Thursday, 9 April 2020

Thunder Road: Divine Instruments

This campaign brought to you by material
from The Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica,
as well as The Explorer's Guide to
In the midst of crisis, I fall back on what I know, and seek to entertain my family with tabletop RPGs.

While Eightfold goes on - a little irregularly, and with a mix of local and remote players - I am running a sister campaign called Thunder Road, set on a different continent of the same world, where the Thunderhead Dominion - a successful union of the martial nobility of the minotaurs, a loxodon (elephant folk) diplomatic corps and a largely human civil service bureaucracy - and the Elysian Federation - a union of twenty-six states, largely controlled by an aristocracy of earth genasi face each other over the buffer zone known as the Free Moblands - the territories of mobs(1) of minotaurs who didn't form up into larger dynasties and alliances and join the Dominion. Since all the players on this one are in lockdown together, sessions are way more regular.

Session Zero began with the PCs on the titular Thunder Road, the trade and diplomatic routes across the Moblands. Each player introduced their character in conversation with the others, and a fourth traveller, an orc named Razak who was basically there to channel my DM questions as part of the character creation process.

The questions I was putting included: "Where did you come from?" "How did you get here?"and "What did you bring with you?" so that each character ended up with a bit of backstory, a philosophy and an heirloom. Then we rolled some dice, had a brief combat and called it a night(2).

The next day, I wrote up the backstories and added some details by running through aspects of the heroic chronicle system from The Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, thus granting the PCs a few extra proficiencies, as well as some rivals and allies from their past. I added a secret fact for each PC that the player doesn't know yet, then passed the full backstory on for the players to comment and provide three goals for their character to pursue.

And then I took the three heirlooms and converted them into Divine Instruments, my homebrew world's version of Exandria's Vestiges of Divergence; magical items that get more powerful as they are used in more and more epic circumstances, and which have their origins in moments of divine conflict.

Here, I faced a bit of a challenge. The barbarian's greataxe(3) was easy; it's an axe, it gets some combative buffs. The bard's lyre was also straightforward. It has a range of elemental spell abilities that work when you play it(4).

And then there was the loxodon's tinker's tools. Now, a set of tools of any kind is not a traditional basis for a magical item, least of all the stuff of legends. I think I came up with something pretty good - basic level, it gives you mending, magical weapon every other day, and you can ritual cast tiny hut, with enhancements in theme as you go up - but as items of great moment and destiny go, it's a bit left field, and I'm not sure how well I'll be able to work in epic tinkering challenges without it seeming forced, even by heroic destiny standards. Moreover, very few divine conflicts feature much in the way of tinkering; blacksmithing, yes, but not much tinkering. Maybe the tools will turn out to have been fashioned from the parts of something bigger at some point; I'm not sure, but it will probably be fun finding out.

(1) I'm not sure why I settled on mob, if it's not in the book, since it usually applies to kangaroos or sheep, but I didn't want the minotaurs to have herds.
(2) My seven year old daughter has decided that she might join us for a D&D game when she's eight, so this was not a daytime activity.
(3) Technically a bronze axe that was swapped for her entirely mundane steel one by the minotaur mystic who led a raid on the caravan, knocked her out in one hit and thought it seemed like a good idea.
(4) Charm was too obvious, and it came through the aasimar's genasi family.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Eightfold: Legacies

"...but for 5th edition, let's try to reclaim the grace and
dignity of the elves." - Image from D&D 5th ed. PHB
One of the big challenges in homebrewing a setting based on a substantial body of existing lore lies in finding a fresh approach to that existing lore. Maybe your dwarfs run their armouries like a fashion industry, or your elves are angry Glaswegians. D&D has a shit tonne of established races to work with, so I need to find a place for them to exist in the world of Aiaos (or else scrap them from the setting entirely, which I've done with the Gith, the Eberron-specific races and the Simic Hybrid and Vedalken from the Ravnica sourcebook.) As I noted before, all of the mortal races were created by the Young Gods in imitation of the Titans. Each race is therefore somewhat protective of its place within the world, which manifests as a fascination with legacy, which is what I hope makes this world different from others. Everyone, from the elves to the kobolds, is trying to achieve something that will make their name live forever.

For the elves, this manifests as a collective urge. It's all about the elves, not about the elf.  It was for the glory and legacy of the elven people as a whole that they created the Regime, the last really world-wide government. Unfortunately, the four elven kindreds, each aligned to a different element, each wanted a very different direction for the Regime. The high elves (earth) are the great city builders of Aiaos, while the wood elves (air) are all about preserving the natural character of the world. The sea elves (water) travel and tell stories, while the drow (fire) see their legacy in familial continuity. Thus the Regime was already somewhat on the skids when the Legion and the Horde turned up, and I've talked about the orcs already.

Dwarfs build things, but their legacy is shaped in obligations. Dwarfs never forget a promise, and obligations are passed down from parent to child, shaping future generations. Gnomes create homes that encompass their family's legacy, while halflings go to new places; their legacy, inasmuch as it has a concrete form, is measured in cartography. Kobolds... Kobolds dig.

And humans have ideas. Humans change things by having new ideas, and they do this because, of all the races, humans don't know where they come from. No-one knows who made humans, or why, so humans constantly reinvent themselves and the world around them. This is also why humans are best at creating religions which rework the plastic nature of the Young Gods into forms that are useful to them.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Eightfold: Monstrous People

"Orc is not man. Prick orc, you bleed."
Since James Holloway lately put up my requested episode of Monster Man ('The Things are Also People: Monstrous PCs',) it feels appropriate for this installment of 'Luke's world-building process' to focus on the integration of monstrous races into my early modern setting.

Your typical D&D monstrous humanoid race occupies the role of the barbaric, or even savage, tribal society existing on the fringes between more civilised state-level cultures. When the early states are forming into more sophisticated sociopolitical entities, it becomes more and more unlikely that there would be a tribe of brutal raiders living down the road, without someone sending the actual army that they have now - or the mercenaries that they can afford - to do something pointy and irrevocable about them. So what, in this scenario, are orcs - for example - all about?

I've tied this in with the broader process of world-building. I know that the mortal races were created by the Young Gods, a sprawling pantheon of relatively crap divinities that git gud by pooling their efforts and adopting combined personae. For each race then, I started by defining the gods that actually created them.

Actually, back up a step. I started by dividing them up into cardinal, secondary and tertiary races. Cardinal races - giants, dragons, elves, dwarfs, dragonborn, orcs and tortles - were the early successes, secondary races - including humans, halflings, goblinoids and gnomes - are the up and comers, and tertiary - including lizardfolk, gnolls and kobolds - have never been much cop, at least as social influencers.

Then each race gets a loose set of creator gods, a relationship with those gods, a potted history of the race since the Cataclysm broke the world and split the population across the continents, and a brief demographic overview. For example, those orcs:

The orcs were created by the Dark Lords, an unknown number of unnamed Young Gods with the goal of creating the perfect race, not to rule, but to serve. They are powerful and hardy, able to live where others would die, and made specifically to follow. They were the original horde, sent forth to conquer, and in the early part of the mortal age they gained a dark reputation for savagery, but in the midst of their conflict with the nascent Regime, the orcs turned on their creators and destroyed them. In the ensuing confusion they were pushed back into the barrens and the swamps, but they recovered and returned as a proud and independent people.

The culture of the orcs is tribal and shamanic, with each tribe fostering its own traditions. The one constant is that each tribe has a totem, an icon built up over generations and representing the soul of the tribe. In a similar fashion, individual orcs collect tokens from those that they meet, sewing them to their clothing. The tribes of northern Yethera maintained tribal banners, each chief adding a new panel so that they grew from simple pennants to great tapestries telling the tale of the tribe to those who could understand. Many of these were lost when the tribes were pushed south by the descent of the giants, to the anger and sorrow of the tribes, but some are still passed down in families within the Republic.

Orcs revere their ancestors, instead of gods. Having killed their creators they have never sought to replace them, although in the Republic they pay lip service to the Church. The traditional practices of the tribes touch on druidism or forms of arcane practice, and are suppressed by the church. Some continue the old ways in secret, while others have abandoned their communities for the ways of the Church, usually finding positions as enforcers.

I mention the orcs specifically because having written this, I rewrote the existing orc race profile, swapping out their -2 Intelligence hit for disadvantage on Wisdom saves (is this balanced? I DON'T KNOW! I've literally never used these rules before!) and giving them a survival-based feature as well.
The 'descent of the giants' mentioned here as causing the orcs to migrate into the Republic's territory is actually lifted from the canon write-up for giants, whose culture is in decline from the days when they lived in cloud palaces. On Aiaos, the giants inherited the titanic civilisation of Ostoria, but the cloud cities have degraded, periodically dropping populations of giants which force settled populations to move.
I've also done some work on the humans, because I don't just want them to be the 'default', so their deal is that they are socially and theologically adaptable, with a plasticity of belief that suits the plasticity of divinity. In other words, they are especially good at moulding a group of gods into a unified identity that suits them. They are also the ideas people, and have a destabilising influence on the orderly social structures around them. In addition, they don't have a great civilisation or ancient social order, but sometimes they pretend that they did in order to feel more important among races like the elves. The nearest thing they actually had was an emergent kingdom that went all snake-worship and turned into the Yuan-ti, which most of the humans in the Republic were refugees from anywhere from ten to no generations back.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Eightfold: On Gods

The Ogdoad of Hermopolis: Frogs and Snakes
The problem with gods in fantasy settings is that they make way too much sense. Seriously; look at any actual mythological pantheon and see how well the gods fit into neat packages. Even the Greek pantheon, which has been progressively tidied and homogenised through generations of study and retelling, has figures like Apollo, god of the sun, music, prophecy, sickness and healing, which is a pretty broad portfolio and probably still misses a whole mess of local attributions.

Obviously, there's a big difference with fantasy gods - to whit, that they are an indisputably real presence in their worlds, who did specific and quantifiable things in the fictional history - but unless they're constantly chatting to their clerics on a first name basis, there's likely to be some blurring, especially since the gods themselves in this scenario are probably unreliable narrators.

James Holloway explains most of this better than I can - certainly better than I can in a blog post - in his podcast, Patron Deities (a Patreon-only bonus for backers of his Monster Man.) It's well worth a listen, and I really don't mind shilling for it, but be warned: If you're planning to create a fantasy world any time soon, it's going to make it more complicated.

For Eightfold, I took my first inspiration from eight of the more obscure figures of Egyptian mythology: the Ogdoad of Hermopolis. These gods - four couples, each consisting of a snake-headed woman and a frog-headed man, which sounds like something out of the world of southern blues - represent the pre-creation primordial world - possibly time, water, darkness and sky or something like that; I'm not being vague here, we just don't know the specifics - in the Hermopolitan creation myth, and that's about it. I felt that the couples were a little redundant, and risked sidelining the female members of the Ogdoad, so instead I began my world with a set of four, gender-neutral, primordial gods, who created the world as an elemental progression: Na sings the sky out of the Void, Una dances the land from the sky, Muna wept and created the waters, and Amuna breathed the spark of life into existence.

And that's it. Having done this, they bog off back to the Void and leave the world to the Old Gods - who directly represent air, earth, water, fire and spirit - and the Primordial Dragons. These figures are part of a perfect, harmonious world, peopled by Titans and dragons, which is promptly fucked up by the arrival of the Colossi, alien creatures that mess with reality itself; because there's always room for Lovecraft, except in racial politics. Thus the Old Gods bugger off, the Primordial Dragons have a falling out and the world breaks, which is the traditional Reason Why Everything Sucks that most religions - real and fantastical - incorporate.

So much for the creators. This is D&D, which means clerics, and that means vaguely comprehensible deities who grant powers. (In theory, you could get your powers from incomprehensible deities, but that's more the bailiwick of the Warlock of the Great Old One, who in this setting would make their pact with a surviving Colossus.) to fill this want, I have the Young Gods, who came after the Old Gods left, but before the Dragons had their schism. There were many of these gods, some of whom did well and some of whom did not. They made the many mortal races as imitations of the Titans, and the ones whose creations flourished (mostly the elves, dwarfs, orcs, tortles and dragonborn) grew stronger. When the world broke, the races were scattered and divided. Different races recovered at different speeds - humans, goblins and kobolds did specially well, because they breed fast - and many found new gods, because there are loads of them.

'Modern' cults - like the Church - essentially worship corporate deities, made up of the gods of the various smaller cults that have gathered together under a single religious identity. This is why the clerics of a given god might have very different domain powers, and why a given god can represent so many things; what a cult calls a god is more a collective identity for a number of gods, each taking their own slant on the shared name. It's basically the divine equivalent of a shared pen name which allows, say, 'Daisy Meadows' to churn out books about fairies like a Mills and Boon author on speed, or that film in which half a dozen people all played Bob Dylan. This is more than a mere fiction, however. The nature of divinity is somewhat plastic; gods become what their worshippers need them to be, but become fixed over time, so that the collective deities answering to the name of Iuva are all Iuva, and speak as one voice, albeit with sometimes varying accents.

The Eightfold Church has - you may be surprised to hear - eight cults, four greater and four lesser. The greater cults are the ones who were part of the original alliance against the Mage Sovereigns, while the lesser were brought in after, either because they provided clear utility to the Church or because there was no way to get rid of them.

Iuva the Mage-Breaker is the god of magic, the sky and the sea, storms, authority, law and dominance.

Tinevra is the god of knowledge, teaching, truth, secrets, lies, the moon, strategy and civic planning.

Tanit is the god of war, the sun, enforcement, glory, healing, and all forms of physical and performative excellence, including sex as performative.

Ilmar is the god of crafts, the forge, civic health, trade, sports, oaths, ships, shipbuilding and golems.

Aster is the god of agriculture, tamed nature, husbandry, growth and also a big fuck you to the druids, whom the Church hates.

Morha is the god of love, ecstasy, marriage, family, loyalty, fellowship and organised crime. They are associated with sexual relationships.

Nissus is the god of joy, music, drink, art, athletics, sex as a form of expression, and riot.

Yagai is the god of death, birth, boundaries, dreams, time, and kicking in the undead or planar intruders.

They're probably still too focused, but on the other hand their cults are meant to be pretty synthetic.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Eightfold: The Church Octaval

So, why is this game called 'Eightfold'? I hear you ask, and I'm glad you did, as it plays into today's topic.

The title refers to the principle political force in the Sacred Republic: the Eternal Union of the Church of the Eightfold Way, known colloquially as the Church Octaval. This is the coalition of religious cults that formed to overthrow the previous regime - that of the Mage Sovereigns - in the War of Hubris. As well as defeating the Sovereigns of six of the seven dominions of Talahaea, the Church was able, after the war, to unite those dominions - less a chunk of the south coast that was conquered by the Drow while everyone was distracted with the internal conflict - and forge something very roughly approximating a single, centralised government.

Each of the seven provinces - the six dominions that were taken in the War, plus a section of the south coast reconquered sometime after, possibly because it was the former domain of a necromancer and the Drow just got fed up of dealing with the zombies - has its own civic government dominated by the estates - the non-magical survivors of the old aristocratic structures, who own most of the land - and the guilds - the rising merchant class who have most of the money - and there is a shared civil state structure, but all civil authorities are at the very least strongly influenced, if not openly dominated by, the Church.

The High Regent - supreme priest of the Church Octaval - is also the head of state, in which position they use the title Octarch, but the head of government is the Supreme Consul, leader of the executive branch, the Supreme Consulate. The Consulate and the Assembly of the Republic (the legislature) are elected by and from the estates and guilds of the provinces, while the Court Absolute is a collection of mutually acknowledged jurists who act as a judicial branch. Any and all of these civil positions can be, and often are, filled by priests of the Church Octaval.

The Church Hierarchy is complicated (although probably not as complicated as it ought to be.) First, there are the eight cults, each of which is actually a collection of similar cults originally worshiping many similar gods who have now been given a collective name. 

The greater cults are the ones who formed the original alliance: The Cult of Magic, the Cult of Knowledge, the Cult of War and the Cult of Crafts. The lesser cults are those who were brought into the alliance later and considered important enough not to just absorb into the greater cults, usually because they fulfilled a vital role in maintaining social order: The Cult of Agriculture, the Cult of Love, the Cult of Joy and the Cult of Death. 

Each of the greater cults is headed by one of the four Regents of the Church, whose roles are largely symbolic, but who are seen as the candidates to become the next High Regent. The lesser cults have no singular head, but all of the cults have Regents-in-Ordinary who form a governing convocation, and a number of Regents with provincial or smaller geographical remits, priests attached to great temples, smaller shrines, seminaries or to civil bodies as spiritual advisers. There are also mendicants, paladins and templars (non-paladin soldiers in service of the church,) and notably not all of the priests are clerics in the character class sense.

And then there are the Congregations. Notionally committees formed to address specific issues, some of these have become the permanent organisations known as Cardinal Congregations, which wield considerable authority within the bounds of their particular remit. Some of these are inquisitorial in nature, enforcing orthodoxy or hunting down arcane practitioners, others oversee public health initiatives; one of the congregations of the Cult of Love maintains bonds of community and has links to organised crime.

Honestly, I think that the thing I'm most proud of about this whole set up is how difficult it is to briefly explain it. As I say, it's still way too simple to simulate a real international religious organisation, but it's got much more complexity than I would usually include - the war cult is also involved with healing and dance, and while there is no simplistic 'god of love', three cults oversee sexuality as a performative, relational and expressive activity, respectively - for which I blame the influence of the Patron Deities podcast.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019


It's been a while since I posted on this blog, but since I'm designing a new game setting and people seem interested, I thought I might expand a little.

Not incidentally inspired by streaming games including Critical RoleHigh Rollers and the Oxventure Guild, and thanks to moving to a larger house with space for a proper table, I'm going to have a shot at running a D&D 5e game in my own, homebrewed setting. This setting is the Sacred Republic, a major power in a smallish fantasy world, which I'll talk about as a whole in another post. I kicked off with a few basic notes: That the tech level was roughly at the Renaissance, rather than the pan-mediaevalism of the 'stock' setting; that the Republic was controlled by a powerful church; and that wizards were outlawed.

The Sacred Republic (and neighbours)
These three factors all fed into each other of course. Why is the tech level higher than in most fantasy worlds? Because there isn't as much magic. Why isn't there as much magic? Because the church has outlawed wizardry. That just left the question of why wizardry was outlawed, and so it came to be that there was a period in history when the wizards ran the whole show, before the Church overthrew them. From this, I developed the history and geography of the area, before moving on to the world and a planar system - because you have to have a planar system - and a rough approximation of the balance of trade between the provinces of the Republic, because if Catan teaches us anything it's that you can't call it world-building if you don't know who's buying sheep.

Since the church is important, of course there had to be gods. In this area, matters were greatly complicated by the influence of James Holloway's Patron Deities podcast, which has made me think even more than usual about how gods and religion work. The provinces of the Republic are mostly on a European model, because while that is a bit old hat, it's also what I know and what I can write without falling back on nothin' but stereotypes. Still, I've tried to make a bit more use of the concept, so the PCs' home province is your standard Anglo-German business, but moving out they'll encounter less familiar cultures. The real trick will be making sure that the specifically non-human cultures are actually non-human, rather than just... non-European.

Those non-human cultures?

Well, because I like to challenge myself, the Halflings of Yethera (the name of the continent; the world is called Aiaos,) are originally a travelling culture, so they mustn't be too egregiously cod-Roma.

The orcs and goliaths in this world had a somewhat less advanced culture in the north, before they were pushed out by encroaching giants, and now mostly form an immigrant workforce in the Republic.

The 'beast kingdoms' to the east are where the various animal-like humanoids live. Well, apart from the Tortles, who are another nomadic race and travel in massive, mobile fortresses, driven by subterranean lizards on treadmills.

And to the south we have the Drow, who are a major mercantile and occasionally military power bloc to the south, who control trade in and out of the Great Delta by means of a massive, fuck-off chain stretched across the mouth of the bay. There are some aspects of Constantinople/Istanbul in there of course, but so far I haven't gone into detail because I want to do something unique. I'm aware that I've kind of put the black-skinned elves in what looks like North Africa; in my defence this is actually in the shadow of the crown - the highest point on what is in fact a dome-shaped world - and it thus in shade for about half the day; I just have a limited range of coast shapes in my mind.

Finally, there are the Yuan-ti. Now, they're a particularly touchy case, because Yuan-ti are canonically humans corrupted by dark, sacrificial rites, so that has to be handled with care so you don't end up with a Peter Jackson kind of situation.

And the elves are Euro as fuck, because elves are the definition of racial privilege. Specifically, High Elves are the city builders, having been the rulers of the culture before the culture before this one, while the Wood Elves are the preservers of the wilderness and thus latterly leaning towards eco-terrorism.

There are also dwarfs and gnomes, but I haven't gone into much detail on them yet, and dragonborn in the archipelago of Ladonia, who trade with the coastal province.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

X-COM 2: War of the Chosen

The Chosen,whose new album is out this week.
War of the Chosen is a massive DLC pack for X-COM 2 which, like Enemy Unknown's expansion, Enemy Within, transforms the standard campaign with new content, adding additional enemies, units and features of the strategy layer.

First and foremost are the titular Chosen, a trio of badass enforcers for the alien Elders. In a cutscene completely outside of X-COM's possible view or knowledge - a first for the series - the Assassin, the Hunter and the Warlock are tasked with returning the Commander to ADVENT custody. In order to ensure best results from their infighting underlings and promote cooperation, the Elders promise control of Earth to the one who captures the Commander (and later have the gall to get pissed at the Chosen for being competitive.) What this means in-game is that each Chosen controls an area of the world, and has the potential to show up during missions in this area and get all up in your face.

Strike a pose.
The Assassin is a bit like your Rangers, combining tremendous speed with a concealment power, a devastating melee attack which leaves all nearby X-COM operatives effectively puking their guts up in shock, a shotgun for back-up, and the ability to move after attacking. Oh, and she doesn't trigger overwatch fire, because fuck you, that's why. The Hunter is all about precision range work, bouncing all over the shop with her grapple and deploying a targeting lock which forces the engaged target to reposition or face a lethal attack in the following turn. Finally, the Warlock has some nasty psionic abilities, and they are all built like bastards, overflowing with hit points, armour and reinforcements. Oh, and you can't permanently kill them at first. And they can sometimes capture your soldiers.

Thoughout the game, the Chosen learn more and more about your operation, with an ultimate eye to attacking the Avenger and recapturing the Commander. This growing knowledge provides an additional countdown which, unlike the Avatar Project, can never be reset. In addition, they have the option to capture your soldiers for questioning, which is just... rude.

But what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the ruthless alien enforcer, and that additional strategy layer element comes into play with the covert action screen. Managed via the new Resistance Ring facility, Covert Actions allow you to seek out rare resources, but also to find information on your enemies just as they seek information on you. The primary missions of this type relate to locating the stronghold of each Chosen and unlocking a mission to infiltrate it and destroy the stasis coffin which keeps them alive, but you can also send troops to find out where they are holding your captured soldiers, and completing such a covert action similarly activates a one-off rescue mission. Completing a covert action requires you to assign one or more soldiers, scientists and engineers, and possible intel or supply resources, with most actions having a required baseline and additional assets which can be assigned to buy off some of the risks. Each action has a risk of injury, ambush or capture, which makes covert action a bad choice for getting some quick experience on the rookies.

These two are introduced as barely able not to kill each other. I think most
players probably set them up as a max-bonded kill team.
Covert action opportunities are provided by the three Resistance Factions, another addition to the game. The Reapers are facemasked, Russianish scout-snipers who look like refugees from Gone with the Blastwave and eat ADVENT troopers for breakfast; literally. Naturally, this makes working with the Skirmishers, ex-ADVENT defectors, iffy at best, and the goal of the Covert game is to get each of the factions sufficiently onside to create a united resistance. The third faction, the Templars, are psi-cultists, but lack the specific beef with the other factions which makes the Reapers and Skirmishers engaging. At the start of each month, any faction that likes you (including X-COM) can be assigned Resistance Orders, which act as powerful modifiers for the coming month, boosting income, reducing the risk of Covert actions, or making certain Proving Ground projects complete instantly, to name but a few. Each of the factions also provides a 'hero' soldier for your forces (and the Reapers at least may very rarely assign a Covert action allowing you to recruit another,) with powerful abilities.

The templar's focus is, essentially, cutting a fool.
The Reaper uses stealth, sharpshooting and explosives. Their enhanced Concealment mode, Shadow, makes them incredible point-runners for ambushes, and they can remain in cover for entire missions if correctly specced and used for picking off the injured. The Skirmisher focuses on mid-range firepower and mobility, with a grappling hook that can be used for traversal, to drag in enemies for a melee attack, or to take the Skirmisher across the map to the enemy. While the Skirmisher does have a limited melee capacity, the real close-range specialist is the Templar, who has only a machine pistol to back up a brutal hand-to-hand attack and a battery of psi-abilities which are powered by successful melee kills.

The hero units are not distinctly more powerful than regular soldiers, but they are versatile, especially with the new ability point system, which allows you to choose abilities from multiple branches of their advance tree at each level. In addition, each has the potential to inflict horrific damage, with a high level Templar carving a swathe through the enemy, and the upgraded Banish ability and a souped-up rifle allowing the Reaper to take out half a dozen large enemies in a turn on a good day. The Skirmisher lacks any such extreme manouevres, but has a number of traits granting additional actions, including the hit-or-miss potential of Battle Lord, which for one turn each combat grants the ability to act like one of Vahlen's rulers and act each time an enemy takes an action in the character's line of sight.

By this point, their guns had been named... after
each other.
Another new addition to the mix is soldier bonding. Operatives sent on missions together, especially those who spend time in proximity on the field and shoot at the same enemies (or at enemies shooting at each other,) develop cohesion, and have the potential to form bonds, which grant extra abilities relating to their partner. Such pairings can then be made the subject of an inspirational poster, as can victorious group shots and other photos taken with the new photo booth feature. Stored in our game files, these can be found as propaganda posters around the battlefields, which now include underground levels and abandoned city blocks. The last of these are home to the Lost, zombie-like rejects from the Elders' experiments that attack in hordes. Killing one grants an extra action, so it is possible to take down a lot of Lost in a single turn, especially with a good sniper.

War of the Chosen overhauls X-COM 2  with a new feeling and a host of new gameplay elements, although one of my favourite things doesn't come up until the very end, when we see the Skirmishers welcoming waves of ADVENT troopers now free of conditioning. It's rather sweet. It also expands the original game without the crippling difficulty hike that makes it hard for me to get on with the excellent Long War 2 mod. I won't say 'otherwise excellent', because it's a feature rather than a bug, but does unfortunately mean that the mod is not really for me (at least until someone with better technical skills than I creates a better aim mod that works with LW2.)