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

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul - I just left a comment on the forum page you linked to, but I thought I'd copy and paste it here too:

    I saw the final write up on your blog, but I thought it would be better to respond here.

    Frankly, I don't think anything was wrong. I see there is a lot of concern about the daemons, but I don't think you needed to change anything. Okay, we were lucky that Golgfag1 failed his control test, but if he hadn't, as the GM, you could have monitored the situation and made adjustments as necessary, if you were concerned that the style of the game wasn't happening quite as you wanted...and if the style you wanted was a desperate race to get the maguffin whilst all around were being slaughtered helplessly, then you could have let it play that way.

    If anything, the jabberwock was much more problematic for me than the daemons.

    I've had the same doubts when I was GM'ing recently, and I think the actual problem is not so much around GM'ing, but around players still getting used to the idea that the boundaries can be stretched - that one can ask the GM if a certain roleplaying solution might actually change the game.

    In my case, I still approached it with the slightly limited approach of the modern warhammer movement - don't move characters out of units because they can't hold objectives and that sort of thing is cheesy. Had I instead taken the view that a hero should go toe to toe with the sorcerer whilst being defended by his loyal troops against certain death, perhaps I would have achieved the objective.

    When I had the same situation as a GM, I realised that I should have been more forthcoming with hints, to help the players release their modern warhammer thinking and realise they really were free to creatively solve the problem they were faced with - using WFB as the framework and using roleplaying to get creative with that framework. In your case, if the daemons had really got out of control, you might be able to say something like 'remember - all you're here to do is get the amulet...'

    I think the doubt created in my mind by not knowing what Golgfag1 was supposed to be doing was excellent - the scenario really played on my paranoia - you saw that when I had Wanda go and investigate (see, a character doing something sort of heroic?) what the warriors were doing when skirting around the hill.

    I think it was a great game and a great scenario - its just a pity that I still wasn't thinking out of the box enough.