[Meta Gaming] Of Free Kriegspiel Roleplaying

Brought to you by a reflection on the Revenant’s Quill.

I sometimes feel very out of synch with the world, and the rest of the time I am asleep.

Half a lifetime ago, when D&D 3.0 was young and rules were in the ascension, I was running WFRP by throwing out everything but percentage odds based on character stats, and Victorian Age Vampire (a good half inch of book with two pages of actual rules in) on a single die hack.

When the OSR rolled around I was saying “yes yes, but people seem to like consistency in their fiction, so let us cleave a little closer to the rules”, a tendency which reached its height with the declaration that Fluff Ain’t Rules and what does not exist in system is not true.

But let’s look at the games I make, hmm? They are all, ultimately, a single activity to prompt and shape emergent fiction. Draw and arrange cards, or roll dice in particular combinations, to decide what happens: then tell us about it. (Or they are Bloodspell, which is as ever weird and ass-backwards: decide what you want to happen, then roll dice to see if you betray your own intent.)

In these circumstances there is no Referee, except in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Elfland, as a legacy gesture to people who want there to be someone whose job it is to say “you succeed” or “you fail”.

There is a Host. An originating player who had the idea for the game, who brings the others together and welcomes them into their mind for a while. Those others need a spur to want things – sheer curiosity about the world does it sometimes, but sometimes people need a drive that compels them into the world, something which comes from the fiction but has mechanical teeth behind to lead into that “core gameplay loop.”

You know the one. To rise in society you need to gain levels; you gain levels by spending currency; you gaim currency from your adventures. Or: you awaken each night with a rising Hunger that must be quieted, whether you wish it or not, and the longer you leave it the lese control you will have.

And sometimes people sit there and say “well, what am I allowed to do?” – and my first instinctive answer was to highlight things in the fictive world with which they can interact, but at some point the journey brought me to a doorway beyond which were Moves, and Plays, and specific things you were allowed to do as your means of interacting with world.

I know why. I’ve heard the stories of players traumatised by bad hosts who don’t care if they’re having a good time. I’ve been numbed by the finite possibilities of a prepared and purchased experience. Those things lead to a refuge in rules as protection and aid.

Yet now: people are talking about playing the way I used to play. Which is, in the terms of the indie circles I now inhabit, rather old-fashioned. We are supposed to attack and dethrone the Master, and invite full co-operation in the play according to the intent of the absent designer.

Whisper it, but that ain’t how I roll, and it never has been. Designer Whomst? I get tired when I have to act as the spur to inert players, or when the calculation of fairness becomes too heavy, and those elements of Mastery I shun out of pure distaste. But as a foil to active players? Even if it makes me an authority, a monster in indie terms: how could I ever, ever tire of that?

Absolutely years and years ago I wrote a semi-sensate drunken ramble about how great my last Mage session had been, and it was run in exactly that spirit. I don’t think that post is still extant, but it was basically an excuse to quote this:

Sitting behind the screen, my notes heaped high with treasure for the virtuous few, it became clear that what I actually liked was telling stories in more or less real time: snaring bits of player conversation in order to make them flesh, confounding people, embroidering every act in an effort to simulate their worthy band at the highest possible resolution.

I’d been so terrified of the responsibility for another person’s enjoyment that I’d forgotten what happens when it works: you are inviting other people to inhabit your mind. What a strange use of oneself that is; strange, and rare.

Tycho: problematique, but he can’t half write.

What scares me, deters me, bars me, is a standing down from the sense of myself as designing something other people can run, of presenting a Game first and foremost. How long did Tekumel exist before it could be published and consumed? EXACTLY. That is what I need to remember.

Anyway, FKR feels like coming home.

[Game Dev] On Getting Knocked Down, and Getting Up Again

This post is brought to you by two things.

The first is the ongoing drip-drip-drip of “where are the rules for X in V5”, where X is dual-wielding or grappling or exactly how many Arms of Ahriman you can summon in a turn – granular, realism-concerned, justice-model stuff that V5 as a system doesn’t care about and (I thought) was pretty explicit about not caring about. But I guess gamers gonna game, and bring their assumptions about what a game needs with them.

The second is Olivia Hill being, as per, annoyingly smart and insightful about vocabulary. 

I am pretty hardline on having a clear, readable-at-a-glance indication of how a systemic element works – a flowchart, a boxout, an IF-AND-THEN sort of statement with very clear operators/decision points – because when I’m in the middle of playing I don’t want to allocate cognitive effort to parsing rules text. Gotta see it, it’s gotta make sense, I’ve gotta make the call. So I do like a pure-crunch summary of how something works.

But I also like and grok what Olivia is on about. The vocabulary a game uses states what it’s about, and that statement needs to carry forward into how it works. A separation between the authorial claim and the played experience is a failure of design. And that got me thinking. How would I write and describe some simple bits of RPG system, and what would that say about how the system worked and what it was for and what it was about?

So I’ve had a go at some atomic stuff – time measurement and conflict resolution. It was going to go into Bloodspell, but that ended up being a game that didn’t need conflict resolution of this sort (it’s much less about What Happens than it is How You Feel About It And Why It Happened That Way).

What do these systems say about what kind of game this might be?

TIME

Time is measured like this.

You have the Moment – that’s what’s happening right now. You live in the Moment. Life is a series of Moments. You can be given a Moment, you can take a Moment, you can have a Moment.

Then you have the Sesh. It’s what’s happening to you and your characters today. You’re playing this game, and something decisive should happen while you’re doing it so that your characters accomplish something while you’re playing.

Then you have the Mish. It’s what your characters are currently working toward; the long-term point of things. A Mish usually takes more than one Sesh to sort out. Think about organising a game: that’s a Mish. It takes a Sesh of planning and prepping, a Sesh (or at least a Moment) of furious instant messaging while you try to work out what day everyone’s free, and then a Sesh of actually playing.

AGGRO

Aggro can mean physical combat, intellectual debate, social strife – it’s anything where someone’s acting directly in opposition to someone else. Aggro is always a Moment in its own right.

Aggro is all about Knocks. You take your Knocks and you either keep going or you don’t. 

Take one Knock? That’s fine. You can keep going. You can come back from that.

Take two Knocks? That’s a problem. You’re Down. Whatever you’re trying to do will be harder, because you’re on a loser here.

Take three Knocks? That’s it. You’re Out. Out of action, out of commission, out of play until the Moment of Aggro is over.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE DOWN

You’ve two choices.

Powering Through: If you Power Through, you can ignore the difficulty that comes from being Down. You’ll still be Out if you take another Knock, but you’re doing your best to look and act un-Knockable, and it might work.  BUT: Powering Through takes a lot out of you. You’re borrowing from tomorrow to handle today. If you Power Through a Moment of Aggro, you’ll start your next Moment of Aggro with one Knock to your name already. You can Power Through that one too, but the cost stacks, and you’ll enter your next Moment of Aggro already Down. Power Through that one, and you’re automatically Out next time a Moment of Aggro comes your way.

Calling For Backup: If you Call For Backup, you ask another player to take your Knock instead of you, and they can say yes or no. And you can keep on Calling For Backup, but they can always say no – especially if they’re already Down from taking your Knocks for you. If you Call For Backup too often, you might find all your mates are Out – or just not interested in dealing with your Aggro any more.

GETTING UP AGAIN

If you’re Down, you get back up again once the Moment of Aggro is over. It’s only temporary.

If you’re Out, you’ll need a bit more time. You start your next Moment of Aggro with two Knocks – so you’re already Down, and one Knock from going Out again – and you can’t Power Through that Moment either. If you make it through that Moment of Aggro, you start your next Moment with one Knock. If you make it through that one, you’re fine again.

[Game Dev] Hacking the WFB Magic System for Party Pools in Roleplaying

Blame Andrew (who runs Halfling Caravan, they make Beta Maxx, it’s pretty neat) for this one. He and I were chatting about Warhammer and its bucket-o-d6 appeal and I mentioned how utterly perfect the sixth edition WFB magic system is, and then I realised it could hack really nicely.

Let me explain why it’s perfect first. Firstly: the dice are the most important thing, not chains of hidden modifiers. There’s the occasional bonus or malus of 1 or 2 from a magic item or special rule but mostly it’s all about showing the target number, which you know going in. Secondly: the impact of character level is managed really well, because higher level characters can throw more dice at a problem, which means they’re more likely to cast the big spells and less likely to fail the little ones (i.e. to meet high and low target numbers). Thirdly: there’s a cap on the number of dice involved, which puts a stop to the weird probability loops you get in dice pool systems where throwing more dice makes you more likely to botch than succeed. Fourthly: players choose how many dice to bung at a particular spell, which also helps to manage that problem and also emphasises agency and resource management in a really elegant, direct way. Fifthly: Irresistible Force and Miscasts, on a double 6 and double 1 respectively, provide that same hit of raw fun chemical as the natural 20 and natural 1, but exist at either end of a bell curve in which the median result comes up far more often, and thus exist as the outliers they should be.

I joked that I should just hack that system for absolutely everything, but then I thought about it and realised it might actually work for party-based play. Let’s express it in terms of combat, since this is very much post-wargame design, but I’m pretty sure this hacks to any kind of collective activity pass/fail situation.

The party generates a pool of dice equal to 2 plus 1 per character level involved.

The referee generates a pool of dice equal to 2 plus 1 per character involved.

The encounter has a number attached to it, let’s call it Challenge Rating because I haven’t had enough coffee to think of anything more fun right now. (Gloss: different approaches may have different Challenge Ratings associated with them, in the same way that the spells you attempt to cast in a WFB turn have different casting values.)

The party can choose how many dice to throw at the encounter, up to a limit of the highest character level in the party plus 1. (Gloss: this can be finessed into particular approaches taken, as the highest level character is presumably leading the attack, so if it’s a wizard they’re casting a big spell while others run interference.)

If they beat the Challenge Rating, they win the encounter, unless the referee can match or exceed their roll with ref dice.

If they fail, they can try another approach, with a different character leading. (This character’s level will determine the maximum number of dice to be rolled, as well as setting the tone for the descriptions and so on.)

A double 6 is an automatic victory, ref dice be damned. A double 1 is an automatic failure which knocks a character out of action and leads to a roll on a Nasty Things Happen To You table.

It may help veterans of the RPG form to imagine that the party’s dice are divided between the characters in play, representing the characters lending each other assistance in the pursuit of a deathblow. An example may also be of value here.

aN exAmPlE

Khairan (level 4 wizard), Nivienne (level 2 monk) and Myra (level 1 priest) are fighting a terrible bosom monster or something.

They generate nine dice between them (two for turning up, plus one for each character level involved). Their ref has five dice (two for turning up, plus one for each character).

The terrible bosom monster has a Challenge Rating of 11.

Khairan can bung up to five dice at a problem, so he represents the nuclear option. Nivienne can bung up to three dice at a problem, so she has an average chance here. Myra can only bung two dice, so it’s highly unlikely that she’ll beat any bosoms by herself.

The party elects to let Nivienne take the first swing, in an attempt to dummy out some ref dice. Sadly, Nivienne’s player just misses, with a total of 10. Oh no! A +1 against bosom monsters would make all the difference here.

Khairan’s player throws four dice, because they might just need that third attempt after all, and scores a total of 12. The referee giggles inanely and flings all five of their dice, because they don’t expect Myra to achieve much of anything. The ref’s dice show a pair of sixes and that’s enough all by itself.

It’s all on Myra. And because we’re rolling this example out live, there isn’t one of those contrived endings where the babiest character gets a double six and wins the day. It’s a four and a two and the round is a wash.

No bosoms are punched, immolated or… what does a baby priestess even do to a bosom? The tempo for the description is set, though: Nivienne can’t land a decisive blow, Khairan’s efforts are met by some quivering defence, Myra is clearly overcome by the whole business.

Further Observations on Challenge Ratings

Another great thing about the WFB magic system is how setting the right casting value for a spell makes it seem more or less routine. Take Invocation of Nehek, the baseline spell of the Necromancy lore. Its casting value of 3 means that for a level 2 Necromancer, only a Miscast will result in failure. On literally any other outcome of a three dice roll, this extremely routine act of sorcery will succeed. At the other end, the Curse of Years, a devastating bit of offensive wizardry, requires an 11. Our level 2 Necromancer can take a shot at it with their three dice, but the law of averages is doing a lot of heavy lifting in the attempt. Such is entirely befitting of a spell which will probably wipe out a whole regiment if it’s allowed to go through. By careful consideration of the minimum and maximum values required, ‘brackets’ of Challenge Rating can emerge in which characters of a given level are more or less likely to succeed. A 5-11 range was normal for WFB spells: only the most necessary of incantations or spectacular of maledictions fell outside this scale range.

Equipment should provide small bonuses and maluses, or allow for the generation or banking of dice. Such things make all the difference, as with this party who are one die shy of everyone being able to work at full efficiency. Character type could allow for an additional ‘free’ die in particular situations, such as combat or stealth or acquisition of lore.

[Game Dev] Notes Toward Unlocking The Tomb Through Bunging Dice At It

Been knocking these around on Twitter, for the bants, but it’s probably a good idea to cement them on here so I have a version I can find when I eventually decide what to do with them.

What follows is an expansion of ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Elfland’, which I originally built as a zero-conflict exploration-pillar OSR-ish kind of thing. (Gotta write dev notes for that.) The challenge there, the mechanical loop, is a pretty straightforward d20 + S, where S is a stat-representing bonus or malus, and the option of rolling 2d20 and picking the best or worst for advantage/disadvantage. (There’s a 2d10 variant for magic, but that’s not entirely germane here.) That’s compared to a target number representing how much Trouble your character is in, and failure/poor choices escalate the Trouble into the next bracket.

Now. To put conflict back in, and to give the referee the investment that comes with rolling a mathematics rock, I added a d10 to the Trouble. (Why the d10? It’s the freakish eldritch die, the non-Platonic solid, the one that works for opposition or strangeness, on an instinctive level.) A random factor representing Aggro, the contribution made by a background character opposing the PC. That gives us T + d10 vs. S + d20.

I also wanted, for reasons, to shift the core loop from single character actions to combined efforts: two specific characters putting their efforts together. Now we’re looking at T + d10 vs. (S1 + d20) + (S2 + d20), which is SUMS. That’s more SUMS than anyone should have to do every single time their characters do anything.

OK, the problem with transcribing Twitter threads is that the context is missing, so let me provide a bit of that now. What STARTED this off was Della King’s thread on D&D, target numbers, and rolling low, which interested me because I absolutely do not like “roll low” as a concept (high numbers should always be good things) but I absolutely agree that the fuzziness of D&D’s calculations – bonuses for stats and gear and circumstances and all that flimflam atop a roll – create an outcome where the average player is rolling a die and looking pleadingly at the referee for confirmation of what it even means, UNLESS it’s a 20 at which point there is a sudden certainty. The Natural 20 is the best possible roll, therefore the best possible thing should happen. Noobs, muggles and normies intuit this with the same ease that they do “high numbers are good” and that is why we have the mildly detestable “I rolled a nat 20 so verisimilitude and tone and consistency and precedent can SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP” meme. Which I don’t like. But I like why it happens. I like that certainty of knowing that you done rolled a good roll. And I like collapsing the play down to knowing that what you’ve rolled is good or bad, where the die in your hand is the most significant determiner, because it makes the tactile action of rolling feel important. And people like rolling. Rolling dice dispenses the Good Brain Chemical. So that’s context. Now, back to the mechanics.

So then I thought about putting the other Platonic Solids back into the hands of the players, corresponding to aspects or stats or traits of their characters. It works very well in Savage Worlds, and lends itself very well to the idea of hyperspecialised characters who need to team up and cover for each others’ weaknesses or combine their strengths, which, for reasons, is the territory I’m currently interested in exploring. Let’s say characters have five Elements which directly correspond to a die type. Let’s say that choosing the right combination of characters to attempt a task is the most important thing about the play at hand – not how good your equipment is, but who you team up with, who is prepared to take a risk with you. NOW the core mechanic looks like this: T + d10 vs. dX + dY.

That looks good. The players’ dice rolls are the most important thing, and high numbers are always good. The referee maintains control over difficulty through the ability to set Trouble as they choose, but still gets to make a roll and get some of that good brain chemical for themselves (and the flat d10 for antagonistic forces lets Trouble + Aggro fall within a predictable range, also good for setting difficulties). I’m not sure how swingy the rolls will be if there are regular d20 + d4 pairings falling, but avoiding those could well be part of the play, for reasons.

Reasons here being that I’ve read the first two of the Locked Tomb trilogy lately, and have been thinking about gamifying it after the nice lady who runs HyveMynd posted her idea for five stats and two characters per player. Pairs of characters joining up to overcome a challenge is a core element of the fiction being emulated there; so are unusual team-ups outside of the usual pairing, when the challenges escalate later in the narrative.

It’s not quite cooked yet – I still need to retro-engineer Muir’s counter game that separated and balanced the styles of necromancy involved (or just ask her about it, but she’s immensely busy and a bit famous, and my lane is over here), and get over this weird itch I have to depict the lyctoral megatheorem as a variant on the Tree of Life (or indulge it to the bitter end). But this works for the core, I think. It does what it needs to do.

[Off Topic] “Oh, all right. One more lifetime won’t kill anyone…”

It’s been a hell of a year.

I don’t just mean 2020, although it absolutely has been. Leaving aside Nineteen Crows and the return to form of Perfidious Albion, there have been troubles closer to home.

I didn’t let on when I was making the final posts of what I swore would be the final year, but I’d just had to pack in my writing gigs after a year of freefalling income and declining health. I’d also run into an expensive (life-shatteringly so) bureaucratic cock-up at the same time. It was all getting a bit rough and for a while I thought I’d be spending Christmas 2019 on the streets.

Instead, by lucky hap, I took a job in a bookshop and put my PhD on hold while I learned the ropes. And after three months, the town it’s in flooded and we became ground zero for cleanup and care. And THEN, while I was on what was going to be a week’s holiday in London, Nineteen Crows happened. I nearly ended up living in E and K’s spare room again, and when I came home I spent four months playing an Amount of Total Warhammer 2, making my peace with V:tM’s fifth edition by trying to run a couple of chronicles, and…

I also made a bunch of mini-RPGs. Having tried to crack the mid-tier RPG industry and realised what a crock it is, I fell in with the rabble-rousers and went indie. Most of them are system tests – attempts to make one or two mechanics work as isolated indie games about THIS or THAT. One is a hack I made because I was so very, very pissed off with Vampire: the Masquerade after a year doing research on it and saw a way to make Wolfspell into something that scratched the same itch and put some feelings to rest.

I actually quite like making games, it turns out, and the next one is – well, I’ve made a single to hear myself on the radio, and a couple more followed, and I’ve done a weird EP of cover versions, and the NEXT thing is going to be the debut album, as it were. Figuratively speaking.

There’s some other business. I tried Classic World of Warcraft and it was the push I needed to quit altogether. I tried to stream again, but that kind of workmanlike #content creation has never really been my scene. I ended up in charge of matters pertaining to board games at work: we are, step by step, figuring out how to turn a successful monthly club into a community and a customer base.

And, as the year turned and I had a bit of mad money even in the midst of furlough, I found myself turning back to Warhammer like an old, old friend. Half-assed collections of Chaos Dwarfs (event swag/trades) and Tomb Kings (a side project that took on appeal) have been rounded out with new third party figures. My new gaff is smaller, but located such that playing games is less of a giant fiddle to pull off. Which of course made me think about the website.

I thought – well, why not?

I have quite a bit to say. About what I’m playing, what I’m making, what I’m studying. Expect occasional dalliances with Warhammer, still, but also developer’s notes on the games I make, and an attempt to kick my PhD back into life by blogging my way through my research. It’s like the old GAME OVER days, but I’m not ripping off Andrew Eldritch’s branding. Much.

[WFB] Getting Schooled by Dr. Shiny

Ten years ago this month, I started teaching my arch-rival and nemesis and bestest friend ever Lawrence how to play Warmachine. I also started a blog, because I’d come home at the drop of a hat to start my teacher training and left the Warmachine scene of Greater Manchester behind and frankly, I was feeling a bit lonely. It’s been a long ten years and it hasn’t always been much fun, and a lot of things have had to be left behind in the meantime.

But not everything.

Lawrence and I go way, way back. We’ve known each other for well over twenty years. And in that time, Lawrence’s long-suffering, long-serving Skaven – the first opponents for my putative Army of Sylvania fifteen years ago last Christmas – have never managed to beat my Vampire Counts.

Until now.

Preamble

I won’t say that playing Lawrence again was the only reason I went down to the Exeter Games Gathering, but it was certainly up there. It’s only an hour’s train ride for him, so he had no excuse. By the time he arrived I was struggling to formulate a coherent thought and so we opted for a nice straightforward Pitched Battle, bo-ring as it might be.

I was testing out my new “three casters? take Death!” approach and, at the last moment, dropped both my Bound Spells in favour of a single base Spirit Host because I felt myself wanting for chaff. The resultant army looked like this:

  • Countess Carmilla: level 2 wizard, Death magic (Death Dealer, Wind of Death), Sword of Striking, Ring of the Night, Black Periapt, Aura of Dark Majesty
  • Rosenkratz: level 2 wizard, Necromancy (Invocation of Nehek, Hand of Dust)
  • Guildenstern: level 2 wizard, Necromancy (Invocation of Nehek, Gaze of Nagash)
  • Whispering Nell: Wraith with Cursed Book
  • 30 Skeletons: light armour, spears, full command
  • 20 Zombies: standard and musician
  • 10 Huntsmen
  • Spirit Host (1 base)
  • 8 Black Knights: barding, full command
  • 8 Black Knights: barding, full command
  • Banshee
  • Banshee

Lawrence, it turned out, was also testing out a new approach, which he’d never had the balls to attempt back in the day:

  • Grey Seer Makkiavelli: level 4 wizard (Skitterleap, Pestilent Breath, Vermintide, Plague): Death Globes, whatever the Skaven equivalent of the Wristbands of Black Gold are called
  • Fooko: Warlock Engineer with all the trimmings plus Storm Daemon and Dispel Scroll
  • Derridaa: Warlock Engineer with all the trimmings plus Warpscroll
  • Kirkegaad: Chieftain with shield, heavy armour, Bands of Power and Sword of Battle
  • 30 Clanrats: full command, Warpfire Thrower team
  • 30 Clanrats: full command, Ratling Gun team
  • 4 Giant Rat packs
  • 5 Rat Swarm bases
  • 10 Night Runners: slings, additional hand weapons
  • 28 Plague Monks: additional hand weapons, full command
  • Warp Lightning Cannon
  • 6 Plague Censer Bearers

This is, as you’ll appreciate, quite a toothy Skaven army. I remember Lawrence’s Skaven not being this tuned. It’s my own fault, I know perfectly well that plastic Plague Monks have happened since the day, I was there when he built the cannon, and Skaven have ALWAYS had the option of four Warp Lightnings in a turn. It’s just… a lot of that slipped my mind, lulled out of consciousness by Lawrence’s relentless whinging about how rubbish his Skaven are. And back in the day, I was being carried along by a bullshit Storm of Chaos list which could put Magic Resistance on everything worth zapping and yeet three units of Dire Wolves into the back of his army on turn two. This sort of thing annoyed and/or worried Lawrence and left me able to coast over the top of the Skaven blocks quite effectively once the Rat Swarm was out of the way.

That’s why I felt confident enough to set up like this.

The plan was to set up a picket line with the Huntsmen, fleeing when Lawrence’s troops started to close, and pull a unit of Knights over to that side as well, with the remaining units jammed up his grill to occupy the Plague Monks and Rats. And that worked fine.

But that was the entire extent of the plan. The rest of my game boiled down to “try and win a magic-missile-off with the army which has the best magic missile in the game and can cast it three times, two with better-than-average odds of Irresistible Force, every turn, and also outshoots me by a country mile.”

And the other thing I hadn’t expected was that Lawrence would Skitterleap his Grey Seer into the back of my army and proceed to chain cast Vermintide and Pestilent Breath into the back of my Skeleton unit two turns on the trot. This after he wiped half of them out with an Irresistible Plague on the very first turn.

Frankly, it was courteous of him to blow up his own Warpfire Thrower, kill a rank of Clanrats with an overenthusiastic Vermintide, fall short with all but one of his Warp Lightning Cannon shots, and have Makkiavelli drop his Death Globes on his own feet twice. That, plus panicking his Night Runners off the table and making the one good move at the start, at least kept me in the game until the fourth round. At that point, once my Knights had been shot to shit trying to get into a decent position, I opted to call it a day.

Maybe if I’d had a bigger Spirit Host, and a Book of Arkhan somewhere to guarantee me a Vanhel’s Danse to cast… maybe if I’d not decided to play a defensive game against an army that had no reason to close the distance when it could slaughter me from 18-24″ away… maybe if I’d had a better night’s sleep beforehand… maybe if I’d treated my oldest friend with something more than contempt and actually planned to give him a proper fight…

If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all be diabetic, I suppose. I did consider leaving the army in a skip or something on the way home – it’s been fifteen years, and I often feel trapped by nostalgia, like I’m trying to get back to 2004 and pretend the time between then and now didn’t happen, and I can’t deny the symbolism of anniversaries and old enemies and final defeats.

It’s been ten years and in that time the whole ‘hobby blogger’ phenomenon has boomed and bust. I effectively put the blog on life support back in 2018, but resolved to give it a final year and a fair go, and this is the best note to go out on, I think. A couple of lads from Plymouth shoving some toy soldiers around, and walking to the station in the rain.

Once I built a railroad; now it’s done.

[WFB] Battle Report: Von Carsteins at Caerwysg

WFB Sixth Edition.
6000 points.
Vampire Counts vs. Bretonnians and Dogs of War.

Frankly, if that doesn’t wake you up inside, I don’t know what will. It certainly kept me going for about eight hours, even though I hadn’t actually slept for two nights on the trot and was fast succumbing to ye pestilence and, frankly, was only kept functional by a hideous cocktail of OG Relentless and cranberry juice. Lee hadn’t had the best night either, with two fire alarms going off in his hotel during the wee hours, but damn it all we’d been planning this for weeks and we weren’t going to let anything stop us now.

Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile?

Neither force was what you’d call “legal”, although the conventions regarding numbers of Lords and Heroes, as well as Core, Special and Rare troops under them, were still obeyed. The goal was for myself and Lee to plonk our entire painted collections on the board and give the other attendees of yer actual Exeter Games Gathering something to gawp at in between doing each other over. If you have a 6’x4′ table for the whole day, you might as well make use of it!

We cobbled together a makeshift scenario by mashing up the Flank Attack and Capture ones from the WFB rulebook. Flank Attack would make the most of Lee’s divided forces by not actually considering them the same thing; Capture would relieve us of the need to calculate or even consider Victory Points, with victory determined by Who Was Closest To The Shed at the end. The well-paid and foolishly courageous Dogs of War would start entrenched behind enough linear obstacles to make a Dwarf blush (to ensure I couldn’t sweep them all away by turn two), while the Bretonnians would advance from a flank of Lee’s choosing at the top of turn three (giving me a turn to at least brace for impact before the inevitable charge).

We needed something suitably high stakes to draw these mighty forces together, so I elected not to bring the Carstein Ring, and instead place it within the retirement cottage of one Felix Mann, Esq, once of Altdorf and now long deceased. Why was this important? Look at who showed up…

Vampire Counts (attacking)

  • Mannfred von Carstein
  • Lord Ruthven (Vampire Lord on Zombie Dragon; some kit which ended up being totally irrelevant)
  • Countess Carmilla (Vampire Countess on foot; Summon Bats and Spectral Attendants)
  • Sir Francis Varney (Vampire Thrall in Wolf Form)
  • Walravius (Wight Lord Battle Standard Bearer, waving the Hell Banner about)
  • Whispering Nell (Wraith with the Cursed Book)
  • Rosenkratz, Guildenstern and Haeckl (three Necromancers with a Power Stone and Dispel Scroll apiece)
  • 30 Skeleton Spearmen
  • 20 Skeleton Crossbowmen
  • 20 Zombies
  • 2 (independent) Bat Swarms
  • 10 Ghouls
  • 10 Huntsmen
  • 10 Dire Wolves
  • 20 Drakenhof Guard (with the Screaming Banner)
  • 28 Black Knights (one unit of 12 with the Drakenhof Banner, two units of 8 with nowt fancy to their name)
  • 1 very large Spirit Host
  • 2 Banshees
  • 2 Black Coaches

Dogs of War (defending)

  • Lorenzo Lupo
  • an unnamed but courageous Hireling Wizard, late of Bretonnia no doubt, brandishing the Staff of Sorcery (Lee’s spare Damsel coming out to play)
  • a foolhardy Paymaster
  • Leopold’s Leopard Company
  • the Marksmen of Miragliano
  • a Pikeman company whose resemblance to the Alcatini Fellowship is entirely coincidental
  • an off-brand Crossbowman company
  • Tichi-Huichi’s Raiders
  • Bronzino and a Galloper Gun
  • Dadallo and the Birdmen of Catrazza
  • Lumpin Croop and his Fighting Cocks
  • the Giants of Albion and Hengist

Bretonnians (flanking)

  • King Louen Leoncoeur
  • Morgiana la Fay
  • The Green Knight
  • a Paladin on a Pegasus
  • a Paladin not on a Pegasus (bearing the Battle Standard)
  • two footslogging Paladins
  • a slightly overwhelmed Damsel with the Silver Mirror
  • half a dozen Grail Knights (playing escort to the Fay and the BSB)
  • eight Knights Errant
  • two dozen Bowmen
  • a dozen Men At Arms
  • two fistfuls of Mounted Yeomen
Lee felt himself stretched pretty thin by this engagement, but had the advantage of a strong defensive position for his Pikemen and an excellent viewpoint for the Marksmen of Miragliano. His skirmishers occupied the wood on the left, while the Giants of Albion reluctantly divided their attentions, ready to counter-punch the oncoming horde.
Mannfred isn’t feeling very optimistic about his positioning, but he has the only Danse Macabre on the field, so without him the infantry will be lucky to reach the halfway line, and I’m not leaving him on his own without a cavalry unit to hide out in.
Lorenzo Lupo stares the Vampire Count down. These pikes are going nowhere!
In many ways my choice of flanking force was dictated by the terrain. My Huntsmen could only take cover behind this ruined chapel, while the Black Coaches didn’t have any other way into the lines that wouldn’t take them into a hedge and certain destruction. The Dire Wolves are over here because they’re still pretty nippy even if Mannfred can’t help them march; the Black Knights will turn into the bulk of the army and pick up speed later. The Spirit Host is just out of sight on the left; if the Bretonnians show up on that side, I’m confident that 24 Ethereal wounds will at least slow them down.
On the other flank, I planned to have these Ghouls spread out to block the Bretonnians should they show up, while Ruthven is there to deliver Terror, dragon breath and Death Magic into the heart of the Dogs’ line. Allegedly.

We both figured the Dogs of War would need a lot of luck to make it through the game, but things would doubtless turn Lee’s way when the Bretonnians arrived. Were we right? Read on…

Opening Gambits (Turns 1 and 2)

My advance was immediately checked when the Green Knight showed up on turn one! The ethereal crew don’t fancy their chances any more, and to be honest I was already thinking of this flank as a write-off. My suspicions were confirmed when the Galloper Gun smashed one coach to powder with its first damn shot, and the Green Knight spent three turns making Spirits go bye-bye. Lee’s rolls for the git’s Dolorous Blade or whatever it’s called were terrifying; six, six and five extra attacks in a row!
Mannfred drove his Knights headlong into the Pikes. Not the best idea he’s ever had, especially when I realised they didn’t actually have the “sod your obstacles I hit you on threes” standard after all, but Pikemen are only WS and S 3; I’d get to roll some hefty armour saves, and with a bit of luck I’d have Lord Ruthven joining them in that conveniently dragon-shaped hole on their flank. Sadly, Lee managed to dispel Vanhel’s Danse Macabre and cast The Bear’s Anger on his Paymaster, making him big and mean enough to hold off a whole unit of raised Zombies all by himself! What you see here is the impact of static combat resolution on Knights who’ve achieved nothing but a dead unit champion.
On the left flank, the charging Giant stumbled as my Hunstmen did a bit of baiting and fleeing. Hengist was now open to a charge from the Dire Wolves, and my Black Coach had a lane on Bologs (or is it Cachtorr?). Impact hits weren’t enough to fell the brute, however, and it proceeded to Yell and Bawl for three turns on the trot. Automatically losing combat by two each time was enough to grind both units into dust. BORING!
Something similar happened on this side. On its charge, Cachtorr (or is it Bologs?) Yelled and Bawled, denying Lord Ruthven and his faithful steed any chance to get a wound in edgeways. On his next turn, Lord Ruthven proceeded to Miscast, lobbing himself out of the combat and narrowly avoiding the hedge!

Bretonnia Rides (Turns 3 and 4)

The Knights arrived, and promptly… achieved nothing for an entire turn, as the Yeomen failed their fear test, refused to charge my Skeleton Crossbowmen, and tied up the far braver units behind them. Similar events occured in the midfield, where the Men At Arms wanted nothing to do with fighting Ghouls and the Peasant Bowmen learned that actually, Ghouls are quite dangerous in a fight.
Morgiana took exactly one swig from her magical chalice, chugging the lot and hurling a Comet of Cassandora into the middle of the undead lines! As if that wasn’t enough, Mannfred’s attempt at Hellish Vigour to improve his Knights’ odds of crossing the fence was met with the Silver Mirror, dispelling the spell and putting a wound on him to boot. Even the Zombies were unable to turn the tide, as Lorenzo Lupo generated sufficient surplus wounds from challenging the Black Knights’ champion to cancel out his unit’s loss of rank bonus and draw the combat!

Desperate Times (Turns 5 and 6)

In response, the Undead lines turned. The Huntsmen rallied and ran to intercept the Bretonnians, along with the leftmost unit of Black Knights. Their counterparts on the right charged Bologs (or Cachtorr) in an effort to save the Dragon from another round of Yelling and Bawling. Banshees and Wraiths were hurled toward the centre of the field in an effort to put the Cursed Book in play and whittle down the Dogs of War further, but a nasty surprise or two lay in wait. Firstly: Leopold’s Leopard Company are immune to psychology, and therefore to Banshee wails. Secondly…
Secondly, the Knights arrived too late. Cachtorr (or possibly Bologs) took matters in hand (or rather forehead), nutting the Zombie Dragon to death. I’d be pissed off about this, but “nutted to death by Giant” is a pretty epic way to go. The Knights didn’t quite manage to finish him off, he passed his Stubborn AF break test, and next turn King Louen charged and proceeded to go through the Knights like a woodchipper. In back, the Yeomen charged my summoned Zombies in the rear, breaking their ranks and buying Lorenzo Lupo another round…
… which he used to challenge Mannfred, taking the Count of Sylvania on mano-e-mano in the Classical style! Still hampered by the hedgerow which his Knights had yet to cross, Mannfred wasn’t quite able to strike down the mercenary general, while Lorenzo only landed two blows of his own; not enough to put Mannfred out of his misery.
On the other flank, Sir Francis Varney seized the day. An 18 inch charge and a 1+ armour save delivered him safely into the Crossbowmen, and three S7 attacks saw them broken before his onslaught.
The Drakenhof Guard produced impressive results in their charge against the Leopard Company. Although their Screaming Banner and Hell Banner power combo was wasted on the fearless pikemen, Leopold was cut down by a Killing Blow from the Guards’ Champion, and the Guard – aided by a timely cast of Death Dealer and Hellish Vigour – killed enough of the Leopard Company that they actually broke from combat on its own!
Even without Leopold, the Pikemen rallied, but this was do-or-die turn for the Vampire Counts and they didn’t let me down. Lord Ruthven charged and butchered the Mounted Yeomen, and the Drakenhof Guard were impelled into combat with an Irresistible Danse Macabre, turning both combats in favour of the Undead. Leopold’s men were run down, and while Lorenzo just about held his ground…
… the Paymaster was not so fortunate. Sir Francis was thirsty, and as the Paymaster fell beneath his blade, disaster struck the Dogs of War. Lorenzo, one of the Giants, and the Marksmen of Miragliano all failed their Panic tests and bolted, leaving the Sylvanians in control of the objective! And just to cap everything off, I managed to dispel the Comet.

There followed a chain of events which I was too tired to photograph, and I hope Lee can supply suitable imagery in good time. But here’s what happened.

Mannfred was finally able to cross the hedge and take control of the Mann residence. All he had to do was survive one last turn. To that end, he and all his Necromancers attempted to cast Invocations to restore him to full capacity of Wounds. Lee Dispelled Mannfred’s Invocation, and I failed to cast the other three. Suddenly, everything was back on the knife edge again.

In the middle ground, I was able to Summon Bats, redeploy Ghouls, and shove Skeletons forward so that Lee’s Knights had very few charge opportunities left.

The second Giant stumbled in its charge on Carmilla and her guard; about to Jump Up and Down, the drunken oaf ended up falling at Carmilla’s feet, and she took great pleasure in avenging her last outing against the Giants by cutting it down in person.

King Louen descended on the Necromancers, cutting their zombie bodyguard to ribbons but leaving the casters themselves alive.

Hope, such as it was, rested with one man…

Whirling his Delirious Blade about him, the Green Knight, immortal defender of Bretonnia, charged in and challenged the Vampire Count to single combat. Lacking any alternative, Mannfred drew his sword again and hoped against hope that he could prevail. It was not to be. The Ethereal care not for hedgerows, and so the Green Knight fought at full efficiency, liberating Mannfred from the mortal coil.

Hopefully, this epic final clash is not spoiled too much by my errant fingertip making its way into the photograph.

Defeat! Defeat at the very last round of combat on the very last turn! Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out than that. When you’re playing a supervillain like Mannfred, hubris and trickery and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by an immortal force of righteous fury is fitting and there’s no bones about it.

Lee was delighted at the chance to field all his forces together and for that matter so do I; one never normally gets to take things like Dragons and so many spellcasters that the Lore of Death on two of them doesn’t feel like a waste. On top of all that, it was a delightfully close game which could easily have gone either way, and if we played it again (ideally when we weren’t both half mad with sleep deprivation) I for one would do things a little differently.

I’d probably stack the cavalry on that open flank, and let the Spirits lead the charge into those pike blocks (since they don’t give a monkey’s chuff about hedges). That might leave my infantry lagging a bit, but to be honest, their job was to ferry the spellcasters and Wraith forward and then block as many charge lanes as possible. I wouldn’t change the list much, except for maybe slipping Call Winds onto Carmilla for the early turns… and of course, not leaving home without the Banner of the Barrows.

[Been Painting] Vampire Counts: This Post’s Words’ Worth Is Over Nine Thousand

In April, when I had money, I bought some reinforcements.
In May, when I had the opportunity, I seized upon a Bargain.
In June, before everything and its dog went wrong, I made some beginnings.
Four days ago, when necessity struck, I began anew.
Three days ago, things began to take shape.
Two days ago, certain losses were made good upon.
One day ago, we stood upon the brink of accomplishment.
Today?
TODAY WE RISE!

Because a picture is worth a thousand words. Geddit?

Instagram is more suited to this sort of thing. You can find me over there @propergoffic, same as the Twitter and the Twitch and almost everywhere else I care to be. But it would be churlish not to put them here, too, especially since I can actually link directly to images from here.

It’s strange. My wrists are fucked. I’m generally quite lethargic. And I don’t enjoy painting. But I can still speed paint like a trooper when I’m called upon to do so. Necessity fuels what obligation merely prolongs, and when I have a weekend of actual gaming ahead, Shit Gets Done. There are still touches that I’d like to touch: sticking some static grass on some bases, tinting some armour to at least pretend a harmony with the army (although I guess randomly different coloured Knights are an essential part of the Empire aesthetic), working out how to make the Huntsmen at all interesting (I think some browns? brown is never interesting though) – but that can come later.

Anyway, that’s what six thousand points of sixth edition Vampire Counts looks like. despite my best attempts, there are disparities in the composition of paint and the style with which one applies it and the circumstances in which particular figures have been ruined, so nothing matches quite as well as my inner perfectionist would like. But perfect is the enemy of “good enough” and “good enough” is good enough for me. It’s also good enough for Exeter Games Gathering this weekend, and since I set off for Exeter tomorrow and will be playing WFB by teatime, good enough will bloody well have to do.

The weekend’s game schedule looks like this, so far:

  • Joseph and his Dwarfs, 2000 points, nice easy teaching-feeling game for someone who hasn’t played much (any?) sixth edition
  • Lee and his Bretonnians/Dogs of War, 6000 points, yes I know but we want to bung our entire collections on the table and see what comes about.
  • Lawrence and his Skaven, 2000 points, because fate will come around at last and all endings are beginnings and I’m not travelling to within fifty miles of my longest-serving friend, arch-rival and nemesis without playing some WFB with him, it’s just not happening.

I don’t know if I’ll be up to doing “battle reports” in the full on and detailed sense – I prefer to concentrate on and enjoy the games rather than fuss around with photos and notes, and my hands are hurting just from typing up this relatively short post – but I’ll sort something out. Maybe rope Lawrence into co-writing a narrative report. We did that way back when, with our very first game. I’d post it in a heartbeat if I could actually FIND the damn thing.

I mean: there are still 20-odd Skeleton Swordsmen at the back there…

[WFB] Another Way To (Un)Die

Well, I made it. Slightly later than ideal, still just in time. 1500 points of painted Empire of Dust Tomb Kings, ready to be flung at the invading High Elves of Prince Panting this weekend and stage an incursion upon Dr. Shiny and his Bretonnians in September.

What fate awaits them after that I cannot say: I profoundly disliked painting them, probably because I had no vision for the army going in and only figured out what I shall laughingly call “the technique” on the last models, the Mummies, whom I genuinely abhor as being almost fucking impossible to rank up even with the traditional spacers. But if they’re fun to play with, they may be spared.

Do not look too closely at these Ushabti. You will see all the details I couldnae be arsed to paint proper like or mould lines I couldnae be arsed to clean up. I really didn’t care about this army. Nothing is prepped. It’s all been banged out in six months for the sake of a little variety.

These close-ups of the abominable Mummies may show the faded turquoise of their garments, which I FINALLY figured out how to do. They also show the three characters: Prince Thotmanho the Frequently Abbreviated (who actually looks quite nice, the swine), Bhakgamun the Liche Priest (whose staff is frankly not to be trusted) and an Icon Bearer who will get a name if I decide it’s worth taking an Icon Bearer again. They may also also show the Magic life counter I’m using to mark wounds, since this unit occupies a 4×5 formation even though only 2×6 of actual models are involved. They are REALLY hard to rank up. Quite characterful though.

Meat and potatoes, neither of which are involved in the daily habits of these units. Neither are bread and butter. But anyway; horrible mixed media Skeletons I haven’t filled because arseholes to that, but they look OK from four feet away when it’s cloudy out. And a Skull Chucker, cheerfully sized for fifth edition, dramatically undersized for anything else. I do quite like the rat as the extra crewman, as well as the flaming skull token I made to mark the shot.

You might be thinking I hate this army already. I don’t. It is very much built to be played, though, and the assembly and painting have been phoned in on a very big phone to that end.

The painting queue currently contains this Mausoleum terrain set, but once that’s done, I’d like to set up something a bit smaller scale and take my time on it, just to confirm that I can still paint. The Blood Bowl teams have been here the longest, but my Bad Squiddo stuff needs priming as it’s starting to discolour now some of it’s been unpainted for a year or two, and half a dozen Orc adventurers plus some Gothic horror vignettes may be just the palate cleanser I need after these big monotonous drybrush-and-ink fests. But first: GAME TIME.

[WFB] The Army of Sylvania (WD291/Storm of Chaos, 2004)

This is it, folx. This is the big one. I’ve been after this article for ages, since none of the PDFs I’ve been able to find are complete; I actually cracked and bought a copy, with my own money and everything.

This came along at exactly the right time.

I was in the process of starting out again, after the GCSE interregnum when “all that bleddy Warhammer” had been sacrificed on the altar of familial dissatisfaction. I’d just rebuilt my Chaos Space Marines for the Eye of Terror campaign and I was after a new WFB army and there, a month after the campaign results, was this none-more-goth business.

It would be a few more months before the actual rules dropped and crystallised my vague ambitions. I reproduce those too, largely to keep them in circulation and lend some context to future doings. In the event that Games Workshop puts this fifteen year old material for a no longer supported game line back into circulation through legitimate means, all they have to do is ask and I will happily take it down.

Put all of this together and you have the shape of my first army; no Ghouls or Necromancers (although I had the figure for one, hanging around from my Mordheim box), overequipped Skeletons and Zombies with every polearm the box could offer, and a veritable swarm of Wolves and Bats. One unit of Black Knights ’cause that’s all I could take. And a lot of kitbashed Skeleton Crossbowmen, which involved cutting Tomb King Archer hands off and then cutting the shafts of Empire Militia crossbows to fit on either side of them and somehow lining up the four small jittery pieces of plastic… I must have been mad.

I wonder…

Lord Ruthven’s Resumption

Lord Ruthven: Vampire Lord with extra magic level, Sword of Striking, Wristbands of Black Gold, Black Periapt and Summon Wolves
Carmilla: Vampire Thrall with Spectral Attendants and Earthbind
Sir Francis Varney: Vampire Thrall with Army Standard, Walking Death and Earthbind

Sir Francis Varney’s First of Foot: 24 Sylvanian Militia with spears and full command group
Templehof Pals: 24 Sylvanian Levy with halberds, standard bearer and musician
Bat Swarm
Bat Swarm
3 Fell Bats
10 Dire Wolves: Scouts, Doom Wolf

Black Coach
Black Coach

Order of the Black Cross: 8 Drakenhof Templars with barded Nightmares and Drakenhof Banner

I could very easily go to 3000 points, too. It’d only take adding the Spirit Host, a couple of Banshees, and either slapping a Dragon under Ruthven and promoting Carmilla to Countess, or adding Mannfred von Carstein as the second permitted Lord.

(Incidentally, if you’re wondering why the Thralls don’t have armour; they’re all the lightly-clad Mordheim figures who are blatantly not wearing any, and I am reluctant to stick shields and things on figures who might find themselves further ennobled to spellcasting and unarmoured status at the drop of a hat.)

There are a few odds and sods I’d like to replace. The Fell Bats, with some nice Reaper ones. My old foot Reiksgard, with some plastic Greatswords, who may be about to vanish from the miniature range, so I’d better get a shift on if I’m going to do that. And I’d like some Crossbowmen and Archers for doing the other Von Carstein theme force… but I’m in several minds about exactly where those should come from. We’ll talk about why next time.