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.

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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...

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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.


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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...


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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


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