Verrotwood - a Folk Horror Skirmish Game
Posted: 23. 06. 2023.
Verrotwood is a tabletop skirmish game designed by Mike Crutchett and released earlier this year. It caught my eye on Instagram because of its folk horror theme and skirmish scale. It’s set in a fictional world covered by an ancient forest, where people live in scattered settlements under the watchful eye of their god - until a strange event that might be the sign of the apocalypse.
You need a warband for each player, exactly four cultists strong. Some monsters are good to have, to spice things up. The bestiary includes creatures such as ghosts, giant spiders, animals, undead, horrific forest spirits... The game is miniature-agnostic, so you can use whatever minis you have, or make awesome custom cults -whichever floats your boat. I went all in, in my usual fashion...
The board is ideally 3x3 feet, with as much forest terrain on it as you can muster. Plus some rocks, buildings and fences, and special spooky terrain if you have it. All dice in this game are d10, and you need several per player. A tape masure in inches is needed for movement and range. When playing a campaign, you’ll also be using a standard poker deck.
The Rulebook can be picked up on Wargames Vault for under 10€, and exist exclusively in digital form. I have a few problems with it, which I’ll discuss in my final thougths.
CREATING A CULT
You start by imagining the horrific deity your cult follows, which will guide you in deciding on further details about the cultists. I made two cults, so we can pit them agianst each other. The Herd worships Marrowbul, who values aggression, noise, strength, and fearlessness. The Children of the Beast Mother are followers of the Beast Mother (obviously), and their goddess values community, fortitude, health, and big hugs.
All cultists start out with the same stats and HP. Out of the four stats: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Defense - INT is by far the least used, so I didn’t find it viable to invest in increasing it. Points in Verrotwood are called Favor, and you use them to level up your cultists’ HP and stats, and to purchase equipment. You start the campaign with 300, and earn more Favor based on your performance in encounters. Indoctrinating new cultists is always free, but you cannot have more than four in your warband.
Weapons are designed as broad categories: improvised, light and heavy bladed, light and heavy blunt, polearms, bow, and crossbow. Whatever you have on your mini will likely fit into one of these. I didn’t put any bows on our cults, but they can all throw rocks a short distance as an improvised ranged attack that’s available by default. There is no armour or shields listed among equipment, but their effects can be represented by increasing the model’s Defence stat. Equipment also includes consumables for replenishing health or mana, and adding elemental effects to attacks.
Another resource you get to use is Ritual Points. They get freshly generated before each fight, and are spent to perform Rituals - which are this game’s magic system. There are dozens to choose from, and you are to pick four that best fit your cult’s themes. For the Children I picked Rituals that heal, help the cultists protect each other, or retaliate harder when attacked. The Herd have Rituals that throw them into four different flavours of battle frenzy. There are no dedicated magic users in Verrotwood, selected Rituals are available to all of your cultists at any time. If you’re desparate to replenish some RP during battle, you can have a cultist spend their turn praying to their god.
Models always activate in random order, to “simulate the unpredictability of combat”. When we played, we assigned each model a poker card, and shuffled them together. They would activate in the order we pulled them from the deck. A model gets to perform one or two actions on their turn. Big monsters get multiple turns per round. For most weapons you must be in base-to-base contact to attack. You can walk away from an enemy freely with no chance of opportunity attacks. You seem to be able to freely shoot from combat, but shooting into combat may result in hitting the wrong target.
When rolling dice in Verrotwood, stats and other conditions will add or subtract to the number of d10s you roll to determine success. More dice you roll, more chance to get that higher number. You use the highest result of your rolls (so 10 is always max). Attacks are opposed rolls: Strength vs Defense for melee, and Dexterity vs Defense for shooting.
The rulebook states this game is meant to be played as a narrative campaign. There are things that can happen between games, randomly generated with a poker deck. We wanted to experience that, so playing a one-off game simply would not do. There are two encounters in the core rulebook, and more got released in monthly supplements. We played the two from the main book: Relic Hunt and Place of Power.
In the first encounter I played the Children of the Beast Mother, and my BF played the Herd. Then we swapped warbands for the next game.
There are ancient Relics buried in the woods. Both of our cults want them bad, because they believe these artefacts might be the key to unleash their respective gods from their prisons .Our objectives were to collect the 6 Relics scattered on the board, take the enemy cultists out of action, and kill the creature that roams around. We had four rounds to accomplish all this.
I used my green 3’x3’board and my forest terrain collection: mostly Citadel Wood sets and Hanging Trees from Malifaux. Field fences from Citadel provided some lower obstacles, and there was one piece of Special terrain: the Wicked Well. The scenario calls for a single creature, and we selected the Forest Beast, which was represented by a wolf (Dire Wolf from Reaper Miniatures).
Got everything deployed, including the hungry Wolf. In the centre of the battlefield, stands an abandoned well. The well is Wicked terrain, meaning it influences cultists to come closer and fall in. One of the Relics was placed within the well’s threat range to make it interesting.
The Cults each generated their Ritual Points: 22 for the Herd and 35 for the Children.
On Round One, everyone just moved forward.
Round two, we had four relics collected - each Cult claiming two of them. Verka attempted to climb over a stone fence to get to a Relic faster, but fell on her bum and wasted precious time.The Wolf activated and moved into combat with Jelen. It hit for five damage, halving Jelen’s health. Boril activated the Aura of Rage and flanked the Wolf. Jelen activated last, worked himself into a Frenzy, and inflicted eight damage to the Wolf.
Round 3, Bogdan doesn’t quite reach another Relic. He’s not near any enemies, but since he ends his turn within the Wicked Well’s area of effect, he must test his Intelligence stat to avoid falling under its influence. Unfortunately, he fails and ends up taking a head-first dive down the Well. There are two Relics left to claim, so Karda and Gavril run towards them.
Jelen unleashes a frenzied double attack on the Wolf and finishes it off. Danka Berserks, allowing her to run towards Gavril and make an attack - but he defends. Boril does exactly the same moves, but much more successfully - a Crit attack inflicts nine damage leaving the enemy cultist at a single HP. Their goal is to claim the nearest Relic, taking out as many enemy cultists as they can in the process.
Seeing that her fellow Beast Child is in trouble, Verka uses the Birds of a Feather Ritual, which moves her instantaneously in base contact with the wounded Gavril to help. She attacks, dealing five damage to Boril. Same exact thing is then repeated by Jaromir, but he fails to land a hit. Now most of the combatants are bunched up in a big melee around one of the remaining Relics.
In Round 4 Gavril goes first, and uses a healing ritual to get himself back to 7HP. He swipes his claws at Danka, but her antler shield keeps her safe. Karda picks up the Relic on the other end of the battlefield, and successfully resists the Well’s sinister whispers. Jaromir finishes off Boril. Jelen foolishly runs into the middle of the fray to replace him, but the next second Verka knocks him out cold. Danka misses Gavril with her club.
This is where we realise it’s game over, since this scenario is four Rounds long.
The Beast’s Children collected three Relics for their deity and knocked out two enemy Cultists, giving them the Victory Point score of 5. The Herd were less successful, claiming only two Relics and slaying a Wolf - for the score of 3.
The victorious Children receive 100 Favor from their divine Mother, while Marrowbul is not impressed and bestows his cult with 50 Favor. Bogdan was fished out of the well with no permanent injuries. Jelen suffered a broken leg from Verka’s attack, and now walks with a limp.
This is where we get to the ‘Explore the Forest’ stage. After a game, each player picks one Cultist to send out into the woods to have a little solo adventure. A card from a standard 52-card poker deck is drawn and then the player consults a table in the Rulebook. Most cards will result in them finding a piece of equipment or some Favor. The face cards, though, each have a little story - during which the Cultist is tested on one of their stats. The result can be very positive or very negative. I like this! Here’s what happened to our explorer cultists:
The Children sent Gavril. He wandered into a dark part of the woods, where darkness was unnaturally oppressive. He could sense the presence of a large beast nearby, and ran away from it in terror. It didn’t catch him, so he came back home with 18 Favor.
The Herd sent Danka to the woods while the others were recovering from the fight. She didn’t find any supernatural dangers, but a bunch of healing mushrooms she picked will be put to good use.
The Cults used their newly earned Favor to upgrade their members, and prepared for the next encounter.
TO BE CONTINUED...
We played both games back to back, but the blog post got rather long - so I decided to make it a two-parter! Part two is coming next week, where you’ll get to read about the second encounter, the hobby stuff I made for it, an interview with the designer of Verrotwood, and my final thoughts.
Disclaimer: this is not a paid promotion and I am not affiliated with the game’s creator or publisher. Everything stated is my personal, biased opinion.
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Thank you for making me even more excited to start building a forest, your miniatures are once transporting the vibe amazingly
Great to see you getting into this one - it seems right up your alley!
Your cults are excellent, of course. I would love to see you take on some of the various terrain types… Verrotwood has some of the most interesting terrain rules.
@ Faun - Thank you!
@Marc - Yes, this is just my kind of thing. Thank you very much! And you’re right, there are so many rad terrain-crafting opportunities in the game.
Great report, not heard much about this until now but you’ve sold me on giving it a try. Looking forward to the follow up
Thank you very much, MShields!
The 3 photos at the start really set the tone for this game. How did you make the trees and totem pole?
Thanks Anthony! The idol was sculpted in polymer clay, and there will be a short making-of in the next week’s Part 2 post. The trees were crafted from chopsticks, roots, wire, and asparagurs fern - full tutorial coming in July!
Really cool sounding idea for a skirmish game! Your Pine trees with foliage are absolutely amazing. Did you make them yourself or are they available somewhere?
Ignore my previous comment - I see a tutorial is due soon Very excited
No problem Iain, I hope the tutorial was of use to you.