Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Porting Defender of the Crown over to Warhammer Fantasy Battle

How's this for a bit of 1980s wargaming? Nothing says "conquest and adventure" to me as much as Defender of the Crown.

ahhhh just hearing the music for this takes me back. So much of my interest in history and the art of battle stems from an early exposure to this game (I think around the age of 7?) on the Commodore 64.

Very very loosely based on characters and themes Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, in Defender of the Crown you take on the role of a Saxon noble fighting to unite England in the face of wicked Norman oppression.

Here's the background, as it's presented in the intro to the game:
In the year of our Lord 1149 when the King returned from the Holy Land, he knighted six great warriors who had carried him to victory over the infidels. The King's subjects crowded into the palace to see him grand power, wealth, and vast dominions to each of the heroes. When the knights departed from the palace, five rode to their new lands. One of the knights, a Saxon, turned his horse toward Sherwood forest...

Here you visit your old friend Robin of Locksley. Many years have passed since you served with Robin and his men - but disasterous news curtails the reunion. During your journey, an assassin took the King's life. The kingdom is in chaos because there is no heir to the throne. Worse still, the crown itself has disappeared.

Normans are assembling armies, and Saxons will fight them. Each side accuses the other of killing the king and stealing the crown.

Robin tells you the struggle ahead is a task for younger men. "Men like you," he says. "Only you can save England."

Well alright then Robin lad, I'll give it a shot.

So you ride around England's green and pleasant land, conquering territories, raiding castles, jousting in tourments and - if you can build up a substantial enough army - laying siege to other people's castles. Most often, though, I just got trounced. I was only little at the time, remember!

Sounds fun, right? Come on, lots of must must have played the game yourselves, and some of you surely have to have fond memories of it like I do. But over and beyond 80s nostalgia, what's this got to do with Oldhammer?

Well, the thing that started me on this train of thought was reading Orlyggs posts on a lost GW game called Chivalry that never quite made it out of the studio, except for a couple of small elements; a card moderated combat game for battling knights in White Dwarf 130, and then the "Full Tilt" jousting rules from White Dwarf 215 (which we can guess might also have been part of the same project, though this was never stated). As Orlygg has suggested elsewhere, this image from White Dwarf 136 is a good candidate for the intended cover illustration for the Chivalry game:

Anyway, two lines of thought converged in my mind: 1) How would one go about turning Defender of the Crown into a tabletop wargame? and 2) What would the lost "Chivalry" game have looked like? Trying to put together a Warhammer hack of Defenders of the Crown, using the elements of the Chivalry game that we have, seemed to kill two birds with the one stone.

So what actually happens in Defender of the Crown, and might this convert over into tabletop wargaming?

Well, you start in a castle on a map like this. (So if we were doing a straight port of this over to Warhammer, you'd have 6 players each starting from castles in 6 different starting positions somewhere in Albion)

As you can see, you're asked for your orders and given a set of options:

Seek Conquest
This is the most fundamental option, and it involves you moving your campaign army into a territory. If the territory is unclaimed, and yours is the only campaign army moving into that territory, it's yours. If another campaign army is trying to move into the territory, the two campaign armies fight it out. If the territory is already claimed by another Lord, you may elect to pass through it peacefully (maintaining good diplomatic relations) or to sieze it for yourself. If you choose to try and take the land, then again, if there is another army in that location you fight them for it; if that land is undefended, it goes to you. Here, movement is best if each player declares their turn in secret (perhaps to a GM, or through written instructions revealed at the same time), that way you only find out whether or not you will encounter opposition AFTER declaring the move.
It's also worth pointing out that if one or other side feels they're going to lose heavily, they can always try and mount a retreat rather than fight to the death!

Each territory gives you a certain income, ranging from (if I recall correctly) 2 to 9 gold per turn in the game. In DotC itself, this is weighted to the south, placing the saxons (who start in the north) at a material disadvantage, but there's no reason to replicate that if you want to try and keep things more even for a multiplayer campaign. When a territory is claimed for the first time, it also grants you vassals (i.e. soldiers you can automatically add to your army).

Build Army
Ok, so we've talked about seeking conquest. In order to do this, you obviously need to build up an army. This you do by spending gold on soldiers. Every turn, you get more income from your land (unless it's stolen, etc.), which you can spend on building up your army, or replacing those you've recently lost in combat. This seems fairly easy to port over to Warhammer: lets say each piece of gold can buy you 100 points of troops. You may also want to spend some of that money on siege equipment...
Your army is divided between your campaigning army, and your garrison in the castle. Make sure you don't leave enough troops at home to deal with the possibility of a siege.

Go Raiding
So lets say that you don't feel you're getting enough money from taxing your territories, or you feel jealous of one of the richer landowners whose income is considerably fatter than yours. What do you do? Instead of seeking conquest, you might instead choose to Go Raiding.

As you can see from this delightful gif, the raiding option involved you and a couple of your mates sneaking in under cover of darkness and trying to steal gold from the treasury of your opponent. Porting this over, it seems that for a game on this scale, it makes sense to use the Chivalry cards from White Dwarf 130 to work out an exciting blow by blow conflict - you'd probably want to find ways of weighting the combat based on troops at the disposal of the Lords, or something like that, so that it's not strictly a 50/50 chance of getting the gold every time, but the basic principle would be: Go raiding with a couple of your men, fight the castle's defenders (using the chivalry cards), get through to the coffers and steal a proportion of the income for that month (say, roll a D4: 1=70%, 2=80%, 3=90%, 4=100%). If you lose, you have to ransom a proportion of your land to go free.

Hold Tournament

(Can I just say, this jousting lark was bloody impossible in Defender of the Crown?)
Another option is to invite all the lords to your land for a jousting tournament. For this, one obviously uses the Full Tilt rules in White Dwarf 215 (I've been looking for an excuse to use these for ages!) - you can find those rules here if you're looking for them. In Defender of the Crown you can bet land against your opponents (each staking a territory; the winner of the joust takes the territory of the loser); or you can just joust for fame (so porting it over to Warhammer, some kind of morale bonus - rerolls for some leadership tests in the next battle?)

Lay Siege

When you've built up a sufficient size of army (and got yourself some siege machines), and you've got land bordering the home castle of one of your enemies, you may want to lay siege to their home base. For this, play - yep, you've guessed it - a siege scenario! Obviously, purists can insist upon using the 3rd edition siege rules; though slimline versions exist via the 5th edition siege rules, and the most simplified siege rules are probably the 2011 rules in Blood in the Badlands; as there are a potentially a good few sieges to be undertaken in the course of the campaign, be careful you don't commit yourself to the most complicated set of rules without thinking about the time involved!
In Defenders of the Crown, if the attacker wins a siege, then they take the castle of their enemy and all their lands. Presumably throwing the enemy in the dungeon to be eaten by rats.

As you can see, I've just presented outline ideas for how this could be ported over; I haven't crossed all the is and dotted the ts. Hey, why should I do all the work for you, you lazy bugger? But I hope it piques people's interest a little. There are a couple of things in the computer game I haven't worked out how to implement in this campaign idea yet; damsels in distress; and summoning the help of Robin of Locksley. Perhaps random event cards for the campaign to cover things like this?

So is this completely mad and pointless? Only of interest to those who have Defender of the Crown nostalgia? Or something that sounds like a good warhammer campaign?

Oh, and one day maybe I'll work out how to port over my all time most favourite childhood computer game: Pirates!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Fantasy wargaming in the 1970s: a look through some issues of Battle magazine

I recently happened upon a cache of Battle magazines from the 1970s - by no means a complete run, but still an interesting spread that give a taste of what the hobby was like in those days. From these vintage pages you can learn about a few things, like a) the apparently overlapping enthusiasm that some wargamers had for military (including Nazi) memorabilia and keeping up to speed on military hardware; and b) the emergence of an obscure subset of wargaming known as fantasy wargaming.

First couple I have - from 1975 and 1976 - are pretty standard wargaming fare. Notes on historical battles, columns from wargaming bigwigs Charles Grant and Tony Bath. Comments on military memorabilia like Goering's dagger thrown in on the presumption that wargamers would also be into that sort of thing.

January 1977, and we get this wonderful cover exhibiting what a fascinating spectator sport wargaming can be. Some dapper looking fellas in attendance there.

Then in February 1977, stepping ever so quietly around the cover featuring the military decotations of Col. Sir Henry Hollis, we get this advert from an obscure company called Games Workshop about "a totally new concept in game design... Create your own Fantasy Worlds of magic, monsters and treasures". Printed upsidedown. Wonder how that got along?

June 1977 and the disease is spreading. There's an advert for "Fantasy by Minot": "Thane Tostig, the Pagan Giant" on their "quest for the legendary sword 'BLOODDRINKER' that can cut through any known substance, except a Christian Cross". later on we get an article explaining the game that these figures relate to in a charmingly obscure way.

Also there's a minifigs ad with a selection of their hobgoblins. I actually own one of these ugly buggers.

November 1977's entirely historical contents offer some false hope that this whole thing has died down, but clearly it can't have been doing too badly because by December 1977 Games Workshop are able to afford to have an advert printed the right way up. What's more, Steve Jackson has been invited to provide an "Introduction to Fantasy Wargames", in which he reassures us with words like "Many new players have come across the hobby through interests in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, the Occult, etc." A brief potted history is offered, tracing the interest in fantasy through board games, Tony Bath's Hyboria campaign, minifigs fantasy miniature releases, the Wargames Research Group's "short and rather scanty fantasy supplement" to their ancient rules, through to the explosion of interest that game from D&D.

In January 1978, Tony Bath begins a series outlining the history of his Hyboria campaign - the adaptation of Robert Howard's world for "fantasy" battles involving ancient armies maneouvering around a fictional continent. This campaign is widely acknowledged as one of the great ancestors of fantasy wargaming as we now know it, and it's worthy of more consideration on this blog at some stage (especially as I have a copy of Tony Bath's "How to Run a Wargaming Campaign"). Beyond adverts for D&D, however - and a review of D&D Revised Basic Set in March 1978- there's little else in the way of fantasy content. In March 1978, Steve Jackson pens this letter, "Fantasy not a threat", in defence of his beleaguered minority.

His plea seems to work, with April 1978 plastered with the promise of "EXTRA FANTASY FEATURES". There's a 2 page "Guide to Fantasy Figures" featuring Asgard, Ral Partha, Minifigs, but also others we hear rather less about, such as Barry Minot and Greenwood & Ball. I have to say, I find the sheer range of miniature possibilities on these pages quite exciting - is that just nostalgia for old lead, or is that the effect it would have had on the new fantasy gamer, opening up this world of possibilities?

Elsewhere in this issue there's a basic set of Science Fiction rules for spaceship combat by William York; more from Tony Bath on Hyboria; a Games Day review by Ian Livingstone; and an interesting essay from wargames grandee Charles Grant that touches on something of the prehistory of fantasy wargaming.

May 1978, and we're pretty much back to business as usual, though Tony Bath's series continues, and there are a couple of interesting adverts and reviews.

After that, I have no more issues of Battle. I presume the fantasy wargaming fad died out.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A Ratling Sniper and his mate

In which a pair of forgotten figures bring back memories of my short and ill-fated career as a writer of wargames rules...

Something a bit different today. Found this Ratling Sniper and Necromunda Goliath leader. I'd made a start on these when I was first into wargaming back in the 90s, but not finished them, so got out the paints and washes and reconditioned them. Whiskey Priest has been keen to bring us OGRE gamers into the 41st millennium and although I haven't had a chance to play Necromunda or RT or anything else with them yet, I'm keen, so I thought I'd have a rummage around for any figures that would serve as the start of a warband.

I have a bit of history with Ratling Snipers.

When I was a teenager I fancied myself as a bit of a games designer, and loved nothing better than to write all kinds of rules and scenarios - including all kinds of stuff for Necromunda - and shove them on the internet. So even though by 1999 I was drifting out of the hobby so as to devote more of my desperate energies towards wooing the lasses, I was still chuffed as anything to get an e-mail from GW saying that they were starting a new magazine to support Necromunda, and would I be happy for them to include some of the stuff I'd written? I replied that I was more than happy for them to use anything I'd put on the net - some of the scenarios I'd written were pretty cool, I thought, and I'd come up with a pretty nifty system for Undead gangs in Necromunda that I was very proud of. So I waited to see what they decided to publish.

When I finally did get a copy of Gang War Issue 5, I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed. The thing they'd decided to include was a throwaway set of houserules I'd written for Ratling Snipers in Necromunda simply so my mate could include one in his Orlock gang because he played Imperial Guard and liked the models. The rules weren't exactly watertight and not everyone liked them. I remember being on the receiving end of a certain amount of nerdrage.

So ended my very short career as a writer of wargames rules!

Anyway, for those with a bit of historical curiosity, here are the rules:

And if you don't like them in English, here's a Czech translation: