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Spirit Blade, Kessandria and Skulmar, oh my

Discuss Quests, Cards, Monsters etc, from the Return of the Witch Lord Quest Pack.

Spirit Blade, Kessandria and Skulmar, oh my

Postby Zenithfleet » Tuesday October 27th, 2020 9:33am

*rises dramatically from tomb with arms crossed over chest*

I've been thinking about Return of the Witch Lord and its various oddities. I have the EU version, but some of this should also apply to the NA edition.

Note that I've only played through RotWL once, because I didn't have it as a kid (which pained me, oh how it pained me... *sad violins play*)

Incidentally, the flavour text throughout this booklet seems less well written than Kellar's Keep.

Anyway, here are a few things that bother me:

Problem #1: At the start of Quest 6, the Dwarf and the Wizard lose all their gold, unavoidably, and can't get it back.

Problem #2:
The big dramatic moment depicted on the cover of the box--Barb and Elf captured and about to die for the Witch Lord's calcerous amusement--is a bit lacklustre in the actual Quest 6, because the WL curses and vanishes the moment the other two players enter the room. ("Curses!" *BAMF*)

Problem #3: By the rules as written in the Quest Notes, the imprisoned Dwarf and Wizard start with all their equipment sans gold. Therefore they might start with the Spirit Blade. I doubt the Witch Lord would make that elementary mistake. (On the other hand, if the Barbarian or Elf were carrying the Blade, it would be stashed in the chest in the central room.)

Problem #4:
Skulmar and Kessandria both have rules saying they should attempt to escape to the stairway tile. Kessandria even has a Swift Wind spell to help her. Unfortunately there's no followup to this during the Quest. Skulmar at least gets an 'I'll be back!' mention in the epilogue, but Kessandria just vanishes from the official story.

Problem #5: In the final Quest, the Witch Lord is now vulnerable to Fire spells as well as the Spirit Blade. Presumably this is so that players who don't have the Blade anymore can still have a fighting chance (at least for the 1BP EU version of the WL, silly though that makes the final confrontation). However, it seems a bit random and unflavourful.

Problem #6: Kessandria is also immune to magic except Fire spells for some mysterious reason.

(Also, it looks as if the secret door behind Kessandria's starting square is intended to help her escape, but by the letter of the rules monsters can't open doors or secret doors. Easy enough to house-rule, though.)

Problem #7: The endless procession of Skellies, Zombies and Mummies gets a bit dreary after a while. At least Kellar's Keep occasionally throws in undead amid the Gobbo/Orc/Fimir parade. It would be nice to have a reason to see at least a handful of Orcs now and then.

Oh, and it's not necessarily a problem, depending on how ruthless an Evil Wizard player you are... but it looks as if in the final Quest, a curious player could accidentally break the Spirit Blade if they tried stabbing one of the magical Orc statues in the corners. Oops. Good luck defeating old smiley after that.



But wait! Perhaps these problems are opportunities in disguise!

Maybe those Orc statues were created with the very purpose of smashing the Spirit Blade?

Maybe the Witch Lord steals it off the Heroes in Quest 6, and intends to take it to his tower (where the statues are) to dispose of it? *WHANG* *SNAP* "Muhahaha, nothing can stop me now!"

However, he has a problem: Can undead pick up the Spirit Blade without being destroyed? Possibly not. So how will his minions carry the thing away to be smashed or locked away?

Not to worry--ol' Witchy has planned for this. He's been watching the Heroes approach across the plains, remember. What he needs is someone living to pick up the Blade. Either Chaos Warriors, or Orcs/Goblins/Fimir.

He probably wouldn't trust a Chaos Warrior not to use it on him. But Orcs are easier to keep cowed. So he has a reason to keep a few Orcs around the place, waiting to safely handle this radioactively deadly (to him and his legions) item. Which means a bit of enemy variety for the players.

But hang on. Surely you'd have to get the Blade back early in Quest 6. Otherwise the WL wouldn't curse you and vanish--he'd fight on, grinning his grin of smug invulnerability.

Then again, maybe that would be more exciting. You'd have to flee to the stairway after getting the Barb and Elf out of the centre room. Though there's the risk that the unkillable WL will block the escape route.

As for his newfound weakness to Fire, there seems to be some kind of connection to Kessandria since she has the same vulnerability. What if he was wounded by the Spirit Blade at the end of the base game Quests, making him vulnerable to Fire (as other people have suggested on this forum)... but Kessandria's magic now protects him from it again?

Essentially, she's projecting a portion of her own invulnerability to magic onto her lord--giving him her own immunity to Fire--which in turn leaves her weak to Fire?

In that case, if you kill Kessandria before she escapes, the Witch Lord would no longer have her around to maintain his Fire-immunity. Which is why he's weak to Fire in the final Quest.

But if Kessandria gets away, the Witch Lord will be immune to all magic in the final Quest (except the Spirit Blade). So now there's a consequence to letting Kessandria get to the staircase.

Meanwhile, for Skulmar... maybe if he gets away, the enemies in the final Quest will be stronger in combat?



Here are my ideas so far. Let me know what you reckon:

In Quest 6, 'The Halls of the Dead', add some extra notes and icons so that the Spirit Blade has been taken from the Heroes (the Witch Lord ain't stupid). Also, the Witch Lord won't disappear unless the players have retrieved the Blade--until then he'll fight them.

As for where the Spirit Blade should actually be kept: This depends on whether you want it retrieved quickly (so the WL won't be unkillable in this scenario), or keep it for much later.

If the latter, it could go in the Forbidden City's empty chest (the one mistakenly labelled A), but that seems like an odd place to stash it.

My own idea is to add two Orcs 'carrying' a treasure chest (that is, the orcs are placed on either side of the chest) somewhere in Quest 6. If the Dwarf or Wizard lost the Spirit Blade, it will be in the chest.
Whether or not they were carrying it, the chest will be full of their stolen gold. (Unless you prefer the evil genius of the permanent loss, of course.)
(Label this with a D.)

If the Barbarian or Elf were carrying the Blade, it's in the chest in the centre room instead.

Then, in Quest 6, add the following bolded text to Note A:
(...) Both characters may pick up all their equipment, except for the Spirit Blade if they were carrying it. The jailers have, however, stolen all their gold. (...)

Adjust the final sentence of Note B:

The Witch Lord attacks and defends as follows: [add row of stats on one line as per final Quest]
'The Witch Lord cannot be affected by spells and can only be harmed by the Spirit Blade. When a character retrieves the Spirit Blade, the Witch Lord immediately curses them and disappears in a howling tempest.'

Add an extra note D: 'This treasure chest contains all of the Dwarf and Wizard's stolen gold. It also contains the Spirit Blade if they were carrying it.'
[Adjust if you'd prefer that the gold is found much later, or never.]



In Quest 7, 'The Forgotten Legion', add the following flavour text at the end of Mentor's scroll:

'Their leader, Skulmar, also oversees the Witch Lord's personal bodyguard.'

[This is to give the players a hint that offing Skulmar might be a good idea before they reach the final Quest.]



In Quest 9, 'The Last Gate', add the following flavour text at the end of Mentor's scroll:
'Here dwells Kessandria the Witch Queen, whose magic protects and fortifies her Lord. He may be weakened if you can slay her.'



Then, in the final Quest, 'The Court of the Witch Lord', add the following Notes (not that there's much room!)

'If Skulmar escaped in 'The Forgotten Legion', all Skeletons in this Quest defend on both white and black shields.'
[That makes the six-skellie room near the end more dangerous, along with the WL's personal bodyguards in the final room.]

In the Witch Lord's description under his stats (new text in bold):
'The Witch Lord can only be harmed by two things: the Spirit Blade and Fire magic. If Kessandria escaped in the previous Quest, Fire magic will not affect the Witch Lord.'



... Phew. Now, does that actually work, or have I overlooked something?

There are other things I'd want to do, like sprinkle a few more Orcs in here and there, but the above covers most of it. I think.
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Re: Spirit Blade, Kessandria and Skulmar, oh my

Postby wallydubbs » Tuesday October 27th, 2020 8:01pm

I've noticed some of these "problems" as well and have come up with some solutions as well.

Before getting started, there are a large degree of players in the community that apply the "no armory or Alchemist Shop" rule during a continuous quest pack, such as Keller's Keep, Return of the Witch Lord and Against the Ogre Horde.
There is a little problem jumping from RotWL to AtOH, as no reward is granted for the completion on RotWL. In this quest pack the majority of the gold is made in the first 5 quests, only for all the gold to be lost at the start of Halls of the Dead. A simple remedy here is just providing the heroes with the same reward they received from KK.

Understandably, all equipment is taken from the heroes between quests 5 and 6, and you'd think the Witch Lord would hide away the one object that is his weakness. It's #5 on the Evil Overlord List:
"The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness."
This should be hidden away to be found in a later quest, like you said, the Forbidden City (Forbidden Caverns in NA).
However the part about the Witch Lord retreating if they no longer have it does seem problematic. I never really considered this to be an Escape only quest, which seems adequate. I'll have to playtest it, see if it's doable.

When I play Halls of the Dead, I don't leave the Wizard and Dwarf's equipment outside their cell door. That doesn't seem reasonable. I leave it in the room across the hall (where I add a cupboard and chest). So they'll have to beat the monsters in there to get their equipment back. I just have Mentor tell them where their equipment is stored.

In the North American version the Witch Lord can also be harmed by Magical Throwing Daggers.
As for Skullmar and Kassandra, the introduction passage of this quest pack states:
"If the Witch Lord is not stopped soon, he will be joined by Skullmar, Captain of the Forgotten Legion and by Kassandra, the Witch Queen. If these two sit along side the Witch Lord, it is said that the bones of the fallen warriors will be summoned together under the Black Banner."
This seems to suggest a strength in power for this Unholy Trinity when joined together. So it could kinda make sense for him to project some of his weaknesses onto Kassandra. Since neither Kassandra nor Skullmar make an appearance in any other official quest pack, I would allow these two to stand by the Witch Lord in the final battle if they escape their respective quests.

From what I read, most players find this quest pack rather easy, as Skeletons and Zombies don't provide much issues to the heroes. So I like to add some challenges. Skullmar, for instance, should be more powerful, but nowhere near as powerful as the Witch Lord. I give him the Necromancer spells from Wizards of Morcar. In addition, the Forgotten Legion need to be more powerful, either an additional attack dice, body point or the black shields block all hits thing to make it seem reasonable on why they never lost a battle.

I like to make little changes like that to ramp up the difficulty. In Quest 2, I make certain adjustments with the Spirit Riders. I feel they're like the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and add certain treasures in the coffins reflecting it.
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Re: Spirit Blade, Kessandria and Skulmar, oh my

Postby Zenithfleet » Thursday October 29th, 2020 1:59pm

wallydubbs wrote:I've noticed some of these "problems" as well and have come up with some solutions as well.

Before getting started, there are a large degree of players in the community that apply the "no armory or Alchemist Shop" rule during a continuous quest pack, such as Keller's Keep, Return of the Witch Lord and Against the Ogre Horde.
There is a little problem jumping from RotWL to AtOH, as no reward is granted for the completion on RotWL. In this quest pack the majority of the gold is made in the first 5 quests, only for all the gold to be lost at the start of Halls of the Dead. A simple remedy here is just providing the heroes with the same reward they received from KK.


Yes, very true--we did the 'no shopping' rule too last time. Although I don't think the game is meant to work like that mechanically in KK or RotWL. Next time I'll have a Goblin Shop / Zombie Shop...

Also, I think the gold rewards in the first five Quests are much larger in the NA version than in the EU version... and then all the players lose it, whereas only the Dwarf and Wizard lose their gold in the EU.

Slight tangent: The interesting thing about the 'consensus order' (Kellar's Keep > Return of the Witch Lord > Ogre Horde) is that when originally released, KK and RotWL were clearly designed to be played in either order. The back of each box, as well as the end of the base game's questbook, suggests that both threats are, well, threatening at the same time and you have to decide which one to deal with first.

Meanwhile, the internal flavour text (prologue/epilogue) of both KK and RotWL pretend that the other expansion/threat doesn't exist. You could happily play RotWL first if that was the expansion you bought first, and follow it up with Kellar's Keep.

Makes sense in marketing terms. Some kids would only buy one expansion, after all. (My family only had Kellar's Keep and, later, Ogre Horde. Couldn't find Witch Lord anywhere! It was weird to learn later on that Ogre Horde was the rare sought-after expansion whereas everybody and their pet gobbo owned RotWL.)

This is a roundabout way of saying it's quite possible to get the reward just before Ogre Horde if you do RotWL before KK.

However, in story terms, doing RotWL first throws a spanner into the works, because how does the Emperor survive holed up in Karak Varn all that time while you're off brodesoding Skellies?

Which presents an idea for a narrative fork with optional difficulty tweaks:

Ask the players to decide at the end of the base game quests which threat they want to tackle first. Rescue the army or stop the Witch Lord. Have a consequence for each. Maybe if KK is completed first, Skulmar and Kessandria have had time to claim their thrones, and the armies of the dead are rising all over the land--a good excuse to make RotWL more challenging. Meanwhile if RotWL is done first, the Emperor's army is destroyed while you're away in Kalos, and Prince Magnus has to take command of the Empire against the rampaging Orcs and Chaos Warriors. But you'd still need an excuse to go into Kellar's Keep. Hmm... maybe the Emperor himself is still alive all by himself down there, and you have to rescue him? Or you need to get the Star of the West back again? Or the enemy has set up a base there and you can sneak in and dispatch the general?

At both ends of the 'fork' you'd have the Empire in serious trouble--either from Morcar's armies in the east or the Undead legions from the south (?). But hey, at least it's not both at once!

Whoops, went off on a bit of a jaunt there...

Always thought it was a waste of potential to kill off Sir Ragnar in the epilogue just after that neat plot twist, too.

wallydubbs wrote:Understandably, all equipment is taken from the heroes between quests 5 and 6, and you'd think the Witch Lord would hide away the one object that is his weakness. It's #5 on the Evil Overlord List:
"The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness."
This should be hidden away to be found in a later quest, like you said, the Forbidden City (Forbidden Caverns in NA).


I'm pretty sure I got the idea about the Forbidden chest from one of your posts (if not you, someone else on these boards), so thanks, it's a good idea! :D

wallydubbs wrote:As for Skullmar and Kassandra, the introduction passage of this quest pack states:
"If the Witch Lord is not stopped soon, he will be joined by Skullmar, Captain of the Forgotten Legion and by Kassandra, the Witch Queen. If these two sit along side the Witch Lord, it is said that the bones of the fallen warriors will be summoned together under the Black Banner."
This seems to suggest a strength in power for this Unholy Trinity when joined together. So it could kinda make sense for him to project some of his weaknesses onto Kassandra. Since neither Kassandra nor Skullmar make an appearance in any other official quest pack, I would allow these two to stand by the Witch Lord in the final battle if they escape their respective quests.


That would be another good way to give them a capper. There's certainly room for both of them in the final throne room.

The 'Black Banner' is apparently Morcar's ancient battle standard for his Legions, defeated by Mr Rogar, Barbarian Esq. So it sounds as if these three are planning to bring the entire original army back from the grave.

(Incidentally, I've always wanted to theme the Witch Lord, Skulmar and Kessandria models after the characters from the old Skeleton Warriors cartoon...)


wallydubbs wrote:From what I read, most players find this quest pack rather easy, as Skeletons and Zombies don't provide much issues to the heroes. So I like to add some challenges. Skullmar, for instance, should be more powerful, but nowhere near as powerful as the Witch Lord. I give him the Necromancer spells from Wizards of Morcar. In addition, the Forgotten Legion need to be more powerful, either an additional attack dice, body point or the black shields block all hits thing to make it seem reasonable on why they never lost a battle.

I like to make little changes like that to ramp up the difficulty. In Quest 2, I make certain adjustments with the Spirit Riders. I feel they're like the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and add certain treasures in the coffins reflecting it.


More good ideas! Will keep them in mind. Not sure about spells for Skullmar, though--I feel like that would be more Kessandria's shtick.

The only change I dared to make when I played through it (because it was the first time through and I couldn't judge things properly) was to give the EU Witch Lord multiple Body points and localised versions of the Chaos Spells, because after three Quest Packs and twenty years I wasn't going to let a great unfought baddie from my childhood be a pushover. It turned out to be a fight to remember. Everyone died except the Elf. Who ran away and took the credit.

I'd love to get hold of some old plastic Warhammer skeletons on skeletal horses to use for the Spirit Riders. ("I had one once but the head fell off.")
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Re: Spirit Blade, Kessandria and Skulmar, oh my

Postby wallydubbs » Thursday October 29th, 2020 9:16pm

Most of here choose to play Keller's Keep before Return of the Witch Lord for 2 reasons:
1.) The Emperor is trapped in Korak Varn, so couldn't possibly be there to give the heroes a feast for stopping the Witch Lord.
2.) The Witch Lord is the best villain in all of Hero Quest, it doesn't seem right to kill him off entirely on the 2nd expansion.

As you've pointed out the problems of playing either expansion before the other: yes, going after the Witch Lord first would leave the Emperor in dire need while his entire army gets whiped out.
However the Witch Lord doesn't immediately allie with Skullmar and Kassandra immediately after his defeat at Borrak Tor. It is revealed in the closing epilogue of the Game System that the Witch Lord lives and has retreated to the Black Mountains. Clearly he was licking his wounds as the Spirit Blade did wound him.
However in Return of the Witch Lord he has taken up refuge at Kalos.
Perhaps the Witch Lord needed to regain his strength before he could convene with Skullmar and Kassandra and this could explain the time discrepancy.
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Re: Spirit Blade, Kessandria and Skulmar, oh my

Postby Zenithfleet » Saturday October 31st, 2020 3:19am

Just thought of another idea for Quest 6 (lost gold / characters tied up):

Instead of treating the gold loss as unfair and making sure the heroes get it back quickly, how about going the opposite route and making them lose EVERYTHING?

All gold, all equipment, all Quest Treasures / Artifacts, all potions...

...and the heroes don't get them back. Because the Witch Lord has planned for this, and he doesn't play fair.

Spells are probably missing too, as per the Legacy of the Orc Warlord quest in the base game (but the spellbooks are hidden somewhere and can be recovered--perhaps in the chest in the central room.)

And naturally the Spirit Blade has been stolen and must be found in a later quest. Along with a bare minimum of helpful stuff like the odd spear or shield.

Therefore Quest 6 becomes a 'jailbreak and run' quest where the heroes have to bust into the central room, free the Barb and Dwarf, and then run for the exit. The Witch Lord has no reason to vanish. He stays on the board since the Heroes are no threat. Possibly, to keep things simple, he doesn't leave the central room, letting his minions do the job. If he can move, the risk of him blocking the heroes from completing the quest is low, since the map is quite open and has two or three routes to the exit. (Although you could have a proviso that if the heroes are clever enough to wound him without the Spirit Blade--e.g. with a Magical Throwing Dagger in the NA version--he does his curse-and-vanish routine.)

If nothing else, it would certainly make the players hate the Witch Lord with a passion. "He took all our stuff! Who does he think he is, taking all our stuff?! REVENGE!"


Rationale:

Some people have commented that RotWL is easier than Kellar's Keep, partly due to the undead having weaker attack dice. But on the other hand, the quest design in RotWL is more interesting, with various gimmicks.

So I quite like the idea of having the players breeze through the first half-dozen quests, fully tooled up, confident that they'll be home in time for tea--but still having fun because of the various cool things they find.

And then they run into Bellthor and lose EVERYTHING, permanently, and realise the entire first half of the expansion was one big trap.

In Quest 6 you could have the characters stripped down to their bare character boards and having to run like heck to find the staircase. Which leads them to the Forgotten Legion in Quest 7. That's another quest clearly designed to be a 'run away!!!' quest when the Legion wakes up. At written it doesn't really work with tooled-up Heroes because they can just bop them all off. But heroes missing all their equipment, rolling a mere two dice or whatever to attack and defend, would find the Legion a scary prospect, even without giving them any extra abilities.

The only issue I can see with this is that two 'run away' quests in a row could be tedious.

(by the way I like the subtle design choice to have 6 and 7 both end with the spiral staircase, implying you're going deeper and deeper into uncharted territory.)



Let me run with this idea for a minute. The characters will probably need SOME help in Quest 6 if they've lost everything.

How about: In the small room/cell next to the starting spot for the Dwarf and Wizard, replace the two Zombies with two Orcs. (Or possibly Fimir.) They're being kept prisoner. If the heroes find them, the Orcs will join forces with them and fight on the players' side. This gives the Barbarian and Elf player something to do if they haven't been found yet--they can control an Orc each.

However, because the Orcs are untrustworthy monsters, the players can't search for anything as long as the Orcs are on their side (that would mean turning their backs...) This means it's impossible for the players to get to the exit staircase as long as the Orcs are with them, because it's behind secret doors. This prevents any rules questions about the Orcs staying with the players into the next quest. In practice, of course, the Orcs are unlikely to last long.

You could simplify this further and just use the standard 'no searching when monsters are present' rule--the Orcs counting as monsters--so if they step outside the room then a hero inside can search. It will still slow the heroes down a bit and make it less likely they'll find the secret door in the Orcs' cell.

If the players decide to attack either Orc, they immediately revert to being controlled by the evil wizard player.
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