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Five Leagues From the Borderlands

13 Feb 2023 10:30 - 14 Feb 2023 13:20 #338308 by Shellhead
On impulse, I picked up a hardcover book at the local gaming shop: Five Leagues From the Borderlands. The cover promises solitaire/co-op wargaming, which I found to be an interesting idea. I flipped through a few pages, and it was very professional-looking in presentation, with okay art and very nice organization with lots of charts and tables. At the beginning, I saw that this is the 3rd edition of the rules, and that one of the key influences on the game was Glen Cook's Black Company series.

However, it appears that Five Leagues isn't really wargaming so much as it is skirmish-level adventuring using roguelike procedures to generate each adventure within an overall campaign. The player(s) will generate a warband of four player characters using some random tables, though you at least get to choose race and class of the character. There are baseline humans and several fantasy races, though not quite the generic elves and dwarves that you might expect. Ultimately, your entire character stats will readily fit on a single line of notebook paper, unless you create a mystic, who will start with several spells.

The combat system is simple and d6-based, but includes an element missing from most games. The normal default assumption in combat is that opponents will trade blows at a fairly even rate until someone is vanquished. In this game, a round of combat includes three "exchanges" of melee combat. The attacker goes first, but if the defender wins the first exchange, the defender becomes the attacker in the second exchange. The third exchange is likewise based on the outcome of the second exchange. I think this is pretty realistic, because in a real fight, someone tends to get the upper hand and just pound their opponent, who is hard-pressed just to fend off the attacks. This game caps the beatdown by limiting a round to three exchanges, giving the defender a chance to rally if they aren't already dead.

The procedural tables yield a wide range of potential encounters, including a nice array of special opponents, different terrains, different mission objectives, different rewards, etc. There is even the potential for dungeon crawl activity. Over time, a successful warband will gain XP, loot, and points that counts toward the campaign goal. The opponents also gradually level up in difficulty. However, leveling up yields random results per tables, and character mortality is high.

This isn't an actual review, just initial impressions from the book. I'm curious if anybody here has tried this game.
Last edit: 14 Feb 2023 13:20 by Shellhead.
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13 Feb 2023 10:39 - 13 Feb 2023 10:40 #338309 by charlest
That's the fantasy version of Five Parsecs From Home, a well regarded solo miniatures skirmish game. Both of these seem to be heavily influenced by Rangers of Shadow Deep, the spiritual solo spinoff of Frostgrave.

Joel Eddy is a big fan of these, haven't tried them myself.
Last edit: 13 Feb 2023 10:40 by charlest.
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13 Feb 2023 14:51 #338312 by EastCoast
FWIW Five Parsecs from Home has replaced Core Space as my primary sci fi skirmish game. Though it can't compete with Core Space for those movie style action sequences, Core Space can't compete with the world building. The narratives it creates at the macro level outpace the superior narratives at the micro level provided by Core Space combat.
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13 Feb 2023 16:13 #338313 by Shellhead
After Charlie's comment, I looked into Five Parsecs From Home today. More than a couple of reviewers remarked that Firefly was an influence. But it also reminded me of a more obscure reference: an extra feature on the Pitch Black dvd that was a prequel ship's log of the bounty hunter pursuing Riddick. It seemed like the sort of information that might be procedurally generated in the campaign turns in Five Parsecs.

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14 Feb 2023 08:16 - 14 Feb 2023 10:20 #338322 by fightcitymayor

charlest wrote: That's the fantasy version of Five Parsecs From Home, a well regarded solo miniatures skirmish game. Both of these seem to be heavily influenced by Rangers of Shadow Deep, the spiritual solo spinoff of Frostgrave.

Oh, I get to be the "but ackshually" guy! The designer of the series (Ivan Sorensen) and his production company (Nordic Weasel Games) predate RoSD, and his "fivecore" system (5 to 15 skirmish minis per side) goes back to Five Men In Normandy, a WW2 version of his ruleset. Modiphius recently (in the past year or two) entered into an agreement to publish his stuff in fancy schmancy hardcover edition books, but before that they were perennial best-sellers at PDF places like DriveThruRPG and the like.

Five Men In Normandy (simple WW2, the most updated ".30 cal edition" is pay-what-you-want @ DriveThruRPG),
Five Men At Kursk (more chrome added WW2)
Five Leagues From The Borderlands (started as basic, brutal medieval, now with more of a fantasy bent included)
Five Parsecs From Home (sci-fi)
Five Klicks From The Zone (post-apoc)

or if you want more RPG in your stuff (and more background setup):
Starport Scum (scifi)
Dungeon Scum (fantasy)

or if you want more squad skirmish stuff, go for the Squad Hammer line:
Rogue Hammer (GW Rogue Trader inspired stuff)
Chrome Hammer (cyberpunk stuff)
Hammer Of Democracy (WW2)
Trench Hammer (WW1)

And that's just a sampling of what Ivan has done under the Nordic Weasel banner. There is a lot of stuff out there (even Five Kilometers From Leipzig, which is a Napoleonic Black Powder version)

It's all minis-agnostic stuff, so play with whatever you have (Ivan has always preached the gospel of 15mm, but whatever scale is fine.)
Ivan Sorensen has always been a good dude & active online with questions and stuff.

The only thing I will say is some of his stuff (the Fivecore stuff especially) has some pretty deep rules, so don't go in expecting like one-page-rules levels of basic, there is a lot of stuff to do (although you can skip a lot of it, if you get overwhelmed by tables and such.)
Last edit: 14 Feb 2023 10:20 by fightcitymayor.

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14 Feb 2023 08:20 - 14 Feb 2023 08:21 #338323 by charlest
Very interesting. I appreciate being corrected when I'm wrong.

I've long felt the WW2 miniatures skirmish game has been neglected compared to other genres, may check that out.
Last edit: 14 Feb 2023 08:21 by charlest.
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14 Feb 2023 09:24 #338324 by fightcitymayor

charlest wrote: I've long felt the WW2 miniatures skirmish game has been neglected compared to other genres, may check that out.

The ".30 cal edition" of Five Men In Normandy does fill a nice little niche, being a cinematic WW2 skirmish minis ruleset that lets you do something different with your Bolt Action minis.

There is a lot of chaos in the game, for instance:
At the beginning of a turn, you roll a d6. Roll a 1, and that means everyone on your side scurries to redeploy, but then your turn ends. Roll a 6, and that means your fellas are bogged down and have to fire (without moving) at whatever target is available, then your turn ends. Roll a 2-5 and you take your turn as normal.

The 1-6 thing also determines hits:
When you fire, you roll two different colored d6, a "kill die" and a "shock die."
Kill die = 1 means the target is knocked down
Kill die = 6 means out-of-action
Shock die = 1 means target flinches and immediately moves to nearest cover & can't move next turn (pinned)
Shock die = 6 means target bails and retreats 6" then has to roll again next turn to see if they can activate again. Continued bails off of the table edge means they are out of the game

There are about 30 pages of rules, including different weapons, vehicles, terrain rules, fighting in buildings, and solo-specific rules.
About 10 pages of force lists with some light faction/nationality specifics.
Some pages of rules for fleshing out the enemies you fight, and RPG-type character templates (Grizzled Sergeant, Yankee Hero, etc.)
And 20 pages of campaign rules, including RPG tables that can provide things like these additional character details:

Roll Background
1-20 Working class
Miner, factory worker, teamster or road crew. Used to tough work and a hard life.
21-30 White collar professional
A nice, quiet office job in a nice, quiet office. Now you hope for a nice, quiet foxhole.
31-35 Drifter
On the fringe of society, doing odd jobs and staying alive. At least the meals are regular now.
36-40 Criminal
Small time crook, hardened gangster or an enemy of the state. Out here, no one cares.
Roll a negative morale die.
41-50 Academic
Student or teacher, scholar or scientist. Now you're learning the art of war.
51-65 Straight out of school
They told you to get a good education. Then the war came and now it's all you know.
66-85 Farmer
Whether working the fields or entrenching in them, it always seems to involve digging.
86-90 Upper class
Petty nobility, business family or political elite. The trenches don't distinguish.
91-95 Long term soldier
Army life is all that you've wanted in life. Now you do the uniform proud.
Roll 1D6. On a 1 or 6, figure begins with a random skill.
96-100 Entertainer
Musician, writer, painter, singer or poet. What stories will you tell of the war?

And more optional tables for Motivation, length of service, mission types, mission locations, battlefield conditions, post-game consequences (including court-martial!)
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14 Feb 2023 09:42 - 14 Feb 2023 12:28 #338325 by Shellhead
Spent spent more time reading Five Leagues last night. The book is over 200 pages long, but I'm not going to read all the charts and details regarding the chart results, because I've decided that I am definitely going to play a campaign.

The combat system is lean and mean. There are movement options and fighting options, including both fighting defensively and fighting evasively (allows you to move up to 2" away from opponent). Initiative is simple but innovative. Count up the number of figures in your warband and roll that many d6. Assign the resulting dice to each of your characters. If the die is lower than the character's initiative score, then they are fast this round. If not, they are slow this round. Fast characters go first, then the bad guys go, then the slow characters finally act. There are three exchanges as I mentioned above, and a capable defender might take over the exchanges and become the attacker. There is an opposed to hit roll, and the winner get to roll against armor and again against toughness. Roll less than toughness and the defender is wounded, or else incapacitated. A second wound will incapacitate a character. There are no hit points to track, and you check after combat to see if any incapacitated characters die. Shields, armor, and various weapons grant advantages and penalties, and there are additional modifications based on terrain and flanking.

There are spells, magic items, monsters, undead, fae, curses, dungeons, unexplored areas, and a very diverse range of folks you might encounter while traveling. The overall campaign features one major threat and two lesser threats. For an example, I rolled on those tables and got a major threat of rampaging warlords and ghouls following in their wake, and lesser threats of beast men and undead. Those would be the typical opponents in a campaign based on those roles. There are also tables to generate the region in which your warband operates. You roll a number of population centers, ranging from villages to towns, and roll again to see if there are special features associated with those settlements, like a fort or a monastery.

I've never been into miniatures, but I happen to have a large collection of mini scale maps from my D&D 3.5 Ptolus campaign, plus hundreds of wooden tokens with art pasted on them to substitute for minis. But a new player trying this game wouldn't need all of that. Hand-sketched maps would serve, and you wouldn't need much more than a dozen tokens. You could even pilfer bits from your other games, like those generic plastic pawns with the bulbous tops, or meeples, or even the top hat from Monopoly for a noble.

While reading this book, it seemed very apparent that this format could serve any rpg genre, including post-apocalypse, cyberpunk, espionage, or maybe even superheroes. So I was thrilled to see FCM's post here about all the other Five games already published. If I have fun with Five Leagues, I am definitely going to get Five Parsecs and also Five Klicks From the Zone.

It also seems that much of this system could work with a combat system of a player's choice, like GURPS. In fact, this product reminds me a bit of the old Man-to-Man (proto-GURPS) adventure Orcslayer, which was DM optional adventuring. And this might be the system that I used in tandem with the controversial Carcosa setting, instead of OD&D.
Last edit: 14 Feb 2023 12:28 by Shellhead.
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15 Feb 2023 22:38 - 15 Feb 2023 22:40 #338340 by Shellhead
I just rolled up my Warband.

Count Dubois is my avatar in this campaign. He is a human noble with Luck 2, Will 1, Combat +1, Speech (all) +1, Wits +2. He has partial armor, a helmet, a Fine war spear, a broad sword, and 3 torches.

Hyuddumm is a duskling outsider, which is essentially a nocturnal human. Like all dusklings, he can charge into battle and re-roll the first exchange, but cannot parry during that charge. His skills include Travel (all) +1, Battlewise +2, and Wits +2. He has partial armor, a shield, an axe, and a bastard sword. He also starts with 1 XP.

Quetzal is a preen mystic, a birdlike humanoid who is angered by certain triggers. He has Will 1, and skills in Craft (all) +1, Casting +1, and Leadership +2. He has light armor, a staff, and 2 congealed strands (single-use objects that he can expend to cast an extra spell). His spells are Barrier, Steelbreak, Confuse, Mobility, and Premonition.

Floki is a fey blood outsider, which is kind of an ice elf. He can re-roll his initiative and his enemies do not get a flanking bonus against him, but he will never have Luck. He has Will 1, Combat +1, and Wits (all) +1, as well as 1 XP. He wears light armor and has a longbow and a dagger.

I also have two human followers. Henri Yeoman is a stout yeoman who wears light armor and wields a self bow and a dagger. Jean is a brave villager with a staff.

My group collectively has a backpack, 4 gold marks, and 3 story points.

Next step will be to randomly generate the region, which I have already decided to call Averoigne.
Last edit: 15 Feb 2023 22:40 by Shellhead.
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16 Feb 2023 21:02 #338357 by Shellhead
I just randomly generated details on Averoigne, an outlying section of the empire near the borderlands. It is a land of steep hills and dense forests, with the Isoile River passing through the middle of it, roughly north to south. The only town in the region is Vyones, north and central, the unofficial capital and trading hub. An old imperial road runs roughly parallel to the river and leads to the village of Ximes in the south, named for Fort Ximes nearby. Approximately halfway between these two civilized areas but farther east is a hamlet called Sylaire, which often is host to a nomadic encampment.

Going with my previous die rolls, the primary threat to the region is an invading war cult that is trailed by opportunistic ghouls. They have established a large camp they call Pengon, along an old logging road in the west. There are also two lesser threats that are more familiar to residents of Averoigne. There is the Gnawling Horde, bestial reavers from the caves beneath Averoigne, who often emerge in the ruins known as Malinbois, near Vyones. And there are the necromancers and their undead servants that have long plagued the burial sites of this region. The necromancers convene in secrecy at the hamlet of Moulins, upriver from Vyones. Locals speak in hushed whispers of the haunted ruins of Fausseflammes. And there is an unexplored region of dense forest at the center of Averoigne, west of the imperial road.

Count DuBois and his warband have been sent to Averoigne by officials in the national capital of Paradys to confront and quell these threats. Officials have assumed that the fearful and rustic folk of Averoigne have exaggerated the danger, and that Count DuBois will soon report back with success. The Count has not yet discovered the significance of Pengon, Malinbois, or Moulins.

The first day is inauspicious, as Count DuBois misinterprets the map they purchased in Yloungne before crossing into Averoigne. The band travels in seeming circles through the forest on a dry, dusty, late summer day, searching for the imperial road. They finally encounter a despairing villager from La Frenaie, near Malinbois. He moves with urgency through the forest, bearing a bindle of his bedroll and belongings. Though the man doesn't respond to hails from Henri Yeoman, the Count realizes that they can follow his trail backwards to find where he came from. The idea seems sound, but as dusk arrives, Quetzal suggests that they set up camp for the night.

Names of places freely stolen from Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne, with locations taken from this map:
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17 Feb 2023 23:10 - 17 Feb 2023 23:15 #338376 by Shellhead
That night, the Count slept poorly, his dreams haunted by the face of that very determined villager forcing his way through the underbrush with such haste. In the morning, Hyuddumm mentioned that there were distant watchers in the forest. They weren't close enough to pose a direct threat, so he let the rest of the warband sleep.

In the light of morning, the journey to the imperial road and then Vyones was fairly uneventful. Near town, there was a coordinated effort by farmers and workers to irrigate the drying fields, and Count DuBois commanded his group to help. The grateful farmers chipped in to give the Count a gold mark. That mark later went to pay for an evening at an inn on the northwest side of Vyones. As the sun rolled towards sunset, DuBois paid his respects at the town hall, and arranged to meet an alderman Sebastian Thibault for dinner in the common room.

Over dinner, Sebastian explained that he had no specific knowledge of trouble involving war cultists, necromancer, or beastmen, but he would be willing to pay 2 gold marks for the Count and his men to explore central Averoigne, midway between Vyones and Fort Xipes. And depending on how that scouting mission went, there could be an additional contract to explore similar territory east of the imperial road. DuBois accepted, in hopes of gathering information more pertinent to his original mission.

The morning promised another dry and sunny day, as the warband moved south. The imperial road was a bit unkempt, but very solidly constructed. Eventually, the party left the road and traveled west into the deep forest. The trees were tall and old, and blotted out the sun, making for a cool respite on this summer day. By afternoon, Floki noticed some large but indistinct tracks. The tracks were at least a week old, and none in the warband had the skill to interpret them or follow them far.

The warband set up camp for the night, in hopes of spotting the creature after dark. But the night passed without disturbance, other than the quiet lies the locusts tell. Quetzal drowsed and reflected on past lessons from his eyrie (and randomly gained 1 XP). The return journey to Vyones was peaceful, and Count DuBois started to suspect that this entire mission from the Crown would yield no glory to his name.

At town hall, Count DuBois used his title to impress a scribe and learned that recent minutes of town council meetings suggested possible loci of threatening activity. Though Pengon seemed crucial as a possible camp for the war cultists, DuBois decided that they would instead pay a visit to the nearby hamlet of Moulins. Necromancy offended his sense of justice, and the smallness of the community should make it easy to expose such evil. The rest of the men trained for the coming action (and Hyuddumm gained 1 XP).

In the morning, the party took the imperial road north and then headed east to Moulins, which lay in a river valley stripped of trees, with the Isoile River passing through. As they approached the hamlet, Quetzal spotted an excavation into a nearby hillside, exposing a large gateway into darkness. The rusting gate groaned as Hyuddumm and Jean pulled it open (granting the occupants within Awareness for the impending encounter.

Inside, they found a large and ancient imperial tomb complex. Jean led the way, torch in hand, and used it to burn through a large web blocking the corridor. That was when the four delve crawlers (big spiders) attacked, dropping from above.

.., to be continued.
Last edit: 17 Feb 2023 23:15 by Shellhead.
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18 Feb 2023 22:06 #338378 by Shellhead
Note: most of the maps that I will be using, at least for indoor locations, are from my Ptolus campaign. Some cost a bit of money, but a lot of them were free, and links to all are available here:

So I went through my map collection and found some fairly generic rooms and passages and randomly threw this quick dungeon together:

The red dots represent exploration tokens where I can hopefully pick up some loot. There are three undead skeletons guarding a couple of exploration tokens at the center of this level. There are stairs going down, as I already know that this delve has at least three levels.

Here is a closeup of my party making first contact with the giant spider, er delve crawler:
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18 Feb 2023 22:48 #338380 by Shellhead
A delve crawler dropped from the ceiling onto Jean, sinking fangs into his shoulder. Jean drops the torch as the poison surges into his veins, then falls to the floor. Quetzal screeches in rage.

Hyuddumm roars and charges the crawler, killing it with a single blow from his bastard sword. A second spider rushes him and scores a wound, but Hyuddumm drives it back. A third crawler lunges but Hyuddumm blocks with his shield.

Floki and Henri nock arrows and fire at the spiders. Floki kills one, but Henri misses. Quetzal rushes forward with violent intent, but gets control of himself and casts a Barrier. Due to the narrow passage, Count DuBois is unable to get close to the action.

The delve crawlers try to get at the heroes, but are held back by the magical barrier, splaying their limbs against the invisible force. Floki and Henri fire more arrows, and this time Henri kills a crawler. Though the barrier fades, the last crawler flees into the darkness beyond torchlight. The heroes pursue it, but were delayed by the fading barrier and can't keep up with the superior mobility of the spider.

To save face, the Count wants to press on, in hopes of finding evidence of the necromancers or at least some loot. His man Henri agrees, and Quetzal seeks vengeance, so Hyuddumm and Floki decide to stay silent about their objections for now.

First, they find a pool of some toxic looking oil that is emitting fumes. The Count manages to stagger away before he is overcome. Next, they accidentally trigger an alarm. Finally, they are ambushed by the final spider, who manages to wound Henri twice before Quetzal smites him with his staff. Even Count DuBois is ready to admit that it is time to leave.

The cost is high. Jean dies from the crawler poison, and his damaged staff is used to mark his grave outside the tombs. Henri's wounds are less than lethal, and he should recover within 3 days. Hyunndumm will be fine by morning. The loot was disappointing, consisting of exactly one war spear. However, Hyunndumm, Quetzal, and Floki all level up. Hyunndumm takes an agility increase, to 2. Quetzal gets a casting bonus, bringing him to +2. Floki receives an increase in speed, from 4" to 6" for base movement, though his dash speed remains +3".
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19 Feb 2023 12:12 #338383 by Shellhead
It's premature to do a review, but I have formed a decent initial impression of Five Leagues From the Borderlands. The combat system is lean and mean, but manages to have a bit of tactical depth. Ranged attacks have a clear advantage, to the point where the rules actively limit your warband to a maximum of two ranged weapons, not counting mystics who might have spells with ranged effects. The starting agility scores are so low they are in the basement, so early combats in a campaign will generally feature your enemies going first. Unless you gained agility in the character generation process, you will need to roll a 1 to get initiative. Fey-blooded characters get a re-roll on initiative, and there is spell that can help with initiative for a full round. The series of exchanges in melee is novel and interesting, and can also lead to some lethal outcomes.

The campaign turns are interesting, addressing logistics like keeping your warband fed and getting them healed. Aside from a single Heal spell, most healing requires either time or medical supplies like bandages and herbal tea. I still haven't figured out to use my two campaign actions per turn efficiently, and it seems like money will be an ongoing concern.

The level of creativity that this game requires hits a sweet spot for me. The tables and the rules offer a lot of structure, but occasionally I need to flex my imagination a bit to explain a particular random outcome. However, putting the delve map together for that tomb encounter was a little disappointing, because I want to explore and find new things, not create them on the fly and know exactly what to expect. I could probably be a lot more creative about the worldbuilding, but I was anxious to get to the point where I could try out a combat, plus I always wanted to play a game set in Averoigne.

The part that I am not yet ready to review is the overall campaign arc. Right now, my fragile little warband seems unlikely to overcome all the threats in this campaign, but maybe things will get easier with some more levelling up. Still, the money seems too tight and there is that big initiative advantage for the bad guys. I will continue posting here as I play, but I will dial back the level of detail and narration a bit.
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26 Feb 2023 21:42 - 26 Feb 2023 21:50 #338465 by Shellhead
The Count ordered the warband to set up camp near the delve, but not too near. They lived off the land and rested for a couple of days, until everybody was fully healed. The first level of the delve was as quiet as, well, a tomb. The warband took the stairs down, with Hyuddumm in the lead. He turned the corner and saw a goblin patrol a short distance away.

There was a fierce battle, followed by two more battles as two more goblin patrols investigated the noise. Once again, Hyuddumm's shield saved his life, but otherwise the heroes decisively won each battle. As silence reigned, the warband continued to explore. A goblin ambushed Henri and seriously injured him, then died on Hyuddumm's blade. Later, Hyuddumm also fell senseless, while fighting goblin sentries that were guarding some loot.

All in all, the heroes fought seven skirmishes and emerged victorious. Amongst other goods, they found a wondrous healing potion and dragonfire grenade. Though both Henri and Hyuddumm would need days to recover, Count DuBois decided that the healing potion should be saved for a more serious situation. Said potion can even bring the imbiber back from a mortal wound. Would that they had found it when Jean was dying.

To avoid the risks of extended camping or travel, the Count decided that the warband should go to Moulins, in hopes of better medical care and a shorter rest.

(EDIT: everybody gained a decent amount of XP this time, such that everybody is 3rd level now, except Henri who is 2nd level but has moved up from follower to hero.
Last edit: 26 Feb 2023 21:50 by Shellhead.
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