Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Wrath and Glory: Blessings Unheralded - 'Review'


As you may have read here, I was planning on writing a bit of a report of my session running Blessings Unheralded, the Wrath and Glory introduction adventure. This was both my first go at Wrath and Glory (obviously, at the time of writing the full game isn't even out yet) and also my first go at running a pregenerated adventure module, rather than making up my own content. I'm going to split this into three parts. The first is what I and my players thought of the game itself. Secondly I will 'review' the module itself. Finally there will be a little write up of what happened in the session itself. Obviously this last section will contain spoilers, so if you are going to be playing in the module, don't read that bit!

The Game

The response to the Wrath and Glory system was largely positive. At the start two of the players had declared that they didn't like dice pool systems, and one had never played a pen and paper RPG, so I think we gave the game a fairly tough task to win the group over. I'm pretty sure I got a fair few things wrong, but the players still picked up the core mechanic pretty quickly and felt confident enough to make use of the titular Wrath and Glory resources during play without too much prompting from myself. Most of the group is used to D&D 5E so it felt complicated to begin with but I think we all thought by the end that it was actually quite straight forward.

The group consisted of 4 LARPers, which definitely helped given the narrative focus of the game. Everyone loved the character objectives, and by the end all of them had been achieved. The group also made good use of the ability to spend a Wrath point to make a narrative declaration, which to my mind made running the game more fun and cooperative. We also had an interesting use of the Inquisitorial Acolyte's ability to call in a favour from their Inquisitor and had the Guardsman use their ability to take a bullet for someone. It was nice to see this stuff coming into play rather than just being an optional, often sidelined bonus like the Inspiration mechanic in D&D.

In terms of balance, it did seem like the four characters the players chose were roughly even in terms of their abilities. The mob mechanic made mowing down chaff enemies simple enough for all the characters while the ability of named enemies to use Ruin to soak or perform special abilities makes them feel like a threat. The battles took a while to resolve but I'm pretty sure this would speed up with experience, and was still considerably quicker than the old Dark Heresy calculators at dawn style.

Of course, it's not perfect. If I have to pick the nits, there are some mechanics that are confusingly or just unimaginatively named. The Wrath dice, for instance, does not generate Wrath, while 'Soak' to turn wounds into shock feels a bit phoned in. There are a few things that are not entirely clear, and several rules are suspiciously missing from this version. Some of the mechanics do feel a bit too gamey - to go back to 'Soak', the option to turn wounds into shock is usually the correct one to take, but not always. It's hard to imagine what this represents in the game world - is the Guardsman taking a split second to decide if they should block the blast from the grenade or just take it on the chin? We also noticed that the players racked up a massive pile of Glory, ending the session with 5 or so still in the bank. I'm not sure if there is supposed to be a limit to how much they can accumulate, but I couldn't find it if there is. Having that much doesn't make the resource feel very special.

All things considered, we liked the system and all of the players said they'd play it again. Most of them agreed it was stronger than the Dark Heresy system and personally I'm pretty set on purchasing the book when it becomes available.

The Module

Though we all had fun with the system, I found the module a little difficult to follow. In my preparation I drew out a flow chart of probably events, but that largely went out of the window. The adventure starts with a nice little combat to show the players the ropes, with enemies hopelessly outclassed. Though it is a bit convenient that things kick off as soon as the players arrive, it does set the scene and immediately got the players' heresy senses tingling.

After the opening there is an investigation section. The players meet a number of NPCs, each with some information to help or hinder them. The named NPCs are quite interesting characters, and in spite of my fears the players picked up on several clues and were able to work out more or less what was going on without me just feeding them hints. This section ran quite well for us but I still feel it was the weakest section as written. We went off script a fair bit and missed some of the content, which is all fine, that's player agency at work. However I did find it quite hard to find relevant information sometimes, because either it wasn't there or it was given as information from specific NPCs that the players might never meet or think to talk to.

The final part features a race against time to stop the bad guy doing an evil thing. The module calls for a cool GM trick to be used here, which immediately put the players under pressure. The final battle is relatively forgiving for the players as written, but it is quite easy for the players to 'win' but get the 'bad ending'. The boss has some interesting abilities, but I did have a problem with his stat block - his Weapon Skill and Ballistic skill did not seem to be listed. As I understand it there is a 'default' stat to use for everything unlisted, but it feels like the ability to shoot and slice the players shouldn't be merely 'default'. I'm not entirely sure I understand how it's supposed to work, but I'm pretty sure I 'cheated' and made the boss a fair bit more skilled than as written, though in the end it provided some dramatic moments so I absolutely do not regret it.

As a little aside - it was noticed that the majority of the pregenerated characters are women. Neither I, nor my players, saw any problem with this. I'm sure there are some for whom this might be an issue, but aside from the Space Marine and the Sister of Battle, the gender identity of the characters is entirely irrelevant to the adventure so if a player really wanted to, they could easily just play the female characters as male or vice-versa. I've also heard a bit of criticism on the internet about the artwork for the game and how it looks a little more cartoony and less grim-dark than normal, and a slight fear that this would be continued in the actual content of the game being more 'sanitised' than the 40K universe is generally portrayed. This adventure definitely features a good chunk of grim darkness, so I think it's pretty safe to say those fears have not been realised.

Overall the adventure was ok. Some good bits, some not so good. As a way to learn the system it worked, but personally I think I will stick to homebrew content in the future.

The Session (SPOILERS!)

Our heroes, Sergeant Gael Harden, Battle Sister Henna Orten, Lady Yyrmalla Aleretta and Commissar Victoria Linn travelled to St Deploratus' Sanitarium on the world of Enoch to retrieve their injured colleague Adept Genevieve Parker. Upon arrival at the medical facility they were immediately set upon by a group of Poxwalkers!

Sister Henna Orten fired her bolter into the mob, praising the Emperor while destroying his enemies. The group made short work of the foe, Gael finishing the last one with a bayonet to the head just as the hospital security forces arrived. Lady Aleretta immediately flashed the badge of the Inquisition and took control, calling upon her Inquisitor to lock down the facility with a cordon of enforcers. (GM note: this already caused things to go 'off script'.) She also checked the security cogitators to find the Adept Parker had been moved to the Exotic Diseases ward.

Upon arriving at the ward, the group found the patients suffering from a mysterious disease, Abacys Syndrome, causing them to lay unresponsive while constantly chanting random numbers. Adept Parker had also contracted the disease. The group spoke with the medicae workers, as well as Tech Priest Philanon, to find out information about the disease; the first patient was an Astropath, around 20 patients have already died, and there is no obvious pattern to those infected. They quickly became suspicious of the head of department, Willem Konig, who was not yet at the hospital. (Given that the place was in lockdown it would be difficult for him to come back to work and get interrogated.) Aleretta suspected there was a pattern to the random numbers, and convinced the tech priest to help compile and crunch the numbers.

The group took a visit to the morgue where they would allegedly find the quarantined bodies of the deceased. While investigating bodies outside the quarantine zone Sergeant Harden managed to suffer a complication and lose a finger to the bonesaw of a mindless servitor. They found the quarantined bodies mysteriously missing. Aleretta noticed a security camera (using a Wrath point to make a narrative declaration) and hacked into the system, finding footage of the Poxwalkers walking out of the morgue, unnoticed by the servitors. Pushing further into the system (by shifting 6s) she found that the security forces did not have access to the footage, it was locked to heads of department, such as Konig.

After returning to the ward, the group consulted with the tech priest. Together they worked out that the numbers could be translated into Lingua-Technis. It corresponded to a high level security code - the kind that might be used by the nearby food processing and distribution plant. Suddenly all the chanting patients fell silent. The group rushed to the corridor, to find a number of patients getting up and walking to the entrance, including Adept Parker. The now mindless patients are gunned down, the group saving Parker with Gael Harden's field medical experience. (A couple of shifted sixes kept her alive and sedated, for now.)

Outside, unknown to the group, Konig had arrived and, finding an Inquisitorial cordon, he decided to move on his plan, heading to the food distribution facility. The clock was ticking. (Literally - at this point I put a 30 minute timer on the table as suggested in the module for the start of act 3.) The group quickly left the hospital on Konig's trail. Entering the facility, Harden used the auspex to quickly locate the foe, and battle was joined.

The sight of heavily corrupted Poxwalkers gripped the group with fear, but they fought on regardless, Commissar Linn barking threats of execution to any who faltered. Sister Henna blasted an explosive barrel to kill a number of the chaos creatures (narrative declaration at work.) Konig fired on Aleretta, but Harden took the bullet. Aleretta leaped over a fallen beam (another declaration) to reach Konig, but took a brutal blow from his filthy chainsword. Sister Henna moved in and distracted Konig, allowing Aleretta and Gael to rain blows down upon him and finally kill Konig with a bayonet in the gut, before he could infect the water supply.

With the day won, the group returned to the hospital, finding all the Abacys patients dead, including Adept Parker, who died clutching her silver Aquila.

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