Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Actual Play: Aces High Aerial Combat at the table

I have reviewed Aces High in 'set piece test' format before for flying-ship-on-flying-ship combat but I had the great good fortune to be able to test them as they were intended in our last session.

Some background - our party of dragonbloods (reskinned dragonkings from Atlas Games 7 Civilisations) has pulled a dragon saddle off the wall behind the old throne of their legendary great-great-great grandsire after a hard nudge from a wizarding uncle to sort their own stuff out and stop bugging him about site-to-site transport. Lacking the dragon that their grandsire had, they secured something broadly-like a whaling longboat and got the palace carpenter to put a roof over the front half to make it aerodynamic. The magical saddle was strapped across the top and after a few flight tests where speeds were determined, the party, their aunt, all her luggage and their grandfather the Duke boarded to set off for the frontiers of the kingdom to try and find a misplaced treaty stone that had kept the peace between giants and dragons for the past few generations.

En route, they encountered a territorial dragon - not a very large one, merely a juvenile red - and it gave a good 'real play' test of the rules - putting a relatively standard foe up against whatever contraption a party manages to get their hands on.

On board we had a sorcerer, in the saddle and fully occupied with flying, a cleric and a bard as combat effective passengers, the Duke as a melee-capable passenger and their aunt who was no use.

The flying longboat was nose heavy and not very maneuverable so I let the sorcerer decide to trade 30ft/rd of speed for an extra stunt dice each round as they liked.

The first stunt phase, the dragon gets an angle and decides to hang onto it for just now. The sorceror chooses to drop altitude, dumping 4 levels of altitude for +4 AC. next the dragon makes its attack and it swooped down and blasted the longboat with its breath weapon. A good strike, smoke starts to roil from the cargo compartment. The party rolled poorly in initiatives and now got to act - the bard cunningly setting off message and using that to encourage everyone despite the howling wind of the open longboat. The cleric fired off a searing light and got a good strike, annoying the dragon. The damage to the boat caused another loss of altitude.

Next, we go again, the sorceror having saved most of their stunt die they roll a new set and end up with 2 angles in hand.

Now the sorceror gains altitude, the dragon swoops up after the boat, boosting its altitude and attempting to close but still trailing the boat and without a ranged attack this round. The sorceror attempts to Bug Out, and the dragon aces his flight check and takes the opportunity to pounce, snapping off the rear prow with a bite attack. The cleric fires a crossbow bolt which ricochets off the dragons scales and the bard makes their move. Here the dragon heritage of the party comes to their advantage as the bard curses out the dragon in draconic and induces Tashas Uncontrollable Laughter. A terrible roll on the dragons part puts them into freefall and unable to act as the sorceror spends an angle and Bugs Out again.

The party arced away in their damaged, on fire boat - the cleric casting summon water into the nose to douse the fire while the bard watched the dragon spiral down and just miss clipping a local mountain. (Randomly determined local mountain height was below the dragons final altitude after it snapped out of the spell).

All in all it was a great test for the system - benefiting from the cleric having play tested it before and being able to coach the sorceror in their best moves. Once again the speed and lightness of the ruleset stood it in good stead, people were able to pick it up and use it cold, things moved at pace and that kept it all exciting. The lack of heavy weaponry like ballistae was very noticeable compared to the ship-on-ship fights but balanced by the ability of 'one failed save' spells to knock out the foe long enough to effect an escape.

What was interesting to me was how quickly things went - 2 rounds of actual contact - but it still felt like a chunky encounter with lots at stake. As mentioned in the rules, ranged and spells are most important in this and it provided a clear illustration about how tough it is to take down a dragon without being able to get to grips with it.

Continue to recommend Aces High, the 5e aerial combat rules from Arcadia #3 published by MCDM earlier this year - we were even playing 3.5e and it slotted right in neatly.

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