GW2: Battle for Lion’s Arch Guide – Fight Tactics and Tips (Spoilers?)

If only I could see the Scarlet fight at higher graphic settings...

Spoiler warning: Your definition of what can be spoiled may or may not include guides that highlight battle tactics and what to look out for.

I didn’t actually think that it would be necessary to write a guide about the fight mechanics for this event.

Then I popped into several random overflows and read a couple blogs from those who play GW2 at a very infrequent, casual level and decided that my personal perspective was -definitely- being colored by my new habit of logging onto the TTS teamspeak, and joining the group of 100-200+ players there who try their best to cram into an overflow together, linked by voice chat, with the ability to hear and give directions and organize on the fly without having to lift fingers from the movement keys.

Objectively, if you log in, completely new to the event, without even the experience of having done the previous Marionette or Tequatl or Wurm fights (or fractals or dungeons, say), the complexity of the mechanics, so different from regular open world PvE, coupled with the utter chaos of having 50-150 players in the same spot, the encounter is probably going to be very confusing.

Let’s add on the possibility that one’s graphic settings might be set too high for your computer to handle such huge numbers of people in one spot. Folks who don’t regularly WvW or attend events where zergs congregate may suddenly be faced with choking CPUs. (I feel your pain. My FPS hovers around 20 or less, thanks to a cruddy CPU bottleneck, on lowest settings.)

That’s a pretty tough situation to try and figure out fight mechanics, on your own, on the fly.

And few people seem to be teaching in map chat just yet.

Maybe they think it’s obvious. Maybe they just can’t say anything because they can’t lift their fingers from their movement and dodge keys without dying.

So. Guide.

Or rather, random tips and rambling because I haven’t figured out how comprehensive this needs to be.

Assault Knights

At :55 every hour, three assault knights will spawn at their locations in Lion’s Arch. Blue, Green, and Red.

knightlocations

(Blue is Dynamic. Green is Synergetic. Red is Static. Remembering this may come in handy later on, but for now, let’s use the easy color coding.)

On the hour, they turn aggressive and players can attack.

The newest hotfix is discouraging player zerging behavior by ensuring only 50 players can damage a knight at any one time. Players must pick up the colored buff from the circles around the knight before they can do any damage to the knight.

calibration

Note the “Synergetic Calibration” number in the event UI.

This is the number of players that can still go to the event and pick up the buff.

If it is at 0, find another knight.

assaultknightbar

Reading their target bar tells you that they change modes.

In their first mode, they remove and reflect conditions. This means whatever conditions you do to it, it’s going to fly off the knight and ricochet onto other players or yourself.

PLEASE, before your next fight, take the time to read your weapon skills and figure out what weapons you have do conditions and which don’t, and consider using the appropriate ones.

Also press H and read your stats and see how much condition damage stat you have. The higher it is, the more careful you want to be at this point, because it’s going to make life difficult for folks around you. (And if they keel over dead, the knight is not going to go down within the time limit.)

At 75% health (and 25% health), they change modes to now become condition-sensitive.

assaultknightbar2

See those two new icons? Mouse over them and they’ll tell you that it’s now in condition crash mode.

NOW is the time to switch weapons and let those conditions fly.

The more conditions that pile onto the knight, the higher the red shield buff icon goes, all the way to 50.

While I haven’t directly contrasted the damage numbers yet, I believe this increases the amount of damage that one can do to a knight. (So it appears anyhow, because it is possible to burn through the knight’s hp quite fast when it is in this mode, especially if folks switch to melee when they can and/or use consumables.)

The knight will alternate back to condition reflect mode once more at 50%, and then to condition crash again at 25%.

extractionattack

To make life more interesting, the knight has an Extraction attack which is a big AoE pull, into melee range, where it will then proceed to start beating up on people with knockdown and rather wide cleaving high damage attacks.

This should be DODGED.

Suggestions that have all worked for me, include:

  • Once you see the big orange AoE circle, count to 3, then dodge.
  • Once you see the big orange AoE circle, wait for it to disappear, then dodge. (Most reliable for me, personally.)
  • Once you see the big orange AoE circle, wait for the knight to jump up into the air, and dodge. (Slightly iffy with my latency.)
  • Or if you want to be fancy, you will note that the center of the circle is actually safe from the pull. If you’re at mid-range, you can dodge forward into the safe zone, chill out for a bit, and then dodge back out again before the knight starts doing massive melee damage for a while. (If you’re in melee range, you’re fine from the pull, just watch that health bar when the knight starts swinging its big hammer around.)

If you do get yanked, please hammer your dodge key and get out of melee range double quick. Use a stun break if you’re knocked down. The good news is that the crazy melee damage seems to have been tweaked down post-hotfix or more delayed, so one has more time to retreat.

It does seem possible to melee the knight at certain points (which I am still trying to figure out  precisely when.) It seems safest to be at her back (facing those luscious buttocks), but note that there are points where the knight does hit for very high damage and it is best not to stick around at those times.

When all the knights are defeated, collect the three colored buffs that are on the ground to form the white prime buff, which will let you enter Scarlet’s Breachmaker via the convenient nearby portal.

Scarlet Phase 1 – Prime Hologram

There is a safe period of 5 minutes from the time the first Assault Knight dies. If you board the drill before this period is up, the fight will not have begun, there will be time to switch weapons, gear, traits, skills, whatever, or communicate and discuss tactics with the people around you.

If the gap between the first and last knight going down is longer than 5 minutes, chances are very likely that you’ll load right into a fight that has already begun. (And right into a laser AoE. Tough luck on that achievement.)

primehologram

The fight actually ramps up quite slowly to get you used to the mechanics. (Which is all very well when playing it as intended, but less so when loading in mid-battle.)

Collect all three colors to create the white prime attunement buff that lets you do the maximum damage to the prime hologram.

Collecting at least one color will allow you to do -some- damage to the prime hologram, though if you’re going for the In Tune achievement, you need to match the color exactly.

Attacking with no attunement will not do any damage, and give you stacks of a counter. If it reaches 10, you get damaged and knocked down.

noattunement

Don’t let it get to 10. (And if you’re going for the achievement, you can’t get this ever. Turn off auto-attack to prevent accidents.)

It is not possible to leave the platform and come back again, so do try to rez downed players whenever possible. If you are dead, all hope is not lost, even if all players ignore you, one of the named NPCs may come by and be your personal hero and get you back on your feet again.

The Prime Hologram will shoot prime laser AoE blasts which are cued by big rectangular orange AoE blocks, and then linger around as a patch of damage for a while.

It is possible to dodge/evade over these patches of damage, with only a small amount of damage, to collect the buffs. (Unless you’re going for the corresponding achievement, in which case, it is best to avoid all sources of damage from the Prime Hologram.)

It is also possible to run through the center, where the laser AoE does not reach, to get to the colored buffs.

However, be on the lookout for the -other- attack the Prime Hologram has.

primeholocircleaoe

Which is a circular AoE that does a Prime Laser Blast of some sort, right in the center, doing damage and radial knockback.

Sometimes, this orange circle doesn’t render for me, so I would advise people with similar problems to look out for the prime hologram’s animation tell before dashing through the center for that last yummy color.

-It rises up and begins floating off the ground.- Expect it to come down with a bang. Don’t be there during that time.

As the Prime Hologram loses health, the amount of laser blasts flying around will grow more numerous. The colored buff circles will be spaced in much more annoying fashion. Repulsive circular domes will be obstacles in your path and knock you around if you run into them without stability. Scarlet will come down from her platform and troll people by being an extra target (whose health bar seems rather impossible to scratch) and targeting a random person with a bomb icon and ticking AoE to get away from.

Basically, a lot more moving parts to keep track of, until it’s defeated.

Scarlet Phase 2 – Three Colored Holograms

The Prime Hologram will split up into three colored holograms: blue, green and red.

Blue is Dynamic. Green is Synergetic. Red is Static.

Each requires the corresponding color buff to be picked up to do damage to it.

red

Red is designed more for ranged, imo. (Though it is possible to melee, with interruptions.)

It shoots projectiles which create fire ground AoEs when they land. (I’m not 100% sure, but perhaps these can be reflected.)

It will also do a rolling ground shockwave and air clap that the Molten Berserker from the Molten Alliance uses. Jump/dodge the ground shockwave, and don’t jump into the air clap.

green

Green is designed more for melee, imo. (Though it is possible to range, with interruptions.)

From time to time, it will pop up the reflect shield that the Toxic Alliance krait nimross has, which will happily send all projectiles you fire straight back into you. (Or perhaps some poor bastard standing in front of you.)

Mid-range is impeded by the presence of the toxic spores which grow periodically and explode in an AoE when a player gets close.

meleegreen

To me, it’s best to dodge roll in, past the toxic spores, and position oneself so that one is not caught by any exploding circular AoEs, and then go nuts in melee range inside the reflect shield.

However, players still need to be alert as one player will occasionally be marked with a pulsing AoE that does damage to anyone else nearby. If this is you, don’t stand around near other players. Move away please.

blue

Blue is made for condition damage people.

It has stacks of a condition shield, which requires conditions to be thrown on before the shield dissipates.

It has very high toughness, so power builds will be doing some tens or hundreds of damage to the hologram only. Still, every little bit helps to whittle away at it. Expect blue to take much longer to go down than the other two holograms and adjust accordingly.

(Condition damage users will probably want to prioritize blue first and get all those high condition damage stacks layered on it before the hoi polloi come in and ruin it with their hefty 0 condition damage and rampant mis-use of condition applying skills.)

bluecone

Blue also does a wide cone attack. To avoid it more easily, it’s best to be in melee or mid-range, so that there’s less distance to roll before reaching safety.

It is best to defeat all holograms at the same time (or rather, within 30s-1min of each other) so that it goes straight into phase 3 and does not spawn additional smaller holograms.

Given sufficient time to recover, each defeated hologram will split into six micro-holograms. Mis-timing the simultaneous defeat can lead to significant nuisance factor as 18 small holograms mill around each other, needing the correct color buff to be damaged, and being very hard to tell apart beyond a colored indicator atop each one that can still be damaged.

A working strategy at the moment is for the zerg to all attack red until its health is low, then move on to green until its heath is low, then cycle around to blue to kill it. Once it is dead, the zerg splits to take down the remaining sliver of health red and green has.

(Alternate strategies can be to take down each color one at a time, so that the micro-holograms can be zerged down without too much mixing around, or in the worse case scenario, slowly whittling down 18 micro-holograms until they’re all dead. Obviously, these are more time-consuming and may risk exceeding the time limit.)

Scarlet Phase 3 – Ultraviolet Prime Hologram

The last phase is surprisingly easy for a decentralized zerg mind to handle.

Laser AoEs will divide up the platform into multiple small safe areas. The zerg naturally spreads out.

Small microprime holograms will spawn. All players will already have the white prime attunement buff.

The goal: Kill all the microprime holograms. This will steadily damage the big one. Three rounds of this are needed.

Microprime holograms shoot a small rectangular laser AoE. Defeated holograms will explode with a circular AoE. Don’t stand in any of the orange AoEs. Kill anything small and red-named near you.

Assuming you haven’t run out of time, that’s it! You’ve humbled Scarlet! Follow her into the end instance to finish her off.

OH, AND DON’T FORGET TO LOOT YOUR REWARD CHEST.

Which is between the middle where the big hologram was, and the door that Scarlet leaves into. A random person in one of my parties was -very- miffed that he didn’t see it before jumping right into the instance. No way back.

This is perhaps more rambling than usual, mostly because the mechanics seem very learnable via just being there and reading tooltips and going through the fight a few times, so I’m really not sure what is obvious or not obvious, and what should be stressed or not.

But if it helps someone who had information overload during the chaos, especially if it helps them enjoy the fight more as a result, then writing this would be worth it. 🙂

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GW2: Morale and The Psychology of Losing

This Sunday, the strongest stand out memories are the two hour breaks of -not- playing Guild Wars 2, in order to get away from the hidden dangers of WvW to a newbie dipping one’s toes into a competitive format. 🙂

You see, I started getting an inkling something was wrong when I developed a headache. An honest to goodness -real- headache from playing a computer game.

The last 12 hours or so have been pretty bad. No doubt, some of this is due to sleep deprivation as I’ve been up at weird hours looking in on this week’s match, catching both NA and Oceanics in action. (I do crazy shit like this from time to time.)

I had an incredible morale high this morning (NA night time) as combined arms and lots of siege broke open a keep, along with an incredible continuous reinforcement rush (died three times easily) to hold one successfully even as a horde was knocking on the keep lord.

Then plunged to an abyssal low during the afternoon and night (NA wee morning hours and Sunday morning) as it grew obvious that the bulk of whoever was on during this time was not organized, failed to grasp strategy or spend siege to take or defend places, and worse of all, did not pay attention to the team/map chat.

A trebuchet knocked down a tower’s wall. Around 30-40 were outside zerging the place. 10-15 defenders. Guesses on how many people looked up from AoEing what was in front of them, read the chat, went left and into the tower. You are correct if you surmised less than the number of fingers on one hand. After dying horribly inside, I looked about at the 4-5 corpses inside and sighed.

A keep was lost when no one communicated clearly until it was nigh unto too late to do anything, and the frantic panicked screaming of “THEIR INSIDE KEEP” “INNER GATE” failed to move the said zerg that were still obsessed with failing to take above tower.

Yet another keep was lost as a significant bulk of people failed to read the chat and come to the rescue of those fighting off invaders at the keep lord, preferring instead to continue zerg duking it out on the bridge on the courtyard between outer and inner keep walls, failing to realize that they would be wiped out the moment the keep changed hands, with the walls locking in place around them and the happy victors emerging to scour the grounds.

Stuff like that does terrible things to one’s morale.

I’m only human, alas.

And yes, it gets frustrating and aggravating when things happen beyond your control, and despite your best efforts, the situation still seems helplessly uncontrollable and doomed to fail.

After quickly withdrawing to variously take a nap, go for a swim, have some tea, plan the next blog post (and reading up on the functions of morale in combat, the psychology of losing and how sportsmen and competitive gamers handle defeat well, badly or otherwise) and hovering between attempting to calm down and gritting one’s teeth from the pain of the headache, it was rather obvious that the tension and stress and pent up frustration were getting to me.

I especially have a personal problem with this since if you recall, I straddle two divides:

1) The primarily PvE player dipping toes into PvP and/or competitive formats

PvE players are used to having easy fun. That is, we want to win 85-100% of the time, as long as we play passably well.

Logically, this does not and cannot happen in PvP. There is always a winner and a loser to a match.

In a balanced game, that means even the best will be winning 50% of the time at most, as they eventually get matched against people just as good.

The slightest misbalance due to the other guy’s skill and strategy, your personal lack of it or emotional composure or circumstances otherwise beyond your control, and guess what, you’ll be losing a majority of the time, rather than just 50%.

Hell, in WvW format, there are always two losers to one winner, if you want to look at it in that light. So as some guy in a forums mentioned, 2/3 of the people are “losing” at any point in time.

2) Having a tendency to be obsessively hardcore and fixate upon success / winning / a goal

Normal (casual playing) people don’t frequent game forums twice a day or more, don’t write blogs dissecting games, and spend their time alternatively brooding on the moment-to-moment point scoring in a week-long match and reading up obsessively on potential strategies and ways to improve one’s play.

Nor do they sit around looking and reading up all manner of articles on a particular topic of interest wondering how other people deal with the problem they are having.

It’s just a small subset of the population that is blessed/plagued with such a personality, and I happen to be one of those individuals.

Been there, done that, don’t like how it made me.

I don’t want to be constantly tense and angry, I don’t want to blow up on people or insult or abuse them, I don’t want all my self-worth to be predicated on being number 1 and being so scared and ego-driven to maintain it.

Worse, taken to an extreme, we get folks who even go past the controversial edge of Sirlin’s Play to Win philosophy and start cheating, hacking and exploiting for the sake of a) a number on a scoreboard or b) to make other people angry (their new ‘win’ condition.)

That’s a definitive line for me. Much to my misfortune, I have too much bloody integrity to ever consider doing shit like that.

Besides, I already get in enough trouble emotionally and physically (I’m getting too old for sleep deprivation and alarm-clock gaming, dammit) before I go past that line.

When looked at objectively in this fashion, it becomes clear that if we want to continue playing around with PvP and competitive formats, we need to get used to “losing” and get out of the mindset of playing to win being all important.

This is not a new concept. It’s as old as competition and sports.

Just idly flipping through stuff people have written, I’ve found such disparate things as a discussion thread about losing Starcraft 2 matches and how different players deal with the blow to one’s morale, an advice article on a wiki about Starcraft 2 anxiety playing ladder games that run the risk of doing horrible things to one’s ranking with a loss (or so I gather, I don’t own SC2 yet,) a Warhammer article about the impact of losing on player morale and how it impacts one’s judgement and decision-making while tabletop gaming, and even a general sports article on emotional mastery and how various athletes may react in a competition.

I’m especially amused by the last one, because it gives one of those cheesy classifications that group people into different styles. He differentiates between the seether, the rager, the brooder and the Zen Master.

Watch any sports competition and there’s a pretty hefty grain of truth in the simplistic classification. Everyone can tell the explosive ragers, who wear their frustration on their sleeves, have little self-control and will no doubt be voted ‘most likely to break their wrists punching a wall.’ The seethers also steadily become obvious if the match doesn’t go their way, and you can see them gradually lose it and their play deteriorating.

I identify most strongly with a brooder, alas. My impulse is to think bad thoughts, look upon a situation helplessly and then become avoidant and sneak off without a word or quit silently, because it’s just as pointless to scream and yell at idiots or the just plain ignorant.

The Zen Master, naturally, is the ideal goal to strive toward. Being unaffected by emotions, being focused and playing consistently, win or lose.

I’m thinking I need to make something like that my new goal, rather than obsess about winning or the scoreboard. I believe competition has some very important life lessons to teach – about teamwork, about handling loss, about self-improvement, maturity and so on.

And Guild Wars 2 is a nice format to do it in, because of the whole server togetherness thing. By design, it doesn’t make you feel alone (as one would be if playing a 1 vs 1 competition match) or in a completely hostile world with anyone ready to backstab you at any time (see other open world PvP formats.)

It straddles the line of organized groups being decisively more effective, which is a little personally disappointing to me as I’m reluctant to invest that sort of commitment, but I’ll respect that others really enjoy that playstyle, and it’s beautiful to watch in action.

And I really like that the design encourages organized guilds to pay attention to the lonely souls like me – any warm body can be a help at times.

And while we sometimes cannot expect much of a pug zerg and want to chew nails in frustration trying to herd cats and teach people who don’t even seem to read chat or understand English, let alone talk back and communicate, successfully respecting and teaching/training the average pug to become an effective militia seems to have been one of the factors why Henge of Denravi is in the top position it is.

It’s just going to take time, a lot of patience and kindness and teaching towards both the self and others.

From a calmer, objective perspective though, I find it both alternatively great and fascinating that WvWvW is capable of replicating such ‘combat’ situations in miniature.

I’ve always found that MMOs are a great way to learn about real life in microcosm. In 4-5 years of playing an MMO, you can learn a lot of life lessons that would normally take folks 40 years to work through in real time.

Any student of war and history knows the importance of morale to overall success in an engagement. In this monograph by a Major Cox from the School of Advanced Military Studies, he states:

Morale and unit cohesion are a reality of warfare. They are as much a factor of war as wounds and death. The commander that fails to recognize the importance of these factors is the commander who will fail in combat.

These two components of war are segments of the undeniably human influence in warfare. This human influence is the element of warfare that is unpredictable and as Michael Howard states, contributes to the ‘fog of war.’

Anyone who has been within various kinds of WvW zergs can no doubt recognize the truth within those words. Some groups are full of confidence and plow right on through any opposition. (See any successful orb running zerg for a good example, folks tend to throw themselves at the enemy in order to protect the orb runner, and conversely, people hellbent on destroying the orb runner may also fling themselves into certain death without worrying about the cost.)  Some are hesitant and full of individuals bent on self-preservation, rather than the achievement of a goal, and quickly break apart in all directions, fleeing with shattered morale in the face of more confident seeming opposition.

The real question, of course, is how to make the latter group more like the former.

A lot seems to hinge on good leadership. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is always a fun read, as he talks about the importance of always having a strategic plan of attack and all warfare being based on a deception. It’s painfully obvious that Isle of Janthir is still lacking such a focus at times as the point score gets run away with, now and then, but well, since I’m not prepared to sacrifice my time or life to be commander-ing anything, I will shut up armchair general-ing and just wait patiently for such leaders to emerge.

(We have some, we’re not completely bereft, but apparently the more definitely hardcore servers are arranging crazy shit like scheduling commanders at all hours of a day. That may be a bit too crazy for IoJ to ever contemplate, in which case, we will have to settle with being where we are and come to accept that we choose to balance our WvW game time with other things of import.)

But morale is also contingent on good communication and the teamwork/trust bond between individuals until they feel like part of something greater than themselves.

In this, I think every individual has a part they can play if they so choose. We can practice reporting sightings of enemy servers by how many there are (roughly), which server and what location. We can learn the locations that are being referenced. We can learn the maps, all the nooks and crannies. We can work on improving our play, our gear/stats/skills/traits.

And we can teach. Or just talk out loud and mention obvious things like “remember to take supply” even though we sound like a broken record, because it may not be obvious at all to someone just joining WvW for the first time. Given the number of casual players playing GW2 and just hitting the mid and high levels that may make them feel brave enough to step into WvW, they may still be figuring things out.

It’s not easy, certainly. I don’t really like to say anything aloud if there’s no plan. Take supply for what, if we’re not going to siege anywhere? And there’s the fear of rejection aka wild n00b l33tspeak attack frenzy, but maybe others feel less inhibited.

I do tells and whispers fine though. Perhaps I can work on that.

I sent a tell once to a random person who was looking for the entrance to the jumping puzzle, he had trouble finding it and I took him there. He was grateful and it made me feel warm and fuzzy. Then I sent a tell offering to sight for another person who seemed to having trouble aiming a treb and it was like speaking into a black hole. A simple “no” would have sufficed, but maybe the person didn’t even know how to reply. *sighs*

I also sent a tell to a guy operating a ballista who was blowing up trebs that I couldn’t seem to target for the life of me, and asked how the heck he was doing it. He was nice enough to tell me to click the bottom of the treb to target it, and while it still seemed ridiculously far and impossible to target (were my graphics settings the problem?), I’ll be working on improving that part of my game the next time. So this stuff goes both ways.

We have to eventually create an atmosphere where it’s okay to talk to each other and ask stupid questions and teach each other. It’s really hard when we’re working uphill against the solo in an MMO – WoW Barrens chat abuse impulse, but if we don’t work on it, then it will be no one’s fault but ours that we’re standing alone. Time will tell, I guess.

If there’s a good lesson to be learnt from WvW and PvP, it’s how to be patient, persistent and pick oneself up when one falls down. Keep trying. Keep fighting the good fight.

(And no, that does not mean look straight ahead and target nearest enemy. You get flanked that way. Please pick up some situational awareness. Please…)

I’m referring to a social fight, an organization fight, a strategic fight, a community fight.

GW: The Majesty of Rotscale

Ah, Rotscale.

I have no Ancient Times stories about Rotscale. I doubt I explored that far.

Even if I did eventually wander into Majesty’s Rest, it was generally a case of “I came, I saw, I died. Repeatedly.”

But I do have tremendous respect for him. How could you not? He sits up on a rise, the King of the Dracoliches, flanked by the most scary-looking Council of Undead Dragons of Way Higher Level Than 20, ready to challenge all comers.

The flaming Balthazar statue and the entourage of smoke phantoms herald the path toward him.

It was probably only a couple years ago that I felt ready to attempt taking on Rotscale, with a more sturdy Paragon and slightly better built heroes. There were a lot of solo experiments, failed attempts to pull, many deaths, frustration with Frozen Soil, much Googling of ancient forum posts dating back to 2006-2007 and in the end, maybe a 25-50% chance of defeating him and his gang on Normal Mode, don’t even begin to talk about Hard Mode.

There were vague memories of having a much easier time during the Halloween festival. At the time, I wasn’t sure why, but the next Halloween refreshed my memory as to why. One got a whole contingent of Candy Corn Men to help out.

Somewhere through the painful learning process, it eventually hit me that the statue of Balthazar might be there for a reason, and there was such a thing as /kneeling in front of altars. Oh hey, a buff! Many buffs!

I might have wanted to prove that I could do it without ‘outside’ help at the time. These days, my advice to anyone wanting to fight Rotscale. Take the buff. Take all the buffs you need. It’s a lot less painful. The key is not to let anyone die and Frozen Soil screw you over, so buff up those heroes’ hp and their regen (and your own) by any means necessary.

A year ago, in 2011, I decided it was finally time for the ultimate test. A Majesty’s Rest vanquish. Yep, Hard Mode Rotscale. He still kicked my ass around the place, so eventually, sometime during Halloween, this happened:

Note the insane number of buffs I threw on. Consets, the altar buff, probably candy of various sorts or whatever. The Candy Corn Men came along for the vanquish too, but I think they all wiped during the big push. Even my heroes have been downed twice somewhere along the way.

The fight was pretty colossal and raid-like in scope for me being by my lonesome. Literally minutes went by as we kept stalemating his hp and trying to drive it ever so slightly lower.

Eventually, it gave out and I was the happy owner of a golden icon signifying a successful area vanquish. Epic.

I gotta admit in retrospect that my hero builds were still not as good as they could be. Their gear is not entirely ideal. And didn’t have Panic yet, for example.

These days, I take Gwen and Vekk around as double mesmers, able to switch between panic or energy surge builds as needed and very interrupty. (I take Vekk for a number of reasons: I spent quite a while kitting out his gear with ludicrous amounts of +energy, I hate the look of the other mesmer heroes, and who can resist a snotty Asura? He can also switch to searing flames elementalist as needed.)

But hey, a win is a win, even if it’s 5 years after others have done it and with more effort than thou.

For the Wayfarer’s Reverie, I went in Normal Mode, something I was confident of getting done with just altar buffs and no need for strange confluences of buffs and overkill.

While taking screenshots, in extreme nostalgia mode and thus paying close attention to the scenery, I noticed something I never took conscious note of before.

Can you spot them?

Bugs. Red bugs. In the grasses off the road, if you walk into them, there are huge swarms of little red bugs flying around, and if you listen to the ambient sound, there are distinct cricket-like insect-y sounds.

Close up of the critters

They’re tiny little sprites at best, but, I mean, wow. Someone went through the trouble of putting such tiny barely noticeable detail into the map. Just for… I dunno, subconscious ambience?

Seriously, who pays attention to itty bitty red beetles when one is worrying about how to best place oneself to defeat Rotscale?

But they’re there. Just because.

Talk about immersion and ArenaNet not doing things halfway. Mad props and kudos.

One hectic fight later, where happily, no one died, it was time to claim the quest waypoint in style.

Thus passes the dracolich…

Red Sand, Black Moon: Dwarf vs Elf, Playtest #1

Go figure, I said I was tired of combat as a conflict resolution mechanism but in my search for narrative across solo roleplaying blogs (the Solo Nexus is a good place to start), the following ideas gelled together in my head.

  • Until Fantalonia talked about it, it never occurred to me that I could print cardstock and paper miniatures at a reduced scale of two pages to one sheet of paper and that would approximately shrink it down to 15-20mm scale.

I’ve always been used to the 25-30mm scale, which looks great, but is a bitch to set up on the dining table with your family giving you dirty looks because that’s where one is supposed to eat, not arrange a giant diorama (that cannot be moved) on top of it.

For solo wargaming, 15mm is much more portable, easier to find an undisturbed surface to play on and easier to store. Pretty compelling reasons for giving it a try.

  • Here’s another blog that uses Red Sand, Black Moon rules in a post-apocalyptic setting. Gorgeous looking paint jobs on the minis.

I’d previously flipped through a couple of cheaper old and free rules from their website. Their main differentiator is what they term a Chain Reaction mechanic, which allows for both sides to react and exchange fire in the same turn, rather than passively waiting for each other in standard “I go, you go” turn-based fashion. There are generally also mechanics for a sort of “NPC AI” which allows a solo gamer to play one side and make decisions for that side, while letting the rules and random dice control the movements of the opposing side.

But until now, I never seriously bothered to learn any of their rulesets or playtest them because learning the rules involves a fair bit of flipping up and down pages, referring to a lot of tables, and cross-checking like mad, hoping you didn’t miss a crucial sentence and screw up the reactions or NPC AI, wondering when the hell you’d finally internalize the rules to make them second nature and reduce the frequency of all that checking.

Two gladiators now, that seemed easier to get a grasp on, rather than multiple squads of people.

I had an earlier version of their ancient gladiatorial combat rules, Red Sand, Blue Sky, but after flipping through it, it looked like the newer versions had undergone some serious refinement. New arena and zones of movement concept, instead of measuring inches, and so on. So I bit the bullet and bought the Red Sand, Black Moon rules, which would offer guidelines on adapting fantasy figs, rather than cleave faithfully to Roman gladiatorial combat styles.

(To be honest, I’m not terribly in favor of the lethality of vanilla RSBM fights though, so I might pick up their new RSBS rules some day or try to figure out based on the old rules if there’s a way to shove in some defeated/yield/surrender mechanics. But that’s a project for another day.)

Still, if I was going to learn the rules, best to play it as directed.

Browsing One Monk Miniatures yielded up some free paper models from their Forum Hoard that inspired the arena setup and narrative setting. We’d start simple, mano a mano combat between two characters and ramp up the complexity from there.

First off, a very simple tournament of four. Two fights of 2 vs 2, and the victors will fight each other.

A prisoner’s dilemma it wasn’t. The goblin capered and cackled as he translated the orc shaman’s guttural speech into the common tongue. “You step in magic ring, we give you back armor and axe. You fight. For glory of Blood God. Last one who stand, we let go free. Dead ones, we eat.

If you not fight, then you useless and we also eat.”

Kordan Stonebreaker glared back at the creature through the bars of the cage as he cracked his knuckles, thick fingers knotting  as he imagined wringing its scrawny neck. Not only did this orc tribe have goblin hangers-on, they had three very big ogres to back them up. Still, the only way they’d caught him was cos he was stone drunk and napping at the time.

“That’s fine by me,” he rumbled. He’d seen the other three prisoners. A pair of humans and a stinking elf. None of them looked to be much trouble, his freedom was pretty much there for the taking.

It figured, they’d match him up with the pansy elf first. Kordan threw on his helmet and his chainmail in a hurry, watching out of the corner of his eye the elf putting on some leather armor and testing the weight of a short sword.

The orc shaman had drawn a circle of blood demarcating the boundaries of the fight. Palpable dark power emanated from the clotted liquid, making the hairs on the back of his arms stand on end. The dwarf resolved not to go anywhere near it.

“Fight fight!” screamed the little goblin as he waved a spear much too big for him.

“Let’s get it over with,” Kordan said, hefting his axe with both hands, and marching toward the centre of the circle.

The elf didn’t move, just frowned with furrowed brow, his sword slack in his grip.

(Round 1: Dwarf wins initiative and moves toward centre of the arena. Elf stays where he is.)

Kordan again took the initiative and stomped dead centre into the ring. “Come on, elf. Whaddya afraid of? I ain’t gonna ‘et you. They are!”

The elf met his eyes and walked steadily forward. “Look, dwarf, I don’t want to fight y-”

(Round 2: Dwarf wins initiative and moves into centre of the arena. Elf approaches one zone towards dwarf.)

“Too bad, cos I do,” Kordan charged, axe raised. It clanged against the elf’s swiftly raised sword. They circled, the elf easily matching the dwarf’s movements. A few exchanges later, Kordan moved back, unable to find an opening.

The elf pushed into the centre, angry now, raining down a flurry of blows, which Kordan blocked adroitly with the haft of his axe. Unable to press any advantage, the elf also backed off.

(Round 3: Dwarf wins initiative, moving into elf’s zone. Rolling for maneuvering, adding the successes to speed and other modifiers, they both end up with an equal number of successes. The Maneuver Table indicates the result as the active player unable to find an opening to attack and moving back to the zone they started in.

Elf’s turn, he moves up, maneuvers, equally matched success again, and he moves back to where he started.)

Breathing heavily, the elf told him, “Don’t you see, this is f-“ He broke off in mid-sentence to dodge the dwarf’s charge yet again. They exchanged more blows, the elf steadily increasing the speed of his attacks to a point he hopes the dwarf cannot match.

Panting, Korgan appeared to slip. A triumphant lunge by the elf became an expression of shock as the dwarf neatly sidestepped and brought his axe down. It came down on the elf’s left arm, and bounced right off the suddenly-appearing sphere of blazing energy with a shower of sparks. The shield saved the elf from harm, but the force of the blow sends the elf sprawling facefirst into the ground.

(Round 4: Elf wins initiative, and catches his breath where he is, regaining one bonus dice. The dwarf charges in, the elf wins the maneuver by 1 success and attacks. He scores only 1 success higher than the dwarf. Attack Table indicates the result is to re-take the Attack test, discounting weapon reach and the previously used bonus dice. This time the dwarf wins the attack, 4 succcesses to the elf’s 1 success.

Attack Table result – attacker lunges aggressively, defender steps aside. Attacker is forced into the movement zone directly behind the defender and is now knocked down. Defender scores hit on attacker as he goes by.

Rolling for hit location yields the elf’s left arm, which is conveniently his shielded arm, which protects him from damage.)

“Pah, magic-user,” Korgan spat. Before the elf could recover and get back up, the dwarf ran at him and aimed a series of attacks at his back. It took all of the elf’s agility to block and counter, as he flipped over to face Korgan, just in time for the dwarf to find a way past his defences.

The axe bit deeply into the elf’s chest as the elf threw himself back wildly, narrowly missing the blood barrier of the fighting ring. His nimbleness spared himself a lethal injury to the heart, but Korgan could see blood soaking into the leather regardless.

The elf scrambled upright, his breath coming in pained gasps. He paused to catch his breath, sword in a guard position.

(Round 5: Dwarf wins the initiative. He moves into the elf’s zone.

I had a moment of puzzlement here as I tried to figure out if this meant the dwarf had rear facing on the elf. If the elf fell forward, it would make sense that the dwarf could attack his unprotected back. This was quite important as attacking someone’s rear meant discounting Speed successes, which normally add on an automatic success per point of speed. The rules were also a little unclear as to whether just the rear attacked victim had to discount the speed successes or both.

I eventually decided to allow rear facing and discount just the elf’s Speed, which made for a very lethal maneuver in favor of the rear attacker. 8 successes for the dwarf, 3 for elf. Winning by 3+ successes meant you could bash attack, bite or tail attack, as well as attack an unshielded side. Despite Korgan’s bar-brawling habits, I doubted his bite attack would amount to much, and there was no point to bashing since the elf was already on the floor and would regain his feet on his turn. So attack unshielded side it was.

Luck of the draw, the elf rolled 1 dice and scored 1 success. The dwarf rolled 7 dice and scored only 2 successes. Re-attack again, but this time the elf turns to face opponent.

His luck runs out, the dwarf has 5 successes to his 1, pushing him into the next zone against the arena’s wall. Rolling for hit location and damage, the dwarf scores a serious wound to the chest (-2 to that location, the elf has essentially 3 hitpoints there, equivalent to his strength, narrowly avoiding getting killed outright) and would have knocked down the opponent, except he was already down.

Elf’s turn, he jumps to his feet and catches his breath, having run out of bonus dice defending madly while knocked down.)

Korgan flung himself at the elf again, hewing mightily as if trying to chop down a tree. But the elf defended well, with a fast one-handed movement of his blade, and forced the dwarf back once more, leaving himself yet again a space to recover.

(Round 6: Dwarf wins initiative, he’s low on bonus dice too, but I wanted to press the advantage and charge at the elf again. Maneuvering, they’re evenly matched, the dwarf retreats to his zone. Elf stays where he is and catches his breath again.)

Then the elf moved purposefully on Korgan, attacking him head on. It took all of Korgan’s skill, including some won at bar-brawling, to counter the elf’s rush at him. Their weapons locked together, the dwarf growled and lowered his head, thinking to headbutt the elf.

Oh crap, went through his mind in one swift shocked instant as the elf somehow twisted his blade out of the lock faster than he thought possible, and took advantage of the opening to bring the sword down onto his head.

The clang of metal striking metal was as loud as a hammer hitting an anvil. The dwarf reeled back blindly into the centre of the circle.

Then it was the elf’s turn to look shocked, as Korgan’s eyes uncrossed, and he shook himself like a dog to shake off the impact. He reached stubby fingers up to his battered, dented helmet to feel out the extent of the damage. The force of the blow had sent the edge of the helmet deep into his brow. Blood flowed freely from the gash, but it just looked worse than it really was.

The dwarf spat again, “That the best you can do? I’ve had worse headaches waking up after a night of two dozen pints of Skullsplitters’ finest.”

(Round 7: Elf wins initiative, moves into dwarf’s zone. Maneuvering yields a head on attack for the elf. Evenly matched successes, it’s a draw, both remain in the same zone.

Dwarf’s turn, they maneuver, and the elf wins an attack to his unshielded side. Elf wins the attack roll by 3+ successes, pushing the dwarf back into the arena centre, and rolls a hit location of the head, causing me to stop breathing as I was sure this was the end for Korgan.

Between the elf’s puny strength and Korgan’s armor class, he only manages a Wound of -1 str on the dwarf’s head, and I didn’t even have to bring any dwarf Signatures into play. Korgan has 5 str, so his skull is very thick. 4 hitpoints left. Phew.)

But both fighters were exhausted after that exchange, and they spent a mutual moment breathing hard, their eyes locked on each other, alert for the slightest movement.

(Round 8: Elf wins initiative, and catches his breath to regain a bonus dice. Dwarf is also out of bonus dice, and I decide to let him take advantage of the breather to recover one too.)

The elf, deadly serious now, came at Korgan with a furious flurry, steering the less maneuverable dwarf in a circle. He slid his blade through an opening but it barely scratched the links of Korgan’s chainmail. It left himself open in turn for Korgan to press an attack, but the elf again twisted out of the way in the nick of time. Once more, the elf narrowly just missed scoring another hit, and aggressively attacks yet again.

Which proved his undoing as he fell for one of the dwarf’s feints and lunged forward a mite too far. Off-balance, he staggered and Korgan helped him on his way to the floor as his axe dug deep into the elf’s right arm, tearing into the muscle.

The elf had no time to worry about that wound as the dwarf followed up by jumping right on top of his back and bringing his axe down on the elf’s neck.

The guttural cheers of the orcs and ogres around him heralded his victory as the elf’s severed head rolled to a stop against the blood barrier.

(Round 9: Elf wins initiative, moves up to the dwarf’s zone. Maneuvering, he gets to attack the dwarf’s unshielded side. The dwarf wins by 1 success, re-take Attack test, the elf wins by 1 success, re-take Attack test yet again, then the dwarf wins by 3+ successes. Again the defender lets the attacker lunge past and whacks him as he goes by. The dwarf rolls a hit location of the right arm, which is unshielded, and dings the arm for -2str (aka hitpoints, again the elf narrowly misses having the entire thing chopped off.)

Dwarf’s turn, the rear attack maneuver is like taking candy from a baby – easy, mean and vicious as hell. He rolls a hit location of head, rolls for damage and scores a Killing Stroke!)

“Good! Good! You wait. One more fight, then you fight winner!” screeched the goblin.

The orc shaman was drawing up a new blood circle, the ogres escorting the two humans into it. They flung the fighters’ belongings onto the sand as the shaman finished his chanting.

Korgan looked grimly on from his circle, intent on studying the techniques of his next would-be opponent, the last obstacle to his freedom.

Wow. I’d thought I’d skewed the fight in the dwarf’s favor by giving him Star attributes (5 Savvy, 5 Strength, 4 Speed), since I chose to play him and I wanted a simple fight for my first rules-learning attempt. But the elf (4 Savvy, 3 Strength, 5 Speed), played entirely as an “NPG” or Non-Player Gladiator, moving according to the rules and dice rolls on a table, put up quite a fight.

He’d randomly rolled a Signature trait of Poser, which gave him a 2 dice advantage on maneuvering, but a 2 dice disadvantage on attacking, until he inflicted his first damage. I interpreted it in this context to mean that he didn’t have his heart entirely into the fight at first, as opposed to say ‘playing to the crowd’ posing a typical gladiator might do. His other racially given Signatures, Nimble, Slippery, Strong-Willed were quite effective at simulating how an elf might fight.  That is to say, he was pretty much dancing circles around the dwarf when he maneuvered, especially in combination with his speed.

The dwarf, on the hand, had Signatures of Mass, Resolute and Stout, making him really tough and hard to knock down – though these weren’t really tested in this battle. I picked a Hard as Nails Signature for him as a Star, and his random Signature turned out to be Vicious – giving him two extra Attack dice if he won the Maneuver. Which really made him very nasty when he managed to rear attack the elf twice. The dwarf’s higher Savvy (aka battle prowess) also gave him a slight advantage over the elf when they tangled up in combat.

The bonus dice mechanic was also interesting, simulating a kind of endurance and energy. It really swung the battle back and forth as I had to figure out if I wanted to spend the energy to press the attack or conserve it to defend or attack later, whereas I had no control over when the NPG would decide to spend his bonus dice. There’s an algorithm for that, where you roll all of the NPG’s bonus dice and he will use it if it comes up 1, or 1-2, or 1-3, depending on the situation. There was a round where the elf blew 5 bonus dice and me, having forgotten to declare the dwarf’s bonus dice first, decided to play it fair and say the dwarf spent none.

There’s also a fair bit of luck involved, which yields the element of surprise and emergence for someone playing solo. Just because you get to roll 7 dice only means you might score more successes (rolling 1-3 on a d6). If the dice don’t go your way, you might get less successes than you’d expect. This is adjusted by modifiers here and there to simulate various Signatures and change the probability of something happening.

The whole thing from printing and cutting up and gluing minis, reading the rulebook, assembling the arena and all took the better part of a night, 5+ hours or so, including the fight that took 3-4 hours. But that was me being a big rules stickler and a very slow learner, going backwards and forwards on the iPad with the pdf rulebook. I don’t think that particular racial match up helped either, fast squirmy bugger versus rabid stout rock made for a long back and forth fight.

I was also slowed down by the dice rolling. I went electronic some time back with the Dicenomicon app, but I was getting ready to murder something with all that flipping back and forth between it and Goodreader, where the rules were, so I grabbed the only three tangible plastic d6s I had to hand. Not enough to work with, I’d recommend having a good 10-15 of ’em for faster play, possibly one color for one opponent if at all doable. Gotta dig mine up from wherever they’ve gone for the next time.

With more rules familiarity, it’ll likely go faster, but there is still a lot of tables and special Signature skills to cross-reference.

I am liking the scale. I think by conservative accident, I only shrunk mine to slightly taller than 20mm (it’s about the old Ral Partha 25mm scale mebbe), but with the small arena format, the whole thing fit neatly into an A4 sheet of paper, which these days, is more realistic to maintain and store in the house without mouldering and dust collection than the dreamy ideal grassmats mounted on specialty art store foamcore boards of youth.

All in all, a pretty nice game and a good change of pace. It’s not THE narrative holy grail that I’m still looking for, but I’m glad I tried it. Chalk up one more game in my repertoire.