Tuesday, 31 December 2013

On His Excellency's Service - Conclusion

Nearly a month on I look back on the game with very mixed feelings, which probably says more about my self-critical nature than the scenario itself. So I'll try to give a balanced view of my own, and also pick the brains of the players themselves over on the Oldhammer forum.

I was aiming for a scenario in the style of The Magnificent Sven or those from old Citadel Journals, where players can win without necessarily dominating the battlefield, and I think this was mostly achieved. As with many things in life, the things I agonised over before the game generally worked out OK, while the things I didn't agonise about came back to bite me. Although human nature being what it is there are almost certainly things not agonised about which didn't bite anyone, and I'm totally unaware of as a result...

The good

Not to be forgotten - a game of Oldhammer was played in good spirits. Figures were deployed, dice were thrown, and both players set out to achieve their objectives in an even-handed fashion.

There was good "fog of war" due to the involvement of a GM. Neither player was an omniscient general overseeing the battlefield - the high elves didn't know quite what they were up against, whereas Wezma didn't quite know what his own forces were up to (and the players seemed reasonably happy with this). There are a couple of caveats to this though, which I'll mention below.

The scenario seemed reasonably balanced (again, with a major caveat). The high elves' limited objectives seemed to counterbalance their inferior numbers, although in fact in hindsight Wezma's objectives are quite hard to achieve before his reinforcements arrive.

I'm also quite happy with the way the scenario development went. I set out to let the players field whatever forces they wanted, and in fact was expecting the defenders to be orcs/goblins led by either Paul or Gaj. The main issue with the game would have been avoided if I'd picked all of the forces, but at the cost of less ownership for the players I feel.

The bad

The elephants in the room for the scenario were the demons. When Paul first shared his draft army list with me the thing that concerned me most was their ability to fly, especially as it was unclear at this stage whether we would be playing 2nd or 3rd edition - and flyers are very tough in 2nd ed. Their profiles aren't especially powerful, and they seemed to me to be slightly inferior, fear-causing and flavourful chaos marauder replacements. I think I had in the back of my mind to ensure Gaj had counters to their immunity to normal weapons, but failed to follow through on this. There were various options - to rule that these were somehow mundane (and hence vulnerable to normal weapons), to provide the elves with one or more magical weapons, or to select Wanda's spells for her. Any one of these would have worked, and while it would have slightly changed the nature of the scenario to say that here is a unit that is a counter to that unit (a whiff of newhammer, perhaps?) it would have been better than the outcome that we did end up with which was to have one side have a unit with no counter. I think that part of my procrastination was the thought that, even in this situation, the high elves' objective was still achievable, but this fails to take into account just how much the demon's presence colours the scenario.

In character / out of character briefing - I wanted to have the player briefings be in character, however in hindsight I should have been more open with Gaj about what the scenario was aiming to achieve, i.e. to state explicitly that his forces were outnumbered, but the intention was that his objectives balance this out. It's OK for the general to not know what he's up against, but in only our second Warhammer game together and my third meeting with Gaj the mutual understanding is not yet there to spring quite the surprises on him that this scenario entailed. Also, when playing Oldhammer it's fair to trust the players to keep in and out of character knowledge and motivations separate.

Rules knowledge and application - I'm far less familiar with the rules than I was 20 years ago, and even then (I now know) I was applying some rules wrongly. I didn't worry about this too much ahead of the game, as I knew that any different interpretations or misunderstandings could be resolved in a grown up manner. This proved to be the case, so while there were probably half a dozen instances of rules being wrongly applied or missed altogether I don't feel these significantly impacted the outcome of the game. However I want to be running games as per the rules, mainly so that we can then fairly judge how the rules stand up.

Time - it would have been good if the game had come to a decisive conclusion in the 3 or so hours the club is open on a Friday. It would have helped if I'd arrived on time, but even so with an extra 20 minutes I feel the battle would have been even more pregnant rather than concluded. I'm not sure if this is simply a matter of fighting across rather than along the table, however that layout seemed to suit the scenario the best.


By a strange coincidence both players had the spell Cause Animosity available to them and both considered its use on the demons (in Paul's case to influence the uncontrolled demons in going after his foe - which would again have shown the benefit of having a GM in order to adjudicate this sort of creative generalship). If the demons had been made to attack Wezma's forces in this manner it would have highlighted the situation that neither side had a counter to them, other than their wizards.

I'm not sure what to conclude from this, except I'm wondering if we might develop a local meta to always have a wizard or magical weapon on each side, except where the game has no mages, scrolls, etc. It also brings into question the balance of demonologists (although many would argue that balance and 3rd ed are mutually exclusive) - albeit at the (generally low) risk of failure to control, the ability to summon uncounterable allies seems rather powerful! My main thought though is that scenario design requires much more "what if" than I put into my first attempt, with a greater review of (and perhaps control over) which tools are available to each side.

I also one day want to run a scenario where one side has an unkillable unit (inspired by the discussion on the Oldhammer forum about magically armoured characters [registration required], and ideally avoiding demons altogether!), but it would need to be clear from the outset that this was the point of the scenario, rather than being an unintended consequence of the army selections.

Battle navigation

On His Excellency's Service - Turn 8

The clock was clearly against us at this point, as the club was packing up around us. And with the dark elves arriving Gaj seemed to see this turn as the last throw of the dice...

High elf turn 8

The silver helms moved out from behind the covering cultist rout, into a position to charge Wezma in a future turn - but with equally exposing themselves to whatever he could do to them. Wanda moved forward, curiously close to the chaos warriors, but at the same time giving her line of sight on Wezma. Bhonnd also left his unit, again giving him line of sight on Wezma.

Bhonnd fired on Wezma, but failed to wound, and Wanda's cast fireball proved to be slightly out of range and so fizzed.

Chaos turn 8

Paul chose to draw proceedings to a halt, and so draw the curtain on a very enjoyable no-score draw. But we'll never get to know what the demons would have done next...

Battle navigation
Turn 8

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Prize winning blog

It's like an award winning blog, only less deserving...!

I was lucky enough to win the giveaway in Erny's Orctober, and the boyz arrived in the mail on Friday. And even lucker that Erny threw in a champion to keep them in line, which just happened to be the one miniature I was after from that page of the 1988 Citadel catalogue! Not that I have all of them by any means - only 4 in fact - but I'm attempting to keep my "wants" list as small as possible, for the sake of my sanity and marriage.

Hopefully I'll find some time over the Christmas period to get paint on at least some of them.

Thank you Erny!

Monday, 9 December 2013

On His Excellency's Service - Turns 6 and 7

I have to confess I'm a bit hazy on exactly how the fight between the halbardiers and cultists went. As far as I can tell from the photos and my memories of the overall battle, it was like this...

High elf turn 6

The silver helms failed their strength test to move towards Wezma, meanwhile the merchant company wheeled to face the oncoming warriors. They also tried a shooting them, but with no greater accuracy than before.

The combat between the cultists and halbardiers continued, with Drumman killing the cult leader but the cultists counterbalancing this with their hits on the unit. With their follow up bonus from the previous round they pushed back the cultists once more. The rebel demons clung on for one final round.

Chaos turn 6

A further setback for Bhonnd - Wezma's dark elf allies finally appeared on the table edge and moved towards the battle! The chaos warriors also continued forward, wheeling slightly towards their target.

The combat phase had two decisive results*. With Drumman able to attack the rank and file, and with the halbardiers strength of numbers, the cultists were finally stopped in their tracks and pushed back. And with the cult leader dead they failed their rout test and fled. Further damage was done in the free hack, but with Drumman's heavy armour the unit was too slow to catch the fleeing cultists and the halbardiers stopped, unformed. In the other key combat the rebel demons finally gave way to instability and were lost to the void.

 * As I said before, I'm pretty sure this is what happened, but I distinctly remember being surprised just how poor the additional hand weapon of the cult leader proved in practice. Hence I thought his combat with Drumman lasted longer. More notes next time! I think that part of the problem was that by this time we were too absorbed in the game to be taking enough photos which is probably the preferable way around.

High elf turn 7

Despite the looming threat of the demons the guard unit elected to charge the routing cultists. This had the effect of them fleeing towards the swamp, directly into the path of Wezma's wind blast spell (I'm assuming this was a cunning plan). Wanda took the opportunity to move away from the chaos warriors.

More arrows were wasted in the direction of the chaos warriors, but otherwise this was a turn full of potential rather than actual outcomes.

Chaos turn 7

Wezma's newly arrived allies... sat back to watch. I thought this was a great example of roleplaying over tactical need from Paul - his background for his elven allies was that they'd happily join in any fighting and looting that was to be done, as long as it was to their advantage. In this instance where things were looking less certain from their point of view they preferred to sit on their hands. Maybe they'd get involved once their hated cousins moved into shooting range...

The chaos warriors and demons squared up to the mechant company and halberdiers respectively. The cultists and guards meanwhile were deemed to have their rout move the previous turn (when running away) and so didn't even attempt to move under the wind blast spell. I think they probably should have been free-hacked this turn, but that got lost somewhere amongst the discussion as to just what the wind blast was doing.


Battle navigation
Turns 6 and 7

Friday, 6 December 2013

On His Excellency's Service - Turns 4 and 5

High elf turn 4

The silver helms charged gloriously at the jabberwocky with their comrades shuffling forward in support. All except for Wanda who wanted to get a few friendly units between her and the hostilities and decided the left flank was more to her taste. Meanwhile the merchant company started to earn their reputation for the game - that of elves who couldn't hit a sizable enemy unit at moderately close range.

The silver helms elves did OK with their charge but the real stars of the combat were the warhorses with their hits finishing off the jabberwocky. Unfortunately for the silver helms by this point we'd worked out that not only was the monster subject to stupidity but that it could also regenerate, which it promptly did for all but the fireball wound inflicted the previous turn. This didn't stop it being pushed back however.

The rebel demons lost their combat, and were all but wiped out by the resulting instabity roll.

Gaj was by this point rather concerned about what the chaos warriors were so interested in on his left flank, presumably concious that other bad stuff had appeared from out of sight earlier in the game. As a result, in what was perhaps my favourite move of the game, Wanda was sent off on a scouting mission to see what was over the hill!

I was rather surprised by this, especially as I could guess that mainly Issbig was being kept as far away from Wezma as possible, thanks to the not-so-subtle hint in Wezma's briefing. But it did serve to illustrate that Gaj at least was operating under the fog of war, and as a GM that I felt was part of my role fulfilled.

Chaos turn 4

Most of the chaos warband seemed content to sit and watch the jabberwocky fight... all except the warriors who, with victory conditions of killing the enemy's leaders, pressed eagerly forward.

With the impetus of their initial charge lost the silver helms were less successful, and the jabberwocky killed two of their number with its retaliatory blows. They managed to push the monster back but once again it regenerated all of the wounds scored.

The rebel demons lost one of their number to combat, and another to instability. It began to look as though the elves would have to deal with these all-but-invulnerable opponents sooner rather than later!

High elf turn 5

Both the halbardiers and the guard regiment began to square up to the cultists, while the merchant company were left facing the demons. Wanda continued her quest towards the ridge of hills.

The merchant company killed a single cultist in their shooting phase, while the jabberwocky combat broke from its usual pattern with the monster not dying, but killing no silver helms in turn. Once again the monster was pushed back, and regenerated all hits lost.

Chaos turn 5

The cultists had enough of being bystanders, and charged into the halberdiers. The chaos warrior's advance continued, and you got the feeling that Wanda probably was feeling she'd wandered too far.

Drumman Bace challenged the cult leader to single combat, with each opponent scoring a hit. The cultists and the halberdiers each killed a single trooper, and the halberdiers were pushed back.

The jabberwocky however finally failed to regenerate the hits caused that round, which were sufficient to kill it. Wezma was left looking rather exposed...

Fortunately for him he had the presence of mind to cast Wind Blast, and to not fail his Intelligence test (now being down to 11 magic points). The cavalry was held off, for now...


Battle navigation

On His Excellency's Service - Turns 2 and 3

High Elf turn 2

More lovely manoeveuring from the elves. Starting like this -

 And finishing like this -

Wanda tried another cast at the cultists, but failed her Intelligence test again.

Chaos turn 2

The original demons (still under GM control) failed their Leadership test again, and headed in the general direction of the cultists.

The cultists, jabberwocky and Wezma did a combination of advancing and avoiding the demons, as did the newly visible chaos warriors and marauders on the right flank.

Having had his previous demonic servants betray him so badly, Wezma did the only sensible thing and summoned more demons! This time the control test was passed and the elves were starting to look rather outnumbered. Personally I was wondering just how many summonings Wezma had the nerve for...

High elf turn 3

Despite the seeming eagerness to grasp the nettle tape implied in the photo above Gaj had a good long think before his next move. But move he did, lining up nicely to attack.

The cultist ranks were thinned out slightly by the arrows of the merchant company, and Wanda finally passed her intelligence and hurled a fireball at the jabberwocky causing a single wound. She also sensibly departed from the halbardier unit, given the likelihood of close combat at any moment.

Chaos turn 3

Undeterred by the fireball (and everyone not realising he was subject to stupidity) the jabberwocky advanced.

The rebel demons passed a Leadership test and headed for the table edge, only to be charged by the newly summoned demons under Wezma's control.

The warriors and marauders merged into a single unit and continued to advance, giving the demonic combat as wide a berth as they could.
The rebel demons lost the combat and were pushed back, taking a single casualty and earning a penalty to their hit rolls for the remainder of the fight thanks to instability.

The jabberwocky reserve moved closer to Gaj's well dressed line, and Wezma shuffled closer to the cultists for protection.


Battle navigation

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

On His Excellency's Service - Turn 1

On with the show!

Despite being offered the opportunity to pick their spells both players decided to roll for them, with mixed results. My last chance to resolve the demon situation was gone...

The battlefield, before deployment -

And after -

Wezma's forces had been marked up on a map before Bhondd deployed, and then only his visible troops placed on the table. The jabberwocky is visible because of its size, but there's more lurking out of sight.

Gaj knew there was something afoot, as Paul and I were having "GM chats", but looking at the units of cultists and demons and the large monster in front of him he probably thought most of his opposition was on the table already.

High elf turn 1

Wanda's unit passed their initial stupidity test with flying colours, and the elves proceeded to set themselves up for battle as though on a parade ground! Many leadership tests were taken and passed, and it was all looking rather impressive. As a long time orc commander I could only watch in wonder (although I was probably still recovering from seeing someone deploy in a line astern). Lack of animosity, decent leadership, and musicians - they really could do no wrong.

In the magic phase Wezma attempted to cast Dispirit on the cultists, but failed her Intelligence test.

Chaos turn 1

Paul started out with one of those moments that turns a game, deciding that his demons had been summoned as the final act of deployment rather than them just being troops like the rest of his warband. This makes a lot of sense, although in hindsight they should be already bound and so on, since he'd paid the points for them, much like an undead army would be. Anyway, he rolled a double 6 on his control test, and hence suddenly had a large unit of unfriendly demons sitting in the middle of his deployment. Control of them passed to the GM.

This also meant he had to deploy the remainder of his warband, as they were now visible to unfriendly forces -
I got the impression that this caused as much consternation to Gaj as to Paul, as not only had an extra 600 points appeared on the table, but it seemed to bring home that he didn't know what else was out there.

I was now in a tricky position as to what do do with the demons. The classic reaction would of course have been to eat the summoner and then leave the table, however Wezma was saved both by his fluff and the demands of the game.

The warband's backstory is that they seek to emulate the style of the demons they worship, so it seemed to me that for them to attack would be as though Elvis had been kidnapped and taken to a really bad impersonator's convention. Yes, they're angry at being summoned, but to kill the warband would be a bit like kicking a puppy (although Warhammer demons do that - and worse!). They can't help but be slightly flattered so their natural murderous rage is tempered somewhat.

On a pragmatic note, had they attacked the demons would most likely have killed Wezma or at the very least have forced him to flee from the table. With Wezma dead the game would become a race between Issbig and Bhondd with Issbig as the likely winner. Issbig might then chose to fight it out (as the defender can still meet his objectives in this situation) but at the time this didn't seem like it would offer much in the way of a game.

In the end I copped out slightly and turned to the dice for help. Each turn the demons would take a leadership test, and if they passed would head to the table edge nearest me in search of whatever entertainment the Old World could offer 13 vagrant demons. If they failed the test they'd move in a random direction on the table, attacking any unit they encountered.

This turn they failed the leadership test, but the random move was to stay still.

The remainder of the warband moved away from the demons as best they could. In the magic phase Wezma attempted a Bind Demons on his rebel unit. They passed their magic save, and I made a mental note that their patience with these sycophants was now exhausted.


Battle navigation

Monday, 2 December 2013

On His Excellency's Service - Forces

Chaos - Wezma Blan-kit's warband

Wezma Blan-kit (General, Chaos sorceror 20). Hand weapon
Wezma's guard (5 chaos warriors). Heavy armour, shield, hand weapon

Issbig (Chaos champion). Heavy armour, shield, hand weapon
Issbig's retinue (4 chaos marauders). Heavy armour, shield, hand weapon

Cult leader (Chaos warrior). Heavy armour, hand weapon, additional hand weapon
Cult champion (Chaos marauder). Heavy armour, 2 handed weapon
Cultists (24 chaos thugs). Light armour, shield, flail. Includes standard bearer and musician

Demons (13 lesser demons).

Dark Elf Allies

Dalofir (Contingent leader, Dark elf hero 15). Light armour, shield, hand weapon repeating crossbow
Champion (Dark elf hero 5). Light armour, shield, hand weapon repeating crossbow
Troopers (26 dark elves). Light armour, shield, hand weapon repeating crossbow. Includes standard bearer and musician

High Elves - Commander Bhondd's Joint Task Force

Commander Bhonnd (General, High elf hero 20). Light armour (Arcane Armour), hand weapon, long bow.
Merchant company (9 high elves). 4 with light armour, spear, hand weapon; 5 with light armour, hand weapon, long bow. Includes standard and musician

Commadore Sixtifore (High elf hero 10). Heavy armour, shield, hand weapon
Guards (19 high elf +1 shock elite). Heavy armour, shield, hand weapon, spear. Includes standard and musician

Major Eschew (High elf hero 10). Heavy armour, shield, barding, lance, hand weapon, warhorse
Silver Helms (5 high elf +3 shock elite). Heavy armour, shield, barding, lance, hand weapon, warhorse. Includes standard and musician

Empire allies

Drumman Bace (Contingent commander, Human hero 20). Heavy armour, shield, hand weapon
Imperial infantry (24 humans). Light armour, halberd, hand weapon. Includes standard and musician

Wanda Raboute (Adviser to the general, Human wizard 10). Hand weapon

Notes (and apologies)

Astute readers will have noticed a couple of things -
  • Wezma's force costs considerably more points than Bhondd's
  • Other than Wanda, the high elves have no counter to Wezma's demons (who are vulnerable only to magic spells or weapons).
The first point was deliberate for three reasons. Bhondd's objectives (kill Wezma, grab the amulet) are much more limited than Wezma (who must kill all of the elf and human leaders) so a smaller force seemed fair. Also Wezma can't rely on Issbig, so some allowance must be made for that. Third, and most importantly, I wanted an asymmetrical battle, not one where both sides fight to the death and at the end you work out who's achieved their objectives almost incidentally. From a scenario point of view it also makes more sense that Wezma's engaging as he feels he has the advantage. However to stop this advantage being overwhelming the dark elves arrive as a reserve force, acting more as a time limit than as the game-changer they would otherwise be.

The second issue, of the demon's invulnerability, was my major mistake as a GM (sorry Gaj!). I should either have ensured that Bhondd's force possessed at least one magic weapon, have selected Wanda's spell list to provide some counter, or both.

As an aside, Issbig's unreliability was the main reason that units associated with Wanda are subject to stupidity - I felt that if the GM was going to mess with one side, he should also mess with the other. She was a mandatory unit choice, but at half points cost.


Battle navigation

Sunday, 1 December 2013

On His Excellency's Service - Prologue

I GM'd my first ever game of Warhammer on Friday. A first as back in the day we'd only ever manage to get two players together, so a GM was a luxury!

There was a few important lessons learned, which I'll cover in the conclusion when I get to that point. Overall though it roughly worked out, although no scenario survives first contact with the audience... And the players (Gaj of Warhammer for Adults, and Golgfag1 of Oldhammer Day orc horde fame) seemed to mostly enjoy it.

So, on to the briefings.

Defender (Wezma Blan-kit's warband)

Too many tasks...!

Somewhere in this forest lies the remains of Jurgen Thrice-Cursed. His remains and likely with them his sword - one of his curses. A sword your research suggests would offer more power in the hands of a wizard... a wizard such as yourself, perhaps.

And then there's the amulet. Several weeks back, prior to your meeting with Issbig and his retinue, your followers happened across a band of fools (they probably considered themselves adventurers, or even heroes) and slaughtered them. After the fight it transpired that one of them was carrying a warpstone amulet in a casket, presumably in a doomed attempt to protect the carrier from its influence. On examination you ascertained that the amulet had no apparent additional powers (other than being made of the very stuff of Chaos...!) but it would merit further study, once you have finished your present search. Of course, as a powerful chaos wizard you have no need for protection from the amulet, and are proud to wear it openly.

And Issbig. Your meeting with him seemed fortunate at the time, offering as it did seemingly reliable muscle to supplement your arts and your distinctly erratic allies. He was suitably impressed by your obvious favour with the dark powers, and with the amulet. Although he's perhaps more impressed with it recently than when he first joined you... maybe he's not so reliable after all...

And now another distraction. You've been aware for some time that a largish warband was heading your way. It seems unlikely that it's related to your presence here, but even if they're just passing through you can't afford to have them unchecked in the area. As you outnumber them significantly you've set an ambush but your dark elf allies have failed to show, which cuts down your advantage of numbers somewhat. Your so-called ally Dalofir will be another problem to deal with, once you've destroyed these intruders.

Victory conditions -
  • All opposing characters killed
  • Wezma or Issbig survive (and Wezma not killed by Issbig)
Deployment -

The warband is approaching up a shallow valley, along a path marked by the red arrow. You can deploy your main force anywhere in the grey shaded zone. If deployed in the blue areas they'll be hidden and can be moved as hidden troops until they come out of hiding or the enemy get close enough to spot them. The marsh along the top of the table counts as difficult ground, as do the woods or marching uphill.

Special rules (not included in player briefing) -
  • If Wezma is injured to half wounds or less, and not associated with a unit, Issbig will attempt to kill him, take the amulet, and leave the table via the nearest edge

Attacker (Commander Bhondd's Joint Task Force)

Humans! There was a time when the idea of an Elven ambassador to one of their so-called realms would have been laughable. There was a time when the current situation could have been swiftly dealt with by a flight of dragonkin. But sadly no longer. And so you find yourself trudging through the forests of their pathetic "Empire" listening to one who calls themself a mage but who has no more understanding of the arcane than you'd expect from a child!

When his Excellency warned their council of the emergence of a powerful warpstone artefact you didn't expect a great deal. But you expected him at least to be listened to. On reflection (which you've had time to do these last few weeks) there were probably listeners who knew too much acting in concert with those who knew too little. And so again your people were forced to take matters into their own hands, this time burdened by an "advisor" who knows nothing. At least her presence prevents you having to force your way through human-held lands.

Her smattering of Elvish, which she's so proud of, really is ghastly. So you have been forced to converse in Reikspiel these last weeks. And her title of advisor seems to have given her opinions on everything from the deployment of your force to ...

Wait! The artefact is close! Very close!

Victory conditions -
  • Artefact recovered and carried from the battlefield by an elven hero
  • Wanda survives
Deployment -

Anywhere in the grey shaded zone. Though belatedly registering the enemy's presence you move first.

Special rules -
  • Any unit with Wanda as an associated character is subject to stupidity
  • Wanda is initially associated with the elven general's unit
  • If an elven hero spends an entire turn stationary they can identify which enemy character is carrying the amulet, or its approximate location if the enemy character is still hidden


Battle navigation

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Some orcs painted after a looong hiatus

20+ years since I last painted an orc I've now painted a whole unit of them. Meet Ratrak's Arrers:

OK, they're not quite finished, I still have the bases to do.

With some lessons learned from the Oldhammer forum I've tried to give them a bit of a coherent look, while keeping them individual, so there's a fair smattering of dark reds in the clothing and buckskin for the leathers. The concept with the shields is that they take them from their fallen enemies, daub them with the crossed arrows sign, and off they go. With just the underlying colours on it was all looking like the shields would go horribly wrong, but actually the arrows ties them together quite well and gives a good impression of an irregular unit.

I'm aiming to get together a reasonable sized orcs plus chaos warband fairly quickly (well, quickly by my standards, alongside a full time job and a full time family) before I allow myself to get side-tracked into dwarves and other distractions...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The shaman did it...

... and other orcish motivations.

This post has been sitting in my draft pile for a while, fortunately Erny's Orctober has finally got me to knock it into a finished state, and so improve my pathetically slow posting rate.

Warhammer orcs aren't complex / confused like World of Warcraft orcs - they're evil, violent and none to bright. They're also a popular army choice, which means coming up with scenarios for them. And to me that means giving them a range of motivations that fit with their character, which I like to feel is a bit more three dimensional than that portrayed in the rulebook.

The shaman did it - as illustrated by Warlord Paul and Thantsants, the shaman, as the intellectual of the tribe, can help out when a scenario is more quest-like than war-like. And given their tendency to the spiritual or downright possessed, it can be as deranged a quest as you'd like! I see the relationship between an orc warlord and their shaman (or a shaman and their pupil for that matter) as something like that portrayed by David Gemmell with the Nadir, except an orc shaman is far more tribal and has no interest in uniting the fractured orc tribes.

The goblin / half-orc did it - half orcs are noticably brighter, and goblins are considered more cunning, than your average orc, so these provide extra possibilities when a scenario requires brains as well as brawn. However unlike with the shaman your thinkers here are down-trodden and despised, which gives the scenario a bit of a twist.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, or, the warlord did it - your orcish warlord probably got to his position by killing and eating the previous incumbent, and will probably pass on the crown in the same way. He also won't be the first despot to realise that uniting against a common foe is a good way to keep the tribe in line (as long as the battles go well, that is), and might also have the advantage of cutting short the careers of potential contenders. I like to see these sort of campaigns as petty raids and feuds rather than the grand battles that seem to be depicted in modern Warhammer, but each to their own.

The freebooter did it - personally I think Orks are a bad fit to the 40K background, but the freebooter mindset does seem a good fit to orcs of any era. Orcs love to fight and loot, and there's clearly some sort of commerce between orcs and other races by some means or other. So I like to feel that Hector Barbossa wouldn't change a great deal if given green skin and tusks.

I'd rather be in the Dark Lands - orcish society is in a state of continual fighting and flux, so it's entirely likely that your orc invasion isn't really an invasion at all, it's just that the invading tribe is being driven out of their stamping grounds by an even bigger, tougher tribe. They just want to be left to live in peace, honest!

The dwarves / humans did it - for some reason the orc side of the table is generally portrayed as the aggressor in your typical scenario, which is clearly indicative of some sort of bias... Perhaps those nasty, aggressive dwarves / humans are mounting a punitive expedition against a peaceable orc tribe, for reasons no right-thinking orc can understand, or perhaps they're after something that's in orcish territory. Time to work out what orc buildings look like, to go along with your Warhammer Townscape.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Why I Oldhammer

Setting aside for now the question my wife occasionally raises of why I wargame at all, I thought I should note down what the Oldhammer movement means to me.

Zhu's Oldhammer Contract is a great starting point which I'm pretty sure everyone signs up to, but as with all groups of 2 or more people everyone has their own particular emphasis or preferences. There's a definite strand of archeogaming, which (while I love the old figures) seems to me to be a bit too much of the public face of Oldhammer. There are also hints of preferred rule versions, which while it's good for me as I've no idea what happens in versions later than 3rd, is kind of missing the point - there's no reason you can't play Oldhammer with the current edition (8th, apparently, thank you Google).

As seems quite common amongst Oldhammer gamers I was introduced to and played the game in my early teens, played for a while (in my case until my early 20s), became disenfranchised with Games Workshop in general and WFB in particular, and eventually left the hobby. At the time I put my loss of interest down as a reaction to GW's increasingly obvious business plan behind the game, with built-in obsolecence of the armies as new models and rules were released seeming like a bit of a kick in the teeth given the cost of collecting the army in the first place.

In hindsight though a bigger issue was losing contact with my old group of gaming friends on leaving home to go to university, and hence pretty much only playing "line them up, knock them down" battles against other players who (like me at the time) were only focussed on winning.

Prior to that, while I'm sure my friends Ed, Greg and I were just as guilty of the sort of gamesmanship and bad behaviour that the Oldhammer movement is the antithesis of (we were teenagers, after all), we did play a good mix of scenarios in amongst our more standard battles, which definitely help place the emphasis more on playing a game than playing to win. We were also strangely reasonable in our selection of armies, with none of the abuses of fine-tuning and over-powerful combinations that seem to mark how the other half lives even today. It's good that Thantsants researches this stuff so that the rest of us don't have to!

So, to summarise, while it's a bit of a bonus that I can be sure my rule set or army won't become obsolete, Oldhammer to me is a fortunate collection of like-minded gamers that I'm sure did exist 20 years ago, but were just too hard to find before the internet happened! In a way the really odd thing about last week's Bring Out Your Lead! is that there was (it seemed to me) an undercurrent of surprise about how much fun it was. Which shouldn't have been a surprise given that it was a weekend of playing games, drinking and chatting, but it's kind of damning of the wider hobby that this was the case.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Anti-heroes for wargames, part 2

25-ish years after the event I'm not sure how or why I chose to collect orcs and goblins as my preferred Warhammer army, but I do kmow that when Ravening Hordes was released they were the only army that really interested me. I'm guessing that even as a fairly conformist teenager the "good guys" were a bit humdrum and, while chaos at that stage had a firm place in the Warhammer setting it didn't have the level of prominence it does now, orcs were probably the default bad guy.

Even today while I appreciate the undead army on an asthetic level the only other army amongst the "bad guys" that appeals would be skaven. No longer being a teenager though I could see myself fielding dwarf, norse or Empire armies quite happily these days.

Other than the aesthetics there are probably two criteria for selecting any wargaming army - perceived power (or convesely lack of balance) and monetary cost. As a cash-strapped teenager the latter did start to weigh on my mind after a few years of wargaming, and I wondered whether wood elf or chaos armies would be nicely effective and much cheaper to field. By that point though I had invested financially and emotionally in the orcs and goblins so that it was a bit of a moot point.

I'm in a similar position today, in that I still have most of an orcs and goblins army (albeit that most of my old goblins I gave away, and a good chunk of the orcs are new eBay aquisitions), but would quite like to field a dwarven army instead (or as well). The financial investment in either completing the orcs and goblins, or building a dwarf army, isn't trivial, but much more significant these days as someone with a family and a job is the time investment in painting and preparing them for the table.

I'm still mostly happy with the choice I made all those years ago, but I do hope as well to be able to field a smallish dwarf army, plus the skaven side from Vengence of the Lichemaster, one day. If what I've seen of the hobby recently though is anything to go by I will then find excuses to build up yet another army...

Friday, 30 August 2013

The saga of Grumdin the Proud (Bring Out Your Lead Realm of Chaos warband)

Chaos attributes: Teleport, Overgrown body part (head, x2)

Grumdin was once a proud commander of war parties for the dwarven hold of Karak Hirn. His career came to an end during an expedition against a raiding party out of the Black Mountains when, at a council of war, he killed the arrogant and distainful leader of a contingent of allied Knights Panther. Sent home in disgrace he then inflicted a severe beating on the elder placed in judgement over him, and was exiled forever from his hold.

Wandering the Empire, growing increasingly embittered by his fall from grace, he fell pray to the whispers of Khorne, the Blood God. Beastmen and other creatures who were drawn to him were forged into a travisty of his former command and, swearing vengence, he fell upon the outlying outposts of his former home. After initial success his warband were met by an organised dwarven force and were slaughtered. Grumdin escaped, using his new-found ability to teleport, but saw the defeat as the sign of his god's disfavour. Hearing rumours of a gathering of the followers of the hated Slaneesh in the Chaos Wastes he gathered together the few survivors of his defeat and headed north in search of death or redemption.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Reading list - 2013 (part one)

Being the books I'd read up to the end of June, but my blog publishing habit is lax to say the least...

The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie
More of Joe in his distinctive style - great stuff. I especially like the way that Beck's story turns out, and Craw's was rosier than you might expect (but not too much so!). A few quibbles here and there - the involvement of Ishri just peters out, and while we get it that Bayez isn't very nice - certainly not your Gandalf / Belgarath archetype - he's becoming a bit of a deus ex mechina.

I also wonder in the back of my mind how the book would read if you read it before the First Law or Best Served Cold, and hence whether the characters of Dow, the Bloody Nine or Shivers would really come across sufficiently in a stand-alone novel. On the other hand I suppose Joe has earned the right to build on what's gone before. 

Not his best, but still damn good.

Royal Assassin, Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb
An interesting couple of novels. Part of the way through Royal Assassin (the second in the Farseer Trilogy) you get the feeling that you're reading a standard "young man's journey of discovery and growth" type fantasy. Then at the end you remember that you're reading Robin Hobb and if (like me) you've read her works out of order and already know the Liveship Traders you remember that she likes to tear her characters down about as low as they can get before building them up again.

A certain amount of re-building is done in the final book of the trilogy, but not excessively so. I'd have liked things to have turned out better for Fitz after taking us on this journey, but then that's why it's best I leave the writing to professionals.

Sailing to Sarantium - Guy Gavriel Kay
I'm concious that most if not all of the fantasy I read is medieval north-eastern Europe in derivation, with occasional nods to the renaissance. I was hoping this book - set in and around Sarantium (a parallel Byzantium), with a parallel Rome squabbled over by part-civilised barbarians - would extend me further east and further back in time, and it did just that. It has lots to recommend it - a good read for a start, and furthermore it really invokes the feeling of wildness and uncertainty appropriate to the time. The one certainty is that the mythic is real, in fact it surprised me how firmly the book is placed into the fantasy genre, when 90% of it could be read as alternative history. It's no worse for that though.

One quibble I had with the writing was the explicit foreshadowing ("He never did, as events unfolded...") which I find irritating for reasons I can't quite explain. Another, much more personal, gripe is that the main protagonist has had a rather miserable time of it prior to the start of the narrative, which I found rather depressing, especially following on from my previous reading of Robin Hobb!

The Dying Earth - Jack Vance
I've owned this book for years, but never managed to get far in to it. This time I finished it, but mainly due to stubbornness rather than enjoyment. I know it's a classic, but it just doesn't absorb me - there are some good stories in there, especially Liane the Wayfarer, but between the language and characters it's not a compelling read. The prose seems more that of someone who's showing off than someone with a story to tell, and the characters are somehow a bit flat.

On a more positive note Vance has created a wonderfully evocative world, both the setting and the treatment of magic (powerful enough to build a game upon). So, while I'm glad I've read it, it's not really a book I could recommend. 

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
My wife told me to read this book so she could discuss it with me, which tells you most of what you need to know about it. Without wanting to give the plot away I can say about three things - a great plot with some fantastic twists, a really impressive piece of writing in the way she shapes your view of the characters throughout the book, and the second half stretches credibility almost to breaking point.

The really scary thought it leaves you with though - what if the second half really did happen to you? What would you do...?

Finding Nouf - Zoe Ferraris
An OK whodunit set in an exotic location (Saudi Arabia) and with interesting central characters. The author is an America who was married to a Saudi, so has first hand experience of the country, but somehow her portrayal of the country comes across as fascinating but unbelievable. It's likely to just be me over-analysing things and actually her portrayal is accurate. It does leave me wondering though what a Saudi novelist's take on the same story would be.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
The introduction to this trilogy is very good, leaving you wanting to read the rest. Unfortunately it's largely downhill from there - the second novel does manage to invoke some sympathy with and outrage for the heroes' plight but comes across very much as a sequel in the Hollywood style. It really does feel as though Collins had to try to reproduce the magic of the first but didn't quite know how. The "Games" portion of the book does get going nicely, but it does take a while to build up to it.

Mockingjay does go some way to rescuing the trilogy, the "Games" portion of this one really does stretch credibility to breaking point, but the ending (which is very much more grown up than I for one expected) does forgive any flaws the book might have.

Where the Bodies are Buried - Chris Brookmyre
Some reviews of this book seem to be disappointed by Brookmyre's departure from his earlier comic / farcial thriller style, but I thought the newer "straight" crime novel (still very much in his distinctive voice) was at least as good as his earlier work.

The book has some very enjoyable twists (which more astute readers than me will probably see coming a mile off) and a nice ending which seems to set us up for more to come - I certainly hope so.

The Seventh Trumpet - Peter Tremayne
As I've mentioned elsewhere I'd like one day to run a Celtic-influenced campaign, so picked this book up in the hope that it would give a useful view into that culture. It did give me a couple of good insights applicable to any renaissance or earlier setting* but overall I was unimpressed with it as a novel. Graham Crawford's review over at Good Reads is far better written (and somewhat more biting) than mine will be but suffice to say there are several things that really grated with the author's style. Most notable of these are that he's far too busy trying to educate the reader (or perhaps going about it in too heavy handed a way), so we have described in great detail inconsequential items of a character's clothing, along with its correct name and so on; and the lack of unique or credible character voices (e.g. a farmer, a monk and a chieftain's sister all speak in the same rather stilted way).

* 1) Building bridges is quite an undertaking, so ferries are more important than our modern viewpoint assumes and 2) horses are not obviously a companion animal in the way a dog is, but still provide the benefits of their own senses of smell, etc, if their rider cares to pay attention.

Zaragoz - Brian Craig
I'd picked this up second hand somewhere years ago (25p!) but not read it until Orlygg and Warlord Paul of Oldhammer notoriety gave it good reviews recently. And deservedly so it turns out. A good book but not a great one, though I wonder how much it suffers as well as benefits from the grim dark that it manages to invoke so well. Good story, great gaming material, wouldn't want to actually live there!

It amused me to notice that Orfeo the protagonist is a bit of a Mary Sue - apparently this is quite OK in a novel (for example, he's far less extreme than Hiro from Snow Crash), but when we as gamers emulate this in the PCs which we create for ourselves that somehow makes us bad people...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Anti-heroes for wargames

I imagine a lot of roleplayers have done "playing as the monsters" at some point, even without taking into account things like World of Darkness, factional MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, or of course fantasy wargames.

In a traditional fantasy setting such as the Old World, dark elves or goblinoids would seem the obvious choice for monster PCs, but the former have a distinct ring of Mary Sue to them, whereas orcs and goblins are too fractious and (dare I say it) unsophisticated to give much depth to the roleplaying or longevity to the campaign.

Chaos cults are another obvious choice within the Old World, and to some degree would suit a WoD "society with society" type campaign, but I'm not sure that offers anything particularly new.

What would interest me would be a "killing things and taking their stuff" campaign playing as Skaven, or un-reconstructed WoW Forsaken, where characteristics and motivation are sufficiently human while morality and quest objectives are diametrically opposed to the norms of the game. I wonder, having played such a campaign, how players would then approach a traditional D&D scenario once they're back in the shoes of the "good guys".

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Back in the painting chair

I've just started painting my first miniatures in over 20 years for the Oldhammer painting challenge. It will hopefully become a regular event, encouraging people with unpainted lead and not enough time to actually get painting.

Life was simpler back in the day - White Dwarf taught me pretty much everything I knew about figure painting, and apart from deciding between white or black undercoat there was only really one way of painting. Not so any more - there's whole topics on places like the Lead Adventure Forum on techniques I'd never even heard of, from edge lining to non-metalic metals, opinions as to which brand of paints are best, and so forth. Plus there's all the photos to show me that the results I achieved back in the day, while decent enough, were average at best.

With all this extra information it will be interesting to see if the results I achieve with my first batch - my very small Khorne warband plus the goblins from my Undivided warband - are any better than I used to, and how my technique evolves with time.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Bring Out Your Lead warband

I seem to have been bitten by the bug in a big way. I'm not sure if I'll be able to attend Bring Out Your Lead, but if I do then a warband seems to be the way forward.

I thought I'd roll up a couple from Orlygg's guidance, one based around a level 15 hero and one on a level 10. I'm pretty sure the whole thing will be a fairly brutal affair, I'm curious whether a bigger warband or a tougher leader are a better bet. Although being Oldhammer it's probably more down to how the dice land...

Chaos Undivided Champion

In my young day Chaos wasn't all this Khorne vs Slaanesh stuff. It was big lads with ridiculous armour and crazy stats, laying waste to all before them. So I reckon an Undivided warband is a good plan, and I'll see which side is short-handed on the day.

Human level 10 hero (picked)Random reward (I assume)
Chaos weapon
Attributes to be picked (need to work out which are positive and negative, and take one of each)

Retinue: 2, 48, 54
2d6 beastmen: 2, 2
1d6 chaos goblins: 6
2d6 humans: 2, 4

Champion of Khorne

But in the spirit of the occasion, it seems like I should pick a side as well. Slaanesh never really appealed to me, so Blood God it is.

Dwarf level 15 hero (picked - I always hankered after these minatures back in the day, I used this as an excuse to head to eBay last weekend)
Chaos armour
Chaos weapon
Attributes to be picked

Retinue: 41, 10
2d6 beastmen: 1, 1 (ouch)
1 chaos warrior: 5 = Marauder

Once the chaos dwarf arrives later this week I just need to check out what I do for the humans. I have probably around 20 in my collection, but most of them aren't warband material. I'll probably have a couple of my mercenaries make an appearance though.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Middle Earth campaign - when and where and why

Probably the most far-reaching decision to be made when starting a campaign in Middle Earth is the date. You want the familiar aspects of the setting without having the characters playing second fiddle to the Ring quest.

I.C.E. addressed this by setting their modules mainly in early part of the Third Age, most often around 1640. At this point the Shire barely exists, so your chances of bumping into (or bumping off) Frodo and Samwise are limited.

Cubicle 7 seem to have gone for the aftermath of the Battle of the Five Armies - upheaval, and familiar names in the background, but still 70+ years clear of the Ring quest.

I thought I'd go back to first principles and see what starting date would suit my purposes best. My guidelines are these -
  1. Some time in the Third Age. Second Age (and earlier) is very different - more high fantasy than gritty
  2. Set principally in Eriador*
  3. During or after a significant event, so that Middle Earth's history is very present rather than just a backdrop. Also, as Noisms explained, times of societal change are good settings.
My short list becomes somewhat familiar to someone with a MERP background -

1409: Invasion of Arnor
1432 - 1448: Kin-strife (but see (2) above)
1636: Fall of Cardolan
1974: End of the North-kingdom
2510: Rohirrim settle in Calenardhon
2770: Erebor destroyed by Smaug
2941: Battle of the Five Armies

Of these, the fall of Cardolan strikes me as the most interesting, hopefully not because of the deep roots I.C.E. placed in my gaming conscience. The North-kingdom is still in existance, but on the wane, so you have interesting bits of Middle Earth's history that are still current (e.g. Fornost and the Seeing Stones) while retaining that sense of the Elves and Dunedain being in decline. You have an obvious source of conflict (and adventure) between Arthedain and Angmar and more of the sort of support structure that adventurers expect in terms of safe areas and friendly forces than is the case after 1974. Speaking of which post-1974 is probably my second favourite in terms of settings, with a bit of a post-apocalyptic struggle for the remaining settlements not destroyed by the fall of the North-kingdom. I'm not sure though that it's the sort of campaign I'm particularly good at running.

* Why Eriador?
This is clearly a key question, as this preference knocks out over half of my short list. Without meaning any disrespect to the professor, the Lord of the Rings strikes me as a deeply parochial tale. In fact, I even have a feeling that this was the intent. The Shire is "home" and everything that Frodo and company do is in defense of home, rather than being about adventurers setting off with whatever (often selfish) motivation that drives your typical RPG character. Hence the view of Gondor (or Rhovanion) should be much the same as that which a British package holiday tourist had of France or Spain a generation ago - somewhere you visit, before going home again. So it's not really appropriate to have the campaign set outside of Eriador, or more precisely for the characters to originate there.

Saturday, 11 May 2013


It was inevitable I'd be drawn into Oldhammer.

My route into the whole OSR / G+ thing was from stumbling across Coopdevil's WFRP - Not Syphilitic, Not Knee-Deep In Shit post one bored evening. My Warhammer Fantasy Battle history stretches back nearly as far as my gaming history, but I burned out on Warhammer long before I burned out on RPGs, and was correspondingly reluctant to dive back in.

But the Oldhammer community seems precisely the antidote to what burned me out in the first place, namely the gimmicky, "this brand new expensive model will win games for you", business-driven approach that I finally sussed out in the early nineties. And the Showroom on the Oldhammer forum is seriously inspirational.

Hand in hand with Oldhammer I've also signed up to eBay (which is probably a very slippery slope) and today "won"* my first auction. So now my dilemma is working out what I actually should buy, compared with what I could buy...
  1. Re-building my orcs and goblins army, concentrating on figures I like (and which show up in auctions!)
  2. Re-buying figures I used to own, never liked, but which now have a distinct old-school cachet
  3. Buying figures I hankered after as a teenager but couldn't afford

And yes, today's "win" was in category 3.

* I hate the term "win" when used by / about eBay. It smacks more of marketing than reality. However when you don't win you definitely feel that you lost...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

RPG combat and realism

Noisms' latest post on creating gritty and realistic tactical combat struck a chord with me for a number of reasons.

I swing between a variety of moods when it comes to RPGs in general, and their combat systems in particular. Sometimes I think that D&D combat works fine on an abstract level, hit points are not meant to represent actual damage, and it's fine that a hero can take on a dragon and win. Usually I need something grittier, and think all PCs should be afraid of dying to mundane threats, and certainly shouldn't be able to shrug off attacks from dozens of lesser foes. And occasionally I think that PCs have it far to easy in even the grittiest system, and anyway we just don't know enough about medieval / renaissance combat (despite the wonders of YouTube!) to create a remotely credible system so why bother!

Most of the time though I'm happy that combat in WFRP1e is "good enough", and appropriately gritty for me. I would like to put that to the test a bit, and for example model some of the following, in order to put some sort of metric on the lethality of the system -
  • Lightly armed militia versus unarmoured labour
  • Unarmoured dualist versus each of the above
  • Fully armoured dwarf judicial champion versus each of the above
Hopefully at the end of things I'll still be happy that it's gritty enough. If not I might have to adopt Noisms' system.

Meanwhile, I need to learn more about the life expectancy of a Roman gladiator.

"Fixing" WFRP 1e - what to house rule?

Thanks to the WFRP A-Z blogging challenge, in particular some great posts from +Marc Torley, I stumbled across the nostalgia fest that is Let's Read: WFRP First Edition and hence Zweihänder's Whiff Factor discussion.

This led me back to a topic that's been on my mind if I ever do ever get back to GMing WFRP, which is what if anything I would house rule?

I don't remember us having house rules back in the day, although I know I overlooked at least two rules as written - the +10 bonus for winning, and critical skill failures (30+ over the target number). I also had a dwarf warrior player in my main group, and while he and the party knew he was very hard to kill it also never led to the mindset where they could just fall back on violence at any opportunity. WFRP players know that the world is against them, even if right now they may be winning...

So, with the benefit of hindsight, what if anything do I feel is wrong with the WFRP 1st edition rules, and is serious enough it needs fixing?

Not broken, in my opinion (but commonly viewed as such)

  1. The imbalance of starting careers (that's life)
  2. The extremely slow progression of spell casters (magic is difficult)
  3. Elves dominating with high Initiative (they're not human)

Broken, but leave as is

Strength / attacks for large creatures. Clearly dragons and giants should be on a whole other strength scale than the characters are, and in the case of giants should probably be slow but hard hitting (miss, dodge, miss, miss, dead character). However I can't see myself using anything larger than a troll in a campaign, so this doesn't bother me enough to house rule

Slightly broken

  1. The "whiff" factor
  2. Naked dwarf syndrome
I don't think the "whiff" factor (i.e. starting characters being a bit rubbish) is nearly as big an issue as the Zweihänder author does (for example). He has valid points - the chance of critical failure versus success is too high for starting characters, and the multi career characters are conversely powerful. There is also the common complaint that in some circumstances (often elves again) an unskilled character with high stats is better than an average character with the appropriate skill. I think my house rule here should be to follow my earlier ignorance, and for first career characters at least to play critical failures for comedy rather than danger value, rather than forgetting about them entirely. Otherwise I feel the rules as written are good enough (though clearly not perfect).

The naked dwarf syndrome I'm also not sure is a huge issue, but they probably are slightly too tough in some circumstances. I'd probably have a rule something like for creatures of above average strength (4+) an above average hit (either 6, or perhaps 4+) does a minimum of 1 wound. So I'm happy to have goblins beat on an armoured dwarf all day, but at some level they do have to worry about attrition from tougher opponents, even without the possibility of an exploding dice.

So that's my starting point, though I do have a big list of discussion threads to review from around the interweb to see if there's anything I've overlooked. Meanwhile, what glaring holes are there in my list?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Campaigns I'd like to run

I say "like to run" as a I'm quite keen to do the research and prep work. I'd be equally happy to play any of them too.

Middle Earth
I played a fair bit of MERP in my youth, but I'd like to try to re-visit Middle Earth with a more appropriate rule set and my now much greater appreciation for the setting. In what little spare time I have at the moment I'm laying some groundwork for a campaign (although I don't currently have a gaming group!) and as part of this have just re-read the last few chapters of Lord of the Rings on my way to the appendicies. It struck me how morally black and white the book is (although some of the history less so, e.g. relations between the Rohirrim and Dunlendings, where the "good guys" can't really claim any moral high ground) which will be a challenge. I'm used to characters being a lot more ambiguous... I'm getting more and more interested in The One Ring as a system, which amongst other things seems to have some quite flavourful mechanics to address the Shadow that hangs over Middle Earth.

Norse / Celtic / Sidhe
A mashup of Tad Williams' Norns and Hernystiri and C.J. Cherryh's The Dreaming Tree, with a smattering of the Bloody Nine. Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum is looking quite interesting too.

Original Enemy Within campaign - Warhammer FRP (1st edition)
I've never run the original Enemy Within campaign which is a bit of an oversight, given that when I was actively playing WFRP was my preferred system.

I first heard of Empire of the Petal Throne in my teens, and thought it sounded cool, but never discovered anything about it. Now I know somewhat more I'd be interested in running a campaign to move me a bit away from my northern European default.

Old-school D&D
I originally dropped BECMI D&D for WFRP, through a mix of Games Workshop marketing and loss of faith with D&D and PC power levels in particular. Nowadays I think I'd cap things at level 14, or perhaps even try E6. However it'd be fun to try a stereotypical high fantasy campaign, applying everything I've learned since I last ran D&D.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Roleplaying in Middle Earth - low magic healing

I received some useful feedback on G+ from my previous post about the challenges of an RPG properly set in Middle Earth, specifically on the healing side of things.

One of the main points I hadn't really considered is that in both in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings the fatality rate, and even the injury rate, from some fairly hairy situations is pretty low. Bilbo is knocked out and misses the Battle of the Five Armies, Frodo is injured on Weathertop and Eowyn by the Witch King, but otherwise characters are either fine or dead. So, we have 'a large dose of "don't be a wimp, carry on anyway"' (thank you +Jane Williams), perhaps a mechanic as per Heroes Against Darkness where characters can recharge significantly during or after a battle.

There are also plenty of the things I had considered - herbal cures, the "orc draught" and various other pieces of mystical healing, especially by Aragorn and various elves. The internet being what it is, there's good documentation on Wikipedia (of course) but also stacks to think about in a long article by Tinw.

So, I think that characters can be made fairly resiliant, although the challenge as always will be keeping some of the mystery and magic in the mechanics.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Hobbit: The film and the game

Finally got around to see The Hobbit last weekend. I've been drafting this blog post ever since, and then decided to give up and re-write the hard bits as sequels...

Overall I enjoyed the film, mostly I really enjoyed it, but there were a few bits that I actively disliked as they totally broke my suspension of disbelief:
  • Most of the Radagast bits, but especially the orc chase*
  • Standing on the knees of giants
  • Bits of the escape from the goblin king
While putting the quest to Erebor in its broader context, and basking in the scope of Tolkien's worldbuilding, the film simultaneously made me want to play in that world again and reiterated to me how difficult a game setting Middle Earth is. I played a lot of MERP in my youth, and it always struck me then how poor a fit the game was to the setting. But I'm struggling with four (at least) aspects of the world which don't really fit my views on what a game setting need -
  • Low magic - so healing is hard and downtime is long
  • Low magic - so rewarding players with cool stuff is tricky
  • Mary Sue madness - lots of beings that are off the RPG power scale, but not sufficiently aloof from the world (Elrond bad, Gandalf good)
  • That story - how to really involve the players in Middle Earth, without having them anywhere near the One Ring or its Fellowship?
I've some thoughts on working around these issues which I'll cover in future posts. Meanwhile I'd be really interested to hear of approaches to these questions (especially the first), or even to hear that I'm plain wrong!

* Two Istari (one of whom we've just seen defeat a wraith) plus twelve decently armed dwarves versus a dozen or so warg riders - seriously? Gandalf may have an injunction against confronting Sauron directly, and it may have gone totally against the mood of the book and the film, but those orcs are toast...!