Rick Priestley gives us his insights on The Chryseis Shard.
The Chryseis Shard book is the second in our series of Antares supplements following The Battle for Xilos. The idea is to explore the Antares universe, expand its fighting forces, and develop the game whilst continuing the story arc that started with the game itself. As those who have followed our Antarean adventure since the beginning will know, my intention was to build a game background and then let it evolve as a living thing, not just freeze it in time or have everything stay the same forever.
One of my original aims was that players would be able to interact with the narrative, taking the part of one or other (or several!) of the forces involved, and feed their own results and ideas back into the game. That feedback would then help to determine what we would do next, how the story would evolve, and – especially – how the various characters would fare. For example, we collated all of the results of The Battle for Xilos online campaign, and one consequence was that the Algoryn Commander Tar Es Janar has been ousted by his enemies on the Council of Algor and sent into exile. One of those rivals is the lead Algoryn character in the new supplement, Special Division Councillor General Ess Ma Rahq.
We’re going to continue that broad idea with The Chryseis Shard. This time we’re not running an online campaign simultaneously with the launch, because we found that just didn’t give players – especially new players – time to get their heads round the scenarios or collect their forces. So this time round we’ll wait a while, and – of course – the community has grown a good bit in the meantime, so it would be nice to involve some of the most active player groups directly.
Some of the characters involved in The Battle for Xilos appear again in The Chryseis Shard, whilst others take a rest (they are busy elsewhere… 😉 ). Commander Kamrana Josen takes control of the Concord forces exploring the Determinate following events on Xilos. His Isorian rival, Drone Commander Xan Tu remains to represent the forces of the Senatex. The Ghar High Commander Karg having driven the rebel Fartok into hiding at the conclusion of the Xilos story continues his bid for power, and is now one of the major players in the action on Chryseis. Despite Fartok’s set-back, the rebellion continues to gather support amongst Ghar Outcasts; even amongst the crew of Karg’s mighty battlefleet!
I also wanted to introduce some new characters, both to expand the caste of our narrative and to give our sculptors the chance to make some spectacular and unusual new models. I have to say, they have stepped up to the challenge in style. The Freeborn are represented by a set of characters originally introduced by one of the most active participants in our Xilos campaign: Tim Bancroft. As well as contributing battle reports and publishing his own blog, Tim has written several stories about the adventures of his character: Prince Batu Delhren. In fact, you can read more about Prince Batu and his bodyguard Baray and their adventures here and in the newly published first short-story compilation set in the Antarean universe – Open Signal.
Taking a character developed by the community and incorporating it into our Antarean storyline was another of our ambitions for the Xilos campaign. In the new supplement, Batu leads an exploratory mission from House Delhren. Batu and his contingent of feral mercenaries provides one of the key elements in the story of the Chryseis Shard. Can we do the same again and incorporate a player’s character into our future supplements? We shall have to see what folks come up with. It’s certainly something I’d like to do as – after all – it’s a big universe and who knows who or what is out there!
The other new characters developed for this campaign are the Angoryn Councillor General Ess Ma Rahq, who we have already met, and the Boromite Miner Tas Geren’do. Es Ma Rahq comes with her personal bodyguard of Special Division troopers. This provides our first encounter with the sinister secret weapons development division of the Algoryn Council. Tas Geren’do is a rather different take on your typical Boromite adventuring Rock Dog. Having sustained otherwise fatal injuries from a rock fall, Tas Geren’do’s life was only saved by replacing much of his mangled body with machinery. Half-Boromite and half-machine, Tas Geren’do is the leader of a company contracted to work on the otherwise bleak world of Chryseis Three, a mining planet that provides all the resources for the system’s sole habitable world of Chryseis Home.
As well as introducing new characters into our game, my intention has always been that each new supplement would expand the game system in some way. The two key-note features of The Chryseis Shard are rules for hazardous environments and new force selectors for the different armies. Both of these additions have been developed with the considerable help of Antarean players all over the world, and I’d like to thank everyone who helped to develop and refine both rules and selectors. Antares was always intended to be an open system to which others could contribute, and it’s nice to see players taking it in that spirit. Quite frankly there is just way too much for one person to do, even if it were possible to play every permutation of every army (which it definitely isn’t!).
The rules for hazardous environments are intended to be playable in any games. Hazardous environments play a significant role in the six new scenarios in The Chryseis Shard. However, I also wanted to create a more generic system that anyone could use or develop further to represent weird alien landscapes and extraordinary geo-forms. So, we have introduced rules for things like quakes, tornados, volcanic eruptions and typhoons – which are comparable to what we might expect in terms of our own world – but also fire spouts, radioactive hells, toxic nightmares and temporal anomalies – which are definitely very alien indeed! Some of these create terrain items that appear during the game, whilst others are mobile features that move over the tabletop. Temporal anomalies, in the form of time twisters, affect the sequence and course of play. I don’t envisage players will necessarily use these ideas in every game, of course, but they make interesting scenario elements, and they can also be adapted and expanded upon very easily.
The rules for new selectors allow players to configure their armies differently to the standard selectors given in the army lists. So, a Concord Drone Force is built around support choices rather than tactical units. This enables a player to assemble a force based upon drones with human units in no more than a minor supporting role – effectively reversing the usual arrangement. As well as the Concord Drone Force we have a Concord Rapid Reaction Force (built around mobile units such as Interceptors), Isorian Drone Force, Isorian Tsan Ra Task Force, Algoryn Spearhead Formation (a heavily armoured strike force), Freeborn Raiders (based to exploit fast-moving hit-and-run tactics), a Boromite Survey Team (with additional equipment) and Ghar Seige Train (based on a core of long-range bombard units).
As well as these new selectors I’ve created two further army options in the form of Drop Forces and Ghar Fifth Columnists. The Drop Forces rules are something that players have asked for since rules for Drop capsules first appeared in The Battle for Xilos. Basically, using the Drop Force rules allows an attacking force in any matched attack/defence game to deploy as a drop force. It also makes provision for both sides to deploy in this way in an encounter game, should players wish to do so. As well as revised rules for drop capsules, I’ve included standardised rules for deploying through the atmosphere using hyperlight envelopes, landers, and transmats where forces have access to them. The Ghar get a new vehicle – the Dropper – especially to allow them to make direct drops onto the tabletop. At the time of writing we haven’t starting work on this model yet so quite what that looks like even I am unsure!
The Ghar Fifth Columnist rules are an entertaining option for Ghar Rebels when playing Ghar Empire forces. The basic idea is the Rebels reduce the points value of their own force but get the chance to persuade Ghar Empire units to come over to their side during the game. This is a little unpredictable, so I don’t imagine it will appeal to everyone, but it does make for an interesting fun game and it is very characterful.
The scenarios in the new supplement explore games in hostile environments, planetary drops, and clashes between large armoured formations. The new units and equipment developed for the supplement reflect this. For example, the Algoryn now have Hazard units, in many ways the Algoryn equivalent of Concord Drop Troopers. These units wear cumbersome Hazard armour. This is bulkier than standard Algoryn armour and gives extra protection from multiple reactive layers of reflex shielding. This enables Hazard units to shrug off even quite dangerous attacks, boosting their Res value to a mighty 10 (… yes 10!). This comes at some sacrifice of Agility and Initiative. Shots from high Strike Value weapons cause multiple shield layers to activate at once, dumping significant sink-mass onto the wearer. This can potentially stop troops in their tracks until the accumulated mass dissipates. Okay… what I mean is… in game terms the unit takes two pins rather than one On the other hand, Hazard units are equipped with enhanced plasma weapons, enabling each trooper to pour our three shots rapid fire in scatter mode. They can dish it out as well as take it.
We also have new vehicles including the Freeborn Solar Skimmer, which has already been released, and the close support version of the Concord C3M4 the M407 CS Combat Drone. New Drones include a nifty Boromite Rover Surveyor and a Drone Commander for the Concord as well as Iso-Drones designed to protect troops from dangerous environments. The Isorians get two new Tsan Ra units: a Command unit and a close-fighting Torus Squad equipped with the formidable Compressor Torus. The Ghar get a tactical Command Squad which allows Ghar Empire players to take a broader selection of supporting units. Again this is something players have commented upon, and it seemed like a good chance to add in a tactical choice command option for the Ghar.
The six new scenarios go together to tell the story of the Chryseis Shard. This is the tale of a strange mutant IMTel shard that has evolved upon the hellish inner planet of Chryseis One. This rogue shard is called the Locus. The nanospore of the Locus travels upon the solar winds and colonises the inhabited world of Chryseis Home: a world that is a remote part of the PanHuman Concord. Here it finds the native IMTel to be infested with parasitic biological life-forms called ‘humans’. Not for long though, as the Locus takes over the local IMTel and turns every artefact of civilisation against the infestation, ridding the planet of its biological corruption as it does so. When the Locus advances upon the barren mining planet of Chryseis Three, Tas Geren’do’s Boromites prepare to seal themselves in their mines deep below the ground, surrounded by radioactive rocks which no nanospore can penetrate.
When the Locus descends upon Chryseis Three destroying its surface bases and scattered human settlements, a group of Boromite surface workers takes to the company’s spacecraft in an attempt to reach the nearest world and raise the alarm. Their ship is only a small interplanetary shuttle, however, and it is soon overwhelmed by the ferocity of the Antarean photosphere. Its crew are forced to abandon ship in their stasis capsules. One of these capsules is discovered by a Freeborn craft from House Delhren. When the Vard Delhren learns of the rogue shard that can so easily destroy a Concord world he foresees a potentially valuable weapon. He dispatches Prince Batu to investigate. Meanwhile, the remaining stasis capsules have been captured by the Ghar and their inhabitants forced to reveal their story. The Ghar care little for corrupt nanopore because their technology is unaffected by such things. However, their leader Karg welcomes the chance to take over a world to use as a forward base in the great war against humanity. Little do the Ghar know their ships are being shadowed by an Algoryn fleet whose objective is to destroy them as soon as they leave Antarean space. And so the stage is set for conflict!
The scenarios themselves offer players six new narrative games which vary in size from small 500 point skirmishes to huge battles designed to absorb as large a force as the players care to throw at it! The potentially biggest game is the ‘Clash of Titans’ in which Concord and Algoryn forces battle for control of Chrsyeis Three. The game is designed to allow players to play a ‘tank’ game with multiple vehicles, although it can also be played with regular forces if players prefer. It makes provision for units that have been destroyed during play to come back as reinforcements. Thus, although designed for 1000 points per side, in effect each side has a limitless supply of units to bring on to keep the armies up to strength. It’s not just a slaughter fest though, because each side can stop the other bringing on its reinforcements by taking control of portions of the battlefield, so it is a game that also benefits from careful planning and tactical play.
I won’t describe all the scenarios in too much detail or else I’ll end up writing the whole book again! Suffice to say, the games are narrative scenarios that follow the same format as The Battle for Xilos. So, each game is described with specific forces but can be played with any, and suitable notes are provided to allow players to field whatever armies they have. Five of the games are designed for two sides and one game is a multiplayer affair in which a Freeborn/Boromite force has to fight its way past battling Ghar Empire and Ghar Rebel forces to reach the safety of a mine. Participants score victory points depending on how well they do. In the final conflict the most successful pair confront the Locus in its underground lair, with the rogue shard playing as a third force under the control of its own player or umpire. As with the Xilos supplement, the outcome of the final game is not determined in the supplement itself. That we leave to the players and for the ever-evolving story of the Antarean universe!