The Circle Undone – looking for cultists

Hey everybody,

There’s no stopping me now, as I plunge ahead with my Circle Undone campaign! I’ve said this so often during my blogs so far, but I’ve really enjoyed myself with this cycle. The witch/cultist theme is utterly incredible, and I think being set firmly in Arkham has been a real boost, too. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my jaunts into Dunwich and across the Atlantic, but here we’ve got almost the sense of exploring the old board game, and I love it!!

As always with these blogs, spoilers for the scenario will follow!

For the Greater Good sees us rummaging around the Silver Twilight Lodge in search of answers to what is going on. As enemies of the Lodge, my investigators were creeping around trying to avoid alerting anyone to their presence, and it does somehow feel like that’s exactly what we’re doing when playing this one! I’m sure I was trying to breathe quietly, just in case!

As we’ve seen in a number of scenarios now, this one has something of an unfolding map as we investigate further into the Lodge, moving through rooms in our search for clues. It’s not just clues that we’re after though – this scenario uses chaos tokens to represent “keys”, which we’re trying to locate for an unspecified purpose. I assumed it would be something to open the door to the Inner Sanctum but, while some locations are indeed barred to you unless you have a specific key, their purpose is instead linked to a puzzle box that is in the possession of Nathan Wick, a senior member of the Lodge.

The objective here is to get the box and the keys, but the way that the scenario unfolds, all of this feels like it happens quite beautifully and natural. An interesting point to this, the box had no other function in this scenario other than being the McGuffin, which I thought was an interesting point!

The encounter cards are quite an interesting mix, with a few that hate on the investigators for collecting keys (poor Joe was almost driven insane by being the one collecting all four), but otherwise it wasn’t what I’d call a particularly difficult scenario to handle. That said, I’d finally taken the time prior to playing to tune up my decks with some of the 15 experience points I’d earned so far, so maybe that helped!

Things are getting real in the fourth pack, Union and Disillusion, as we follow the Lodge to the Unvisited Isle in an attempt to either help or hinder the ritual. From the start, the atmosphere is laden with dread, as the set-up tells us to decide if we’re with or against the Order. Sheesh!

The Unvisited Isle is yet another classic location of course – and as with each time such a location turns up, we get to really run around and explore things, learning more about the place than we ever did from the board game!

So we’re running around the island, either lighting braziers (if we’re with the Order) or extinguishing them (if we’re with the witches), and there are several callbacks along the way to earlier scenarios, such as being forced to split up at one point. The scenario pack encounter set even includes several cards from the whippoorwill encounter set, calling back Dunwich! The brazier mechanic is quite interesting, involving a combined skill test, for instance you might need to test strength and agility (10) to complete it. Compound skill tests are fairly exciting, if I’m honest, and I’m surprised it has taken this long for the designers to implement them!

Everything kicks off when the Spectral Watcher shows up and starts to make his menacing way towards us. A new location, the Geist Trap, is put into play, and the objective is to defeat the Watcher while there – are you getting Ghostbusters vibes? Good. In a lucky twist, I’d managed to get myself fairly tooled-up so that everything was in place: a brazier must be lit, at a combined skill check of 20, so I’d drawn enough cards that I could comfortably over-commit and make sure the only thing I needed to do was to defeat the blighter!

The ending is a bit weird on this one, if I’m perfectly honest. Having decided to throw in my lot with the Order, I made some story choices along the way that have led to me seemingly dooming the world! The final resolution reads: The true work of the Silver Twilight Lodge has now begun. The Silver Twilight Lodge wins the campaign.

What?! There are still two packs left in the cycle! Well, it seems that I may have miscalculated…

I’m probably going to re-play this one and try siding with the witches to see how that works out for me.

Fallen Angels

Hey everybody,
After having put it off for years, I’ve finally read the eleventh book in the Horus Heresy series, Fallen Angels.

I’m a bit out of sync, then, as the previous novel that I’d read was the 28th entry in the series, Scars! Fallen Angels is a direct sequel to the sixth book, Descent of Angels, a novel that I have grown to dislike so much since I first read it back in the day, that I have projected that dislike onto its sequel without really much thought. However, after discussing it with Dave of wordaholicsanonymous fame, I decided to go for it and see what I’ve missed.

As it turns out, Fallen Angels isn’t all that bad. It’s not a great novel – I’m not about to start evangelising about it to you all – but it certainly holds a place within the chronology of the Heresy, and much like Dave says in his review, this book makes so much more sense of the last one. It’s a fact that doesn’t make me like Descent of Angels any more (a book that requires a sequel to make sense of it?) but I can at least let go some of that annoyance with the earlier entry!

Fallen Angels has two storylines, as we once again follow Zahariel and Nemiel on their progress with the Dark Angels Legion. Zahariel is among the space marines exiled to Caliban with Luther, after the events during the Compliance of Sarosh (where Luther kinda conspired to kill the Lion) while Nemiel is in the thick of things with the primarch himself, as news of Horus’ rebellion spreads and the Dark Angels are given the task of denying the traitors access to the Forge World of Diamat, close to the Isstvan system. We’re sort of behind the times in this book then, in that the dropsite massacre hasn’t yet come to pass, but Mars has already fallen so we’re following on from the ninth book. If ever there was a novel in this series that shows how skewed the timeline is when you try to read these books in order, surely Fallen Angels is it!

I’ll be discussing spoilers from here out, so be warned!

On Caliban, Zahariel learns of the rebellion against the rule of Luther, led by some former knightly masters who see the Imperium as slave-masters and are trying to restore their freedom. Zahariel is a staunch Imperialist, but is dismayed to see the rifts forming between those Caliban natives and the marines (and others) imported from Terra, and even more dismayed when he sees Luther seemingly begin to sympathise with the rebels. Investigating possible rebel activity in the old Northwilds, he discovers a foul rite that has taken place, bringing immense worms into existence and feeding off the life-energy of humans. He learns that this was merely a test for a much larger ritual that seems to be formented by Terrans, and so Luther and the Dark Angels descend on the ritual site, only Luther seems to want to bind to his will the creature that these sorcerers have seemingly brought forth from the Warp, using Zahariel’s powers as a Librarian to do so. The creature dissipates and Zahariel effectively dies for five minutes, but is brought back to life by the Master of Caliban, who later on promises he’ll be better-prepared next time…

Meanwhile on Diamat, Nemiel is leading a landing party against the traitors in an effort to take back the Forge World, but the Dark Angels soon discover that the Forge has fallen and its leader, Magos Archoi, is actually in league with the Dark Mechanicum. The extent of the Magos’ treachery is cunningly played out as the Warmaster’s reinforcements arrive, as Horus is intent on retrieving some Titan siege-guns he had the Forge World make for him around fifty years earlier. The Dark Angels are able to use a Dreadnought in their party to operate one of these siege guns and deflect the Sons of Horus from their objective, but the epilogue is just dripping with irony as the Lion hands over control of the weapons to none other than Perturabo.

I’m weird. I wanted to not like this book, as I wanted to feel somewhat vindicated for my dislike of Descent of Angels all these years. While I didn’t end up loving it, I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. There were maybe two chapters that were outstanding for me, both of them in the Diamat storyline, where we see some fairly brutal city fighting that felt incredibly cinematic and really well-executed: the rush to rescue the Dreadnought drop pod after landing on the world, and then the defence of the Forge against the landing of the Sons of Horus. There was something really visceral in the writing here, where you could really picture the bombed-out cityscape, with the Dark Angels running through the ruins covered in dust… really very well done, that!

The Caliban storyline felt like a pretty slow-burn, as the intrigue was explored around the divisions between Terrans and Calibanites, something that felt entirely natural following on from the earlier book, and I suppose something that keeps up the theme of several novels that have dealt with those kinds of divisions. We saw it with the White Scars as well, and I’m sure there are plenty of other instances where the “native” troops feel themselves much more special than their Terran fellows, as they are (in their own minds) closer to the Primarch. Here, though, it is only part of a much larger conspiracy that begins to set the wheels in motion for Luther’s betrayal of the Lion, and provides that whole foundation for the Dark Angels being divided into the Fallen (Luther’s followers who fell to Chaos alongside him) and the Unforgiven (those Legionaries who stood with the Lion).

However, this book subtly posed the question of the Lion’s loyalty by bringing up the idea that he may have understood the wild beasts of Caliban to be linked to the Warp, and by insisting on hunting them to extinction, it then leaves the people of Caliban open to the Warp taint, as they had previously shunned those areas because of the beasts.

As I said, the book does provide some degree of legitimacy for having a sword and sorcery novel in what is otherwise a fairly hard sci-fi setting, and while I did end up enjoying this book more than I’d expected, it’s not exactly in my top five from the series so far. If nothing else, though, I’m glad to have finally made the time to read it!