Thursday, 31 March 2016

Things I'd like to be writing about

I'm hoping that at some point Real Life and the remorseless paint queue will get to the state where I've time to blog about subjects beyond my latest paint job or wargame that I've played, as I'd always planned to do. If that ever happens there are four main topics I'd like to spend more time on:

  • The early medieval period as a game setting
  • The WFRP careers system in an early medieval setting
  • Wargame campaign systems
  • A grimmer Logan's World

The early medieval period as a game setting

I've seen Warhammer's Old World critisised as unoriginal and derivative but to me it's a genius piece of world design. The design criteria appears to have been "how do we fit all of our historical miniatures in" but I enjoy digging into the real world history that it draws from, be it the Holy Roman Empire or the Spice Road. Currently a lot of my gaming is Dark Ages early medieval related so naturally I've been reading up on that, and in many ways it's as much of a breath of fresh air from the generic pseudo-medieval setting that I grew up playing D&D in as a more exotic setting such as T├ękumel. For example, what happens when there are no inns (or pretty much no towns for that matter)?

The WFRP careers system in an early medieval setting

WFRP is my favourite system of the admittedly relatively few RPGs I've played, and one of its great strengths is the way the careers system embeds the character into the world. However it means that to use the game in a different setting the careers system needs to be tailored to that setting. There are a couple of settings that I'd like to try it in one day: Middle Earth (which despite the Peter Jackson films should be Anglo Saxon in flavour, or so I understand) and the "time of Sigmar" (which seems to be early medieval / Ostrogoth-ish, both according to the Brief History of WFRP Time and this fantastic concept piece by Stefan Kopinski).

Wargame campaign systems

I've rambled about this before, and I'm looking forward to any insights that Tomahawk Studios forthcoming The Age of the Wolf offers.

A grimmer Logan's World

I'm trying hard to avoid being drawn back into Warhammer 40K, not least because of the paint queue implications but also that the the setting's not very attractive - but in a certain way it's also deeply fascinating. I've various ideas milling around in my head, the most recent of which was triggered by thoughts on the Oldhammer forum about a Logan's World game at this year's BOYL. The thing I find interesting about the game universe is the technology-as-religious-dogma aspect: science has been discarded, artefacts are built via ritual, and fear and superstition are positively medieval. To my mind, if a world was cut off from the Imperium then it wouldn't spawn an 80s mirror-shades view of the future, it would result in something much grimmer (and far more interesting).

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

(Why) I still prefer Warhammer Fantasy Battle

I spent last Sunday playing the good guys for a change, in a scenario organised by Paul of "more orcs than Sauron" fame, and on the drive home was pondering not just that I prefer WFB to the more modern games that I'm generally playing at the moment, but why I prefer it. Aside from the familiarity and no doubt nostalgia value it boils down to -
  • The excessive detail (in troop characteristics, weapon bonuses, etc.) make it both easier and more prone to having a role playing game feeling
  • It still handles a breadth of scale from handful of miniatures to small hundreds
To explain what I mean a few details of the scenario are relevant. I was leading a small band of samurai whose goal was to rescue some kidnapped damsels - facing me were around 100 barbarians and half-orcs, and some people on a war mammoth (very cool model - not room for one in my paint queue at the moment though!). A good number of the samurai characters had magic weapons, which naively I thought was to balance things out a bit...

One of the weapons was a Frenzied Blade.

In Dragon Rampant, to take a counter example, things are very much abstracted. You can build a narrative using the fantastical abilities, the various troop types and the Reduced Model rule. But actually the number of levers which are available to twiddle are fairly limited. This has a lot of good things going for it - the game can be more balanced and less open to abuse - but at the end of the day units end up somewhat alike and it's harder to really feel you know a character as an individual.

Back to the scenario: the Frenzied Blade wielder saved my bacon at a crucial interval (frenzy being a bit of a monster when it comes off) and looking back he becomes one of the key narratives that emerged from the game. There were also several other narratives, actual and potential - an interesting wizard duel, and the barbarian horde being held off by some seriously unlikely dice rolling. But those two factors - the detail and the breadth of scale - are what made the scenario truly memorable.

It can so easily degenerate into Herohammer or a "win in the army design" mess, but with a good GM and scenario Warhammer Fantasy Battle still seems, in my admittedly limited experience, hard to beat.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

More Dragon Rampant - still learning

I got my second game of Dragon Rampant this week, and I think it's fair to say I still have much to learn. Not so much the game itself, as I think it could fairly claim the old "simple to learn" feature, but more fundamentally wargame tactics. Which in a way is more worrying!

This week we tried the Sacred Mole of Ukkert scenario (attacker has to get the McGuffin diagonally across the table, the defender (me) starts from one of the other corners and has to stop them / return it to its start point). We also used leader traits for the first time, and it turned out that my warlord was Wise while my co-conspirator's was the rather useful Commanding.

Interestingly after the experience of the previous game we'd both decided to forgo magic. Given the problems I encountered in the game this may have been a mistake, but on the other hand magic is very expensive and the points seemed better spent on my newly painted warlord and some goblin wolfriders (light riders with Fearful).

Grack the Wise and his bodyguards

Apropos of which I've decided that my approach to goblins is to treat them as normal troop types with Fearful, rather than as Ravenous Horde (for infantry) or Scouts (for missiles). My reasoning being that they're decently equipped, and quite happy to get stuck in when the enemy is under the cosh, but not at all keen on a fair fight.

Early disposition. The pesky elves are trying to get the Mole to the bottom right corner
Shooting in Dragon Rampant is reasonably effective against lightly armoured troops, rather less so as armour improves. I've not yet worked out how to close with a missile-heavy force, although in hindsight lack of aggression, bad positioning of my warlord and not thinking sufficiently about the troop types were all factors.

Key (and fairly obvious) lesson for next time is to keep my warlord in a central position (so enabling him to stiffen the courage of his followers), but equally obviously that slow moving infantry are not good for flank attacks. There are plenty of other things I could have done differently, but those are all fairly specific to the scenario and table set-up, so of little use for next time.

Another part of the answer is probably to bring more goblins (probably Fearful light missiles or light foot), but that has serious implications for the paint queue!