Monday, 8 August 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 6

After the previous few months of activity it was nice to have a break from hardcore GM duties. While there were no special events this month, there were a few changes I wanted to make to the rules.

A digression
There are different aspects of the GW hobby that people are drawn to. I'm drawn to the hobby element - (collecting, modelling, painting) and also engaging creatively with the warhammer universe (through rules development, roleplay and narrative elements, artwork etc).

Some people's favourite aspect of the hobby is the challenge of "how does one win a game of warhammer"; to beat the game as much as beat your opponent. I can't say this side of things has ever really appealed, not even as a young teenager - I've always been more interested in having an imaginative, fun and cool experience than the result of the game itself. I would much rather have a game that was in the balance (no matter who won), than a walkover (even if it was my boots doing the walking).

But I can see how competition is an important aspect of the gaming community, and there are tons of players who find this the most challenging and rewarding part. I'm honestly not getting on any sort of holier-than-thou high horse - the community thrives on competition and benefits from it. It's just that for me personally, it's never really been my bag. And in any case, I'm very competitive in other ways: I want to have the best painted models, and the coolest terrain, and the best campaign rules etc, so I don't escape the finger-pointing.

I would say our gaming group leans more on the competitive side, while I'm the only one in the group who's more interested in how cool the terrain looks or what colour trousers your general's wearing.

Spies everywhere
What's your point, I hear you ask. Well, the rules development for this campaign has been particularly challenging because of the competitive element. When I wrote the campaign rules, I included things to add colour or character or interest. Predicting how well all these things would play out and how balanced they would all be was much harder. As so it was that some rules were mercilessly ignored because they offered the player no advantage, while some of the more game-tipping rules were unscrupulously used again and again and again.

One such example was the event card called "Spies". This allows your opponent to view your army list before the game. Now, I have absolutely no interest in playing this card. Firstly I don't have enough models to tailor a range of different armies to suit a range of opponents. And secondly there's a kind a nail-biting thrill when you watch your opponent put down his army on the table and see for the first time exactly what you're up against.

However, the rest of the gang take these things very seriously indeed. It is usual form in our gaming group to analyse your opponent's army book in detail, and trawl through discussion forums for tactical advice on how to exploit your opponents weaknesses and blast him off the table. And for this reason Spies is an extremely important event card and highly sought after.

So too are the special characters. Again, personally they're not my bag. I simply don't believe that Archaon would even be aware of a 2500pt skirmish on the edge of some forest in the back of beyond, let alone grace the army with his earth-sundering, unholy presence. But if you're a competitive gamer, special characters are game-winners, and therefore extremely important.

And the competitiveness doesn't just effect event cards and army lists. It effects terrain placement and set up too. Why would you go through a forest and risk a dangerous terrain test? You might lose models! Why would you place a mystical monument that might hurt your own troops as well as your opponents? Terrain, though more interesting and interactive than ever before in the game, was still being forced to the edges of the board and avoided at all costs.

Checks and balances
And so the big event this month, was not so much to do with the battles, which went ahead relatively smoothly, it was the extensive changes I made to the rules - a whole series of checks and balances aimed at making the game fairer for all. Check out the changes (in red) here:

campaign rules v7

Remember, the current campaign rules are here:

campaign rules 2011

A summary of the changes was also included in the omens for the month:

Month 6 - The Omens

The fiction was fun to write. I've tried to write about each of the armies equally, so that everyone gets represented. The Teclis vs Cetlis battle was perfect subject matter to write about. Plus it was my gentle way of saying "Teclis is ridiculously powerful, folks!"

Have the measures worked? Well, so far so good. Sure, Spies gets played these days, but with the ability to spend gold on a second card, it's fairly easy to root them out and lynch them before they can divulge all your secrets.

At the end of the month, the map looked like this:

map month 6

As you can see the map was virtually full and the age of expansion was over. Since this game marked the end of the first half of the campaign, I thought to myself what direction it should take in the second half. And with Tzeentch rising in the night sky, a cunning plan was beginning to form....

Campaign 2011 - month 5

Without the guiding hand of their gods, the organized battalions of orcs descend into squabbling tribes once more, and the green menace dissipates as quickly as it appeared. As the dust settles over Mortendorf Valley, there is no time to rest as the forces of destruction march to war once again.

Hi hooooo!
Month 5 saw the arrival of the Dwarves to Morten Valley. Tunnelling up through the mountains, they popped up in a recently stomped territory. Gary had originally said that he wasn't sure how many months he'd be able to make it, so I only set him up with a single territory - if he dropped out later the map wouldn't be left too scarred.

He was a new player to the game, though being a keen roleplayer he was familiar with the Warhammer universe. Being a newbie, I teamed him up with Nick (Skaven) with whom he roleplays, so his first game would be with a familiar face. Also Nick isn't a power-gamer, and I didn't want Gary's first game to be an exercise in humiliation. I must admit I was also thinking that Nick might get an easy win and gain some territory - which he desperately needed. So since there was a free territory sitting between the dwarf and skaven capitals, I told them both that in an exception to the normal rules, they would be fighting for that particular territory. They would both be exempt from challenges and event cards. Finally, I gave Nick a 100pt handicap a) to give Gary a leg-up, but b) because I wasn't sure how many points of troops Gary had managed to muster.

As it turned out, Gary is pretty darned competitive and flattened Nick, securing the territory and earning enough EPs to claim two more, which has made the Dwarven empire a pretty solid-looking addition to the map.

Slaves to pleasure
Dwarves aside, anyone looking to the heavens would notice that in month 5, Slaanesh was in ascendancy. I always knew I wanted to do something with in-game missions or special character-faults for individual heroes, so this seemed like the perfect month for trying it out. It fit with the Slaaneshi theme: everyone suddenly becoming selfish and irresponsible for a month, and it gave me scope to try a bunch of ideas out.

First of all, I had to send round the omens. I kept to the same formula, including a bit of fiction at the beginning to set the scene. I decided not to write about the Slaaneshi thing, since the missions themselves would paint the picture perfectly well. So I wrote two pieces to establish the dwarves in the campaign.

Month 5 - The Omens

Secret missions
I decided I'd make the special missions secret and randomly share them out. Some of my ideas seemed more fun to apply to whole armies, rather than individuals, so I did both: every army would have one army-wide mission and three missions given to their heroes. In retrospect, this was too much - one or two would have been fine, and some of the army-wide ones had some pretty heavy consequences for those unlucky enough to draw them .

With eight players, that was a lot of missions I had to dream up, and it was a bit of a brain-ache coming up with them all. But I managed it, and even put them all onto nice little cards too.

Month 5 Gaming aids

I was really chuffed with them. I think they're characterful and fun, and on the whole they didn't screw up anybody's game enough to worry about. At least I don't think they did - my own game was fine and the other tables didn't seem to kick up too much fuss.

With all these experimental rules, there's no opportunity to play-test them, so inevitably there are going to be some ugly imbalances. There were two such cases which came close to

1. Wizards "showing off". I liked the "Show off" card in principle, but I should have toned down the rule for wizards. My own opponent had a show off wizard and it was a real pain in his side. The show-off wizard had to go first and had to upgrade his spells if he could. But in practice that meant the show-off wizard would expend all the power dice from his pool and any other wizards in his army didn't get to cast anything. By turn three, my opponent was willing a miscast just to shut down his own attention-seeking magician. He didn't oblige and his level 2 alchemist sat there like a pudding throughout the game with no power dice to use. My opponent took it in fairly good spirits, but it did nobble his magic phase, and my intention wasn't to make the cards have that much effect on the game.

2. The drunken army. Oh boy, this one went badly. When I wrote the rules for it (basically, there's a chance that some of your army will arrive a bit late) I thought it sounded pretty balanced. When we all drew the cards, Gaz (Wood elves) took it in good spirits and seemed to really like the idea of commanding a drunken bunch of hungover elves - funny right?. But as the game went on, and half his army was still off the table in turn 3, that smile had been turned upside down. You see, Gaz had rolled very badly at the start of the game (meaning half his army were still in bed), and continued to roll badly at the start of each turn (meaning they kept pressing the snooze button on their alarms). With the benefit of hindsight, I should have made sure there was a cap, so that everyone turned up, drunk or not, by turn 3 (or even 2). But as it turned out, some members of Gaz's army were still enjoying a duvet day by turn 5. Not good. Surprisingly, I don't think it massively hobbled his game, but he did have a uniquely hard time, considering the other army-wide cards had only minor effects for the other players.

And the rest?
Well, I didn't hear too much noise from the other tables regarding the missions. Possibly because some of them really did have next to no effect or were inapplicable throughout the game. But hopefully because the cards weren't meant to be obtrusive, merely to add some character and flavour to the games. In my game, with the exception of the show-off wizard, the cards did exactly what they were supposed to do.

I guess the only problem was that the amount of effort that went into thinking up all the cards and writing the missions was totally disproportionate to the enjoyment everyone got from them. The whole thing was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders. I know for a fact that at least one person thought I'd just copied it all from the internet and it didn't realise any of it was my own original material. Harrumph.

So perhaps a pyrrhic victory, but one I could feel proud about nonetheless.For years I've wanted to play a game with these sorts of extra rules and I finally got to act it out. So for my sake, if not for anyone else's I'd say it was all worth it.

By the way...
I couldn't write about month 5 without mentioning the ridiculous head-to-head that happened in one of the games. I've said before how the group are pretty competitive players and Andrew (High elves) was finding to his delight that Teclis was pretty unstoppable. So the greatest wizard that ever lived started turning up to every single battle the High elves fought. In month 5, Andrew was up against Pete ("Beastmen") who is a very good player and who happens to be allowed to take an army from any race he likes. So we ended up with the unusual situation of Teclis leading a high elf army, fighting against another high elf army led by.. er... Teclis (maybe we should call him Cetlis to make the distinction).

It says something about how powerful Teclis is that he didn't bat an eyelid - he simply wiped Cetlis off the face of the planet in the first couple of turns and went on to destroy the rest of the army. Not even Teclis can beat Teclis!

Spoils of war
By the end of the month, the map looked like this:


There were no special rules planned for month 6, so a well-earned rest was in order.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 4

Month 4 was billed as a Mega Battle, and it sure was, in more ways than one.

I knew multiplayer games didn't seem to work well on a single table, so I had to cook up a plan for creating a mega, cooperative battle that could take place on separate tables. How would that work? And what effect would the battle have on the campaign? But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Gareth, one of our three skaven players, sent me the following message:
"... I am respectfully going to withdraw from our gaming group. The over riding factor in this decision is that I am primarily an historical figure painter/gamer and Warhammer was an entry point for me, however I was never really grabbed by playing it.
Its been very nice getting to know you all and I do hope to see you all again ... thank you for your hospitality and good luck with the campaign."

Now we are seven
Well, no disrespect to Gareth (who is a really nice guy), but a little bit of me was glad he dropped out. First of all he was playing skaven (and having three skaven players in a group of eight was a drag), then there was the Brettonnian debacle, and the last-minute dropping-out in month 3. Plus, every month Gareth's orders were "I'll do whatever you suggest", which wasn't much fun. On the other hand that left us with an odd number of players and since we only play one game per campaign turn, we need an even number.

Andrew (the poor guy whose house we descend upon once a month) said he might have a friend who would be interested in joining, but it wouldn't be until month 5. So the mega battle was going to involve seven players.

One serendipitous effect of all this was that we suddenly had a bunch of skaven territories that were up for grabs. Which solved the problem of how we integrate it into the campaign: the players who secure the best victories in the mega-battle are entitled to their pick of Gareth's territories (with the lowest two players missing out on the spoils).

The orc horde
I liked the idea of the mega battle being a battle against a single foe, otherwise it would be a regular battle by another name. Andrew had a huge orc army, and so did I, so maybe we could face-off against the other players? Well, I could face off against one, he could face two more, and the remaining two could play an orc-themed game.

The solution I came up with, was to play the three games in real time. The idea being that the three battles are happening nearby at the same time. That gave me the opportunity to have special rules that have a bearing on all three games, and these effects could change depending on the progress of the individual battles. You'll see how it works when you read the scenarios.

The stomp
I was beginning to get worried we had an imbalance of power. After only three games the best players were streaking ahead and dominating the map. And the more territory they owned, they stronger they became. What a perfect opportunity, then, for Gork to come stomping all over the map and even up the score a little. After the game, I asked every player to roll a dice for each of their territories. On a roll of 1, the area was stomped and they lost control of it. That meant that players with larger realms were bound to lose a few, while the little guys might get away with it. The ploy worked well, and sure enough the big players got a bloody nose, which also opened the map up a bit.

Tipping the balance
Part of the reason why the good players had prospered was that the victory spoils were incredibly imbalanced (though it took me three months to realise it). If you won a game, you not only got 4 EPs, but you stole your opponent's territory off him. He only got 1 EP, and lost a territory, so the good players were experiencing exponential growth.

With a quick tweak of the rules, victors now had to start paying for the privilege of occupying the territory they'd just conquered, at a cost of 2EPs.

I also flipped the rule in Mighty Empires that allows the top-ranking player a 100pt bonus, and turned it into an underdog bonus. And finally I changed the Mighty Empires rule that allowed an additional 250pts of troops to be purchased with gold, to only 100pts.

So far, these measures have slowed down growth quite well.

Tactical mining
Some of the players had suggested that gold was basically becoming a boring commodity. Everyone dug for it, everyone collected it, but then all you could do with it was spend it on extra troops (now a maximum of only 100).

They had a fair point. So I added the ability to exchange gold for EPs (or sell EPs to generate gold) and also the ability to spend gold in the events phase, meaning players could now play multiple events or events that had already been played. Hopefully that would add a more tactical dimension to both the pursuit of gold and the events phase.

Phew! So with all those extra rules, all I had to do was organise the game. The Omens, and following documents explain it all. I had to produce a few gaming aids. All of these are under creative commons license, so feel free to use them in your own games...

The Omens Month 4
Game 1
Game 2
Game 3
Month 4 gaming aids

The scenarios called for two orc themed tables. I needed two idols of Gork (or Mork, or maybe one of each), three orc "totems", an orc encampment large enough to hide an army and a whole bunch of venom thickets and fungus forests (I limited the forest types to these two because they felt the most orcy).

Now, I'd already put hours into writing up the scenarios and extra rules. How the hell was I going to do all this in time? Well, I must admit, there was method in my madness. All of the rules and scenarios had been written with solutions in mind - old models, half-completed projects and other junk that was lying around unused in my cupboards. Finally, this stuff would get to see the light of day again.

The venom thicket and giant spiders were easy enough because I had already made a load of spiders' webs years ago for a skirmish game, along with five giant spiders from Heresy miniatures. A quick rummage in the attic unearthed twelve spiders from Warthammer Quest who, when sprayed black, could dress up the venom thickets a bit and give that "spider infested" look.

I had buried away in my cupboards two of the excellent orc encampment terrain pieces made by Games Workshop in 2000. They'd released a few of these tough foam terrain pieces (a bit like the ones Ziterdes make) to coincide with the release of the 6th edition army books. I thought they were super cool, but if you tried to play a game of warhammer with them, you quickly realised they blocked off half the battlefield, so they were retired to the back of the cupboard. Finally, they would have their day in the sun once more.

The only problem was that two of these made for a very small looking camp. So, as weird as it sounds, I ended up buying another off ebay - now quite rare and costing me about £20. Sigh. Still, three of those babies looked more convincing, and would look super cool with a great big Idol in the middle.

My original thought was to chop up the orc terrain pieces and have individual huts, walls and totems (heck, I was even planning on making extra huts and walls, but of course I ran out of time). I was planning on using the three little totems in the other game, but with those still fixed to their base, I had to make my own. These actually worked out quite well - three bits of chopped-up foam with a lick of paint. Hey presto - orc totems.

That just left the Idols. Man, I scoured the internet for all sorts of things to use - toys, halloween decorations, aquarium ornaments - but nothing worked for me. Then during a desperate search in my local pet store I saw them. Incredulously, my saving angel came down in the form of... Spongebob Squarepants. Squidwards house made a fine idol and looked the part too. Of course, they look better as goblin totems because of the big noses and they don't have pointy ears. And of course, I planned on converting them so that they had big spiky lower jaws and trophies all over them. And of course, I ran out of time. But I did paint one of them, and managed to reduced his goofiness sufficiently to look pretty cool.

On the night
As you can imagine, after all that, I was a wreck. I was totally stressed out, and spent the first hour setting up everyone's terrain and explaining the rules. I was also pretty interested to see how it all turned out, so I was in and out of our two gaming rooms like a yoyo.

My game didn't go well because as soon as Craig set up his chaos army I realised the scenario had a fatal flaw. I had written the orc camp scenario with the intention of a close-combat army having to plough through massed orcs in an attempt to bash the idol into bits. But as soon as he plonked a hellcannon onto the board, I realised it was all over before we'd begun. I had simply forgotten that he had that sort of artillery at his disposal! Sure enough, two turns of hellcannon shells and the idol blew into smithereens much sooner than expected. That had a terrible effect on two of the games, and meant our game wouldn't be lasting many turns. If I did it again, I'd add "no artillery" in the scenario rules.

I guess what bugged me more was the fact that Craig was playing it ultra-cautious and competitive, and simply refused to use the mystery items he got from ransacking the orc camps. My intention was for crazy, funny things to happen throughout the game, but I made the mistake of making the cards optional. That meant he chose not to play any of the cards until the final turn, when he knew he had won the game and there was no risk to him (and when they wouldn't make any difference to anyone). Damn, it took me hours to think up all those cards and write them, but what could I do? I tried suggesting he played some of them during the game, but he just said "no way! they might hurt me!" Sigh. Yeah, they might hurt you, dude, but they might also make the game more fun. If I did it again, I'd make them compulsory.

The effect that losing my idol had on the other tables was disastrous. There Andrew was, poised to move onto the table an absolutely enormous orc reinforcement force. And just as he was about to do so...BOOM my idol explodes and he is immediately banned from bringing them on. This really ruined his game, and the next few turns he had to manage with the rather sparse collection of models he already had on the table. I suppose I should be glad that the real-time aspect was playing out with unpredictable results, but I did feel bad. If only I'd remembered the hellcannon, then we could have all carried on for a couple more turns.

The spider game was by far the most successful. The table looked amazingly cool with idols, totems, spiders and webs all over the place. By all accounts the game was pretty balanced, and the random, crazy element of dangerous giant spiders roaming around the battlefield made it lots of fun to play. I was really proud.

Stranger in our midst
Our host Andrew, had been looking for someone who could be our eighth player and had brought along someone who was showing interest. It was understood that he wasn't going to play, merely lend an assist to Andrew, who was facing two opponents.

Now, this blog is not the place to bitch about my gaming companions - it really isn't. But let's just say this was really not the best night for me to meet this guy. Sure, he was friendly and enthusiastic, and bounded about with the boisterous exuberance of an excited child. It would have been quite charming, but the guy saw me as "the one who wrote all these rules" and bugged me constantly throughout the night with questions and queries. Not particularly good-natured, either. I don't think he realised how critical he was coming across: "You're playing three games in real time?! How is that even possible?! Why the hell are you doing this, it's completely ridiculous?!" Then, showing an interest in Andrews game, he started rules-lawyering the ass off me - quoting my own rules back at me, finding loopholes he could exploit, stretching every nuance to his advantage. He was absolutely loving it. I wasn't.

The night nearly killed me, but I also had a lot to be proud about. Sure, I'd screwed up in places and that nearly ruined two of the games, but that's the problem with flying by the seat of your pants with no play-testing. One out of the three games was a roaring success, and I'd just have to learn from the other two. Our guest had taken a lot of the shine off the evening, and the whacky real-time rules hadn't turned out to be quite so whacky as I'd hoped (which wasn't really my fault).

The main thing I took away from it was proof of concept: it's possible (nay, cool) to play a mega battle by having a number of real-time games running concurrently linked by a narrative element. The idea was sound and had a lot of potential.

So a bitter-sweet experience.

The final map
The players scoring the best victories got first share of Gareth's old, abandoned skaven territories, and we had just the right number of players for that system to work well. At the end of it all, the map looked like this:

Month 4 map (with added Mork stompy footprints!)

After all the weirdness, I figured it would be better for everyone to save up their EPs this month and spend them at the end of Month 5.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 3

In drawing up the schedule for the year, I'd tried to create a programme of events that would keep things fresh and avoid us going through the same old routine every game. So I added in three special features:
  1. The final siege of Mortendorf in month 12. I reckoned it would be good to have a resolution to the narrative element, but more importantly we can all have a super-mega-final blow-out with stupidly unbalanced, epic things happening as a bit of fun and a chance to celebrate the end of the campaign.
  2. Two so-called "mega-battles" during the year. I didn't know exactly what they would involve, but I had some ideas. More on that later.
  3. Four games with special rules - a chance for us to try slightly different approaches to playing the game: scenarios, alternative battlefields, special objectives etc. I hit upon the idea of theming the games around the four chaos powers. Since the gods of chaos are so ancient, I figured they would have a presence in the constellations. So according to an astrological calendar, each power would be dominant at some point, subtly exerting an influence on the whole Olde World. I'm particularly chuffed with this idea, because it presents what would have been a fairly arbitrary inclusion of special rules in a really characterful way that roots it right into the Warhammer universe.
So in this month, it was Khorne's turn on the throne of ascendancy. Since I wanted to get the character of the thing across properly, I put more effort into the Omens and wrote some sections of fiction. Here's what I sent round:

Month 3 - The Omens

The first piece of fiction refers to the Dark Elves' crushing defeat in month 2, introduces the idea of Khorne being ascendant in the heavens (referred to by the Druchii as the "moon cycle of Khaine"), and explains the Dark Elves' motivation for invading the valley (with the obligatory hint at incest thrown in for good measure). The second explains more explicitly what is meant by Khorne being ascendant, and illustrates how the gods subtly influence the behaviour of everyone in the Olde World, not just their own worshippers.

By month 3, I'd realised just how much administration was involved, and if I was ever going to get to grips with it, I'd need to record it all in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet has developed in time, and has become an invaluable tool. I send a copy of it round to the players with each Omens (though I'm not sure how many really look at it). The latest version (which includes data for all the months so far) is here:

Campaign admin 2011

It includes a summary page which is important for the players to see where they rank, as well as how many EPs and GPs they have to spend.

The campaign rules themselves didn't require many changes, but I added a whole bunch of administrative clarifications: when to send in your orders, when generate gold etc. I added one new event card, which gives any player to option of fielding a mercenary army. And I also invented Wysiwyg, the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent goblin who bestows rerolls to players who can field a fully painted army.

Finally, I added some extra rules regarding Khorne. These weren't actually that important - I opted for Khorne to go first mainly to establish the premise of using special rules every few games. The rules themselves were simple enough and designed simply to reflect the bloody nature of the god. From a campaign point of view, it gave the strongest players a chance to do some challenging, which shook things up a little.

Sadly on the night, we had some no-shows, thankfully two, meaning their respective opponents could face each other, contesting the same territories they had originally been challenged over.

On the tables, the extra rules made little difference (one table entirely forgot them). That was fine by me, because my intention wasn't for these special rules to interfere too much with the action.

The Spoils of War phase went more smoothly this month, with the players getting into their stride. At the end of the month, the map looked like this:

Map month 3

Little did they know what events awaited them in month 4!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 2

I sent round the Omens for month 2 in the form of an email, embellished with a prosaic sentence or two to summarise the previous month's events:
The forces of destruction have drawn first blood. The brave men of Ironhelm were suddenly overrun with swarms of foul rats from the east. The peaceful high elves of Silverlake were butchered by invading Beastmen. After a bloody clash with chaos invaders, the elves of Evermere forest have readied the fae spirits of the wood for war.

At a time of war, people look first to their gods and a rash of temples, towers and totems rise up to the skies across the valley. The families of Mortendorf and the surrounding lands can only wonder what dark machinations are afoot, while they batten their shutters, man the watchtowers and pray to their gods to protect them.

All well and good, but not as lavish as I'd hoped. In following months I'd write the Omens in a separate Word document.

I updated the rules (the first few months saw quite a few changes as the rules bedded in). For historical purposes, the rules looked like this in Month 2:

Campaign rules v3

Incidentally, the current version of the rules is here:

Campaign rules 2011

Month 2 took a while to get off the ground because the players really hadn't got to grips with the campaign rules. I was still getting orders based on Mighty Empires. I think I must have written 20 - 30 emails explaining to everyone what they could or couldn't do.

For the battle itself, we had everyone turn up, and the four games seemed to go well. I was trounced, but then I usually am.

Again, after the game, I had to go through tons of emails to explain how they could spend their EPs. But we got there in the end. It was good to see the players were using some of the rules I'd invented - it was only month 2 but we had a rash of temples being built and even a sanctuary. I'd created enough empty tiles on the map at the start of the campaign to ensure that the first few months would offer players choices of how and where to expand their territories.

Gaz (Wood Elves) seemed to be building an inpenetrable woodland stronghold around his capital. Craig (Warriors of Chaos) was looking to build a mountain empire, and Pete (Beastmen) were inexplicably snaking round the edge of the map.

At the end of month 2, the map looked like this:

Map month 2

I was finding it really intriguing to see what the players would do next.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 1

I sent out the call for orders and decided to make a special rule for month #1:
Rise - Only FoD make challenges this turn. All players will earn an additional +2 EPs regardless of results.
I figured this would help kick start the campaign and get some territories and buildings on the map.

As I expected, no one had had time to read and absorb my rules. A few years ago I wrote an abortive set of campaign rules that were so thorough and comprehensive, the whole lot came to fifty-something pages of text. Unsurprisingly, my friends at the time were utterly daunted by the prospect of even reading the stuff, let alone trying to start a campaign. From that experience, I wanted the rules to remain quite brief. But it's amazing how easily that page count can creep up.

In the event, 8th edition Warhammer had just been released and we all had enough on our plates trying to get to grips with those rules, so I didn't blame anyone for not reading another bunch of stuff. Unfortunately, it did mean that I spent quite a lot of time answering email queries. But in the end we got ourselves a set of orders.


The Brettonnian, sorry, I mean Skaven player told us at the last minute that he couldn't make it (grrrrr).
So in a hasty change of plan I teamed up with Beastmen and we invaded a High Elf territory together. I'd covered the eventuality of this happening in the rules, so I counted as being a mercenary army. I stood to win the same number of EPs as the beastmen if our attack was successful, though I wouldn't own the new territory.

The game wasn't that great because trying to play a combined force of 2000pts using two separate1000pt armies sucks. We couldn't field our best, most expensive units because of army list restrictions. Even so, we managed to win. It just wasn't great to play.

After the game, I revised the rules on combining armies so that with a bit of forward planning, two players could put together a force that wasn't limited by 1000pt army restrictions. Again, for historical purposes only, here is a copy of the rules showing the changes I made after the first game...

Campaign rules v.2

The other two games seemed to go ok. Remember also that many of us were trying out new armies, so the whole game had a kind of "getting to know you" feel.

Afterwards, with a lot of email coaxing, I got orders from the players regarding claiming new land and building shiny new buildings. On the map, I was able to use icons to show what had recently been built, conquered or claimed (something I wouldn't have been able to do on a plastic 3D map), and this proved very useful.

Here's the updated map:

campaign map at the end of month 1

Incidentally, the current version of the rules is here:

Campaign rules 2011

So that was our first month. We were all learning and the rules were yet to be properly tested out, but the main thing was that everyone was going along with it (I was dreading everyone chipping in with alternative rules demanding changes) and that everyone seemed to be having some fun.

We'd started quite late in the month, so it wasn't long before we got to Month #2....

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 0

Ok, so I'd got a wish list and I had to put it all together. It was about October and I needed to get everything ready for the 4th January (our first game). Sounds like a lot of time, but for me (inveterately lazy) it really wasn't. Particularly as I was being a bit ambitious:
  1. Write the rules
  2. Create a map using the GW plastic Mighty Empires tiles, make customised tiles (such as coastal tiles and special map features), make customised buildings (Brettonian temples and the like). And of course, paint it all.
  3. Make enough generic terrain for four tables. You'll see from the rules I wrote for determining terrain, this would have meant a huge collection of terrain, particularly as I didn't actually own any in the first place. What I did have was a whole bunch of trees and woodland (tons actually, because I once had an idea that I wanted to create a table for a skirmish scenario covered entirely in forests). But not much else, a few walls and bits and bobs. No buildings, no rough terrain, no rivers, no Anvils of Vaul, no Acropoli of Heroes. So it would be a massive undertaking.
  4. Make a website and/or newsletter for the group so that I could make the month-by-month admin more interesting.
  5. Complete my own Dark Elf army.
I admit, it was too much. But hey, dreaming costs nothing.

NEWS CRASH: Just two days before the first game, our Bretonnian player declares a change of allegiance and decided he'd rather play Skaven instead - Warhammer isn't his first love, so faced with building and painting a whole new army of Brets or using his son's existing Skaven army, he switched to the latter). I couldn't really argue (it's not like they owe me anything), so I just had to go along with it. It threw out the good/guys bad guys split, but we'd just have to work with what we had.)

In the end, this is what I managed:

1. The rules. Since the campaign started, the rules have had seven revisions while we play-tested everything, but they've settled down now and are working pretty well. This version of the rules is more of a historical record, presented here for the sake of completeness (Word document):

Campaign rules v1

Incidentally, the current version of the rules is here:

Campaign rules 2011

I won't regurgitate them at length here, but I'm really pleased with what I came up with. In brief:
  • I reckon I pretty much answered everything in the wishlist and gave us good scope for characterful, narrative gaming.
  • I'm chuffed with the terrain placement rules, and they work really well. Note that the there was a consensus in the group that mysterious terrain was stupid - not so much for the unpredictable consequences it has on your game, but for the whole silliness factor (Pop down to the river, will you darling and get a pail of water? No mummy, I can't because it's a raging torrent of raw Light Magic).
  • I wrote the rules to suit a narrative - the taking of Mortendorf, and gave the two teams rules that would suit their character. The Forces of Order (FoO) have special rules that reward a collegial, defensive game, while the Forces of Destruction (FoD) are rewarded for looking after number one (which is as it should be). I made the FoD better at gaining gold (eg enslaving), but gave the FoO more options to spend their gold usefully (eg trade).
  • I'm chuffed with the schedule, particularly the use of chaos gods in ascendancy. I had no idea what those games would actually entail, but it just opened the door to customise rules, invent scenarios and play one-off games that would keep it fresh and interesting.
2. A "temporary" map. I laid out the tiles and photographed them. Then worked on the image in photoshop to create what I thought would be a temporary solution. Actually, the map has proved so useful in this format that I never got round to making the map in real life, and don't see a reason to.
Take a look at the map here (pdf, 1.2MB):

Campaign map - month 0

I wanted to divvy a few territories out first to get things started and establish a foothold in the narrative, and since the FoO guys are outnumbered I gave them more. I also spread the FoD guys around the map, but kept the FoO close-knit. This fit with my vision of how I wanted the narrative to go - a nice community of allies, keeping the alliance on good terms, with pockets of nastiness growing in strength and forming their own alliances.

I also added in a four special territories: Mortendorf (which could never be conquered, until the last game, where we could fight a big seige battle); Todbrucke and Karak Gorg, which boost mine production and add a little bit of tactical spice into realm-building; and Bal Dur, which grants the owner the permanent ability to field mercenary armies (ie, armies of different races). I had the idea for Bal Dur because I figured twelve months committed to playing the same army can be a bit boring, so it's fun to dig out an old army every now and again. In the event though, Pete said he wouldn't have his Beastmen army ready in time, and asked if he could use Skaven instead, so I started him off owning Bal Dur, which allowed him to use Skaven, High Elves or anything else he liked while he was building his army.

3. The terrain didn't happen, but by using the bases of my forests (sans trees) I could represent other terrain features fairly adequately. A few 40K craters and some Arcane Ruins were pressed into service to represent a whole host of things, and so far we've managed quite well. It's still an area I have to work on though.

4. Well, the website never came off. But what I did start to do each month was include more and more fiction into the communications (i'll include some as we go on). I don't know if anyone reads it, but it gives the whole thing character and makes the admin a little more interesting. I also discovered that it's useful to put all the details down into a spreadsheet. I send it out the players each month - no one reads it I'm sure, but damn it, they should!

So with all that, we were ready for month 1.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Campaign 2011 - the wish list

I knew I wanted the campaign to last through 2011 and start in January, so I'd have to do some preparation in 2010. There were a few things that came out of the previous campaigns that we'd identified as problematic and a list of cool stuff that I wanted to include, but before I could get stuck in, I needed to know what armies everyone wanted to play.

Not as easy as it sounds, as it turns out. When I asked everyone, they replied with answers like "well, if I can borrow some figures from my mate, I'll play chaos, but otherwise skaven or high elves." Not great, considering I was really hoping we'd have a even mix of goodies and baddies (I thought an element of teamplay would make the campaign more interesting). In the end we got:

Dark Elves
High Elves
Warriors of Chaos
Wood Elves

Perfect. Four good guys and four bad guys.

Okay, so on to the wishlist of stuff to include in the campaign:

1. Knowing what bit of the map is at stake while you're playing. I like the idea of marching into someone's hinterland and trying to kick out the villagers before burning down their houses, or struggling over mountainous terrain to capture an important copper mine, or raiding a forest to flush out the nasty beasties. In the existing Mighty Empires rules, you just have a battle and choose a place to conquer afterwards. That just didn't sound characterful enough for me, and importantly it prevented...

2. Battlefields that resemble the bit of the map you're fighting over. So if you're trying to conquer a forest, there should be tons of forest all over the board. Bear in mind that we were starting off the campaign using 7th edition rules, which punished you for using terrain. Something as mundane as a wood slowed your movement down so much you could easily spend half the battle tripping over brambles. It was just easier to avoid terrain altogether, which is why our battlefields all looked like billiard tables. In this campaign, I'd decided that players would have to take terrain, whether they wanted to or not.

3. Battlefields that resemble the type of foe you're facing. So if you're trying to invade an swamp owned by orcs, you should expect to see lots of swampy things and lots of orcy things on the table. That just seemed very necessary to me to add colour and character to the games.

4. Battlefields that look different from game to game. Because terrain used to be so toxic, people would put the same smattering of small items (eg, a copse or two of trees, and a small house) around the table each time. Every game looked the same. Whatever system of placing terrain I came up with, it would have to

a) Be random. With any method of placing terrain by choice, you're going to do it to your advantage. The "choose your table edge" method means you place terrain that will be neither beneficial nor harmful if you were to end up coming across it. I like the idea that some battles have stuff on them that are inconvenient to both players, or just surprising or interesting. Oh look, tonight's battlefield has a river! Or a watchtower. Or a flipping great big mansion hous. You get the idea.

b) Do away with choosing a table edge. We're funny creatures, us humans. Some of us turn up early and start setting up; some late. Some of us like sitting on this side because you can put your drink on the table; some of us like being by the door. So we can't use the "choose your table edge method".

c) Give the defender the advantage. Some in the group suggested that the defender should choose exactly what terrain should be placed and where. I didn't like that idea because I could see it being abused or worse, ignored (ie players would just choose to put down the same old nondescript stuff out of habit). But in principle, I liked the idea.

5. Lots of characterful stuff. I wanted to include narrative elements wherever possible. The thing that GW does so well is create a universe - a context in which to put all this stuff. The gaming group include a number of roleplayers and I know they'd all get off on lots of characterisation and story elements.

6. Lots of different stuff. There was something depressing about setting up another boring old pitched battle. There are tons of ideas and special rules that always sounded cool but which none of us have ever bothered with (like seiges, scenarios, hidden objectives, sea battles, monstrous creatures, crazy allainces etc etc). A regular gaming group gives you the opportunity to shake things up a bit; try new things.

7. A GM. Okay, it means more work for me, but a strong GMing presence would open up more opportunities. You can have secrets. Big reveals. Twists. Things to look forward to. Things to surprise you. And a whole level of richness and detail which you'd never bother with if left to your own devices.

8. More stuff. More things to build. More things to spend gold on. More special racial rules. But they had to be mostly optional. Some of the gaming group just aren't really into the whole campaign bits, they just want to turn up and play, so I couldn't pressure them to learn tons of new rules if they didn't want to.

9. A cool map. Preferably a real, plastic one with converted bits and bobs, but as it happened that was impractical to carry back and forth to the games.

Next post I'll show what I came up with....

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


Despite zero activity on this blog, there has been unprecedented activity in my hobby life. I am now playing more games than ever before. And doing loads of super cool hobby stuff. I am as pleased as punch. I am absolutely loving it.

How so? you ask.

I've been part of a gaming group for nearly three years now. There are eight of us, and we meet on the first tuesday of every month. We've been using the Might Empires rules as a basis for a campaign; one campaign per year, and we all start new armies at the start of the following year.

Hang on, why not mention this before? you ask.

Well, to be honest, I've never been into it. Oh sure, we're all playing Warhammer (and more than I've ever played) but we'd turn up, go through the motions and then pack up and leave. I am terrible at playing, so I was massacred twelve games in a row. I don't really care about the losing, but it seemed to represent how I felt about it all. It was all, I dunno, lacklustre.

Until 2011, when everything changed.

Intriguing, you say.

It sure is. I offered my services as games master for the 2011 campaign and figured I'd put my all into it. And boy has it paid off.

Tell me more, you say (okay, I'll stop this now)

What will follow is a runthough of all the stuff I've done on the campaign so far, and then try and write progress reports for the rest of the year, and we'll see how it goes. So without further ado, here's my campaign...

Farewell TOFP

Ok, well if you hadn't noticed from the date of this post, TOFP 2011 was a complete wash-out. I tried, but not with anywhere near enough effort. In the end I realised that I was spending so many hours every month feeling agitated that I hadn't done any painting in the previous month, and agitated that I should be doing some painting for next month's, that there wasn't actually any time left to do any painting. My net achievement was just a whole bunch of agitation. I might as well give up TOFP - I'd have just as many figures painted (ie zero) and a healthier blood pressure.

Fair play to all those that are plugging away at it. I was impressed that they have the time - and we're not just talking students and jobless here - these guys hold down jobs, have kids, buy houses, suffer bereavements etc and still have time to paint 200pts a month. Just cooking dinner is enough to scupper my hobby plans for the week.

Oh well. I'm not saying I'll never do it again, but not this year. And not next year either.