Song of the Splintered Lands
A review by: Dave Bezio (aka grubman)
Song of the Splintered Lands (SotSL) is the 3rd official supplement for the Song of Blades and Heroes “fast play fantasy skirmish miniature rules” from Ganesha games (http://www.songofblades.blogspot.com/ ).
This supplement is a bit different from the first two (which mostly include new rules and expansions). SotSL is a primarily a campaign book (although there are several new rules and expansions included in those campaigns). It includes a brief campaign setting and 3 campaigns designed to play in that setting. In addition, this supplement is made in conjunction with Splintered Light Miniatures, so it has an “official” line of miniatures to accompany the supplement (a review of this miniature line is included after the main review of the SotSL review).
This supplement informs you up front that it is not a stand-alone product, and you need the SoB&H rules to use it, and it recommends the other 2 supplements as well (Song of Gold and Darkness & Song of Wind and Water). For the most part, you don’t need the other 2 supplements, BUT, some of the special abilities listed in the troop profiles are from those supplements. It’s safe to say you will want the other two supplements to get full enjoyment and use of SotSL.
My opinions in this review
I’m a huge fan of Song of Blades & Heroes (you can read my review of that game here: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/13/13575.phtml ). That being the case, I took special care to separate my personal opinions from the facts. My opinions follow each section indicated by “grubby sez”, read them if you like, or ignore them if you don’t care.
The Look of the Book
This review is of the PDF copy of the book (also available in dead-tree from Lulu). The book is 40 pages long (including a 1 page advertisement) with black and white double column interior and full color cover. The print is easy on the eyes (probably a 10-12 point font). The book is profusely illustrated, and there are only 8 pages without some sort of illustration.
grubby sez: As usual, Ganesha Games delivers an attractive product that makes locating things quick and easy. Many of the illustrations are, in fact, actual photos of the Splintered Light miniatures and fit the book very well. Many of the original illustrations, obviously made specifically for this book, are really top notch and some of the best in the line so far (Including the cover that is sure to suck in anyone who likes the idea of sentient animals in a fantasy setting). A few pictures are reprints of ones we’ve already seen in past supplements…some more than once. Also, there are some ugly clip art ones jammed in for no other reason (that I can see) than to fill a little space. IMHO we could have done without these.
The first 10 or so pages of the supplement describe the setting of the campaign, including a map. It is concise and for the most part well written and enjoyable to read. The obvious slant is toward creating a chaotic war-torn backdrop for miniature battles.
The premise of the setting is as follows:
There is a land to the south (Wyldewood) that is controlled by a nameless Druid (there has always been a Druid and the current one picks his successor from a pool of apprentices when he is ready to retire. It implies that the Druid is usually an Elf, but never specifically says. In fact, other than this causal mention, Elves aren’t really detailed further in the supplement at all.) and populated by his “children”. The Druids Children are talking, tool using, sentient animals.
There is a land to the north called the Moonglade, where King Shade of Nightfast dwells, controlling orcs, goblins, and all forms of nasty races and creatures (including the enslaved Kobolds). He worships the darkness in circular forest glades called, what else, Moonglades, and desires to take over Wyldewood by hook or crook.
In between the above two lands is Mountain Home, the home of the Dwarves, who ally themselves with the Druid of Wyldewood. Another central land is the “Dark and Bloody Ground”, an area that is highly contested and where many of the battles can take place.
King Shade wants to invade Wyldewood and create a moonglade (a place of darkness worship and power) there to lessen the Druids power. The Druid has infiltrated Moonglade and built several fortified hamlets on his borders in an attempt to push back and destroy King Shade. The Dwarves, allied with the Druid, are just sort of along for the ride (and give you the option to include different miniatures in your army).
To add to the chaos, both sides have set the seeds of rebellion in the other army’s camp. King Shade has convinced some of the carnivorous animals (such as foxes wolverines, rats, weasels and pine martins) that they should be eating their sentient peers (the rabbits, mice, squirrels, otters, hedgehogs, badgers, and moles), and the Druid (along with the help of the Dwarves) have been secretly helping the Kobold Slaves become powerful enough to mount their own rebellion against King Shade.
grubby sez: What’s not to love about this setting? I have a soft spot for talking animals, and this setting really highlights them. The setting is concise enough that you can really wrap your brain around it and make it your own. Most importantly, it is a great backdrop and excuse for a ton of varied battles. If people take their fantasy very seriously, they might find a setting with talking animals sort of silly. I’m guessing those people won’t pick up the supplement in the first place.
The bulk of the book (about 20 pages) describes 3 campaigns that you can use in the setting, The Flowering and the Faithful, the Kobold Rebellion, and A dark and Bloody Ground. As far as Victory Points and running a campaign, they use the basic rules found in the core SoB&H rule book, but also offer many variances.
The Flowering & the Faithful
“The Flowering” is the ironic term used to describe the rebellion of several carnivorous animals in the Wyldewood. In this campaign the rebellion either gains serious momentum, or is crushed (at least for the time being) by destroying the rebel leaders. The campaign includes stats for the leaders of both sides, rules for fighting unequal battles (determined randomly at the beginning of the battle), rules for using “dummy markers” (chits that represent real troops and fake ones, so your opponent can’t determine the size or location of your troops until he can actually see them), and secret missions (that each side chooses before the battle for additional victory points or new victory point conditions).
grubby sez: I love the premise of this campaign, and the stats and information on the two factions and their leaders are both cool and useful. The rules for variable strength warbands really throw a random factor into the mix that will be interesting in play. I definitely plan on running this campaign asap. But…I feel an otherwise great idea is slightly marred by the inclusion and extensive use of dummy markers. Some of the missions even involve you trying to make it to the end of the table without revealing your dummy markers. I play this game because it uses miniatures! I don’t like the idea of moving around chits instead of miniature figures as much as is required in the campaign. Others may really enjoy this new aspect, however, and it does open up the possibility of several new types of scenarios.
The Kobold Revolt
The Kobold Revolt is a campaign that takes place inside Moonglade with the Kobolds revolting against King Shades forces (of goblins, bugbears, ect.). The campaign is further broken up into 3 “stages” (hit and run, hit and hold, and all out war) which are sort of mini campaigns themselves. The campaign determines the success or failure of the Kobold Revolt. Added to the main story is the interesting element of the Battlebeast, a dinosaur that the kobolds can use in the stage 3 battles (before then, they are simply trying to smuggle the beasts eggs into tactical locations).
grubby sez: Again, a good premise to base lots of battles in a new terrain (primarily swamp). The battlebeast is a cool addition, although there is no “official” model for it…yet. I personally find this campaign a little less colorful than the first. The ideas are good, but the execution is a little more drawn out than it needs to be IMHO, but it might go faster in actual play than it appears on paper. By the end of the campaign, you are fighting 500 point battles (plus victory points). When I can afford some Kobold and other Goblinoid miniatures, I’ll certainly run the Kobold Revolt campaign…but I will most likely shorten it up a bit.
A Dark and Bloody Ground
The third campaign is the most ambitious of the three, and will definitely be the most ambitious attempt of anyone who attempts to run it. The campaign consists of four battles consisting of multiple warbands, so you will be playing with about 1,500-2,000 points on each side for this campaign. The campaign involves the forces of the Druid and Dwarves and their construction of strategic hamlets in Moonglade territory. The rules for this battle contain considerable new rules involving woodland fortifications (basically, wood forts and the defenses around them).
grubby sez: The rules for the woodland fortifications seem sound. These new rules will be handy to have and use separately in other scenarios, and people itching for a seigh style campaign will really appreciate the material. I feel that with so many new rules all included in the battles of this campaign (and each with its own special rules), you will be doing a lot of reading and rereading of how things work. IMHO this campaign pushes the game rules just a little beyond the limit of the complexity level and warband size I personally feel comfortable with when playing SoB&H, but, perhaps that is the whole point of the campaign, to show that SoB&H can be played with much larger forces.
This supplement contains 9 new special rules contained on 2 pages. A few are specifically designed to pertain to the troop types in the campaigns, while some will continue to be useful in other SoB&H games.
grubby sez: There are some good special abilities here, despite the relatively short list. “Music” allows for the inclusion of musicians, and since so many command packs include standard bearers (which we already have rules for) and musicians, it’s only fitting that we can now use these models (and their ability is cool!). “Unique” is another one that is an important addition for further campaigns in future supplements or ones of your design. The “Battlebeast” special ability for the Kobold Battlebeast is a bit complicated for my taste (dealing with a howdah, individual riders, mounting, dismounting, drivers, ect.), but others have used the rules with great success, so I’ll have to give them a try before passing judgment.
SoB&H is known for its large and thorough selection of army lists, and SotSL certainly doesn’t disappoint with 7 pages of troop types. The profiles are all of troops appropriate for the campaigns included in the supplement, as well as further battles in the Splintered Lands campaign setting (or any battles, really). Many of the troop types are new (most notably the Druids Children), several other ones are revisions and/or expansions of ones we’ve seen in other supplements (like the Kobolds, Dwarves, and Goblins).
grubby sez: I would have purchased this supplement for the Druids Children profiles alone (both the Faithful and the Flowering). The Kobold list is greatly expanded, and makes the Kobolds an interesting and formidable warband to run. The Dwarves are a bit more interesting than the standard Dwarves, and anyone who likes to play Dwarves will probably want to use this list instead of the list in the original SoB&H rules. Finally, the Woodlanders list contains a variety of Faun and Satyr profiles that certainly make me want to pick up those models (which are also cool looking) and run a warband of these types as well (or mix them with the Druids Children for a Narnia-like effect).
People who have been playing the game for a while will definitely see a change in the fact that troops are starting to have several more special abilities than they used to. For example, a Kobold Warrior that had Short Move and Gregarious in the original rules now has Shieldwall and Swamp Walk in addition. That’s 4 special abilities for a line troop. In fact, many of the troop types in this supplement have 3, 4, or more special abilities (a Squirrel Archer has 6 and the Battlebeast has 9). Hopefully SoB&H won’t expand TOO far and become bloated in this regard, as much of its charm and playability stem from its un-cumbersome rules.
Giving my all around opinion of the supplement as a whole…I really like it! As I mentioned, it is very different from the other SoB&H supplements, and probably doesn’t have as much all-purpose general use, but, its focus makes it an enjoyable addition to the SoB&H family.
Highlights are a fun and interesting setting that is a very good location to place battles and a built in excuse for having them in the first place. The setting is also an interesting location for role playing adventures when the Tales of Blades & Heroes RPG is officially released (I already have an idea for the first one I will run). The army lists and corresponding line of miniatures for the Druids Children is a huge addition to the game. Not only is it a really cool army list for people who love talking animals, but the “official” line of miniatures begins to make SoB&H a more formidable miniature wargame when it comes to recruiting new players to the fold. Finally, you may or may not use the campaign, but, even if you don’t, there is a lot of useful and interesting information there to use as inspiration for your own campaign designs.
I give it a 4 for style due to the coolness of the setting, the inspirational ideas, fun layout, and original artwork. I give it a 3 for substance, because the majority of the book (the campaigns themselves) may only be useful to a select number of people.
Bonus Review: Splintered Light Miniatures, Druids Children line
I’ve always loved the idea of talking animals. I’m not sure if this love came from cartoons, the chronicles of Narnia, fairy tales, or something else from the days of my youth. One of the first things I wanted to house rule into Basic D&D when I first started playing where “smart-animals”, a race of intelligent tool-using animals who were the result of a long dead wizards enchantments.
When I found out about Songs of the Splintered Lands I was excited because the cover had just such animals on it. When I found out that the supplement was supported by a line of miniatures from Splintered Light Miniatures (http://www.splinteredlightminis.com/index.html )I was almost shaking with excitement. When I went to the website and saw the wonderful sculpts, I was hopelessly sold.
Then and there I ordered the entire line of the Faithful.
Of course, before my order was processed I was informed that the Rebels (the Flowering) were also ready for distribution, and was asked if I would be interested. Being the sucker I am, I spent way more money than I should have and ordered that complete line as well.
Well, pictures of miniatures don’t always tell the full tale. So what do I think of the miniatures now that I have them? Read on…
Before we go any further, I should mention that Splintered Light makes 15mm miniatures. While they are on the high end of that scale, 15mm is about ½ the size of most miniatures you are used to seeing, which are a 25-28mm.
The Druids Children line has some even smaller figures (like mice) and bigger ones (like Wolverines) so this line runs about 12-20mm. The picture below shows a size comparison with some other figures from my collection, including a playing piece from Risk 2120, a couple 20mm Battlelore figure, a 1:72 wizard from Caesar miniatures, a 25mm Starguard Dreenoi, and a 28mm plastic from EM-4 miniatures, and a GW gobo wolf-rider (converted model).
15mm figures are both easier and more challenging to paint. More challenging because they are smaller (duh!), but, easier because there is less area to cover. Personally, I’ve become addicted to painting this smaller scale, and 28mm figures seem humongous to me now…but that’s a personal preference. I think 15mm miniatures are easier to store and more resilient to damage as well.
The Splintered Light Miniatures I ordered arrived via USPS Priority Mail in a very reasonable time (3 business days). The transaction was very friendly and the miniatures were packaged well enough to resist any handling damage. There was minimal flash, and no minis with molding problems. There were several bent weapons, but they all bend easily into the correct position. Overall I was very pleased with all of that.
The miniatures themselves are beautiful sculpts that any miniature fan will appreciate. For 15mm, they are very detailed (without be overly so) and have a lot of personality. There are also various sculpts of each troop type, so every hare swordsman (for instance) doesn’t look the same. I probably over-ordered, as I will never be using 150+ of these miniatures at one time, but, they were just so cool I couldn’t resist.
What can I say but Splintered Light Miniatures (and the Druids Children line in specific) gets a big A++ from grubman. Customer service was great, friendly, and personal. Shipping was fast and safe. The product was exactly what is shown in the pictures. I have just a few of their other sculpts, but I hope (when finances permit) to expand my collection to include many more of their figures.
Side Note: It’s also worth noting that if you are running a Redwall, Narnia, or Mouse Guard RPG adventure or miniature battle, you could do worse than to check out this line as well.
Great review of both the expansion and the miniatures. I likewise find the Splintered Light minis very appealing, but unfortunately, I have an immense 28mm minis collection that I don't wish to abandon for 15mm. Are there any other minis manufacturers who produce anthromorphic animals in 28mm?
Are there any other minis manufacturers who produce anthromorphic animals in 28mm?
I've seen one or two figures, but never a whole line.
As was mentioned on another forum (by the author of the book), the minis are more of a 20mm scale. If you look at them as being actual animal sized, they are close to in scale with 28mm anyway.
So you COULD use them with 28mm figures with little problem (like the creatures in Narnia).
Right, after looking at your mini size comparison, I see that I could use the little critters with 28mm figures without too much difficulty. Looks like I'll need to place an order.