Tuesday, 12 January 2016

In praise(ish) of 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle

I've enjoyed reading Whiskey Priest's recent missive "When is oldhammer not oldhammer and does it matter? or How I stopped worrying and learned to love my miniatures". It goes beyond the usual "whither oldhammer" musings and gets into some pertinent questions. I say pertinent, because Whiskey Priest and I will hopefully be playing Frostgrave with the OGRE crew before too long, and although we're a group brought together through the revival of our interest in old warhammer via the oldhammer movement, if we're playing a new ruleset, and not restricting ourselves to old miniatures, are we still an oldhammer group on that occasion? Or only on those occasions when we're archaeogaming with the 3rd ed rulebook?

Now, part of his post concerns 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle and its hallowed place within our movement: "3rd ed is a bit of a clunky monster. It takes a fucking age to play. Let's be honest, most of the time it's a bunch of 40 year old blokes flicking through a 25 year old book looking for a rule they don't remember (and was probably from a different edition anyway). Don't get me wrong, it's brilliant to be playing a Fantasy Wargame on that scale and the aesthetic of 3rd ed is what brought me back but I've only actually played a single game (and a couple of skirmishes) and I can't see me confining my Fantasy Army to 3rd ed for ever." He's not wrong. It can be a pretty hefty bugger of a game (although I'm sure some historicals wargamers who favour classic rulesets, or even Runequest roleplayers, will scoff at that suggestion.)

I'm in an unusual position among the oldhammerers, in that 3rd edition isn't my childhood edition. I came in with 5th ed, and I pretty much left with it too. So 3rd edition is new to me as of my becoming part of the oldhammer community, it's not an object of nostalgic adoration. I've been playing it for a couple of years now, and although I'm certainly not an expert, I think I have enough experience now to make some comments in praise (ish) of 3rd edition.

1) 3rd edition is full of possibilities
At its core, warhammer is a pretty straightforward game. And you can play it as simple as you like. I've played a very basic version with my 6 year old son with no problems. However, 3rd edition is probably the most fleshed out edition in terms of the possibilities for varying your tabletop adventures. The bestiary is full of monsters I've yet to meet. Then there's the range of formation options. Now be honest, when was the last time you used a shield wall?

A square?

An archer wedge?

There's loads of opportunities for fun and variety trying out these things in battle!

...and this leads me onto perhaps the most important way of thinking about the possibilities for gaming in 3rd ed: this was the last edition to include the all-important psychology stats, all mushed up into "leadership" in later editions. I can't tell you how often I've made ad-hoc use of these psychology stats in the narrative games I've played, especially the small-scale skirmish games, because these are crucial for the storytelling element that I believe is at the heart of oldhammer.

So if 3rd ed is a bit misshapen, then that's partly because there are so many ideas crammed in there. (and that's without getting onto the glorious creative mess that is Realms of Chaos)

2) 3rd edition is slow

Really? Is that an advantage? Well yes, it can be. It depends. You see, I like the idea of my hobby being an opportunity to break off from the rest of life. I like games that take the best part of a day, and so I usually schedule a handful of these in the year rather than trying to find time for more frequent shortish games. And so the slow grind of close combat in 3rd edition, the wheeling, etc., all that has an appeal to me. The world is so fast paced, we're urged to work fast, consume fast, we're bombarded with constant stimuli. I love standing around with a beer chatting and letting games flow. (Actually, anyone who has played with me knows that's a lie - I do have a beer in my hand, yes, but I'm always trying to jog people along and keep the games moving! Sorry, can't help it. But it's not the length of time that the game takes that bothers me, I just like to keep momentum going.) To take time to do something gradually and enjoy it for a protracted period of time is a precious, glorious luxury.

Of course, being a luxury, that means that it needs to be recognised that it's not possible for everyone. As Whiskey Priest says, "Actually finding the time to indulge in a game of 3rd Edition Warhammer is a major piece of logistical juggling and weighs heavy on the spousal favour matrix." I agree. And for that reason, I think while a game of 3rd edition is a precious thing, I don't think we can restrict our games to that. The first decision, really, is about hand to hand combat: the 3rd edition combat table makes it harder to hit, and generally makes it longer before a unit breaks (with no modifiers on break tests). If you have time for that game, it adds tension and interest. If you don't, or if you're playing a scale of game where this is going to cause things to grind to a halt in the mud, then go for the combat resolution from a later edition. 3rd edition doesn't work for all circumstances. So don't be afraid to mix and match. Experiment.

3) 3rd edition is our lingua franca
But in the end, this is the one it all boils down to. The decision to adopt 3rd edition is largely a pragmatic one. It was the "best fit" for the model collections and the interests of the oldhammer community when it came into being, and for now it remains so. It seems to be the easiest to cram the different things we want to do into. We've had massive games with thousands of models, and skirmishes with just a handful. Bonkers fantasy adventures, and games that look very close to historical. But a lingua franca arises from particular circumstances, and different circumstances will require different languages. In the future, will oldhammer gamers still gravitate towards 3rd edition as the 'best fit' for their requirements? Or will they look to different rulesets that meet their needs? 2016 will be an interesting year to see whether new lingua francas might develop...

...or whether 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle retains its place as the ruleset that brings us together.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The year in review, and the year ahead

Failure is important. Failure makes us stronger. And it is for that reason that I took the important step of failing to achieve any of my 2015 resolutions. Well ok, with regards to Goal 6, "collect more McDeath miniatures", I did buy a couple more and I've even painted up Arka Zargul and a handful of miners:

But the progress other people have made on their McDeath projects puts my slowly slowly approach to shame. (And have you seen the stupid prices McDeath stuff is going for nowadays?)

I have a reasonably good excuse for my failure, as excuses go. A lot of my new years resolutions were tied up with going to BOYL in the summer - and then it turned out that I wasn't able to make it. Instead, I went to work in Mongolia - and even managed to get a couple of games in out there with my son!

More generally, though, I got a fair bit of gaming in during 2015. My gnomes got their first outing just after the new year; 3 games of the "Warlord Paul presents..." series of adventures in Albion (see battle reports here and here), and even a couple of games in November and December that I haven't had the chance to write up yet. In terms of painting, what I lack in terms of quantity of output, I made up for with a lot more diversity in previous years: humans, gnomes, dwarves, elves, undead, fimir, and even an Ambull.

As I was just saying in the comments section, one of the nicest things about this kind of narrative gaming is the opportunity it gives to collect and paint up a range of quirky figures. If you're just collecting 2,000 point armies, or whatever, there's no room in your plans for the wandering monster, or the sobbing peasant wiping tears from his eyes with a dirty hankie. Whereas since I've got into this style of gaming, I've massively diversified my collection.

So I'm going to go for a streamlined set of new years resolutions. Just 3 in fact:

1) Get my Sea Elf army into shape

This was my number one goal last year, because the sea elves were what I was planning on taking to BOYL for the nautical fun and games there. No BOYL, no motivation for progress. But I really want to have this army ready for me to use, it would give me a lot more flexibility for future gaming. So this will be the year I get it done. Honest.

2) Play more games with my son

My son seems ready for a few more games with toy soldiers, and we want to continue the story we started at Labger. He's instructed me on what he wants painted up for the next game, so watch this space. Might get him doing some painting too.

3) Paint up a Frostgrave warband and play some frostgrave with OGRE

Frostgrave seems to be spreading around the oldhammer community like an outbreak of norovirus. I got a copy of Frostgrave for Christmas, and I'm very excited. I've chatted with Whiskey Priest and he's putting together a warband too, so we hope to get started with a campaign relatively early in the new year. I'll be posting on the oldhammer forum in the next few days to try and make plans with the rest of the OGRE.gamers.

Happy new year to all, and best of luck with your plans in the year ahead!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Battle Report: Baron Wenceslas looked out

...being the account of a fine seasonal game I GMed for VanLoon and his band of miscreants. According to VanLoon, "Baron Wenceslas' lands are run down and he is rather hard up, so unfortunately he has to make do with hiring a militia of a dubious, low quality nature. He doesn't like it, but needs must. In his last game, he borrowed a large amount of money from a neighbouring dwarf King in order to reclaim some of his lost lands from an evil necromancer, but it all went disastrously wrong!". Here he is patrolling his borderlands...

...when a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

"Yonder peasant, who is he?"

"Hold on a sec, I'll just go find out", says Wenceslas' second in command, Rudi Tannenbaum. "You there, peasant, reveal yourself!"

The peasant, startled by the arrival of these armed men, runs sobbing to his hovel.

Rudi Tannenbaum is just about to return to the Baron to report when he is ambushed by a creature with the head of an owl and the body of a bear. The owlbear hoots in triumph as he slaughters the scout.

Baron Wenceslas, alarmed by the blood-curdling screams of his second in command, order his band of ruffians to enter the forest and kill the creature. They demur. "Send the halbardiers in, you pay them a lot more than you pay us." But the halbardiers also seem unwilling to get stuck in. "Tell you what, why don't you, er, lead the way, and then we'll, er, mark your footsteps well and tread in them boldly."

And so Baron Wenceslas finds himself forced to charge into the woods, surprising himself by overcoming the owlbear singlehandedly. He is just in the process of delivering a stern lecture to his hired men on their lack of virtues, when a band of knights come into view.

"You there. We are the bodyguard of Lord Vogue. You are trespassers on his land. Identify yourself."

"Your land? I think you'll find this is my land, sir," replies Baron Wenceslas, a tone of uncertainty in his voice. "Indeed, I have only just this second defended it from a marauding owl-bear."

"An owlbear?, an owlbear?" roars Lord Vogue. "Haw haw! Owlbears indeed. I've never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life. Next you'll be telling me about ape-dogs or dog-apes! Haw haw!" The knights accompanying Lord Vogue roar with laughter and slap their armoured thighs. "Now, step aside. This is my land, and we are here to arrest a wanted criminal for crimes against humanity."

"You can't mean the peasant gathering winter fuel in the woods, surely?"

"Peasant! Peasant indeed. He is a wanted criminal. You might want to ask him why his neighbour's house is deserted. Now step aside, before we are forced to arrest you too."

Baron Wenceslas and his men refuse to give way. Instead, Wenceslas goes to investigate at the poor man's hovel while tensions rise between his men and Lord Vogue's men. Finally, Vogue gives his men the orders to charge Wenceslas' halbardiers. This does not end well for them, and after a hard-fought combat, the two surviving knights suddenly remember that discretion is the better part of valour.

But while the halberdiers persue the knights, Lord Vogue and his manservant make an example of the ruffians in Wenceslas' pay, hacking each and every one of them down.

Who was this peasant who required so many armed men to apprehend him? Wenceslas banged on the door, demanding answers.

"Leave me be!" shrieked the peasant, "I've done nothing wrong! I meant no harm, they just ran away. Everyone just runs away. Why won't they leave me be?"

But why had the neighbours left so suddenly? Wenceslas dragged the peasant to their house while he investigated. "They all just ran away. But I meant them no harm!" Inspecting the house Wenceslas can see no sign of bloodshed or of anything other than evidence a family having packed up and left home. He finds himself increasingly moved by the peasants sobs and pleas.

Leaving the house, he finds Sir Shortington sneaking and waiting to arrest the peasant. "This man is now under my protection!" roars Wenceslas, cutting the dwarf down to an even shorter size than he was before.

Lord Vogue issued an ultimatum. "I'll give you one last chance. Hand him over. You have no idea what a... monster... he is."

"Never!" roared Wenceslas, charging into battle.

The smell of blood was too much for the peasant. His back arched. He threw his head back, his mouth opened wide, first in a scream, and then in a howl. And then all was the flash of tooth and claw.

Wenceslas fell, but this only enraged the beast of a man more, howling for his pack to come to his aid from the woods. And so the heavily armoured Lord Vogue and his manservant found themselves merely cans of dogfood...

Wenceslas' men stayed back, unsure what they had just witnessed. But as they retreated to the tavern to steady their nerve, leaving their master for dead, little did they know that the Baron's wounded body was being carried back to the hovel of the peasant werewolf; his wounds tended, fed and warmed by the fire until he regained his strength.

Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.
Even if they do turn out to be werewolves.