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....