Saturday, 14 December 2013

Book Review: Scenarios for Wargames by Charles Stewart Grant

Scenarios for Wargames, by Charles Stewart Grant. Wargames Research Group, 1981.

One of my ambitions getting back into wargaming was to leave behind the memories of grinding scissor/paper/stone type pitched battles and to really embrace scenario-driven play. I accept there's a place for pitched battles - I just think that when they are the rule rather than the exception, they end up squeezing any sense of meaning or fun out of your wargaming; it's just line 'em up and knock 'em down. Well, I ended up bored with that approach to play anyway, hence my drifting away from the hobby (that and the complete lack of money to buy minis). So when I got into the oldhammer scene, I was eager to banish the memory of monotony with some really exciting objective-driven play. (The battle reports I've put up here, I think, demonstrate that I have indeed found what I seek!)

For this reason, I'm always fishing for inspiration for future scenarios. Enter this fine volume, recently dug out from my dad's collection. What Charles Stewart Grant sets out to provide are 52 different scenarios - one for each week of the year, should you feel so inclined. Given such an aim, I think the exciting variety in his ideas is commendable; you don't get any sense of his inspiration running dry, and even though some are "variations on a theme" (e.g. different kinds of ambush, different coastal raids), each seems to provide a distinct challenge.

Each scenario is clearly presented in the following format: first you get a map of the battlefield with deployment zones indicated. After a brief introduction, the ground of the battle is described, there's a bit of context as to where the armies fit in and what they're trying to do, and then there is a suggestion for the composition of the forces of both sides. There's a section on how to play the scenario, describing how to start, and any special rules involved. Finally, there's a section entitled "winning the game", which explains the victory conditions for both sides (and often, each side has very distinct victory conditions).

The intended audience for the book is clearly the historical wargamer. With some exceptions (e.g. "helicopter attack") the author aims to be as general as possible, so that the scenario can be translated to any historical period. For this reason, the book is easily usable by the fantasy wargamer; and even those scenarios that seem to imply a certain historical specificity (e.g. the hijacking of a train on a railway) could easily be adapted (in this case, just shifting it to the hijacking of a wagon train). Most scenarios involve 2 armies ('red' and 'blue') although some involve a 3rd force ('green') - angry locals, for example, or mercenaries of questionable loyalty.

While the book talks in terms of stand alone games, I could see it being very useful for anybody running a narrative campaign; say you've just finished one battle with a particular outcome. What comes next? A rear guard action? Well, the book has several examples of how to proceed. Also many of the scenarios focus on the challenge presented by the terrain of particular battlefields; so let's say you're running a map based campaign and two armies meet in marshland - well, there's a scenario here for that.

One thing that may be of interest to oldhammer gamers is that the book absolutely envisages the need for a GM. Often the battlefield the players see before them on the table is not what it seems; or one player is given different knowledge of the field of play than the other. For this reason, many (if not all) of the scenarios simply wouldn't work without a GM, and all the others would certainly run much more smoothly with someone to think through how the rules apply to the particular circumstances of the challenges the armies face. In fact, I think it's a wonderful demonstration of just how much value a GM adds to gaming, because it shows you the exciting things that can happen if players are not presented with the same information about the battlefield, or if the GM can institute special and unexpected rules in the heart of the battle. There's something about elements of the game being unknown to the players that makes for good fun.

All in all, an absolute treasure trove of great ideas. Exactly what the oldhammer gamer needs. The only problem is that it's long out of print, and it only seems to come up on amazon and ebay for very silly prices. That being said, if you do see a second hand copy going cheap, grab it!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Chaos just got less boring

So the next OGRE (Oldhammer Gamers, Region: East Anglia) meeting is being planned for the end of January and looks like it'll involve some Realm of Chaos warband action. Ok, confession time: not only have I never collected Chaos, I've never actually had much of a desire to collect a Chaos army. Why is that? Well, ironically, I think that a lot of Chaos armies are just too orderly. During the 90s, when I started playing, Chaos basically involved a very predictable lineup of pretty homogenous and boring looking chaos warriors, or if the player was being really exotic, some demons painted red. They just lacked soul - which, I suppose, is befitting for an army of the damned. But still, didn't excite me. Blood for the blood god? Not today, thank you.

Ok, fast forward to the present day, we get to oldhammer, which means rewinding further into the past (err, yes, I think that makes sense...) - and suddenly chaos starts looking actually chaotic. First off, you've got a real selection of characterful and exciting toy soldiers to play with. Beastmen that aren't just the same wildebeast-goatmen-type things, but actually every creature under the sun rising up against humanity like a kind of twisted episode of Animals of Farthing Wood. Thugs just beginning their descent into chaos. Chaos marauders and warriors each with their own particular deformities. All shapes and sizes. (Ok, mostly big and chunky sizes, but still, not a regimented and homogenous army of orderly boredom. Actually a force of chaos.)

Secondly, and even more excitingly, the way the books "Slaves to Darkness" and "The Lost and the Damned" are structured really puts chaos - or at least, chance - at the centre of proceedings. Unlike "Warhammer Armies" books, these are not just boring rosters, by which I mean they are not a place for the omniscient and omnipotent general to compose the bestest all conquering army list. Rather, they do something far more exciting, which is they make the composition of warbands subject to the whim of a roll of the dice. The end result: a raggle-taggle group of chancers on a road to near certain death, to the amusement of their god. Now that's an image of chaos that I can believe in.

So lets give this a go. I'm following the guidelines Orlygg gave for setting up warbands prior to the Oldhammer weekend. I'm really starting from scratch in putting this warband together, I don't have a particular set of models I'm trying to work around. Thus I don't really mind what I end up with, so I might as well do this properly and put everything in the hands of random generation. Out come the dice. Yes, the rest of this blog post really is going to be me rolling dice, so you might want to scroll down to the bottom to see the conclusion!

Step 1: Species Ok, first, I roll a D100 to find out the species of the champion: 35 = Chaos Dwarf Hmm, never painted dwarves before. Ah well, there's a first time for everything.

Step 2: Starting attribute Now I roll another D100 to establish his level for the starting profile: 80 = Dwarf Level 10 Wizard

Step 3: First chaos attribute
Now I find out what weird deformity my valiant champion... er I mean bitter and twisted little bugger of a wizard has. Apparently for this I need a D1000. Wow, that's a hell of a big dice. I get out another D10. 904 = Tentacles

So a dwarf wizard with tentacles. Slight panic as I think what a major piece of conversion work that's going to be. Luckily, a quick google search makes me aware that chaos dwarf with tentacles is a model that was actually made. Hmm, quite a cool model too. Warming to this now.

Step 4: Generate your retinue
Right, now's the time to find out what bunch of unlikely lads have somehow been drawn in by the charisma of an angry dwarf with tentacles. I follow Orlygg's guideline: "If your character is level 10 roll 3 times". Let's see what this comes up with.

First roll of the D100:
40 = 1 Chaos Warrior
Ok, now I roll a D6 to see what level the warrior is; Thug, Marauder or true Warrior. It's a 6: yup, he's a fully paid up Chaos Warrior. Next member of the retinue...

34 = 2D4 Chaos Dwarves
Well yeah, makes sense, a chaos dwarf would meet some other chaos dwarves in a pub, they'd get pissed and they'd go out looking for a punch-up. I roll the 2D4 to see how many, and get 6.

54 = 2D6 Humans I roll the 2D6 and once again get 6. Apparently these can be chaos cultists... I have to look into that to see whether I want to go down that line. Apparently it would involve rolling for more chaos attributes (each chaos cultist has D6-4 attributes). Wait, more dice rolling?!? Why didn't you say so!
The dice come out 6, 5, 6, 1, 1, 3. Which means that two of the cultists have 2 attributes and one has 1 attribute. The rest have none.
Back to the personal attributes table. I get the following:
040: Beaked; 519: Irrational Fear; 490: Hunchback; 199: Blood Rage; 731: Prehensile Tail.

Phew. All done. Sooooo, to sum up, my warband will consist of
- A Chaos Dwarf Level 10 Wizard with tentacles
- A Chaos Warrior
- 6 Chaos Dwarves
- 6 Human chaos cultists
, one of whom is beaked and has an irrational fear, one of whom is a hunchback, and one of whom possesses blood rage and a monkey's tail.

Time to collect some models and start thinking about some background! Watch this space for all that. Oh yes, and before I forget, the image at the top of this post is from at the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. Liked it a lot.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Blog-Con Battle Report: Trouble at Nobridge

Being an account of this most splendid battle fought between myself and Warlord Paul on the second day of Blog-con, beautifully devised and GMed by Thantsants (who provided the human, dwarf, elf, and gnome figures for Paul to use to take on my fimir)...
(Many thanks to Warlord Paul for the photos in this report)

"Dangerous conditions? What are you on about, dangerous conditions? Dangerous? We've been working here nearly three months and nothing remotely dangerous has happened except that one time when you had too much to drink in the pub and tried to chat up that elf witch Fayana..."

"No, no, what I want to know is what's being done to ensure welfare in the workplace? Basic provisions of health and safety?"

"Elf and what? What is it about you and elves, you sick bastard?"

"Did somebody say something about elves? Poncey pasty f..."

"No, no, I mean..."

"Shhh, shut up and look busy! The militia are coming down the road from the village to check up on us again..."

The villagers of the proud settlement of Nobridge are getting frustrated. For years, they have sought planning permission to build a bridge, only to have the planning permission refused because the elven population of neighbouring Laloc felt that the designs were "out of character with the local surroundings". Finally, after endless appeals, increasingly costly architectural redesigns, and a series of spectacularly outrageous bribes, they had managed to get their plans through the parish council. Now at last trading caravans could leave the village to carry the rich harvest from the newly drained wetlands to market - the finest produce in all the land, they liked to think. Unfortunately, due to militant unionisation throughout the land, the only contractors they have been able to hire are "Enji's Engineers", the most inefficient dwarf sappers in history, who have managed to string out what should have been two weeks' work into three months of seemingly endless tea-breaks. The dwarves now declare themselves "nearly finished" - but they've been saying that for at least a month. Every day a patrol leaves Nobridge to try and cajole the dwarves into doing some work, and to check for signs of an ambush. There have been troubling stories of bloody raids on the nearby villages at the edge of the wetlands and nobody feels quite safe right now...

Indeed, unknownst to Enji's engineers, unknown to the militia of Nobridge, at that very moment a raiding party was making its way downriver, shrouded in mist. Led by their warlord Gislea, accompanied by the blind and pitiful figure of Derach the Demented Dirach - mocked and feared in equal measure - the fimir of Clan Slea waded through the water with grim determination. For years now they had watched humans bleed the fenland dry, the endless appetite for more and more farmland destroying the swampy habitat where the fimir dwell. With pleasure, Clan Slea had carved out revenge through raids on the villages of the fen edge, taking their share of blood and leaving many families without mothers and daughters. Now, the fimir had heard tell of the people of Nobridge's plan to build a bridge. The bridge would increase trade, causing Nobridge to swell in size and wealth. Should the village of Nobridge swell in size and wealth, its expanded influence and increased demand for farmland would spell certain death for what remained of the undrained wetland. So those building the bridge must be stopped... and the people of Nobridge punished.

Now the elementalist Fayana - best known for her skill as a one elf fire brigade, putting out forest fires with rain summoned from the clouds - comes racing towards the place where the bridge is being built, accompanied by a band of elven archers and wardancers. She had sensed that something was not quite right, but at this stage had no clear concept of what lay in store.

Reaching gnome tower, which overlooks the river, Fayana explains her suspicions to the gnomes who dwell in that (aptly named) tower, one of whom races up the spiral stairs to see if he can see any danger in the distance.

The Fimm continue their steady movement along the river. Suddenly, the warlord Gislea lurches out and away from the Fimm Warriors, insisting in an arrogant style sadly well known to all in Clan Slea that he would "lead the way". This was to prove a foolish move. Deprived of the magical mist generated by the fimir, he found himself momentarily dazed by the sun, quite forgetting where he was.

The gnome who had been sent to climb the tower saw the warlord standing dazed in the meadow below him. Immediately, he sounded the alarm, causing the militia of Nobridge to look upriver and see the sinister mist moving towards them. It was clear that they were being ambushed. Now everyone was at battle stations - and the dwarves were finally working to get the bridge finished before the fimir could strike.

At this stage, 3 dwarf crossbowmen (who should, by rights, have been working, but had nipped to the pub for a few brunchtime pints) were arriving in the north-east and wondering what all the fuss was about. Seeing the fimir mist advancing along the river, they fire a few crossbow bolts towards the apparent enemy, but these have little effect.

Enraged, but still dazzled by the light, Gislea the Fimir Warlord stumbles towards the dwarves - moving even further away from the rest of his host, with their protective mist. The rest of the fimir, accompanied by foul marsh crawlers, the embodiments of the primordial deep, continued to advance towards the place were the bridge was being built, while the demonic swamp vermes slithered into a copse.

The elementalist Fayana, taking charge of the situation, had given the Nobridge militia instructions to move towards the construction site and to defend the dwarf engineers as they made the push to finish the bridge. Trying to buy them time to complete their work, Fayana summmoned the winds of magic to slow the advancing fimm warriors in their track. At the same time, with the swamp vermes emerging from the copse, the elf archers accompanying Fayana peppered the foul creatures with arrows - only to watch in horror as these demonic worms simply tore in two, apparently doubling their number!

Meanwhile, the clanging of the bell had woken a river troll with one hell of a headache. Finding himself particularly peeved at all of the comings and goings, he stumbled towards the riverbank, ready to find the pesky miscreants making all this racket.

The swamp vermes were now in range to attack the elf archers; although in their weakened state, the arrows made short work of half of them, reducing each to a puddle of worms that saught shelter in the ground. Back in the river channel, the winds of magic were pinning the fimir warriors back, making every movement a struggle. Derach the Demented Dirach realised that it would be necessary to enter into Fayana's mind and attempt to wrest her concentration away from the spell. Attempting to steal her mind, however, would take a great deal of mental potency... Fayana could feel the pain building up as Derach probes the inner recesses of her mind, but for now, she held her concentration... just.

Taking advantage while the fimm warriors were being held back, the elven wardancers skipped to the other side of the river, ready to engage the marsh crawlers making their way towards the construction site.

The Fimm could still only shuffle forward... they were nearly in range to charge, but not quite. Derach the Demented Dirach continued to try and steal Fayana's mind... by now the pain was becoming quite unbearable. And yet, though Derach had reached into her mind, could read her memories by now, could feel her mental pain as well as his own, Fayana held her concentration.

The wardancers now charged the marsh crawlers. Again, their goal was to delay the attacking force and give the dwarves a chance to complete the bridge. And so, in their dance, they sought to tranfix the crawlers, almost hypnotising them, weaving their bodies around until the appendanges of the crawlers seemed to be writhing in time with the elves' dance.

The captain of the militia, seeing how much of a struggle it was for the fimir to actually move forward under the influence of Feyana's spell, successfully gave the order to his troops to edge back, remaining a safe distance from the Fimm Warriors. This enraged the Fimir, whose bloodlust had reached great heights, and it enraged Derach the Dirach even more. Screaming, he opened his mind as a conduit to the forces of chaos, hoping to use the power to finally rip through Fayana's consciousness. The pressure inside his head - and Fayana's head - built up and up, until the pain was unbearable - then suddenly something within him felt like it was exploding. All was white. All was silence.

When he awoke, he was no longer surrounded by the Fimm. He seemed to be somewhere else altogether. What had happened? He blinked. Confused, it suddenly dawned on him: he could see... he had been blind for years, and suddenly he could see. And whose body was this? Why was he so much larger than he remembered?

Derach tried to get to grips with his new situation. What had happened? Had the force of chaos ripping through his mind, had the attempt to leave his own mind and enter Fayana's gone so wrong that he had left his own body? And if so, whose body was he now occupying?

At the same time, the warlord Gislea realised that something was badly wrong. Up to this point, deprived of the fimir's mystical mist through his own arrogance, he had simply been wandering in a daze around the battlefield - sometimes stopping from time to time for a sit down. Now suddenly he became acutely conscious that he was not where he had been... on the contrary, he was surrounded by the Fimm once again... but he could not see anything... he was completely blind. And what was this weedy body he now possessed?

The elf archers, who had now disposed of the swamp vermes threat, were free to turn their attention to the Fimm warriors, and so charged the fimir in the flank while the Nobridge militia engaged them in the front. The Fimir's nerve was tested, but they held.

The wardancers had now managed to distract the swamp crawlers for an impressive length of time, but it was clear they could not continue this dance of distraction forever. Instead, their dance turned lightning quick, raining down attacks on the crawlers; yet this dance was much less successful, allowing the crawlers tendrils to wrap around three of the wardancers, paralysing them.

The remaining dancers returned to their dance of distraction, and once again this was successful in transfixing the crawlers. Yet something rotten had come over one of the elves. He and his fellows realised with horror that the dancer had contracted the deadly fen ague, which even now was putrifying his body. They were tempted to panic and flee... and yet the dance must go on... the crawlers must be held back. And so they held fast.

The fate of the bridge still hung in the balance, though, with the great central melee to hold back the fimm warrior menace ongoing. As the Fimm swung their weapons, Elves and Men repayed their violence blow for blow. Gislea the Warlord, not understanding how he could now find himself in the useless body of the blind Dirach he had so reviled, swung his axe hopelessly, trying to land a strike on something, somewhere. His actions were in vain, and he was swiftly slaughtered. All the same, the fimm pushed onwards, grinning manically as man and elf fell beneath their axes. The Fimm seized the advantage to wrap around their opponents.

At this stage, the gnomes of gnome tower also charged into the combat. They found themselves suprisingly successful in inflicting harm upon the fimir - more successful than the humans and elves, in fact - but it was not enough, and the casualties the fimm warriors were causing were simply too great in number, so content that they had done their bit, the gnomes decided to run away. As did the elves. As did the militia.

Among the wardancers too, things were going badly. The ague had spread to each and every one of their number. The horror of the situation was not lost on them... infected, doomed to wander alone for the rest of their lives as rotting pariahs. But with nothing else left to live for, they continued their dance of distraction.

The Fimm warriors seemed to be in the ascendant. Now, trying to clear a way to finally attack the bridge construction site, they charged the fleeing Nobridge militia.
This proved to be a grevious mistake. The militia continued to run like buggery. But the fimm warriors, unable to engage the militia in combat, were now unformed. The elementalist Fayana saw an opportunity and, taking the risk that psychology was mightier than fimir muscle, threw herself into the combat. No blows were struck; but nevertheless the unformed unit, unable to understand what was going on, panicked and fled.

The whole battlefield resounded to the sound of laughter as the defenders of the bridge at nobridge - now all but complete - watched a single elf sorceress chase a unit of Fimm from the battlefield. Inspired, the dwarf crossbowmen, who had finally reached the action, charged and, alongside the final unparalysed wardancers, pushed back the marsh crawlers - who, unstable, dematerialised and returned to the demonic plane.

Victory - and a completed bridge - for the people of Nobridge and their allies!

And so the story is almost told... except... what happened to Derach the Demented Dirach, now inhabiting the body of a mighty warlord? It took him some time, but he slowly got the hang of his new body, and decided to try it out.
Finally (after what seemed like an age of both he and the troll failing to see one another and wandering around like imbeciles), he saw his chance to draw blood, and with a mighty blow of the war hammer, crushed the creature's skull. His clan may have lost the battle, but for Derach, the day seemed to be looking up...

Back at their settlement, the fimm were quick to cast blame. The majority agreed: blame must fall squarely on the shoulders of their warlord, Gislea, who had abandoned the warriors of his clan to go his own way. And yet none could find the words to confront him. Firstly, when the warlord had eventually caught up with the fleeing unit of fimm - and the elementalist chasing them - he was quick to rally the troops and to put the elementalist into captivity. Secondly, when the fimm of Clan Slea looked at their warlord, they could see there was something different about him. None could explain it, but it was as though Gislea's body was being controlled by another...

"Ssssso, the elf female that managed to chase the mighty warriorssss home... bring her to me..."