Saturday 2 July 2022

Five Leagues from the Borderlands - Review

Recently picked up the third edition of the Modiphius rules set 'Five Leagues from the Borderlands' solo/co-op skirmish game.

Ordered on pre-release and arriving a couple of weeks ago the rules are now out on general release, and available at all your usual outlets (and from the publisher obviously).

Hadn't picked up on the previous versions of the fantasy rule set, which have been about for a number of years, though I believe these were reasonably well received but possibly lacking in various departments so, 'building on years of fan feedback' Modiphius have developed the latest version and upgraded to include full colour art, expanded options and cupdated the basic game system premise. I suspect new eyes and development team involvement with a new outlook on the development and writing of the rule set.

This 3rd Ed obviously addresses and expands on a lot of the previous editions and has been developed from their SciFi rules-engine and FLftB3's sister game 'Five Parsecs from Home' which the intro describes as having many shared concepts and mechanics.

The basic premise of the rule set is that is provides a framework to play tabletop miniature based games on a principally solo basis (though easily adding in co-op play to the narrative) with the player developing and playing a warband in the classic skirmish game style and playing through a campaign, of a length decided by the player to suit their needs. Basically linked series of table top skirmish games with a narrative framework attached to give weight to the individual game outcomes.

The overall look of the 233 page rule book is very nice, clear and reasonably well laid out. The general fell of the layout is very reminiscant of the Osprey wargaming rule sets with similar if not identical typeface and the tables are much the same as say the Frostgrave rule sets and supplements.

The rules are split into the following sections;

Part 1; Setting Out

            * Introduction

            * Characters

            * Game Rules

Part 2; The Campaign 

            * Preparation

            * Adventures

            * Encounters

            * The Enemy

            * Resolution

            * Appendices

The Introduction section is self explanatory and explains the Rules background and basic methodology and basic premise of the rule set and a blurb on The World of Five Leagues (read Anyworld) and inspirations fueling the idea's behind the rules and the writers sources and even has a play list for background music for mood while playing the game.

Each Warband created generally follows the same set-up; A starting number number of Hero's (4) one of which is the Avatar (ie the player) and Followers (2) with the number in the warband increased or decreased to ease or make the campaign more or less difficult and the warband can and will be added to and have losses and things progress.

Next up is character creation and is a RPG-lite system for creating warband characters of varying races and professions. The races are from the writers world (Six Races) and cover the usual tropes with only the Preen (bird-like humanoids) being slightly unusual. The profession types are pretty basic but between the race types and profession types available, most of likely character type requirements can be produced, either by selection or by random generation, which ever way is preferred.Each character has it's own stats of four basic abilities and each race has basic abilities peculiar to each and these are back-up by professional and back-ground skills making each character and on-going play pretty varied. There are a reasonable number of tables available here and looking at the relative simple framework, easily expanded upon to incorporate your own preferences, milieu bias's and professions if desired.

The terminology is also added in here and as well as the Warband themselves, they have Friends (usually patrons or non-comatant allies) and Enemies both of whom are controlled by the game system.

The game system is next laid out in the proceeding chapter The Battle Round (or game turn), the Combat system, Movement and Enemy activation, Terrain and it's effects,Spell Casting, Proficienty Tests, Will Points, Story Points and Equipment.

The writers are unabashed about their sources of inspiration of their rule system and openly espouse borrowing idea's from Mordheim, LotR SBG, Necromunda, 5150 and Platoon Forward, so lots of the various mechanics will be familiar to most reading them and there isn't anything over-all new or innovative, but this disparet parts generally gel quite well and the system appears to be well playtested and streamlined.

The game uses D6 for combat, skill rolls etc, with D10 required for character generation and quite a few of the random table require D100. Occassional D20 required too. For the tabletop element yor generrally sticking to the trusty D6.

I won't go through the approx 40 pages of the basic game mechanic as these will be familiar(ish) to most with no real surprises in here but suffice to say all required elements are covered. Observations on though on the spell casting merit a comment; the basic GW 2D6 system is adopted with a couple of tweaks, mainly the introduction od 'strands' which are basically spell fuel and are available from various sorces and possible campaign routes present themselves here, and these strands are collected and kept by spell casters (max 3 at any one time) with a strand is expended if the spell is successfully cast (unless the spell is of 'simple' type or a natural 12 is rolled). This mechanic limits the spell casting on the the table as likely fairly small battles, max 3 spells is likely all the time for.

The other item noted on Spells is on the Spells themselves which are uniformly 'support types' in nature and of the 34 spells on the listed, none are direct or in-direct damage type though there are a few which remove particular skill abilities which may then lead to damage or death.

The meat of the rule set is in Part 2 of the rules with thne campaign system with the initial chaptor 'The Campaign Structure' setting out the idea the campaign turn which is broken into Preparation, Adventuring, Encounter and Resolution Stages.

Basically the rules take you through the steps to create a minor fantasy campaign which can be as simple or extended as desired but the creation of a map is a necessity for the system to work but this can be pretty basic and almost blank to start with as the map will be populated and details of the locale develop as the campaign plays through. The rules suggest a couple of ways to do this and personnally I like this as I enjoy doing maps anyway, both on paper and on computer with various software packages like Inkarnate or Wonderdraft

Once you have a starting map and created your Warband your ready to rock and the system runs on a random generated story. Each campaign turn starts with the warband in town, settlement or camp and this starts a narative depending on start point and there are random events which many add colour but can be scenario hooks but this can be ignored for Quick Play. Indeed many steps here are optional if you just want to generate a tabletop encounter and get to the meat, or you can go whole hog and flesh things out to create a full story to events.

This step is followed the finacial step which covers recovery, financial costs, healing recruitment and so on and the mundane stuff. You can also carryout campaign activities  including gambling foraging hunting and so on, all of which are fun if your into the RPG element of the game. There is research, and then the roll to see if locations or settlements are discovered and finally deciding on the adventure.

This is fairly varied too with options for how to spend the turn based on exploring a location, battling an enemy threat, riding a patrol, carrying out a contract, just resting or carrying out a quest. Once decided upon you can oufit your group for the coming adventure. All the options, ecept the resting one have many threads and forks and lots of potential variety.

The adventure once generated is explored through a series tables to generate the location enemy threat and and extents of the enemy and/or rewards for victory and defeat.

There can be encounters along the way both malign and friendly a a narrative can be woven through each campaign turn and the events leading up to the final tabletop barney through the use of linked tables so nothing silly is likely to occur though running through a few trials on this did produce some surprises, there's nothing there that a bit of intuition can't put a slant on to fit your story.

The number of Scenario's available is pretty varied to with a number of scenario types (Meeting Engagement/Defensive Battles/Camp Raid/Hideout Raid/Site BattleMonster Lair) all of which have sub-types, descisions and variable objectves not including the variety of enemy threats, encounters and the warband itself to keep things interesting.

The rules include stats for a reasonably large number of foes and generally each has a sliding/escalating scale for encounters so the warband can easily wage war with a particular enemy culminating after a season of encounters in finally facing down the Big Bad of the clan of Darklings, Undead Horde, Bandits & Deserters, or just the local Baron and his steadfast militia. There are plenty of your standard monster types too and all the usual types are included here.

On completion of your encounter for good or ill, there follows the resolution stage which anf gamer of Necromunda or Mordheim will recognise the premise and this is where you find out casualties, rewards, injuries and payments and any finds that will help the party in their next adventure and the all good loot table.

You also tally out the warband experience and skill up your characters here and the band develops and changes with each adventure.

A nice touch at the end here is the inclusion of a table for 'Enemy Plans' which may scupper the players options/plans which is a nice 

As said above, the rule set does create anything new here with all the systems being drawn together from various sources but there is an addition of pulling lots of disparate elements that do sit together well and the rules provide the player/s with a good mechanic to dress with your own take on and adventure. The rules can even be used to umpire a standard pvp table top game where there are NPC forces to be directed without any bias. Indeed, non-of the rules need to be used for a fully fantasy setting and could easyily be adopted for a more historical setting and substituting the fantasy elements for more mundane results.

Pretty much everything here can (and probably will be) added to by the target audience with extra encounter tables, player races and almost everything can be expanded to suit if the inclusions don't tickle a particular fancy, but the basic offering is well more than sufficient for your more than average player looking to have a solo or co-op campaign off the cuff or something more substantial without any alteration or addition or some time.

The Appendices cover the aspects of collecting miniatures and terrain etc for the tabletop games, aimed at new converts to tabletop gaming, and there is a section for converting characters from previous version of the game to new edition or vice versa along with game adjustments. The final app is the Designer notes which give a bit of insight into the thought process of the whole thing.

Generally, I am quite taken with the rule set and though haven't had time to properly explore here,I most certainly will run a solo campaign to see where it takes me and I've already generated a basic map to explore.

Obviously, this rule set is not for everybody, but there's probably something of use to all players within it's pages who are likely to playing campaigns of any kind be it skirmish or standard large scale tabletop.

Having gone through the rules and tried a few bits and bobs, I am quite tempted to check out the sister rule set from Modiphius, 'Five Parsec from home to see what this offers in the way of Sci-Fi skirmish possibilities.

Five Leagues from the Borderlands 3rd Edition gets an initial score of 8 out of 10 for content and potential. I will update this score once proper play tests have concluded and see if my thoughts improve or reduce my opinion here. 

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