Sunday, April 26, 2020

Song of Autumn

Once you hop on the Fall from Heaven 2 train, it's very hard to get off again. Each game is exciting and fun, but it also tantalizes with possibilities for future games. "Hm, I didn't build any siege equipment all game, I might want to look into that next time. Or even try Luchiurp to make some golems..." "Too bad nobody joined the Overcouncil with me. I need to get that going in another game." "Sacrifice The Weak seems insanely powerful. I wonder if I could use that while keeping hell terrain out of my empire?"

Whenever I start a new game, I'm debating between revisiting previous fun experiences (Khazad, Kuriorates, etc.) and trying some of those novel experiences (finally playing an evil civ, rushing to an early victory, going for a new victory type). Making choices can be hard! Which is why it's sometimes nice to have those choices made for me. Specifically, trying a scenario.

FfH2 does not need scenarios. The base game is infinitely variable and entertaining already. They're a ridiculous addition to an already perfect game, like ice cream on cake or a shot of Baileys in your Guinness. I've written about them at length before, and I've still only played through maybe half of them.

I think this is now the third PC that I've installed FfH2 on, and fortunately I've brought my scenario "trophy" file along with me for each of those moves, so I effectively have a 13+ year mega-campaign going on. More like 5 separate mega-campaigns, really. Dusting off the cobwebs and reviewing the state of things, I have yet to complete any one of the major arcs in the scenarios, although I've unlocked the final scenario for all of them. I think that last time I got stuck on The Black Tower, the end of the Falamar quest chain, where an already-difficult objective is made even harder by the special rules (human units can never heal, and become demons when killed, so you end up fighting nearly every unit you build). I do want to beat that one, but I figured I'd ramp back up to it, and instead tackled one of the more stand-alone scenarios: The Splintered Court.

There's a really fascinating, deep and complex lore behind FfH2, drawing on a wide variety of influences but combined into a really unique dark fantasy whole. These lore bits are scattered all around: sometimes you'll get long entries in the Civilopedia entry, or hear a comment from another leader during negotiations, or some narration when you explore a unique feature in the terrain. A recent delight has been reading Kael's lore posts on the (still active!) /r/fallfromheaven subreddit. But maybe the best single source of lore is the scenarios. You'll learn why Rosier is The Fallen, how the Doviello relate to the Illians, who the hell Decius is and why he behaves differently from every other leader, and so on. Besides straight-up lore bombs, the scenarios ooze flavor, too, with disconcerting and compelling writing and visuals hooking you in and dragging you along for the ride.

I could say many more things about the scenarios (and I probably have in my previous posts), so for now I'll just note two awesome things. First, the stories are surprisingly interactive: at certain critical beats in the scenario, you'll often get an Event pop up that describes something your leader is experiencing (a diplomatic summit, an assassin in the night, a vision from beyond) and give you multiple choices for how to respond. Like with the base FfH2 games, these can have in-game consequences that range from minor (some more gold, a new resource appearing, a change in diplomatic states) to major (powerful new units appearing, new civ-wide buffs being applied). But many scenarios also have branching effects based on these choices, which can drastically change your objectives and lead to entirely different experiences.

The second awesome thing is that those branching choices don't just affect your current game, they can impact other scenarios as well. The decisions you make as Decius in Into the Desert decide who you play as in Wages of Sin, setting up entirely different gameplay and victory conditions despite being the same scenario. And there can be significant bonuses between them: defeating the Lord of the Balors scenario will reduce the power of the Infernal faction in all of the other scenarios. Lord of the Balors is the last scenario in the list, but it shouldn't be the last one you play! It can help to be strategic when determining the order in which you will tackle the scenarios, and not just while playing each one.

That said, for this particular outing I was looking for a scenario which was not tied into any other ones, or at least not obviously so. (There are some notoriously diabolical hidden links between other scenarios.) Reading through the ones I hadn't yet played, I soon decided on "The Splintered Court". This touches on a domain that none of the other scenarios so far have addressed: the elves. Specifically, you can play as one of the Ljosalfar or Svartalfar in their civil war. The three Ljosalfar leaders are joined in a permanent alliance with one another: you automatically share any discoveries, are permanently at peace, readily agree to each others' requests, and act as one entity when declaring war or peace with other civilizations. Except in this game, you are permanently at war with the Svartalfar. Faeryl Viconia is there, in an alliance with two new leaders custom to this scenario: Rivanna the Wraith Lord and Volanna.

I mulled for a while over who to choose. I was very tempted by the Svartalfar; I've always been intrigued by their dark-elf aesthetic, but haven't had a whole lot of experience with the sort of stealth-heavy campaigns that they seem oriented towards. Rivanna and Volanna seem like slightly underwhelming leaders with only a single trait each. On the Ljosalfar side, I was initially leaning towards Thessa: Arcane seemed like a lot of fun, producing super-charged spellcasters, while Expansive seems like an all-around useful trait. But, the special conditions of this scenario include not being able to build new Settlers, so much of her Expansive potential would be wasted. Amelanchier seems like the best all-around choice, with his martially focused traits. But I eventually decided to play as Arendel: Those small culture bumps can be really useful in the early game, and Spiritual would have huge synergy with the strategy I was envisioning: building temples and churning out disciple units.

The scenario opens with an advanced start. You have already learned pretty much all of the ancient-era techs: Animal husbandry, Calendar, Knowledge of the Ether, etc. You have three settlers, three archers, and a Disciple of Leaves. I planted my capital on my first turn, and the next two cities on the following turn. I decided to explore the map with my archers while my cities produced scouts, and then explore with the scouts, too. This proved to be a mistake. After maybe thirty turns or so, barbarians walked up and sacked my completely undefended cities. Whoops! Total newbie move!

I reloaded and started again. I noticed that, while the shape and terrain of the scenario map is always the same, the location of resources is not: in general, it's a more resource-rich map than usual, but the exact locations change from game to game. This second start wasn't as good, so I started over a third time, and finally settled in for the long haul.

Being limited to a military victory was nicely focusing: I usually try to spread myself too thinly in the early stages, pursuing any promising leads and trying to be all-around strong in multiple disciplines, and only start seriously thinking about the endgame after a few hundred turns in. This scenario was a lot more clear-cut (though, I would eventually learn, not as clear-cut as it initially seemed). I was going to need to defeat the Svartalfar, which meant building a potent fighting force. I would build it around my civilization and my religion, leveraging my unique traits.

On the very first turn, I moved my Disciple of Leaves into the capital and spread the Fellowship. Interestingly, this also founded the Fellowship; in normal games this happens in the opposite order, but this way makes perfect sense in a scenario. This also meant that my holy city was in my capital, which is often not the case but can be very lucrative when so.

The first tech I researched was Drama, which grants a free Great Bard to the first person to discover it: Me! The Great Bard can construct the Song of Autumn, so I did. Between this and my temples, I was able to start focusing on Priest specialists, which would eventually ensure a steady stream of Great Prophets.

For civics, I ran with God King, which gives an impressive 50% boost to production and gold in your capital. Because you're limited in the number of cities you can build, it's viable to stay with God King the entire game. For cultural values I stuck with Religion the whole game, which gives some small happiness and culture boosts; in retrospect, since I was Spiritual it might have made more sense to frequently rotate this around, going Nationhood during periods when I was building military units, then swapping in Pacifism during the times I was increasing my infrastructure, so I could build up GPP more quickly. On the Labor front I ran Apprenticeship the whole time, giving +2 XP to new military units : nice for everyone, but especially for mundane martial units, so they can take a promotion before seeing combat. In practice, though, the vast majority of units I constructed automatically gain XP anyways, so it wasn't that big of a deal. I might have been better off with Military State to boost unit production, allow spending gold to rush, and allowing more free unit support. There is a culture penalty, but that isn't a big deal for this scenario after you get your fat cross.

And then there is the economy. I was just Agrarian for a while, even though I didn't have any farms, and just figured the extra 1 point of Health couldn't hurt. But soon my allies discovered Hidden Paths and I decided to adopt Guardian of Nature. Wow! I'm sure I've run it before, but it's been, uh, years and years, I've forgotten how insanely good it is. You can easily get an extra 12-15 Happiness per city, which is more than even a late-game city will be getting from its luxuries or its buildings. And an extra +5 flat Health, but because of all the forests you have that will actually be more like 12 Health. All this adds up to enormous mega-cities even in the early midgame. Finally, late in the game I adopted the Overcouncil. I only had enough time to vote on a single resolution, but it was a pretty useful one. I'd like to do more with the councils in the future.

My capital was my religious center, my military center and my Great Person center. I put all the wonders that boosted starting XP and production in here. Once I started generating Great Prophets, I began constructing the Altar of Luonnotar here: even though I couldn't get the Altar victory, I've seen from earlier games that it can be very powerful at higher levels. And it definitely is! By the end of the game, I was building new Priests of Leaves every 2 turns, and each of them were starting off with 16xp.

The second city wasn't as big of a deal: it was my arcane center, so I created a Mage Guild, and then pumped out one adept after another. As usual, my goal was to start them early enough and get enough of them so I could maximize my Archmages by the time they became available. In this game, though, I never even got to Sorcery, so it ended up being a bit of a waste; in retrospect I should have focused on building more archers or something. The adepts I did build were only slightly useful. At that level, your Air mana is good for Fair Winds; but I never built or used any boats. Life mana is good for Sanctify; but the Armageddon Counter is disabled in this scenario, so it doesn't matter. With the Song of Autumn, I had 2 Nature mana, so each adept already had Treetop Defense. This spell is very useful, as there is a ton of Forest in this map: I would say that over half of all squares are forested to start with, and more will probably bloom over the course of the game. Since all your units are elves, you're mostly quickly moving through forests anyways, so it can be helpful (though not decisive) to end your turns fully fortified via magic. But I could easily have gotten by with just a couple of adepts.

In the third city I constructed a Hunting Lodge. My initial plot was to focus on capturing animals and using them to build my army: in the early exploratory phase of this scenario, you run across a ton of wild animals. It ended up not quite working out like that. My Scouts had really low base strength, of course, and even after getting many promotions they had a hard time winning fights against the stronger animals. They had explored so far that it would take dozens of turns to return home and upgrade. One finally did and became a Ranger, but by the time he headed back out, barbarians had replaced all the animals. So my initial plan failed, but I was still happy with how things turned out. Rangers had the highest raw strength of any unit of mine during the game, with an Attack of 7. And even better, hawks! I'm kind of kicking myself now for not making any Hawks during my Calabim game, I'd completely forgotten how incredibly useful they are. Most units can see 1 square around them. If you're standing on a hill above lowlands, or have spent valuable XP on a Sentry promotion, you might be able to see 2 squares (if mountains aren't in your way). A Hawk, though, can fly up high and recon, clearing a huge (maybe roughly 20x20) field from the fog of war. Including over mountains. This provides invaluable operational insight! You can verify that the lands around your cities are clear of barbarians, or identify any that are approaching and position your defenders to greet them before they can pillage. And your rangers in the field can carry hawks, letting you not just see who's waiting for you in that city several spaces away (I could have used that when Flauros was trying to dislodge Acheron!), but also to look beyond that and see if your opponent is reinforcing their position with more people so you should rush forward and take the city ASAP, or if they're trying to flank you and so you should reposition to meet them in the field. And hawks are cheap, too! At just 20 hammers I think they're the cheapest unit in the entire game, even less expensive than warriors.

You do occasionally get an event where wanderers arrive in your capital and you can decide what to do with them: I think the options are something like supply them as Settlers for 100 gold, equip as Hunters for 70 gold, equip as Scouts for 20 gold, settle for +1 population for free. This event seems to be random. In my first game, I got it twice in my first 30 turns before getting wiped out. In my last game, it only fired once, after more than 100 turns. I did take the settler option, of course. In this scenario, my settlement strategy was the opposite as my earlier Calabim game on a Huge Erebus map, where I struck out far and wide to claim chokepoints. Here, particularly while running God King, and in a state of eternal war, I wanted to settle compactly, keeping maintenance costs low and letting me share defenders between cities. I planted this one to the north, gaining access to three brand-new luxury resources: Gems, Wine and Dye. I decided that this city would build an Archery Range and finally start producing those units. Unfortunately, the game ended before I could even construct the building, let alone the archers.

There is one other option to expand your empire in this scenario: conquer cities. Late in the game, a barbarian city plopped down near my capital, and it was Size 2 before I conquered it. It was within range of Yggdrasil and had some other good resources so I kept it, but it never developed that far.

My public works for this game were basically opposite to my Calabim game. With the Fellowship, your Forests turn into Ancient Forests, giving you solid production and food but no commerce. As elves, though, the solution is clear: Build cottages in the forest! Instead of farms everywhere, it was cottaged Ancient Forests everywhere. And since elves already treat forests as roads, and there's tons of forest all over the map, I only needed to build roads when linking up resources.

Early on, I focused on exploring the map. There are the regular assortment of goody huts and lairs to be found, and the continent feels a little crowded, so it's worth prioritizing some Scouts to ensure good results from those before they all get claimed. I lucked out with technology discoveries and a couple of Great People. I sent a Great Commander back to my capital to form a Command Post, and started a Golden Age with a Great Scientist. After discovering Drama, I learned Military Strategy to get another Great Commander. I attached him to Gilden Silveric. Since your two allies are also Ljosalfar, I'm not sure if they're also capable of building him, so I prioritized creating him early on.

It took a while, but I eventually explored the map, primarily with my Scouts with some help from my Archers; in this game I lucked out on the barbarians and was able to leave my home cities lightly defended for some time, and further lucked out and got some Treant assistance during early incursions. The overall setup is that the three Ljosalfar civs are in the northwest, the Svartalfar in the southeast, Baron Duin Halfmoon leading a werewolf faction (coded as Doviello) in the southwest, and Alexis of the Calabim in the northeast. Everyone hated me, but only the Svartalfar were at war. Much later I met Falamar of the Lanun; after trading maps with him even later, I saw that he hailed from an island to the east. There is ocean all around the continent, except that the western edge touches the map so you can't sail completely around. Boats were irrelevant for the game, though it may be possible to induce Falamar to attempt a landing.

One other mechanic in this game is that each turn is also part of a day/night cycle. It's actually really subtle, but there's some text on the right side of the screen (superimposed over the map) that lists the current hour: Dawn, Morning, Noon, etc. Supposedly these time cycles effect the strength of units; with the Baron's werewolves shifting back into men during daylight and the vampires weakening under the sun. As I never fought either of those factions, though, it doesn't seem to have a big impact on the scenario.

Once I had Gilden built, I decided to try and start the war proper. He isn't that strong of a unit, at a base of just 5 attack and unable to wield metal weapons; but he compares well to other units of his era, and more importantly he's one of the earliest Heroes you can get, so he will have more promotions than anyone else you can meet in the field. I decided to start my war with a very simple pairing: Gilden to crack open cities, stacked with a Disciple of Leaves to help heal him and weather counterattacks.

I started with Volanna, whose mini-empire was located immediately south of the Calabim lands. Her Warriors didn't yet have access to any Copper, and Gilden was able to easily take them down. He was in that exciting early phase of heroism with a big set of unspent XP available. I could check the odds, grab some Combat or Shock if necessary, attack, and then take another promotion to heal up most of the damage.

Oddly enough, when you capture an enemy city in this scenario, you don't get the normal offer to keep it or pillage: you automatically keep every city. This made me slightly nervous. These cities were on the far opposite side of the map, nearly doubling my Maintenance cost. Not to mention that I hadn't planned for a long defensive occupation, just a fast conquering strike. (Remind you of anybody's foreign policy?)

I hunkered down for a bit, then an idea struck me: I was part of an alliance! Why not turn the city over to my allies? It made perfect sense: It was geographically closer to them, so the maintenance wouldn't hurt as badly. The AI is usually a lot smarter at defense than offense anyways. And I could see that my allies were building buttloads of low-strength units, mostly archers and warriors, in contrast with my smaller selection of high-power units. I would be the tip of the spear, pushing through Svartalfar territory, while Amelanchier and Thessa would be the shaft, filling up the hole and denying these lands to our foes.

I initially planned to offer the city to Amelanchier, since he was closer, but then realized that Thessa was closer to these cities than she was to any of the other ones; if I was going to share the burden of maintenance, then it would probably be better for her to carry these ones. I offered her the city gratis and she gracefully accepted, then began moving reinforcers. At the same time, I was bringing in my own reinforcers to join with Gilden: A newly promoted and experienced Ranger, but more excitingly, a brace of Priests of Leaves.

You don't think of Priests as being military units, but they can absolutely fill that role. A Priest has a base strength of 5, better than warriors or archers. And because mine were starting out with more than a dozen XP and a Potency promotion, by the time they saw battle they could easily have taken Command and Combat III or more. Unlike adepts and mages, you don't need to save any promotions for spells, you can dump them all into combat-related promotions. Of course, even without promotions they're incredibly useful, with powerful passive Heal abilities that keep your army moving quickly and minimizing the risk of a counterblow. But they can also be a respectable force to build your army around in the first place.

I also came to really appreciate their tigers. These behave a lot like Skeletons: they can't attack on the turn you summon them, so they take some advance planning, but they remain indefinitely. You have a limited number available: with 5 priests of leaves, you can summon a total of 5 tigers, but it's fine for one priest to summon 5 times, for example. Those Combat promotions you gave your priests translate into Empowerment for your tigers. In practice, mine could usually kill any unit in the field, and could do a lot of damage when attacking a city. It's free to create new ones, so I didn't hesitate to suicide-squad some in the midst of an assault, or simply deleting ones that weren't seeing action. The one slight downside in this map was that the Tigers were the only non-Elf unit I had all game, so they moved through forests at 1 square per turn, unlike everyone else who moved at least 2 per turn. So on long marches, it often made more sense to dismiss all my tigers, then march, then re-summon them at my destination.

My power was growing, with Gilden getting his Heroic Offense and joining forces with my Priests. But the dark elves were adapting and growing more menacing. First, they gained access to Copper, immediately making their cities tougher (definitely not impossible!) to crack. They also had researched Poisons, and assassins took to the field. Most alarmingly, they built two heroes in quick succession: Alazkan the Assassin and Gibbon Goetia.

I lucked out a bit on the timing. I had taken Volanna's first two cities, and she built Alazkan in the third. A newly-born Hero hasn't yet had time to reach their potential, and I was hoping to take him down before he grew too powerful. This was a tricky siege, and honestly I reloaded a couple of times to get the outcome I wanted. Alazkan has high offense but low defense, so he was one of the last units to defend the city but a deadly force when attacking. Like other Assassins, he also attacks the weakest unit in the stack, instead of going after the strongest ones as normal. So if one of my attackers took too much damage while still winning their combat, Alazkan could pick them off afterwards. On the plus side, though, he only had a handful of promotions so far, and he is at a disadvantage when defending (or, presumably, attacking cities). I had him hemmed in pretty well. It would be a lot more challenging to meet him in the wilderness!

It took severally rounds, but I gradually whittled down the defenders. I got nervous once my Ranger arrived and had his hawk recon the area: Gibbon Goetia was marching north, leading a huge stack of assassins and archers! I had my Fawn and a couple of spare Tigers try and draw them off while my main force redoubled their efforts. Finally, I killed Alazkan, and... what's that?! Another Alazkan?! I attacked again in an avalanche of tigers, defeating the assassin and the badly wounded remainders, before finally taking the city.

This time I finally got a popup asking what I wanted to do with it. There was an option to "Return control to the Ljosalfar", which I chose; surprisingly, it went to Amelanchier, even though Thessa already controlled the two other cities. I'm not sure if it was based on distance to the capital or what.


More compellingly, I also got a little story. Volanna had been captured, but Baron Duin Halfmoon interceded. He wanted to take possession of Volanna and turn her into a werewolf, promising me his military aid in return.

I paused for a little while to consider. On its face, this was a solid trade. My objective for the scenario was simply to destroy the two remaining Svartalfar factions; joining the Baron wouldn't hurt that, and might help, as he would project threat from the southwest while I continued pushing down from the northeast. But, playing the other scenarios has made me incredibly wary. This seemed like exactly the sort of thing that would come back to bite me in the ass: what if, saw, it turned out that there was a hidden objective to defeat the Baron at the end, and giving him Volanna would just make him stronger? Or even add a new hostile werewolf faction in some other scenario? I eventually decided that, while the Baron might be helpful, I certainly did not need him. I turned him down, bracing for repercussions, but that was it: no declaration of war, no onslaught of barbarians.

I marched through a small wilderness area before arriving at Faeryl's own borders. By now Amelanchier was participating in the campaign as well, moving some stacks down to help in the fight. There was a bit of a delicate dance with Gibbon as I lured away individual defenders going after individual tigers, eventually splitting and then thinning the stack. Gibbon himself wasn't too bad to take down, but he regularly summons Mistforms, who are much more powerful if shorter-lived.

Oh! I almost forgot. After defeating Alazkan, I finally discovered why I needed to kill him twice. He dropped his special item, the shield Black Mirror, which now any unit could pick up. This unlocks the awesome Mirror ability which creates a perfect copy of the casting unit: it has your current XP, current promotions, current buffs, etc. (The one exception: it does not copy your race, so mirroring an Elf does not give double movement through forests.) This summon cannot completely kill a unit by attacking, but can take it down to, like, 0.2 health or something. It lasts until the start of your next turn, so you can also position it as a defender. Needless to say, I had Silveric carry the mirror. I didn't always use it, but on turns when I had a shot at taking a city, I would always launch the first charge with the mirror: even when it fails, it would strongly damage the best defender, giving everyone else in my stack a much better chance at breaking through.

Dealing with the enemy assassins was the tricky part of this phase, as they could move swiftly through the forest and strike at any sign of weakness, including my Adepts as well as wounded military. It was difficult, but I absolutely loved it, in no small part because I felt like I was fully, deeply experiencing the Ljosalfar/Svartalfar divide: not just through flavor text or background art, but feeling it through the gameplay. My Ljosalfar were dextrous, archery-oriented, worshiping the Leaves, allied with nature. Their Svartalfar were sinister, recon-oriented, following Esus, secretive, hidden, striking unseen, melting into the shadows. We shared the same common traits: living in the forests, we moved quickly through the trees and fought well in them. But those common points only further highlighted our fundamental differences. We just felt different, in the way we marshaled our forces, where we preferred to strike, how we built our armies and what promotions we took.

I survived the wave of assassins, and fortunately it got much easier after this: there were still plenty of defenders left to face, but mostly mundane archers and warriors, supported by the occasional ranger or scout. I did manage to Command a single Adept to join my side, which was cool: he came with his Shadow promotion, granting me the Blur buff for better success against enemy archers. This came in handy along with the standard Treetop Defense. My general MO for this campaign was to move through forest as much as possible and then set up outside of a city, ideally also in a forest, even better on a forested hill. My adepts would make us defensible and my priests would summon tigers. I would count defenders and attackers and decide on a course of action: if I had the numbers, I would soften up with a Tiger Rush and then finish them off with my elven fighters. Otherwise I would just take out a couple of their strongest units with a couple of my strongest, wait and heal up, then continue until they were low enough for the final push. Fortunately, Amelanchier was often fighting by my side during these siege, weakening defenders on his own or at least drawing their fire.

The same general pattern repeated as before: the game automatically gave me ownership of new cities as I conquered them without options for razing, but the final city gave the standard options. For a little while my allies were unwilling to take ownership of new cities via diplomacy ("We have our reasons"), but a few turns later they were happy to do so again; I'm not entirely sure why, but it may have been because of ongoing disorders in those cities. After defeating Faeryl, another event popped up, but this one was merely informative: Faeryl had managed to escape my forces and fled to the remaining Svartalfar faction.

I continued to roll forwards. Thessa never got very involved in the campaign, although she did back-fill her new cities with fresh defenders. I continued my research during the campaign, although I had to dial my science investment back to 50-60% to keep my deficits under control; even after giving away the far-flung captured cities, the enormous sizes in my core led to huge maintenance costs. I eventually finished researching Feral Bond and unlocked Kithra Kyriel, the first Fellowship Hero. I built him and ordered him to charge down towards Rivanna the Wraith Lord's final cities. But it was over before he arrived: the last defenders fell.

As with Volanna, another choice event appeared, this one paralleling the earlier one: Alexis manifested inside the palace, offering to join my side in an alliance if I gave her Rivanna to become her thrall. This was less tempting than the Baron's offer: the war was over, and unless there was some final twist there wasn't going to be any more fighting. I declined to hand over Rivanna or to execute her, instead sending her back to my own capital to face a just trial.


And, that was the end! The end of the game, at least. There was a very long written epilogue. Again, it's been years since I've played a scenario and I don't remember whether this is similar to the others or if it's longer, but it was a fantastic, wonderfully-written combination of dialogue and prose that's now seared into my brain.

That ending... holy shit, how chilling! It's the best kind of twist, one that I did not see coming but that makes perfect sense in retrospect. In fact, it's my very favorite kind of twist: one that is particularly reinforced through the gameplay. I mean, these are the special abilities of these units and of these civilizations. But up until now they've been fairly abstract, mechanical things that you plan around and respond to. But now we're forced to confront what they mean, how they feel, and there's a really intense creeping horror to it. I mean, if I'd read this in a short story collection I probably would have gone "Oooh, creepy!", then set it aside and forgotten about it. But instead it's been lingering with me for a few days now, as my mind continues to chew over what happened and when and how.

One of my first questions was, is this true in the base game as well? I could see this being something that happens during the base game, probably under the aegis of Gibbon; but it's deliciously monstrous to think that it happened at the end of the Age of Ice and has been happening all along.

I also thought back to the endings of Volanna and Rivanna. I started to wonder: had I caused this ending to happen? Taking arcane Svartalfar back to my capital, had I welcomed the wolves into the flock and opened the gate? In trying to do the "good" thing, had I unleashed doom upon us all? If the other leaders had gone to the werewolves and vampires, would we have been fine? Or would some external calamity have befallen us instead?

The more I thought about it, though, a second, more chilling possibility presented itself. What if it isn't just Faeryl: What if it's all three? What if it's been true all along? Thinking back to the events, I don't remember Rivanna or Volanna speaking: what if they were actually my allies? That adds a whole new tinge of horror, watching their fates being decided, internally screaming but unable to be heard. In this reading, the mercy is particularly meaningful; but then it might add its own level of terror later, unseen, as they witness, or at least understand, what has happened and that salvation is not forthcoming.

And again it's tempting to link it back to the base game. Is this why there are apparently three Ljosalfar and only one Svartalfar leaders? Are there actually still three Svartalfar leaders in the main game? I don't know if there's a canon answer, but I probably won't ever look at Thessa the same way again.


What a fun rush! Each of these scenarios has felt different, with some more like dungeon crawls and others like entire campaigns. The Splintered Court struck a really nice balance, with most of the standard 4x mechanics in place, but the permanent alliances and some delicious storytelling really puts it over the top. I continue to be impressed at how the base game improves the scenarios and the scenarios improve the base game, each providing lore and experience and depth to the other.

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