Besides opening up the game to a huge new selection of nationalities, factions, units and ships, No Peace Beyond the Line changed the game in a substantial way by letting players add Characters to their forces.
I’ve been using characters pretty extensively since they came out but I’ve also made some mistakes using them so I thought I’d write an article focusing on them.
In Blood & Plunder Characters are special models or upgrades to models in your units that grant special abilities to your force, units or models. There are no less than 15 Characters to choose from in No Peace Beyond the Line but before we look at each one individually I want to address two common mistakes that I made and I’ve seen other people make in relation to Characters.
The first thing to remember when using Fighting Men Characters is the cost listed in the book is the additional cost on top of the cost of the model you’re upgrading. I’m not sure why it’s easy to miss because it’s right there in the book but you’re only “upgrading” a model you already purchased by paying those additional points for a Grizzled Veteran or a Reformado. This isn’t a sneaky way to get an additional Veteran Freebooter for only 3 points! The Hostages & Advisors are different and they have their own separate models and have no cost beyond what’s listed in the book.
The other important thing to consider when building a force including Characters is that each unit can only take one Command Point per turn, not per activation. Many of the Characters have special Command Points that are usually limited to one or two actions, but if you have several characters and a commander, you can easily get more Command Points in your force than you have units and at that point you won’t be able to use all those Command Points that you’ve paid for! This rule is found in the core rulebook and while it wasn’t really important when that book was first released, it’s an important rule to remember when using these new game mechanics in No Peace Beyond the Line.
The rest of the rules for the Characters seems fairly standard and intuitive. You can only include 1 character per unit (usually) and you can only include 1 character in your force for every 50 points.
Characters don’t count towards maximum unit size so you can bend the system a little a bring a larger unit than normal by including a character. In fact if you want to go crazy you got several characters into a unit if you pick the right ones! In a 100 point game the max unit size is 8 models. Add the commander and you’re at 9, add a Grizzled Veteran and you’re at 10 and you can still add a Musician and Standard Bearer since they don’t count towards the limit of one character per unit. That’s a unit of 12 models!
While the Officer is the most expensive of the Fighting Men, I find myself frequently using him. Command points are more useful than just having that additional action that increasing their training level might provide since they can let you do Dedicated Actions without spending your entire activation. Good examples of time-saving or advantageous actions you can get from an Officer include manning or abandoning the Sweeps or cannons, changing a sail setting or performing an advanced maneuver, spiking a gun, repairing a leak, and one of my favorites, an Expertly Drilled shot.
Infantry regulars are my favorite target unit for an officer. They’re powerful units that like to activate early in a round so getting the extra action will help you play a high initiative card and still get enough actions and you still have the possibility of performing a “drilled” shot even if you need to reload before shooting since the Officer’s command point can count as Dedicated. Adding an officer to a unit of Militia isn’t bad either since they can’t reach Veteran status. Their extra action will almost always be a helpful.
I’ve also attached an officer to a unit of sailors manning the sweeps on a Piragua. He can give his actions to the other unit in the boat and when it comes time to board the enemy ship, he can use his command point to get the sailors off the sweeps without using an entire turn. You could potentially leave the sweeps, grapple and charge in the same activation instead of only leaving the oars.
I find an Officer is a solid choice for a group of Cavalry as well. You usually want to activate mounted units on a Spade to get use out of their Quick ability so adding an Officer for that additional action is always useful. Cavalry can become expensive when you give them all their Carbines, experience upgrades and whatnot, but I find an Officer works really well them.
The Officer’s ability to take a Strike Test roll has come into play in a couple games for me but it has never helped me win a game. Usually if your commander is dead things are going downhill for you and it’s hard to turn things around…
The other cool things about the officer is he has a full 4″ command range which means he can reach any section of a 3 deck ship no matter where he is. Many of the lesser characters have a 3″ range and that extra 1″ makes a difference on ships.
The Master Gunner is one of the characters I find myself using most. The increased efficiency on cannons and sometimes even swivels is remarkable. A group of Marins on a set of cannons can get a shot and a reload out of a Heart activation card. Add a Master Gunner and they can shoot, reload for free with Expert Artillery Crew, reload with their second action, then reload again with the Master Gunner’s command point leaving them with 1 reload instead of 3! And then there’s the -1 bonus when firing your cannons! I think this ability was designed with the new “optional” cannon rules in mind (page 188 NPBtL) but it’s even better with the original cannon rules. Helping your cannons make contact is a great passive ability.
If you’re relying on using a commander’s Broadside ability to shoot your cannons, you’ll need to be careful to not break the “one command point per turn” rule with the Master Gunner. If the commander has used a command point to let a unit fire during the turn, the Gunner can’t use his Reload command on the same unit later in the same turn. He could give it to a unit in an adjacent ship section if they hadn’t received a command point from the commander.
Attaching a Master Gunner can often be much more cost effective than upgrading a unit from Trained to Veteran (or Inexperienced to Trained). There are other advantages to having a higher training level but if you’re just looking for basic dudes to shoot and reload, taking away pistols and adding a Master Gunner seems to be a cost effective way to go.
A group of 8 Veteran Marineros on your 3 light cannons in a Sloop would cost 40 points. A group of 8 Trained Marineros with a Gunner would be 36 points or a mere 28 points without pistols and you’d be getting slightly more actions. The shooting bonus is just gravy.
The shooting bonus doesn’t apply to swivels but on a Heart (or Spade at Veteran level) it’s feasible to shoot swivels twice on one activation!
Master Gunners can be useful on land as well on a field gun or emplacement. The extra skills and actions make the Inexperienced artillery crews on land exponentially more useful.
I would say bring these guys whenever possible but be mindful of how you plan to use your commander because you could potentially waste that extra command point more often than not. I would say the Master Gunner is the very best for the French and Spanish since none of their sailors have Expert Artillery Crew.
If you’re opponent is using a Master Gunner chances are you’ll need a Carpenter! Critical Hits happen and they hurt. I’ve had a game where I took 3 lucky hits to my ship and my opponent didn’t even have any cannons!
The Carpenter does one thing and he does it well. Repair is a dedicated action so the command point to get around that really helps. It basically gives you your unit back for the turn! That -1 bonus for the repair for that unit means that 1 command point is equivalent to spending a 2-action dedicated repair. And if you really need your ship repaired, you can combine the command point with 2 other normal actions and you can get a full -3 bonus to the repair action bringing it down to a target of 4!
I like to bring a Carpenter in most of my larger navel games. Put him in the center of the ship and he can pretty much repair anything! I’ve been using the Sailing Master to get some extra speed but that can sometimes result in damage on the rigging and the Carpenter can constantly repair the messes the Sailing Master creates!
The musician looks really cheap but when you factor in the additional cost of the model and the fact that he can’t be equipped with the standard weapons the figure would normally use, he looks a little expensive.
Giving your commander Inspiring is very strong but will usually be most helpful for the lower level commanders since a good percentage of the upper level commanders already have the Inspiring ability. Many of the 15 point naval/Buccaneer commanders don’t have Inspiring but be careful because if you pay for another Freebooter or Flibustier so you can use a musician, you may as well have moved up to the Seasoned commander or even a Historical commander! If you’re commander it attached to a cheaper unit like Militia or Sailors, the musician starts to look like a better deal!
The Terror ability is an extra bonus which sometimes does nothing or very little but it can also jump start an important part of you strategy if your playing a Spanish or Native faction that focuses on applying Fatigue.
It’s an expensive combo but the Musician and the Standard Bearer work really well together and they can actually be in the same unit since neither count towards the Character limit.
I find the musician especially effective in Spanish and Native factions.
The Reformado is a character that won’t use his command point every turn, but you’ll be thankful for that extra action when the time comes. I find him to be best at sea and he can really be attached to most all units you’ll want to put on a ship. He can join any unit with Drilled, Expertly Drilled, Sailors and Expert Sailors special rules. The main unit I can think of that he might be useful on but can’t join is the Forlorn Hope/Les Enfants Perdus.
That boarding action is a key moment in many naval games and the extra action that an be used on the active unit or an adjacent unit can make a big difference. You can even attach the Reformado to your command unit and then get 2-4 command actions in addition to the actions your card gave you for the turn.
You can also use the Reformado on a unit like the Enter Ploeg. That way they can still activate on a Spade and get their full 3 actions. They can seize initiative with a high card, use the Reformado’s Grapple action, then shoot and toss grenades and still charge.
If you plan to board your enemy, I think this guy is worth it. You might only use his command action once or twice in a game, but that extra action could very well win you the game.
So far I’ve been a little dissapointed with the Sharpshooter. He costs 4 points which is on the higher side and he lacks the command point that many of the characters come with and his abilities don’t seem to make up for it to me.
He can be attached to any unit armed with a musket and he gives that entire unit the Marksmen and Deadeye special rules. I think the Marksmen rule is very strong and that’s usually what tempts me to use this character but I’m not wild about his other abilities.
He also gets to roll a separate die when attacking and if the Sharpshooter model gets a hit, he deprives the target the cover bonus which means they will only save on 9-10. I like this rule and when it happens it’s very satisfying, but I haven’t seen it happen very often.
I think the Flibustiers are one of the best targets for the Sharpshooter. It brings them up to the shooting level of the Freebooter but they still surpass the Freebooter in melee combat. The Sharpshooter can also be used well with the Dutch Kaper, the English Forlorn Hope and the Native Warrior Musketeer. The combination of Marksmen and Great Warrior can make the Native muskets insanely accurate. I haven’t used the Deadeye ability as much as Marksment but I was thinking it would be fun to use that ability with a unit in fighting tops. That would bring most saves down from a 6 on a ship to a 8 which nearly doubles your chance of killing models with your hits.
Since No Peace Beyond the Line came out, ship speed has become a much bigger deal in my games. The new Privateer versions of the Sloop and Brigantine with the top speed of 5″ have really changed the game and the Sailing Master makes the racing ship even more fun.
Just like the Carpenter, this character’s Command Point is super efficient. Sail changes and advanced maneuvers are Dedicated actions so it usually takes up a unit’s entire action but with the Expert Sailors ability granted to the unit and the Command Point which can be used for Dedicated Actions, your unit basically gets to activate twice: they can do up to two actions off their activation card, then do the dedicated Sailing action with a target number of 4.
The extra speed is great as well. You can use that extra inch of speed to counteract your Windward penalty, or you can use it if you need a boost while not at your highest sail setting, or you can use it to actually exceed your top sail setting. That usually results to damage to your rigging but if it results in getting your ship withing grapple range of your target, it doesn’t much matter what happens to your rigging. Let the Carpenter deal with that…
The extra speed is especially good on the new Privateer version of the various ships. They all have a higher top speed than their top sail setting so this can help make use of that. You can even get a 6″ move if you’re sailing large!
Between granting the Expert Sailors rule, the efficient Command Point and letting your ship be faster and more nimble, I try to take a Sailing Master to sea whenever I can. He’s a very powerful (and fun) character.
The full 4″ command range means he can command a unit up to two decks away on a ship which lets you can place him more freely in a 3 deck ship.
The Standard Bearer can help keep your force free of Fatigue but he had done it the same “issues” as the Musician. He’s going to cost a minimum of 6 points and he doesn’t have a weapon.
Like the Musician, I think the Standars Bearer is probably most helpful in a swarm-style Militia force. The models are cheap making his cost easier to pay, the Militia tend to need plenty of rallying and the Land commanders tend to have a better command range which makes the extra Command Point more useful.
You can’t upgrade his weapon at all but I haven’t heard a ruling on if these characters without weapons can help man a cannon. If so, that would make both the Musician and Standard Bearer more affordable for naval games.
This guy is probably my most-used-character. For 3 points you get Tough, Battle Hardened, a Command Point for a Rally action and the model doesn’t lose his weapons and ability to function as a normal soldier. For 3 points! The combination of Tough and the Rally command action is incredibly powerful. Removing Fatigue for free usually means the command action can be spent on a another unit and you can keep all your units functioning. If you aren’t pushing, you can fairly reliably remove two Fatigue per turn which is amazing. The 3″ command radius isn’t great but if you put one Veteran (or Son of Neptune) in the center of your ship, you can Rally any unit on the ship. The action economy is incredible.
I understand Tough is getting an errata to make it less powerful so I hesitate to discuss some of the ways I’ve been using the Veteran, but I guess I’ll just come back here and rewrite as necessary.
I find the Veteran a solid addition to any faction with a high percentage of units with 6 Resolve. The Grizzled Veteran is a great addition to most Native factions. Not only do they have 6 Resolve, they tend to take Fatigue by firing their bows more than once per activation. The Veteran can also let units sprint. If you move 12″ in a turn with move actions, you’ll take a Fatigue but with the way Tough is worded right now, you can just shed that Fatigue at the end of the activation.
A Veteran is always useful on a Militia unit as well just because they tend to take casualties and roll a lot of Resolve tests.
Tough can also shed Fatigue off units that fire more than once with Brace of Pistols. The Forlorn Hope and Enter Ploeg often want to fire more than once in a turn and that results in Fatigue. Battle Hardened will also be useful on them since they are usually in the thick of the fight when it comes to melee.
I believe Tough is getting nerfed a little so it will only take off a Fatigue if the unit didn’t voluntarily take a Fatigue during its activation and if that’s the case, all this will change. As it is, I would say the Veteran is the strongest character you can buy and he’s only 3 points!
Son of Neptune
This is basically the naval version of the Grizzled Veteran. You can only attach him to units with Sailors or Expert Sailors and Battle Hardened has been replaced with the Expert Sailors ability but the most valuable Tough ability and extra Rally action are the same.
If you want the Fatigue management of the Veteran and plan to do some sailing and less melee combat, the Son of Neptune is a good choice. The Spanish, English and French all have a hard time getting access to units with Expert Sailors so this is a good way to spruce up your sailing reliability and keep Fatigue off.
Advisors and Hostages
These characters work very differently than the Fighting Men. They have their own model and don’t cost the value of a standard model in your unit in addition to the cost listed in the rule book. They also don’t have weapons and can’t fight or be killed in melee combat. Its also worth mentioning that these Characters have to be attached to the Commander’s unit and this would fill that Character slot and exclude the possibility of attaching another character to his unit.
At 10 points the Merchant is the most expensive character you can buy but he can save you a lot of points as well.
All units making Ranged attacks against the unit containing the Merchant apply a +1 penalty to their Shoot test. This can be very powerful, especially at sea when that penalty will protect the entire ship section (which potentially protects another unit).
Making your command unit more durable is pretty nice. For 10 points it needs to be pretty powerful. I figure if that ability saves 2-4 models over the course of a game it’s paid for itself.
I’ve used this Character with the Natives in Piraguas to compensate for the lack of Hard Cover, but that only works if your opponent isn’t using cannons. I believe the Merchants ability won’t apply to cannons targeting a structure with a unit inside so that Canoe or Piragua won’t get any advantage vs cannons.
I think the Merchant is best for a Command unit that focuses on Ranged attacks and doesn’t aim to get into melee. Once you’re in melee, you lose the protection and he becomes a liability because if he’s captured you gain a Strike Point! You have to be careful with this guy.
I must confess that I haven’t used a Spy yet. I would say her best quality is the ability to discard your hand once per game and draw a new hand (like the Buccaneer faction’s ability). This can be used every game is potentially game changing.
Her other ability gives you a 50% chance of depriving your enemy of using the Lay in Wait ability. This is fun and thematic, but will only useful when you’re fighting an enemy that has that ability… Only the Spanish Militia, Native Factions and the Black Caribs have the Lay in Wait ability so this counter is a little niche.
7 points isn’t cheap, but if you look at it as buying another Fortune Point, that cost makes sense. The ability to draw a new hand can win games.
This guy helps you not run aground. If you plan to put yourself in that situation, he might be a good choice. I’ve looked through the rulebook and there’s two ways to run aground: if you enter the shoreline area (3″ from the shore) any ship with a Draft value will automatically run aground, and if you end your movement on a Shoal, you have to roll a d10 to see if you run aground. In my area, we haven’t played much with shoal terrain in our sea games. Maybe we should be we just don’t… If you’re playing with shoals and using big ships, the Ship’s Pilot is a great choice, but otherwise, he isn’t useful at all!
His other advantage is that he grants the command unit the Sailors ability which could be useful in some situations.
I have used the Local Guide! Coming in a little cheaper at 6 points and granting both the Quick and Scouts abilities to all friendly units with 4″, she can give you real value in nearly every land game.
The ability to take initiative with a Spade on the opening activation of a turn and still get a move and have actions left to fight with is powerful. I’ve only used the Guide a couple times at this point but she won me a game!
The final Character is simple: he gives you one additional Fortune Point for 7 points. Fortune Points can swing games but they can also be fruitlessly sacrificed to the cruel gods of chance! Re-rolling a bad Save test can easily save you 12 points or so and a crucial action, but nothing is ever sure!
I think it would be entertaining to use the Spiritual Leader with a commander like Henry Morgan that already starts with 4 Fortune. With 5 Fortune Points (Morgan has Lucky as well) you can keep using that Fortune through nearly every turn of the game!
This Character doesn’t give you repeatable and reliable actions like an Officer or Grizzled Veteran, but he gives you another fun choice and dramatic moment during the game that could be huge or he could turn out to be a charlatan priest and he could do nothing for those 7 points! Feeling lucky? The Spiritual Leader might be a good character for you!
I really enjoy the characters in the game. They provide more options for customizing a force and they give identity to your units. Some are more universally useful than others but you’ll probably find a couple that compliment your faction and play style. I find I use the Grizzled Veteran and Master Gunner a lot and I feel like I get solid value out of them. The Sailing Master, Officer, Captured Merchant and Reformado are kind of my “2nd tier” characters and the rest don’t see as much play in my builds.
Which characters have you used and what are your favorites? Have you found some good combos with characters, units and factions? I’d love to hear how other players have been using this part of the game!