Sellswords & Spellslingers – Tower of the Necromancer

Sellswords and Spellslingers is a solo / cooperative fantasy skirmish rule-set written by Andrea Sfiligoi and published by Ganesha Games.

In some respects, the game is more similar to RPG combat than to other skirmish games. You only roll dice (d20) for the PCs. Each monster has a Danger Level which the characters have to exceed to inflict damage, else they are wounded instead (10 is the average level). Damage is not rolled: it depends on the weapons used by the PC or on the specific monster (1 and 2 are typical values). Monsters attacking with ranged weapons work similarly: characters try dodging by rolling the monster’s Danger Level or more on a d20. Both monsters and characters have a number of Hit Points (a basic PC has 3 HPs).

The game is played in rounds in which all the PCs try to activate. Activation works by rolling 1 to 3 d20 dice: for each roll lower than 8, an event card is played (which usually means one or more monsters activate); for each roll of 8 or more, the PC can perform an action. I like this simple mechanism (derived from Sfiligoi’s classic Song of Blades and Heroes) for several reasons:

  • it requires you to make an interesting choice for each PC: are you going to roll 1, 2 or 3 dice?
  • each character is under the spotlight in turn: even if a PC fails all his activations, he will likely have to face attacks, something interesting happens to him in all cases;
  • each card is interpreted in relation with the current PC, for instance, if a monster activates it is the one closest to the current PC; this makes it possible to have simple and generic “events” described on the cards, which are easy to interpret in the context of the current PC.

Another feature I found innovative (but I guess something similar appears in other games, possibly Osprey Lion / Dragon Rampant) is the concept of enemy “minions” and “hordes”: all scenarios involve lesser monsters with a single HP. They move and attack in groups, which can form and split as indicated by Event Cards. Damage to a Horde is tracked by simply removing a figure. Hordes with more “minions” have their Danger Level increased. Having several lesser enemies around has the narrative advantage of making the PCs look more heroic and the mechanical advantage of reducing the need to keep track of monster’s HPs.

Here is my AAR of my first game. I chose to play an “expert” scenario, so I used characters totalling 116 XP instead of the “basic” 60 XP.

The heroes:

Archibald the archer (28 XP) – Bow: dmg 1
Archery:+3, VeryFast(moves 6″ instead of 4″)

Dougal with the double-handed sword (49 XP) – dmg 2
Strength:+3, Fight(with DH sword)+3, Hero(activates on a roll of 7)+1, ExtraHP:+1(4 HP total)

Shelley with shield and sword (39 XP) – dmg 1
Fight(with sword)+3, Shield:+3, ExtraHP:+1(4 HP total)

The scenario is about the assaulting the tower of a Necromancer. The tower should have been guarded by skeletons, but I used my Ironsworn paper miniatures of blue soldiers with conical hats instead. I played the guards as DL:7,HP:1, Dmg:1
As required by the scenario, I randomly deployed a horde of 3 guards (behind the trees on the left) and three single guards (given the available figures, I decided to treat these as archers).

1a
Our heroes enter from the right: Archibald, Dougal and Shelley

Round 1
Archibald Failed:1 Success:1
Event card: “It could be worse” starts raining, all ranged attacks at -2 (bad news for Archie, but also the guards will be impaired)

Dougal Failed:2 Success:1
Ambush: a new guard attacks Archie, who kills him
An archer guard shoots at Archibald and wounds him

Shelley Success:2 – moves forward

1b
A first guard is out of combat

Round 2
Archibald Success:1
Dougal Success:3
Shelley Success:2
The heroes use these lucky rolls to move undisturbed towards the tower

Round 3
Archibald Success:2 – shoots and kills the minion at the background, behind the tower

Dougal Failed:2
Event cards. “Big one” – the minion at the centre foreground has 2HP instead of 1
“Reinforcements” – two new guards arrive from the left/foreground

Shelley Failed:2
“Wandering monsters” – a green ghoul enters from the right/foreground
“Horde activates” – the three guards on the left move towards the heroes

3a
New enemies arrive

Round 4
Archibald Success:2 – he wounds with an arrow the “big” guard near the Ghoul

Dougal Failed:1 Success:2 – Doug reaches the door of the tower and opens it (a DL 12 roll). Two new guards spring out of the door and the Necromancer himself appears at the top of the tower! Her first magical energy blast wound Dougal.

Shelley Success:2 – Shelley charges and kills one of the two door guardians

4a
The door is open: more guards to fight!

Round 5
Archibald Success:2 Two lucky strikes for Archie. He kills the “big” guard near the Ghoul he had previously wounded and one of the minions in the horde.

Dougal Failed:1 Success:2 The second and last door guardian is killed.

Shelley Failed:1 Success:2
Event Card: “Monster frenzy” – all enemies activate! The only to receive damage is Archie, hit by an arrow. He has a single HP left.
Shelley moves left toward the horde.

Round 6
Archibald Failed:1 Success:2
Event Card: “I stepped on a scorpion”. Terrible luck for Archibald! He looses his last HP and is out of combat.

Dougal Failed:2
Events: Ambush and Monster Activates. Shelley is ambushed by yet a new guard, but he readily gets read of the nuisance.

Shelley Success:2 – He charges the horde and kills one of minions: only one is left.

6a
Archibald steps on a scorpion

Round 7

Dougal Failed:1 Success:2
Event: the Necromancer “is loaded” – she has even more treasure than expected. Dougal opens the trapdoor to the top of the tower.

Shelley Success:1 – moves towards Archibald

Round 8

Dougal Failed:1 Success:2
Event: a dart trap! Dougal takes 1 HP of damage (he has 3 more left). The hero charges the Necromancer and inflicts 2 HP of damage.

Shelley reaches Archibald and finds out he is comatose: he will survive, if taken out of the battlefield.

8a
The final duel at the top of the tower

Round 9
Dougal Success:2
The Hero attacks the Necromancer and puts her out of combat.

xa
The necromancer is defeated, but will the heroes manage to leave the battlefield?

It would have been interesting to go on playing: I am sure that leaving the battlefield wouldn’t have been too easy for Dougal and Shelley, but, being my first go at the rules, the scenario took about 90 minutes and my available time was over.

I enjoyed both the rules and the scenario. I am looking forward to use this system, possibly replacing SoBH in my current Ironsworn campaign. After this first game, I see two main challenges in designing my own encounters:

  • since the system is asymmetric, with PCs and “monsters” having different stats, understanding what makes a balanced encounter is not trivial;
  • the cards are effective in guiding the enemies when they fight, but if I want the opposition to have other objectives than eliminating the heroes, I will have to interpret the instructions differently; possibly, a more accurate study of the numerous scenarios that come with the rules will provide some inspiration.
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