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..."

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Blog-Con Battle Report: Mum-Ho-Thep and the Floating Ziggurat of Doom

When the favoured children of the blood god raise an army, who is arrogant enough to stand in their way?

This is an account of the Battle fought earlier this month over the first day of Blog-Con. In terms of number of models, it was a clash on an epic scale... points wise, probably the biggest battle of 3rd edition Warhammer in 20 years. It was a true spectacle, and a privilege to be a part of it, so I hope this report does some justice to the event. Many many thanks to all who let me use their pictures for this battle report, hopefully the selection of pictures helps people to get a sense of how big and how fun it was. Many oldhammerers brought their forces; Orlygg, Thantsants, Harry, Norse, Golgfag, and Nik (have I left anyone out?) and it was a first chance for me to push my fimir round the table. The battlefield was wonderfully GMed by Warlord Paul, who has given us his report of the battle in two parts, here and here. The narrative he provided beforehand and during the battle really got everyone immersed in what was going on (well it hooked me in, anyway), so let's get back to the story...

The Ziggurat itself; photo by Warlord Paul

The floating Ziggurat of Mum-Ho-Thep. The seers speak of it as more ancient than the earth itself. From point to point, locus to locus, it glides through this mortal realm, joining north and south, east and west in a pattern of movement whose significance is lost in the depths of time. The Ziggurat glides through the realms of man and beast, drifting to the horizon, then blinking out of view, only to reappear elsewhere. Leaving Mum-Ho-Thep's subjects - his worshippers - waiting for his return.

And from the North, the South, the East and West, the loyal servants - the worshippers - were called and gathered together. Each asked to fulfill their debt of honour, to pay their tribute. Each given one clear order: defend Mum-Ho-Thep, defend the Ziggurat. And so they gathered at the town of Locusti: the undead legion of Baron Kraust; the mad monks of Maisontaal; the Fimir of Clan Slea; the goblins of the blighted marshes.

Just some of Mum-Ho-Thep's loyal forces; photo by Orlygg

More than just a defensive force. It was a display of arrogance, of swagger. To show the blood god that he, Mum-Ho-Thep, was immortal, was all-powerful, was god-like, worshipped like a god... no, not just worshipped like a god, he was a god.

Across the battlefield stood the mighty forces of the invaders, the worshippers of the blood-god Khorne. They marched under the generalship of the mighty champion Ulthur Deathfist, known as 'Slambo' to his friends - but did he have any friends? His own band of marauders, thugs, warriors, and beastmen, were supplemented by a Chaos Dwarf mortar team and a host of the living dead. And to help propel them to victory, Khorne had sent a seemingly endless stream of blood red-clad warriors to ally with Ulthur and his companions. At the heart of the force was a mighty war altar, inspiring all who gazed upon it.

The goal of the forces of Khorne: to seize the Daemon blade 'Hatemaker' which was currently held within the walls of Locusti, where the townspeople planned to offer it as tribute to Mum-Ho-Thep. The exact location of the blade was unknown to the forces of Khorne; while Mum-Ho-Thep's allies were entirely in the dark as to Ulthur Deathfist's objective of taking Hatemaker.

But the gods do like their jokes... and so, on the southern flank, appeared a host of hedonistic Slaanesh worshipping dark elves. What were they doing there? What was their motivation? Simply to annoy Khorne? They would fight alongside Ulthur Deathfists army... but even their very presence sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Khornate warriors who, up to that point, had been so confident.

The allies of Ulthur Deathfist, Champion of Khorne... but wait, what are those Slaaneshi Dark Elves doing there? Photo by Orlygg

The field of battle after deployment - Ulthur Deathfist's forces on the left hand side, Mum-Ho-Thep and his allies on the right hand side; photo by Warlord Paul

As Mum-Ho-Thep's Ziggurat glided forward along its ancient path, the battle line of Mum-Ho-Thep's loyalists swarmed forward in accompaniment. Khorne's forces responded by pushing forward across the river - while the Slaanesh worshipping dark elves stood and with skillful aim destroyed a skeletal chariot that was hurtling towards them.

The defensive artillery positioned on the Ziggurat took aim across the valley, while the slow moving troops continued to march in Mum-Ho-Thep's wake.
Some of my fimir joining the advance; photo by Golgfag

But slightly further ahead, the fast moving ethereal cavalry under the command of Baron Kraust gained speed and charged across the river to meet the advancing enemy. The effect was of this charge immediate, as a giant supposedly in the service of Ulthur Deathfist turned tail and ran like a girl, squealing in terror.
Giant turns and legs it; photo by Golgfag
Elves under attack; photo by Warlord Paul

The chariots charging into to dark elves found themselves under a hail of arrows; but even with yet another chariot completely wrecked, the momentum of the other was enough to mince the elves. Much elven blood was spilled in the subsequent rout; the forces of Khorne could not resist a wry smile as they watched their Slaaneshi 'allies' suffer so - even if this had left their southern flank severely weakened.

Yet the elves were not defeated yet; persisting with their tactic of turning the sky black with arrows and crossbow bolts, their aim was rewarded once again as they ripped through and destroyed the carrion riders flapping their way towards them.

While the fast moving cavalry troops continued to deal with the troublesome the dark elves, now the attention of Mum-Ho-Thep's allience was gradually turning their attention to the central block of Khornate forces. This central block, under the stewardship of the Lieutenant Norse, was about to find their nerve severely tested. First, the charge of a horde of skeleton knights caused a seemingly all-powerful block of Chaos Knights to flee. Then, the beastmen who had gathered in the service of Khorne found themselves engulfed in flames as Derach the Demented Dirach launched a fireball from within the mist-covered Fimir contingent. The damage caused by the fireball, combined with earlier deaths caused by direct hits the skull chuckers mounted on top of the Ziggurat, caused the Beastmen to panic; they also turned and fled.

Forces of Chaos in disarray; photo by Warlord Paul

Had the blood god deserted his followers? Now even the followers of Slaanesh seemed to be faring better than Khorne's servants, with a unit of elves mounted on cold ones dealing efficiently with the threat of a Manticore, causing the creature to flee and then subequently turning its retreating body into a pin cushion with a further demonstration of their sharpshooting.

The scene at the northern flank; photo by Shadowking
Ulthur Deathfist had positioned himself and his own loyal warband on the Northern flank. He was somewhat aware of the losses being suffered further along the battle line. It was clear enough that the troops further to the South were not holding their ground. And yet, he remained grimly determined. What did it matter to him if others died? He still had his goal: the daemon-blade. And right now, the only enemy forces that mattered to him were the undead forces that stood between his own cohort and their access to the town of Locusti where that blade lay.

A grin broke across Ulthur Deathfist's face... well, maybe, it's difficult to say given that no face was visible behind his helmet. But one could imagine a grin breaking across his face as he heard the thunderous blast of mortar fire. Darklock the Disembowller and his dwarven mortar crew had landed a direct hit on a fearsome unit of skeletal cavalry, while Leif Spinesplitter gritted his teeth and drove his chariot dead ahead into a skeleton chariot. Time to clear a path into the town of Locusti!
Chariots in head on collision; photo by Warlord Paul

Monsters vs Chaos Warriors; Photo by Warlord Paul
Meanwhile, back at the heart of the battle, a gruesome horde of horrors had been slowly making their way towards the forces of Khorne. Giant scorpions and a giant snake, together with the animated skeletons of long extinct dinosaurs and, worst of all, a fearsome (and, in retrospect, somewhat overpowered) zombie dragon - with marsh crawlers under the command of the Fimir not far behind. The forces of Khorne had steeled themselves for the inevitable onslaught, and - at least initially - found themselves able to hold their own. However, their flank was now becoming badly exposed, with the formidable missle support of the Dark Elves severely diminished as the unit of crossbow armed warriors were routed by a wave of skeleton cavalry.

Nightmares charge across the river; photo by Golgfag

Something had to be done to hold off the never ending forces of undeath. The Dark Elves weaved a spell - 'zone of life' - which held the skeletons at a distance. The potency of the spell was demonstrated as several skeletons crumbled to dust as the Ziggurat, unable to halt its endless move onward, drifted into the zone. Yet while the elves had found a way of holding Mum-Ho-Thep's forces at bay, this was only a temporary palliative, as the Fimir warriors - uneffected by the zone of life - positioned themselves to move towards the elves. The situation was even graver in the centre of the battle, where the warriors of Khorne under the stewardship of Norse were reaching the limit of their tolerance. Under the onslaught of the zombie dragon, one of the units of seemingly formidable warriors was routed, while a second unit was suffering severe losses caused by the other unspeakable horrors.

Ulthur 'Slambo' Deathfist in Battle; photo by Warlord Paul

But what of Ulthur Deathfist and his forces to the north? There had been some victories - the eventual destruction of the undead chariot, for one - yet within this zone of battle too, there had been losses.
Nevertheless, the champion of Khorne remained fixed on his task to seize the Hatemaker. It seemed like the blade was even now calling to him, longing for his firm grip... And now, he knew exactly where it was to be found. Having captured an alderman of the town and tortured him, Slambo's forces had extracted detailed instructions on where the daemonic weapon was to be found. Immediately, Ulthur Deathfist dispatched an unit to enter the town and take control of the Hatemaker's location.

In the south, with the zone of life spell still holding the undead forces of Mum-Ho-Thep at bay, the Fimir of Clan Slea were ready to charge the Dark Elf Cold One riders. And yet, with their bloodlust at its height, the Fimm Warriors suddenly found themselves surplus to requirements, as the sorcery of a 'stampede' spell from one of Mum-Ho-Thep's acolytes caused the Cold Ones to panic and flee. The Fimm wailed in frustration as the cold ones carried their riders off the field of battle. Where could get they get their satisfaction? It was little consolation that the Marsh Crawlers the Fimir had summoned had now oozed their disgusting trail into the fight and were even now toying with the Chaos Warriors at the centreof the battlefield.
My marsh crawlers charge the flank of the Chaos Warriors; photo by Warlord Paul

Mum-Ho-Thep, atop his Ziggurat, surveyed the scene before him, and was greatly pleased. See how the forces of the chaos gods were no match for him! Their minions fled from his loyal forces right, left, and centre! The Slaaneshi Dark Elves were vanquished, and even Ulthur Deathfist, who had now thrown himself maniacally into the battle with the undead to the north, seemed greatly overpowered. Yet Mum-Ho-Thep had no idea just how close the forces of Khorne were to their objective. A small unit of Chaos Warriors had infiltrated the town, gradually overcoming the skeletal defences... only the mad monks of Maisontaal now stood between them and the dreadful power of the Hatemaker.

Chaos Warriors on a treasure hunt; photo by Warlord Paul

The Chaos Warriors approach their objective - their destiny. They head towards the storeroom that is now defended by the monks. Victory is within their grasp. Fate seems to be on their side; an undead giant cyclops reaches towards the town, and begins to climb, but cannot hold his grasp and falls, smashing on the rocks below.

The warriors push towards the storeroom and charge the monks. So close now.

Around them, the battle rages on. To the north, Slambo himself, beaten back by the sheer force of numbers facing rank upon rank of undead, flees... only to rally. To the south, the marsh goblin war tortoise is hit by a blast from the Chaos Dwarf mortar. The tortoise runs amok and its remaining crew are unable to hold him back from crashing into their own troops. Not a good day to be a marsh goblin.
War tortoise in blue on blue incident; photo by Warlord Paul
Khorne's 'chosen' in retreat - but WOW what a banner! Photo by Orlygg and, more importantly, amazing freehand painted banner also by Orlygg!

But at the heart of the battle, within the walls of Locusti, all of the noise of battle seems to be drowned out... there is only the screaming of the daemonic blade, the Hatemaker, as the chaotic warriors move closer and closer. At first, they are pushed back by the monks; but then they regain the advantage and extract their share of blood. Everything hangs in the balance.

Even now victory is still within touching distance; photo by Warlord Paul

And then, all at once, everything collapses like a house of cards. The war altar, which had now come under sustained attack from rotting carrion for several hours without any troops thinking to relieve the fanatics within, was desecrated, filled to the brim with foul droppings.

Carrion doing a poo in the cauldron of the altar of the blood god; photo by Warlord Paul

This was too much for Khorne to bear, and in his rage he snatched away his patronage. Ulthur Deathfist - now little more than an elderly warrior - found himself hacked to pieces under the sheer weight of undead numbers - in his dying seconds, he was dragged to the daemonic plane receive judgement at the hands of the blood god. And, at the heart of the battle, the chaotic warriors who had sought to seize the Hatemaker were slain by the monks, one by one, until there were none left.
With the chaotic forces fleeing or slain throughout the field of battle, and the chance to seize the daemonic blade apparently lost, it was now clear that Mum-Ho-Thep was victorious. From the height of his Ziggurat, Mum-Ho-Thep looked down upon what he had wrought; and he saw that it was good.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! Photo by Warlord Paul

The blood god was displeased. Displeased with Ulthur Deathfist, yes - 'Slambo' would be punished for his cowardice in battle. But the blood god could oh so easily discard his playthings. Much, much more than that, though, the blood god was displeased with Mum-Ho-Thep, this dessicated man who thought himself a god. But the blood god was sure of one thing: one day, one day, Mum-Ho-Thep would pay for his blasphemy.

Coming soon: day 2 of blog-con - Trouble at Nobridge, some engineering delays, and a completely different kind of battle!

Monday, 11 November 2013

They came from the swamp...

To the marsh they made offerings; and from the marsh they rose. Manifestations of the hunger of the fens, the hunger that sucks the unwary traveller into the endless mud. The demons of the primordial deep.

Having just got back from Blog-con, where I had a whale of a time and fought in two very different battles, I've got a pile of stuff to write up, so watch this space in the couple of weeks ahead. It was a first outing for my fimir force, which is just at its very beginnings. But alongside the fimir were some demonic allies; the embodiment of the fimir's fenland habitat. I'm attracted to the idea that the fimir inhabit a swamp-like environment that has historically been feared and disparaged, the kind of environment that generates folktales about the creatures that suck you in - stories that explain why some people who stumble out onto the marshes never come back. I wanted my force to contain supporting units that played on this cultural horror of the swamp. So, moving along with the fimm warriors were the following fendemons:

Marsh Crawlers

The very soul of the fens is decaying matter. The crawlers are manifestations of this decay, seeking more organic matter to offer the swamp as food. The tendrils which emanate from their mouthpiece paralyse their opponents, allowing the crawlers to carry their victims back to the marsh as a living offering to the depths. The crawlers spread the dreaded fen ague across the battlefield as they move. These are old citadel AD&D carrion crawlers, produced between 1985 and 1987 when Citadel had the license from TSR to produce AD&D minis. For the battles at Blog-Con, these counted as Beasts of Nurgle from The Lost and the Damned (hence the fen ague, which is the fimir-themed equivilent of Nurgle's Rot).

Swamp Vermes

Old wives tales speak of the capacity of a worm to live on as two worms if you cut it in half. These demons carry within them proof of that old wives tale and thus exploit cultural fears. Crawling from the fens in the form of giant putrid worms, playing on the disgust of the ignorant towards the fenland habitat, upon being wounded, the demonic vermes split into two smaller worms.
Unlike the long oop Carrion Crawler minis, these minis are in production and produced by companies doing some sterling work. The larger worms are giant worms from C-P models; the smaller are giant slugs from Heresy miniatures. For the battles at Blog-Con, these counted as pink/blue horrors of Teezntch again from The Lost and the Damned (albeit without the magical abilities), for the simple reason that pink horrors when wounded burst into two blue horrors, which is exactly the mechanic I wanted for these demon worms. All credit to Chico on the oldhammer boards for this "counts as" idea.

As I write up battle reports from Saturday and Sunday's action, you'll see these demonic allies in action alongside my fimir.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Blog-con at the Foundry: Clan Slea's fealty

(Fimir illustration by Paul Bonner from White Dwarf 102)

Derach the Demented Dirach crouched in his makeshift home. He could see nothing. Past battles had made sure of that. Cruel revenge at the hands of those who captured him and tortured him as punishment for the deeds of his clan had left him without his eye, his horns sawed off, his head and body hideously scarred. Freed after the village where he was held captive was razed, he was left an outcast, a source of disgust and horror.

Shunned, now he lived in a crude shelter cut into the bank of a plundered burial mound. His only task to wait. Not to return to the clan until he had news. News that Mum-Ho-Thep was in this land once more.

He could see nothing. But he could feel the damp around him, he could smell the rot. And he could hear. Hear the wind in the reeds, hear the splashing movements of the fish and fowl in the swamps around. And through the wind, across the swamp, he heard it. A humming. The sound of an ancient and alien energy, moving steadily closer, growing louder until it was unmistakable.

A manic grin broke across the face of Derech the Demented Dirach. "Hhhe hassss returned! Hhe hassss RETURNED!"

He clambered out of the mound, staggering through the marsh like a drunkard, staggering towards the homes of his clan, hissing all the time with greater and greater anxiousness. "Hhhhe hassssss RETURNED!"

The fimm of Clan Slea gathered at the edge of the settlement to see the Dirach stumble towards them. Some turned away in digust, some mocked and laughed. Until at last Derach the Demented Dirach reached the Warlord's chamber.

"It isss true?"

"Yessssss. Hhhe hassssssss returned. Our tithe is due. It isss TIME."

"Ssso. After all these years, it sssseems we must once again give tribute and prove our fealty. To show Mum-Ho-Thep that we are willing to repay our ancient debt. To fulfil the terms of our oath. Oh yesssssssss, we will pay our tithe, pay it indeed. We will pay it IN BLOOD."

The Fimm raised their weapons and roared. Somewhere in the distance, Mum-Ho-Thep's ziggurat floated along its ancient course towards the horizon and blinked out of view.

So next weekend I'm heading back to the foundry at Nottingham to take part in Blog-Con. (Yes, I do have a blog. You're looking at it. So I figure I'm eligible to go!) I loved the oldhammer weekend so much, it's nice to have an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the Foundry so soon. Warlord Paul is running a 3rd edition warhammer scenario, Mum-Ho-Thep and the Floating Ziggurat of Doom - see more details about the background and scenario on his blog, it's very cool sounding indeed - and I'll be bringing along the start of my new oldhammer force, which is in its very early stages: a clan of the fimir.

The central unit in my force will be these fellas (photographed a little while ago before I started painting - I'm working on them now and will be painting right up until the day of Blog-Con, as per usual):
Mostly heroquest fimir with some modifications - I bought a bunch of these on ebay that had already been converted a fair bit, and I've now rebased them and done more conversions of my own. There's also the ARBBL Chaotic Warrior from Impact Miniatures, and a Privateer Press Hordes mini that I managed to pick up cheap - chopped off his snout, put a beaky face on him, and generally tried to make him more fimir like.

Aside from this lot, there'll also be a suitable Warlord figure, and the contingent will also have some more unusual elements in the form of various swamp demons - I will introduce some of these to readers of this blog in the days and weeks ahead, and chat a bit about my vision for the fimir clan more generally.

But starting to feel excited about next weekend, so thought I'd post this just to give a little introduction to Clan Slea, and to feed into Warlord Paul's excellent narrative for the scenario!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Book Review: Fantasy Wargaming by Martin Hackett

One of the things I'm keen to do on this blog is introduce some books that may be of interest to Oldhammer gamers. I'm not thinking, in the main, of Warhammer specific books, or books published by GW. What I want to draw attention to is the wider range of wargaming books that have ideas and resources to be mined and that fit in with the Oldhammer spirit one way or another. I'll start with this one:

Fantasy Wargaming: Games with Magic and Monsters, by Martin Hackett. Patrick Stephens Publishing, 1990.

I've heard some rather harsh words about this book. While I don't think all of the criticism is entirely fair, it would only be reasonable to accept that the book is not an unreserved success. So I'll start with some of the negative points, before getting onto what I have to say in favour of the book.

A critical critic (to get all tautological) would point out many flaws and shortcomings (and, to be quite honest, a tough editor should probably have encouraged the author to resolve some of these). The most obvious problem is that the book is extremely confused in its organisation, flitting between talk of RPGs and wargames in a way that doesn't make the distinction sufficiently clear, as well as shifting from observations about the hobby at large to details about the authors own rules systems and fantasy setting without ever really getting that balance right.

One thing that seems odd to someone opening the book today is the major focus on trying to make the moral argument that fantasy gaming was not going to eat away at your soul (or your children's souls), turn you into a devil worshipper, etc. Of course, these were real (if ever so slightly overblown!) moral panics during the 80s, so it's an interesting piece of period detail in some ways. Nevertheless, if Martin Hackett's idea was indeed to persuade a general reader who has little familiarity with gaming, then the level of technical detail in the rules he presents is waaaaaaay too high. In fact, it has to be said that the fantasy battle system he does introduce is set out in a very badly structured manner, making it hard to read even for someone who is an experienced gamer. I would actually be quite interested to try out the rules, but they're presented in such a convoluted way that you'd be hard pressed to fully understand them.

But in spite of all this, I have to admit, I am very fond of this book. It captured my imagination when I took it out of Bootle library in the mid-90s (although even then it was apparent how dated it was), and when I bought a cheap 2nd hand copy recently I was pleased to find that it still captures my imagination. So given the fact that the book has significant failings, why do I still enjoy it so much?

The first and most obvious answer is Martin Hackett's enthusiasm for his subject. He loves gaming, and he clearly wants you to love it too, and I think that carries me along. Sure, he's a little evangelical, but he's not trying to flog you a used car, and so for the most part it's like listening to somebody very keen and friendly who just wants to explain all the great ideas he has and all the great ideas you could have too if only you got into fantasy wargaming.

And there's the thing; it's all about the possibilities, the ideas. As I said in the first post of this blog, one of the attractions of Oldhammer, for me, is that it implies an open universe, one in which you're free to implement your own ideas and conjure up your own worlds. That's exactly what Martin Hackett has done for himself and what he encourages you to do; sure, he does go into maybe a bit too much detail about his own campaign settings, but I reckon that he's trying to show the reader how they too could let their imagination run wild. When I took up GW games in the mid-90s, I always got the sense that someone else was in charge of my game - whenever I played Warhammer, I was a guest on GW's lawn; but reading this book, I was reminded that the rules and the world that I played in were up to me, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it then and now. I like the fact that there's a make do and mend attitude, a sense that it's your responsibility to improvise and create.

A clear attraction of the book for Oldhammer minded readers will be the photographs that showcase a extremely wide range of figures. Be warned: this is not a book of exquisitely painted works of miniature art; most of the photos are black and white, and where we do see the painting, it's generally gaming standard (ranging from well executed to somewhat crude) rather than Golden Demon standard, but to be frank I don't care because this is a book all about the game. There are loads of quirky miniatures showcased here that I would never otherwise have known about, and I'm thankful to the author not only for making me aware of their existence, but also presenting them in such a way that they prompt ideas for different campaigns, scenarios, and so on. (To give one example from the captions: "A group of Museum Miniatures carts form a defensive square while a cart is righted. The rocky outcrops and trees by HEKI form a natural position for the defenders to watch their supplies overnight"; or to give another, "Perhaps on one of your planets, dwarves will fly on giant bats. A Grenadier combination.") It's never just "look at this mini"; it's about showing how the minis make a world.

It's also worth noting that in terms of the practical value of the book, the chapter on Campaigns is well worth a read, going into high levels of detail about aspects such as the geopolitical dimension of fantasy wargames campaigns, naval encounters, weather chance events, and so on. To run a campaign on the scale he's describing would be a very ambitious undertaking indeed - but reading the book certainly gives me the appetite to do it one day.

I'm still not sure who Martin Hackett intended to write for; I really can't believe that a novice to gaming would find the book that compelling, and I suspect those parents in the grip of 1980s moral fears that D&D was going to get their kids worshipping the devil would find his arguments unpersuasive. But for someone who is already into gaming, who likes seeing a wide range of old school minis, and is looking for fresh ideas, there's a great deal in the book to enjoy. A flawed book, but one that I will happily flick through when I'm seeking inspiration.