Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Looking for Newhammer

Some posts on the Oldhammer forum and around the wider internet (Old Fogey, Lee Brady) have got me thinking. Oldhammer (assuming by that you mean to be playing in a certain narrative style with old rule sets - 2nd / 3rd edition in the case of fantasy) is all very well, but it's by definition limited in scope because of those rule sets. The fact that they're out of print means you're reducing your number of potential players, within an already niche hobby.

So I thought it worth trying to understand what's appealing (at least to me) about those older rule sets other than their out-of-print-ness (and hence GW no longer making your army obsolete in favour of their current sales target). And then I want to discover what current rule sets - if any - reasonably support an Oldhammer style.

Here's what I came up with:

1. Character-driven (within reason) - characters shouldn't be the be-all and end-all, but should be important. You should know, and care, if they're injured or killed, without them sweeping all before them.

2. Characterful units - as well as being the crux of the fighting, units should have character and differentiation. Goblins should be cowardly and none too dangerous in a fight, dwarves should excel over men in a straight toe-to-toe fight.

3. Support 'large skirmish' games - this sort of follows from point 1, in that if characters sway the battle then we have large groups but not armies. Not to say that a character can't be significant in a meeting of armies, as the tale of Troy will tell you, but I want characters to be people not demi-gods. So 100-ish figures per side at a 1:1 ratio suits me nicely.

4. Complete and self-supporting - the rules should contain everything you need, including spells and a bestiary, and a method for creating and costing your own creatures.

Although not on the list, since as long as (2) and (4) are catered for you should be able to fit this in yourself, a strong game world and a balanced set of factions are also important to me.

Although Warhammer's Old World is often derided as being derivative (or, more to the point I suspect, derivative but lawyered-up), to me that's one of its great strengths. Its use of archetypes not only allows a wide range of figures, from dark ages to late medieval, to find a place, but also provides a good starting point for narratives. It's also interesting (to me at least) to find out more about the parallels it's drawing from, and the often even more fascinating stories to be found there. Thanks to the Empire and hobgoblins I now know a lot more about the Holy Roman Empire and the Mongol invasions than I did a few months back (more on the latter another day).

On the balance side of things 2nd edition is pretty good, since there's only one race-specific weapon (ball and chain) and very general war machines. On the war machine side of things 3rd edition started to lose the plot (in hindsight), although within the context of the rules themselves the race-specific side of things was reasonably muted. Over the next few years this became the norm (or so it seemed to me) with various additions via White Dwarf in support of new model releases, which coincided with my exiting from the hobby. I'm sure with appropriate discussion / house ruling all of this could be worked through in a mature manner, either agreeing on certain aspects being overpowered or working in ways for items to be used by the 'wrong' faction. However whether a rule set tends towards the 2nd or late-3rd edition model might well be a reasonable indication of where a rule set is heading and hence whether it's right for me.