Dread Crusade

Dread Crusade is a journey megagame for 15 to 50 players. In this five hour game you can take on the role of a leader in a crusade, traveling to liberate a holy city from a Dread Lord, in a world with elves, dwarves, goblins, and magic.

On this journey, the players must manage the competing interests between different factions, acquire food and fodder to keep the crusaders fed, survive battles, and try to find the agents of the Dread Lord hiding within their ranks. Some challenges on the journey can be overcome through force of arms, others can be handled by diplomacy and bribes.

The conclusion of the game is unscripted and will be determined by player choices and their consequences, but hopefully the crusade will reach the holy city for a final battle with the armies of darkness and the Dread Lord.

Dread Crusade will be run at the Cancer Society Games fair, in Auckland, on Sunday 5 May 2024. It may be run at Wellycon in Wellington, on Queen’s Birthday Weekend 2024, and we are exploring the possibility of running it in Sydney in the second half of 2024.

Player Roles

The four most common player roles in Dread Crusade are:

  • Commander: the leader of the military contingent in a faction, with responsibilities for leadership in ambushes, battles, and sieges. This role involves making judgements about risk, and deciding when to charge and when to run away.
  • Quartermaster: the official responsible for finding or purchasing supplies to keep their contingent of crusaders well fed. This role involves some administrative work, and has some scope for trading resources with the other players.
  • Priest: a religious leader, interested in maintaining the morale and health of the crusaders, and striving to heal the schisms that divide the different factions. This role involves a lot of diplomacy and negotiation.
  • Magi: one of the various wizards, warlocks, witches, and sorcerers attached to the crusade. A magi struggles with the temptations of corruption as they try to find a bane that can kill the Dread Lord. This role involves some puzzle solving and deciphering of clues.
All art in Dread Crusade is made by humans. This Lich image is by Jeffrey Koch, used under a stock art license from Fat Dragon Games.

Factions

Dread Crusade is designed for up to 50 players, but can be run with as few as 15 players. Some factions are “large” and will have up to four players (one for each of the commander, quartermaster, priest, and magi roles). Some factions are “medium” sized, and will usually have two players. A few factions are “hero” sized, and will only have one player.

The large factions in Dread Crusade include:

  • Vestige. A city-state that was once a great empire, inspired by the city of Byzantium. The crusade starts in Vestige, with negotiations over ships and supplies between the servants of the Emperor, and the rest of the crusaders. Vestige has a small, professional army.
  • Thalice and Pantan. City-states focused on trade and wealth, with a small navy to help carry supplies. Inspired by Italian cities like Genoa and Venice. Thalice, Pantan, and Vestige are all rivals.
  • Creedlund, Iscaria, and Kithan. Contingents of crusaders led by high ranking nobles from the feudal kingdoms that lie to the west of Vestige. While some of these crusaders are driven by faith or chivalric sentiment, others are motivated by greed for land and gold.
  • Penitents. A contingent of common people from across many lands. What they lack in discipline, they make up for in their fanaticism and sheer numbers. Noble leaders are suspicious of common folk carrying weapons.

The medium factions in Dread Crusade include:

  • Dwarves. These crusaders are present on this pilgrimage of arms because of their love of Gold. They do not get on well with Elves or Goblins. Almost everyone else trusts a Dwarf, but only if they have given their oath on a matter.
  • Elves. These immortals are present on the crusade to advise and inspire the mortal crusaders. They do not get on well with Dwarves or Goblins. Almost everyone else trusts the Elves, because Elves never lie.
  • Goblins. A horde of goblins eager to show they can fight evil as well as the tall folk. Feeding all of the goblins will be a challenge. They do not get on well with Dwarves or Elves. Almost everyone is suspicious of goblins, due to folk tales about their propensity for petty thievery.
  • Guild of Magi. These wizards represent the interests of all Magi, who must suffer from the suspicions of many in the crusade that all magic is dark magic. The Guild does not get on well with the Inquisition.
  • Holy Church of the Light. These crusaders provide spiritual leadership for the overall crusade, always striving to reconcile differences in doctrine between different contingents.
  • Inquisition. These crusaders are dedicated to finding agents of the Dread Lord. They do not get on well with the Magi. Very few people like the Inquisition.
  • Orders of the Lion and Dragon. These are groups of knights who have dedicated their lives to fighting the Dread Lord. The orders are rivals. Inspired by the Templars and Hospitallers.

The solo roles include a Druid, a Monk, and a Ranger, each with some special powers and a small band of followers.

If player numbers permit, the following optional factions may be included:

  • Dark Elves. This contingent of crusaders consists of elves who were seduced by the wiles of the Dread Lord, and now claim to have turned against their former master. No one trusts them.
  • The Grey Company. A contingent of professional mercenaries, hired by the Emperor of Vestige. They have, at different times, worked for almost every major faction, including the Dread Lord.
  • Order of the Fallen Star. Once a group of knights disbanded for corruption and betrayal, the name of the order has been reclaimed by peasant rebels from the lands occupied by the Dread Lord.

Core elements of Gameplay in Dread Crusade

Megagames often involve intense gameplay, with their never being quite enough time to do everything. In Dread Crusade, the players will be largely responsible for determining the pace of the game. The crusaders will be divided into three divisions, often marching on different routes towards the holy city, but sometimes also pausing to rest or to combine for a siege or battle:

  • March Actions. The crusade moves along the selected movement route to the next settlement or point of interest. Quartermasters will forage or purchase supplies, while commanders may have to deal with ambushes, battles, and sieges. Priests will want to investigate holy shrines, Magi will want to investigate mage towers, and everyone can do quests into dungeons for gold and glory. As you do march actions, you accumulate stress tokens.
  • Rest Actions. A crusade division can pause for a rest phase. This lasts 20 minutes of time. During the rest phase players can do actions to reduce their strength, heal injuries, restore morale, and improve discipline. A council of senior leaders may meet to make policy decisions for the crusade. Some roles have unique special actions to play in the Rest Phase. This is a good time for diplomacy, snacks, and bathroom breaks.

Some crusader decisions and dice rolls will create Doubt. This is the sum of all fears and other factors that undermine the faith of ordinary crusaders in the prospects of ultimate victory. Each time 100 points of Doubt are accumulated, a Dread Phase is immediately triggered. During the Dread Phase the following can occur:

  • Accusations. The Inquisition can accuse one player of being an agent of the Dread Lord. If a majority vote of finds the accused guilty, the overall commander of the crusade chooses their fate.
  • Desertions. All crusader forces with stress tokens must check to see if any of their units desert from the crusade. The morale of all crusader forces is reduced.
  • Healing the Schism. Priests can make an attempt to reconcile the doctrinal differences between different crusader factions.
  • Increase Dread Level by one. This makes future battles harder, and increases the chances of a dice roll being an automatic failure. Dread starts at one, and can increase to five.

More information will be added closer to the date of the game in May.