall.  He spends his one and only Gold coin to buy some healin' muffins and then goes window shopping in the Enchanter district.  

Andrew discards "A Gift From The Gods" to heal up one point and then marches straight into a Razorwing Nest in the eastern hills.  He rolls over "6" to defend in the Ranged phase and then delivers the coup de grâce in the following Melee round.   
Turn Six

I killed an Atavax in one round while exploring the Mountains of Despair.  With my experience point cup runneth-ing over, I unwisely decided to diversify Trenloe by upping his Mind Value.  I didn't know it at the time but this oversight would soon prove disastrous.   

Chad made his way north along the Thelsvan Highway towards Greyhaven.

Mike put Andira up against a frightening Nest of Bane Spiders.  After deftly avoiding the snare of "webbing", he managed to defend himself against both Ranged and Melee attacks, allowing him to perform a one-shot kill during the Magic Phase.  

On the path just north west of Vynelvale, Andrew narrowly avoided a lightning bolt cast by a dangerous fiend.  After Bogran softened up his quarry with two points of damage during the Ranged Phase, the Highway Guardian managed to mop up the threat in the following close skirmish.    

Turn Seven
Given my multiple level-ups, damage-absorbing shield and potential to deliver three points of damage in one blow, I'm starting to buy into my own delusions of grandeur.  As such, I made my way down into the Smokeblue Hills and took on my first Yellow Challenge.  The first card flop turned out to be the incredibly annoying "Doom at the Crossroads", which forced us to fight Ghoul Patrols whenever we dared venture onto the main roads.  My challenge proper came in the form of a Hunting Party.  In Round One my first hand-to-hand attack hit for a whopping three points of damage but then my luck immediately went down the cesspool.  I rolled no less then three nines in a row, putting me just one point shy of the Party's 17 value Melee strength.  Even after sacrificing my shield I was still laid low, causing me to lose all of my coins and, even worse, my Hammer.  If I'd just leveled up my primary ability last time instead of increasing my Mind Value, I would have won!  Instead I'm sent packing back to Riverwatch in a body bag.  

Chad initially stumbled into a Ranged contest against the Ghoul Patrols, taking a point of damage before overcoming the threat.  To make up for this, he handily dropped a Varakesh Necromancer in the first round by delivering two points of Melee damage and picking up two gold. 

Mike made his way along the Crimson Forest hills before chancing upon an encounter.  He defended himself in the Ranged phase and then handily bested his rival in the Magic Phase.

After facing the Ghoul Patrol along the Thelsvan Highway, Andrew ran into a flock of Razorwing Raiders.  With an advantage gained from a successful Sneak check, Andrew managed to kill them in the very first Phase, earning a Gold.  The rest of us are beginning to suspect that he's single-handedly trying to put Razorwings on the endangered species list.  

Turn Eight    

After waking up in the Riverwatch infirmary, Trenloe tentatively inched his way up north into the Ashen Hills.

After rolling "nary a forest" Chad just can't get where he's going.  After rambling south into the hills just east of Starfall Forest, Valadir encountered a Vingolen after coming off of a successful Hide test and killed the creature in the first round of combat.

Mike's character Andira entered Greyhome town limits and blew two Gold to recover two points of damage.

Andrew went back to Riverwatch and sought out the Armorer to procure the incredibly valuable Shield of Light.

Turn Nine   

Trenloe stumbled upon the Temple of Margath deep in the Ashen Hills.  I failed to parley my excellent Tinker roll into a successful first-round Melee attack and ended up suffering two points of Magic damage.  Mercifully I dropped the hammer on these pervy priests in the second Melee round by rolling an 8.  Actually I couldn't have dropped the hammer on them since my hammer was stolen by some slimy corpse-thief, so I guess I just beat them to death with a pillow case filled with rusty doorknobs.

Chad's Sir Valadir hit the Thelsvan Highway, forcing him to contend with the Ghoul Patrol.  After taking a one-point smack in the Ranged category, he killed them outright during Melee.  He then picked his way through the ominous fields just north of the Mountains of Despair until he encountered an enemy.  After two very effective hand-to-hand combat rounds, he was able to overcome the threat and recover his very own Dragontooth Hammer!

After Mike's Movement Die failed to get where he's going, I did him a solid by using the ability retained on the "Sky Full of Wasps" card to get him to the Crimson Forest where he was promptly attacked by a Deathwitch (mmmmm....Deathwich).  After handily nailing his Diplomacy test, Mike defended in the Ranged Phase, skipped the Melee portion and then clobbered the bitch in a spectacular Magic duel.

Andrew thoughtfully avenged me by taking out the Hunting Party in Round Two.  Not so thoughtfully, he decided to help himself to the four Gold which, by rights,  should have been mine.  Fucksticks.

Turn Ten

I continued the long and arduous process of clawing my way back to the status quo.  The process was nudged along ever so slightly when I managed to beat up the Servants of Vorakesh and steal their measly, single coin worth of lunch money.

After wading through the consistently annoying Ghoul Patrol, Chad killed a recently refreshed Green Encounter during the Ranged Phase and acquired one Gold for his Herculean efforts.  

Mike went East and powered through his own encounter with the Ghouls.  Just after that he was  Ambushed, forcing him to spend Fatigue in order to avoid damage.  In the second round, he conquered the threat and picked up two Gold coins.  

Meanwhile, Andrew's Bogran (okay, that kinda sounds dirty) travels north-east to pick a fight, wading through a Ghoul Patrol en route.  From out of nowhere a vicious Sabrecat pounced on him, but Andrew perforated the beast with a Ranged attack before it could even get close to him.  This snagged him a single coin which is kinda weird since, little known fact, Sabrecats rarely carry their wallets on them. 

Turn Eleven 

My effort to get back up to speed is foiled when I'm set upon by Giant Beetles.  Since my Melee roll of six was one shy of what I needed,  Trenloe the "Strong" is killed.  Again.  Honestly, in the immortal words of Albert King, if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all.      

Chad sent Valadir to Tamalir (try saying that five times real quick) and acquired a point of healin' and a  Sun Elf as an Ally.  What's a Sun Elf you may ask?  If afraid that only one who could possibly answer that is the eight year old kid that Fantasy Flight obviously retained to come up with it in the first place.    

Mike dropped two Movement Die to recover two Fatigue and then went East.  He defended against the Ghoul Patrol's Ranged Attack by rolling a 20 and then killed them in the Melee phase.  A Mistress of Ferrox turned out to be his main encounter, which he managed to destroy at a pretty hefty cost during Round Two.  

He also played the "Sky Full of Wasps" card on Andrew to help him reach the triumphant Giant Beetles that were still symbolically tea-bagging my remains.  Andrew showed me up by killing them in one Round and gaining two Gold as a reward.  Hello salt, meet wound!    

Turn Twelve 

I sent Trenloe the Strong into the charmingly named Hanging Woods where he was promptly set upon by Vorakesh Necromancers.  Although I didn't score a combat advantage after failing my Sneak check, I did cause two points of Melee damage and successfully defended against their strong Magic assault.  My second hand-to-hand attack also landed true, taking down my quarry and netting me some loose change.          

In the guise of Sir Valadir, Chad set off to the mountains just east of Starfall Forest.  Despite failing his pre-combat challenge and taking a point of damage he managed to whack his enemy in the first Melee Round and claim three sweet, sweet coins.  

Mike put two Movement Die aside to rest up and barely budged out of his makeshift wilderness lean-to.  

Andrew managed to dispatch a Berserker Ent in one Round.  Jerk.   

Turn Thirteen 

In dealing with the friggin' Ghoul Patrol for the first time, I took a point of damage during the Ranged Phase but exacted my revenge by killing them during Melee.  I proved to be equally lethal against a Razorwing Hunting Pack, pulverizing them but good during the first Melee Phase.

Chad/Valadir went off to the big city of Tamalir to get a package healing deal for himself and his stupid hippie Elf.  

Mike's Andira put down the Ghoul Patrol in the first Magic phase.  In his scrap against the Servants of Varakesh he dodged the Ranged attack and then stabbed his opponent right in the brain during the knife fight which followed.   

After healing a point of damage in Forge Andrew couldn't find anything to buy.  Man, that Gold was just a-burnin' a hole in his coin purse!    

Turn Fourteen

I send Trenloe back to Tamalir for some bactine n' band-aids.  After all the sweet, sweet healin' I finally retain my first Ally in the form of a diminutive but otherwise meat shield-y Dwarven Ranger.

Chad faced his first Yellow Challenge.  In a nicely co-ordinated attack his Sun Elf inflicted a single point of damage in the Ranged Phase and Valadir delivered the finale blow in Melee.  

After hearing good things about the leech-handlers in Frostgate so went there to convalesce, eventually recovering three points of damage.

After healing his Ally, Andrew undertook a stirring act of heroism and went,  

Turn Fifteen          

After tentatively testing Tinker, I took on the Temple of, Margath.  Unfortunately my Dwarven Ranger was apparently so wee that I completely forgot that he was standing there.  As a result I had to suck up a point of damage in the first Round.  I did manage to hit for two points of damage during the fisticuffs phase and remembered shorty in the Ranged phase of Round Two, which allowed me to finish of the Templars.     

While headed North, Chad killed the Ghoul Patrol during the Melee Phase.  Again.  

Mike passed the pre-combat challenge versus Lady Cathori so his Rune Seeker got to stay in the fight!  He dealt damage during the first Magic Phase, received a one point counter-attack from Cathori in Round Two and then polished her off with a second on-target spell blast. 

Andrew kept trolling through the markets of Forge like a shoe addict in an Orlando retail outlet and then bitched about not finding anything to buy.  Waaaah, poor baby.  Diamond shoes too tight?         

Turn Sixteen   

After hearing a rumor that the charming hamlet of Forge had a great bagel place, Trenloe the Peckish went north.

After overcoming "Bound for Suffering", Sir Valadir bumped into a Skeleton Horde.  Chad's Sun Elf did a point of damage in the Ranged Phase and Valadir completed the one-two punch in Melee.  He then collected three Gold, which, at this stage, I'd sell my own mother to acquire.  

Andira passed a Swim test, avoiding a point of damage.  Mike rolled effectively against the Brood of the Bloodmother ('Brood of the Bloodmother'?  Really?!?  Who the fuck came up with this stuff?  Todd McFarlane?), killing her with Magic at the end of the round.      

After trying in vain to find a dream bow buried at the bottom of a Wal-Mart DVD discount bin Bogran finally left town.  Andrew pulls a new Yellow Condition and needless to say none of are particularly broken-hearted to see "Doom at the Crossroads" get trumped.  Although "Calling Down the Inferno" sounds ten times worse, we're relieved to learn that it just gives characters a point of Fatigue when they enter a Forest hex.  Cripes, over dramatic much?  Next Bogran has a run-in with Sir Vyleen the Fallen.  After inflicting two damage in Ranged, Andrew was forced to tap his shield to avoid taking two smacks in return.  In Round Two he polished off Monsieur Vyleen in the Ranged phase.  

Turn Seventeen 

Trenlow managed to slay a Lizard Rat in one Round, earning me a Gold and a Melee level up.  Can you fucking believe that I'm still killing rats this late in the game?  

Valadir fails his pre-combat challenge and the Sun Elf gets perforated in the Ranged Phase by a Rune Apprentice.  He bounces back by dealing three damage during the Melee Phase, putting the upstart Apprentice in tha dirt, yo.    

Although Andira fails to Resist the advances of Lord Farrow and earns two Fatigue (wow, sounds like the plot of a bad Jane Austen novel) he does drop a combined three points of damage during Melee and Magic, killing his opponent.  

Brogran gets surrounded by the Hungry Dead but manages to defend the initial Melee assault with his Shield o' Light.  The subsequent Ranged attack finishes off the shambling threat!  

Turn Eighteen

Desperate for Gold I move two hexes into the Forest, voluntarily take a Fatigue from "Calling Down the Inferno" and then discard the "Hidden Treasure" card that I'd picked up earlier in order to score three Gold.  

Chad moves Valadir to Grayhaven for some much needed R&R.

Mike began a south easterly trek, shelving one die to decrease his Fatigue.  He encountered a monster en route and killed it in the second round with a two point Magic attack.  Andira suffered three Fatigue and three matching wounds in the rough fight!  

Andrew has Bogran join me in my space.  Instantly I assumed that he was going to rape me like Ned Beatty in Deliverance but my overtly pitiful state seemed to be a turn off, even to Andrew.  

Turn Nineteen          

I moved Trenloe the Pokey two spaces to Forge and then picked up a Mace of Kellos for six Gold pieces.  

Valadir happened upon a Ferrox outside of Nerekhall.  He expertly defended himself in Ranged combat and then dropped three points of damage in Melee, effectively splitting the thing from crown to groin.  

Again Mike broke out the camping equipment to get rid of two Fatigue and played a reserve card to discard a Heart of damage.

Bogran arrived in Grayhaven and procured the "services" of Runesmith Shan.    

Turn Twenty  

Trenloe hiked five river spaces towards Tamalir.  

Heavily Fatigued, Chad crept one space south.

Mike guided Andira in a south-easterly direction, setting aside one Movement Die to get rid of her final Fatigue.  He then came up against a formidable Yellow Challenge: Lady Vorakesh.  In the first Round Mike used Andira's special ability to give his Seeker a +2 bonus to hit, a gambit which paid off.  He then creamed his foe in the following Round's Ranged Phase.     

After twenty turns worth of near-flawless flawless build up Andrew finally felt confident enough to tackle a Blue challenge which came in the form of a Hybrid Berserker.  Things got off to a promising start when the newly-acquired Shan delivered a three-point Magic blast even before the combat started!  Rocking a +11 modifier to his Ranged roll, Bogran had absolutely no problem putting an arrow through the Berserker's eye socket.  Just like that, Andrew picked up five (easy) Gold pieces and leveled up yet again!    

Turn Twenty-One

Now armed with a decent weapon, I finally started taking on Yellow Challenges again like Kral the Bone-Lich.  After succeeding in my initial Jump challenge my unfairly-maligned Dwarf managed to stave off a deadly Ranged attack!  This allowed me to counter with a solid showing in Melee, causing four points of damage with my Mace.  This allowed me to pick up three precious Gold in the loot drop.  Although I'm flushed by my success I know that it's way too little and way too late.  

Chad's Sun Elf dished out a point of Ranged damage against Sir Farran the Pale.  The three additional Melee damage that followed efficiently felled the threat!


Mike overcame "A Question of Honor" to gain a free Ally for himself!  He then had to contend with "Zombies on the Loose" which he managed to defeat in Round Two.  Unfortunately he's forced to heavily Fatigue Andira in order to keep his Rune Seeker alive!  

Andrew went for the win by going after a Red Challenge which turned out to be Dragonlord Arborax.  Things looked a bit bleak at first when Bogran failed his Jump check and took three Fatigue and two Damage!  Things got even grimmer when Shan's pre-combat Magic attack fizzled.  Nevertheless, armed with a healthy +13 bonus to hit during Ranged attacks, Andrew bounced back, dealing two damage.  The Highway Guard defended during the Melee and Shan stood true during the Magic duel.  Even Arborax couldn't sustain Bogran's withering Ranged assault and he eventually dropped, giving Andrew the win!       



To me, Runebound is the gaming equivalent of a comfy pair of slippers.  It was our first introduction to the world of Fantasy Flight and it really showcased just how thematically awesome a board game could be.  

But by no means is it perfect.  First off, the setting of Terrinoth feels like something that was spawned from the over-clocked, half-baked imagination of creatively embryonic prepubescent teenaged boys.  In lieu of anything original or flavorful, the Fantasy Flight crew have served up a pretty generic milieu where everything, even the so-called "heroes", have an evilish veneer of laughably overdramatic bad-assery.  

In a less frivolous criticism, Runebound takes a long friggin' time to play through to the end.  Even with our speed-up rules and rolling movement die in advance we didn't get to the real end, even after three hours of solid play.  And perish forbid if you suffer an ill-timed setback like I did.  If this happens to you, I sincerely hope that you dig the character-building aspect of the game since your odds of winning are now completely dependent on the leader's hypothetical fuck-ups. 

But I do love the character building as well as the movement, equipment and combat rules.  As a lapsed Dungeon Master I really dig the palpable feeling of cross-country wilderness exploration, the town markets and the skill challenges.

Even though the old gal is starting to show a few liver spots, I still love Runebound dearly and I'll never pass up an opportunity to play it.  I give it four pips out of six with a healthy tilt up...


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