Monday, July 21, 2014

Quake & Mourn Campaign: Assassination, with Extreme Prejudice

Last week the club gathered to play the next round in our fantasy campaign. In this game, Josh and I faced off in a quick assassination scenario set in the windswept wastes of the Sunderstone Badlands.

Ditherprank came to rue the day he desecrated that road-side shrine of St. Gormly with his kaotic magicks, because, as by whisper on wind, news of his deed came to the royal Heirophant in Vildeburg and she dispatched her Royal Assassination Squadron to destroy the blasphemer. The priesthood mechanical duly, and with the blessings of all the saints, awakened the cold metal contrivances of murder and set them on their path, with an Adept of the brotherhood militant to guide them.

Fulgid Glim and his banditry were tracking the remnants of a defeated orc warband south across the Sunderstone Badlands when they heard the royal klaxon echoing off the stones. The Adept militant called forth Ditherprank by name. 

Glim glared at his puckish magician sharply and hissed. Ditherprank whimpered, as much in fear of the Tainted Thegn as of the Murder Machines arrayed against him. The mute sycophant who carried Ditherprank said nothing, but then he never did.

Needing no spurring from Fulgid Glim, nor any excuse for the glory of battle and trampling dust, the Dire Men rode at the assassins, and were knocked aside and gunned down as the contraptions spun violently forward.

Ditherprank shrieked at his mute to find some cranny-hole in which to hide themselves, but they found no sanctuary in the blasted dirt. In a breath, a magnificent machine was above him, and with its blessed hammer smote the mute full in the trunk, sending him - and Ditherprank beside - in a bloody arc that could only be described as celestial in its height and grace.

The machine stalked to the broken, twitching body of the mute and regarded it for a cold moment...and as the mute gave a final spasm and expired, the machine moved just as coldly away. 
A dozen yards off, in the pit of a pock-marked crater, from the skull that imprisoned the spirit of Ditherprank the wizard, there issued a rattling sigh. His calcic temple had gained a long and painful crack, which would irk him greatly over his centuries of imprisonment, but he had escaped otherwise without harm. It was a shame about his mute, but one could not fret greatly over that withall. Because, thought Ditherprank, when the shit hits the shrine, there are many mutes in the world but there is only one Ditherprank.

-- Mattias, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, July 11, 2014

Playtesting Song of Hammer & Forge

Last week Tim and I got together to try out the work-in-progress dwarf supplement for Song of Blades & Heroes. Entitled Song of Hammer & Forge, the forthcoming supplement introduces a whole bunch of new rules for the ol' stunty guys, including sections devoted to black powder firearms and artillery. The new additions add a bit of crunch to the game, but longtime SBH fans will be pleased to hear that everything is presented with the same rules-lite flavor of the core game.

We played the Treasure Hunt scenario since we wanted a simple, no-frills scenario to try out the new rules. I made a dwarven warband featuring fighters, halberdiers, a drunk berserker and some boar-mounted cavalry with hand cannons. Here's my warband.

And here are Tim's Tharks, the same warband he's running in our ongoing campaign.

I started out by dispatching my dwarves across the battlefield toward the three treasure markers. We were using a couple new pieces of terrain that I had just completed building over the weekend (the moss-covered ruins).

I kept these guys together for much of the game because I wanted to try out the long reach special rule, which allows the halberdiers to attack over the shoulder of their comrades if they are stacked behind them in close combat. Within a couple of turns, I had my chance! Tim charged his beast into contact with my dwarves, and the halberdier in the second rank was able to dispatch it by stabbing over his buddy's shoulder.

Meanwhile Tim's Tharks were moving ever closer to the three treasure markers on the table. The barrel in the photo below is one of those markers, but only one of the three is the actual treasure (determined randomly before the game started).

The black powder rules are pretty nifty. Basically you fire your gun and it produces a puff of smoke, which drifts across the battlefield according to a the wind's direction (determined at the start of the game, it never changes and is predictable, which is nice). All shooting that passes through a smoke puff suffers a penalty. Here's the outcome after my first shot.

I just so happened to have smoke puffs on hand from way back when I did WWII wargaming, and they looked perfect on the tabletop with my dwarves.

Discharging a black powder weapon for the first time causes all mounts (cavalry, pack horses, etc) on the table to test morale. We forgot to implement this rule, and it might have mattered since Tim's most potent figure was a cavalry model.

Here's another explosive hand cannon shot from the other side of the table.

Black powder weapons and crossbows feature improved stats compared to the SBH shooter rules, but they also require reloading. Depending on the weapon, this typically costs 2 actions and most figures can't move while reloading. I had two dwarves with crossbows and two with hand cannons in our battle, and we found that the reloading rules didn't slow the game down very much.

Song of Hammer & Forge also includes an extensive array of rules about drunk dwarves. Yes, you read that correctly. There are four separate rules to simulate drunken fighters, so I made sure to take one (sloshed) for one of my warriors. The rule proved to just as zany as you might expect; the melee bonuses I received were outweighed by the few times he tottered off in a random direction as a result of a quality check.

Personally I don't see myself using the drunk dwarf rules very much. My dwarves are stoic Norse-inspired heroes, not drunkards teetering from battlefield to brewery and back again. But the drunk dwarf rules do a good job of simulating some of the Warhammer-inspired silliness we've come to expect. 

Even though I found the treasure first, Tim ended up winning the scenario, and this photo is a good example of why. No halberdier in his right mind would go toe-to-claw with a Thoat, but my guy decided this was a prudent course of action for some reason.

I've been eagerly anticipating this ruleset for many months, and this playtest showed it was well worth the wait. I'm looking forward to shelling out some hard-earned cash for this supplement as soon as it's available!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quake & Mourn Campaign: Session 2 Report

Last week a few players got together for some make-up campaign games, so we decided to combine their results with the campaign report from the previous week's game. So we'll call this the Session 2 Report, even though it encompasses games that took place over the last couple of weeks. You can find the locations for the battles by taking a look at our awesome campaign map, which was hand-drawn by Mattias.

The Scourge of Longrieve vs. Deep Woods Vengers vs. Tharks of Wyl'st Horde
Location: Vildeburg, Old Town
Scenario: Tug of War (modified)

This three-player game took place in a ruined section of Vildeburg, the main city in our campaign world. Karl quit the field early, Pat soldiered on and took more casualties, and eventually Tim won by virtue of his impressive firepower. Click here to read an expanded battle report with lots more photo.

The Scourge of Longrieve vs. Deep Woods Vengers vs. Tharks of Wyl'st Horde
Location: Vildeburg, City Center
Scenario: Critters!

Our second three-player game of the evening saw the warbands competing to capture foul, chittering beasts that were pouring out of a magic portal that sprang up in the center of Vildeburg. We used this scenario as an opportunity to really pack the table full of buildings from our fairly impressive shared collection of terrain.

Anyway, Karl won the scenario after ensnaring five demon creatures with his elven warband.

Nobanga's Ronin vs. Deep Woods Vengers
Location: Grimshade Hills, along the edge of the Hollowbone Mountains
Scenario: Defend the Find
Jon's warband, Nobanga's Band of Ronin, faced off against Karl's Deep Woods Vengers as they struggled to "Defend the Find," in this case two barrels of potent healing water from a sacred spring. The spring, located in the wilds where the Grimshade Hills meet the Hollowbone Mountains, is claimed by many factions.

It was a quick battle, and it was cut short when Nobanga himself went down early in a valiant face-off against the elvish horde. He survived the battle, and having no lord to fail, he was luckily not required to commit seppuku.

After the battle, Nobanga's band survived by fleeing across a rope bridge, and the Deep Woods Vengers failed to catch a wolf while exploring a cave. Karl was the winner.

Nobanga's Ronin vs. Tharks of Wyl'st Horde vs. the Deepwood's Vengers 
Location: Brionbock Dale
Scenario: The Streets of Vildeburg (modified)

The three warbands met at a crossroads and began taunting each other and daring the other warbands to come into their territory. We played a quick version of this scenario since we were nearing the end of our game night. The Tharks and Ronin immediately joined forces to defeat the elves, which had bested each of them in previous fights. The elves attempted to flee, but their leader, the Bearer of the Headstaff, went down in combat, causing even more confusion in retreat.

Soon the elves were out, and the Ronin swarmed across the table and seized their opponents' territory. Victory went to the Ronin! After the battle, Karl's leader survived, but the attacker's blades must have been tainted, for he is now a mutant!

The Tainted Thegn and His Dire Men vs. Green Orc Raiders
Location: Valkenrath Palisades
Scenario: All-Out Battle
This report was missing from the session one blog post from a couple of weeks ago, so we're just now getting around to it. Mattias and Mike fought a battle in the shadows of the Valkenrath mountains. The orc leaders were fighting under a cursed moon this night, because victory went to the Dire Men in quick fashion. But even so, Blind Krell, standard bearer to the Tainted Thegn, was slain. The Banner of the Mumbling, Many-eyed Thing must now pass into new hands. Perhaps the hands of someone who is not so blind? After the battle, the Dire Men came to a Cursed Glade. Toller Brigg, a scout for the foul agents, was first to wander in and will be fighting the next battle with a -1 Quality penalty. The orcs, of course, found an ale house.

We're playing again next week, so stay tuned for more campaign games!

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Quake & Mourn Campaign: Tug of War in the Ruined City

Last week a few of us got together for a couple more campaign games. Since there were three players available, we found some multiplayer scenarios in the big Song of Blades & Heroes scenario book that we've been using for the campaign. If you've not flipped through it before, it's worth a look; the book is full of scenarios ported over from Warhammer Fantasy and Mordheim, all ready to play in Song of Blades & Heroes.

The first game took place in Vildeburg's Old Town neighborhood, an urban district strewn with crumbling ruins. The three warbands (Tim's Tharks, Karl's Deep Woods Vengers, and Pat's Scourge of Longrieve) were battling to seize control of the ruins, as rumor had it that they housed an entrance into the sewers and dungeons beneath Vildeburg.

Here are Karl's elves in their deployment zone.

Here are Tim's Tharks arranged at the edge of the city district.

And here are my chaos raiders, known collectively as the Scourge of Longrieve.

And with that, we were off! Karl and Tim were a bit closer than I was, so they opened the game with a series of probing attacks against each other. Here Tim's Tharks advance through the outlying streets.

Karl sent his elven prince galloping ahead into the ruins, where he hoped to secure an early foothold.

Meanwhile, his archers advanced as a group, hoping to use their group fire ability.

Across the table, Har'Khul the Mindflayer mustered his warriors and sent them scurrying through the ruins, hoping to seize the objective.

In the background of the pic below, you can see the ghoul that I found in last session's game. He joined my team and was happy for the chance to prove his undead worth to Har'Khul.

Here's a look at the Old Town district in the center. You can see figures from all three factions beginning to infiltrate the ruins.

Alas, it was right around this point that Karl's warband took a turn for the tragic. His winged elf goddess was slain in single combat, along with a few more elvish casualties, which prompted Karl to quit the field before his losses mounted. Here are his elves beating a hasty retreat off the battlefield.

That meant it was all up to me to stymie Tim's advance. His Tharks were marauding through the ruins by this point, so I sent my shock troops in as quickly as I could. Alas, poor dice rolling swung the game in Tim's favor pretty quickly. Here are a couple more pics of the carnage before I yielded and withdrew.

It was a great game, and we all got gold and loot in varying degrees after the campaign was over. Song of Deeds & Glory has a nice, extensive list of random tables that you roll on after each battle to determine the fate of casualties, as well as whether or not you found anything cool in the territory you just fought over.

We actually ended up playing two games that night, so check back soon for our next battle report!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Sunday, June 29, 2014

In Praise of Warhammer 40,000 and Games Workshop

And now, for something completely different...

A recent topic on Dakka Dakka encouraged members to defy the current negativity about Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000 and share what's good about it.

This got me thinking. I'm someone who deliberately chose not to continue playing 40k with the advent of 7th edition, as I just couldn't see shelling out another $180 ($80 rulebook and two new $50 army books) to keep my hand in a game I don't really play anymore.

However, I have many fond memories of 40k. It was my first and only wargame for many years, and I would likely not be a wargamer today if not for it's early influence. I know for a fact that several other folks in my game club found their way to wargaming through a similar path blazed by 40k.

So, what are the good points of 40k? Does the "Games Workshop Hobby" have anything to recommend it? From the point of view of someone who has ditched 40k, I'd like to remind us of five broad ways in which 40k and Games Workshop are actually quite good.

1. The Universe
The background of the Warhammer 40,000 universe is very wide -- but not very deep. It is repeatedly presented in rulebooks and supplements as being to broad to even hope to describe. In various timelines, entire centuries of the 40k timeline are described with simple phrases or one-line notations. This vagueness and lack of definition is seen by some to be a bad thing, but it's actually one of the ways that 40k keeps being such a fun sandbox in which folks can do their own thing.

By contrast, the Battletech universe (my personal favorite gaming universe) is much more thoroughly and richly developed, with more detail and consistency, and a historical timeline that progresses. However, this richness leaves much less room for creating one's on niche. Technology and factions are fairly nailed down, aliens aren't part of the equation, and the borders of that universe are pretty well circumscribed.

The boundaries 40k universe, however, are much less defined, and there's room for the creative player to incorporate just about anything. A look at 40k fiction demonstrates this. The universe is so vast that it encompasses the gritty Gaunts Ghosts, the slapstick parody of Caiaphas Cain, and the latest offering of Space Marine bolter-porn.

2. The Models
It has never been true -- as the company so often states -- that Games Workshop is definitively "the best" maker of model soldiers. However, they have always been near the top. Like any company, they have some stinkers, and their style is definitely not to everyone's taste. However, it's hard to deny that they put out a lot of great models with a regularity that's hard to beat.

Just last week, Josh showed us a kit of wood elves on stags, which I had to admit were really gorgeous models! Also, their multipart kits offer more variety and customizability that almost any other product out there (with a notable few exceptions, none of which are made by companies that come anywhere near GW's output).

3. The Production Values
The presentation of Games Workshop products and printed materials has always been very slick and extremely pretty. Say what you will about White Dwarf magazine, but it has always one of the best looking hobby magazines you could have by the toilet. Those same production values have been present in GW gaming books, box art and promotional materials going back many years.

Folks will argue style versus substance, but there is something really nice about a really good-looking wargames book. GW has dominated in this field for years, and it's only in the last decade that other gaming companies have truly started to catch up. Starting with Privateer Press and continuing on into products like Tomorrow's War and Kings of War, we can finally say that rule publishers have realized that gamers appreciate superlative production values.

4. Long-Term Value
Games Workshop miniatures have a value that extends beyond the original purchase in a way that exceeds most other wargames miniatures. This makes it financially easier for GW players to switch armies -- they simply sell off their existing army at 30% or 40% of its original retail value and then re-invest in another force.

This innate value has created an enormous, thriving second-hand market where it is not difficult for the thrifty newbie to enter a GW game for a decent discount. To be clear, that lower price is often still more expensive than other games. However, it is still a good discount, and the decades-long history of GW means that older versions of models are often available at an even lower price point. I have funded quite a bit of my own gaming hobby by buying and reselling used GW miniatures over the years.

5. Ubiquity
This last facet is perhaps the most important. Games Workshop is still -- in many areas -- the "only game in town" insofar as miniatures wargaming is concerned. That means that each overpriced model kit has an extra surprise packaged inside: a built-in community of gamers. That's a feature that should not be underestimated. 

I have to admit that if I didn't have access to the great group of indie gamers, I'd probably still be shelling out GW bucks. As much as it would hurt my wallet, I know that it'd be easy to find someone to play against. For those for whom the experience of playing games with other people is a vital part of wargaming, the ubiquity and built-in community of Games Workshop games is a very tangible benefit and likely one worth paying for.

So there you have it, the 40k recipe has a lot going for it. It's not my favorite flavor anymore, but theres more than enough quality ingredients for me to completely understand why many do partake. As for why I'm not ordering from the GW menu anymore, just take a look at the mouthwatering buffet that is the rest of this this blog.

So what do you love about Games Workshop or 40k? Let me know in the comments below!

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Monday, June 23, 2014

Quake and Mourn Campaign: Session 1 Report

Last week we kicked off our summer Song of Blades & Heroes campaign. As before, this takes place in the lands of Qaarra, though we've advanced the narrative to create a palpable sense of doom and gloom over the lands. Here's the roster of participants so far.

  • Josh: The Wild Druids of Vitu Daru, a woodland warband with lots of animals and treefolk 
  • Pat: The Scourge of Longrieve, a union of evil raiders 
  • Mattias: The Tainted Thegn and his Dire Men, a group of mounted barbarian horsemen 
  •  Mike M: Orc marauders, a ferocious orc warband 
  • Tim: Tharks of the Wyl'st Horde, a group of Burroughsian six-limbed giant green men. Origins unknown ... are they from the red planet? 
  • Karl: Deepwoods Vengers, Wood elves on a campaign
  • Terrence: The Unnamed, a dishonored black orc war party

Before each battle, players rolled on a chart below to determine the location and the scenario played. Players also had the option to choose their own scenario and location. We're really trying to avoid the classic "kill-em-all" default scenario with this campaign. A few battle reports might be forthcoming, but for now, here's a summary of the night's events:

The Scourge of Longrieve vs. Orc Marauders
Location: Longrieve Home
Scenario: The Reaping of Longrieve (custom scenario)

The Scourge of Longrieve made their campaign debut in a custom scenario that pitted the raiders against a disorganized but numerically superior group of orcs.

The scenario deployment required both warbands to deploy their figures relatively far apart, which made it difficult for either side to muster effective assaults.

After a grueling early game, the dark warriors of Longrieve overwhelmed the orcs and marched off into the wilderness.
Victory: The Scourge of Longrieve (Pat)

Wild Druids of Vitu Daru vs. Tharks of the Wyl'st Horde
Location: Arboria of Vitu Daru
Scenario: Attack on Vitu Daru (custom)
In their home territory, the Wild Druids of Vitu Daru were set upon by the Tharks in a custom scenario created by Josh.

The Druids were attempting to complete a ritual deep in the dense, tangled woodlands of Vitu Daru. The Tharks, of course, would have none of that!

Ultimately, though, the druids drove off the Tharks. Though defeated, the Tharks, still managed to find a hoard of 25 gold after the battle, and the Druids reclaimed an ancient watchtower on the border of their lands.
Victory: Wild Druids of Vitu Daru

Tharks of the Wyl'st Horde vs. The Deep Woods Vengers

Location: Brionbock Dale
Scenario: Take the High Ground
The Tharks swiftly sent a large portion of their force up onto the hill, while below Karl's Wood Elves struggled to ascend. After having two of their number slaughtered by the Tharks, the Elves fled in shame. 

After the fighting, the Tharks discovered a corpse with 15 gold pieces. The wily Elves came across a caravan and shrewdly bargained their way into 20 gold.
Victory: Tharks of the Wyl'st Horde (Tim)

Deep Woods Vengers vs. The Unnamed Orcs
Location: The Scrying Stones
Scenario: Defend the Find
The Deep Woods Vengers were ranging though the Scrying Stones when they came across the Unnamed Orcs setting up camp in one of the abandoned Scrying Temples. Both sides quickly girded for battle. Karl's flying elvish queen was responsible for two gruesome kills -- including a hero, who luckily recovered after the battle -- that broke the orcs before they were able to concentrate their forces. After the battle, the fleeing orc force became lost, and the Elves discovered a magic well in the scrying stones in which they found a charmstone.
Victory: Deep Woods Vengers (Karl)

The Scourge of Longrieve vs. the Tainted Thegn's Dire Men

Scenario: Song of the Ancients (modified)
Location:  Tallenwood Forest
Pat's raiders were attempting to protect a necromancer while he conducted a ritual atop a heathen altar. The battle quickly went against Mattias's dire horsemen, and he wisely quit the field on turn 2 to avoid any further casualties.

Luckily, both of his wounded horsemen returned to the warband. After the battle, the Dire Men met with more misfortune as they came across a trap, which dazed one member of the warband. The Scourge of Longrieve, on the other hand, had a stroke of good luck, stumbling into a haunted forest and recruiting a ghoul to join their warband.
Victory: The Scourge of Longrieve (Pat)

Tharks of the Wyl'st Horde vs. Unnamed Orcs

Location: Sunderstone Badlands
Scenario: Defend the Watchtower
Still on a rampage of conquest, the Tharks attacked a watchtower controlled by the Unnamed Orcs. The Unnamed improved their standing by routing the Tharks off the table. The Unnamed Orcs found yet another watchtower in the wilderlands after the battle. Yep, sometimes that random exploration chart is a fickle mistress. The Tharks found a keg of beer with which to celebrate their battle prowess.
Victory: Tharks

Victory Records

  • The Druids of Vitu Daru (Josh)  1-0 
  • The Scourge of Longrieve (Pat) 2-0 
  • The Tainted Theon and his Dire Men (Mattias) 0-1 
  • Orc Marauders (Mike M.) 0-2 
  • Tharks of the Wyl'st Horde (Tim) 1-2
  • Deep Woods Vengers (Karl) 1-1 
  • The Unnamed Orcs (Terrence) 1-1

 We're off to a great start with lots of flavorful war bands and a great bunch of players. Stay tuned for a summer of chaos and adventure in the Qaarra!

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member