[WFRP] “In The Year 2525…” From the journals of Ariette von Carstein. Extract 2.

Lalla Ward, Vampire Circus, 1972

The night before, my dears, was a night and a half. Imagine, if you will, my delight at discovering Middenheim’s soul not yet fully crushed by the siege, and the poor souls thronging the streets; imagine my joy that the Red Moon’s doors were still open and the enchanting voice of its hostess still set the night ablaze. Eva is every bit as lovely as I’d been led to believe, and her companion, Magistrix Eberhauer, an utter charmer.

But needs must, on mission and revenge, and I made my way back to the Untergardners’ enclave in Grunpark. My companions on the road had been busy; I could tell from the lightness of their purses and the burdens in their arms that something was afoot. Woe and alas, they greeted me with more suspicion than I feel I deserved; they pressed me for the rhyme and reason behind my wanting to trace an expatriate dwarf with every reason to hate me and all my kin.

In the end I bartered with them; gave them a little titbit or two from the Red Moon’s tables. The grimoire their old witch had carried with them? Genuine. A magician of the Amber College had been in hiding in Untergard for I don’t even know how long, for reasons I’d like to know but simply lack the time to plumb. The scrip tucked in the back? Also genuine. Dark Magic – the other kind – and apparently likely obtained through the old Wyndward Haulage, a front for a cult even my Lord remembers. In return, they let me know Stormwarden is alive and living in Middenheim, and agreed to represent him on my behalf – purely to recover an heirloom of my house. They can’t know how important this is; I’m sure they think I’ve given away too much, but a book I can learn from and a scrap of paper that could kill me are mere trifles compared to… it.

While I was changing, I bore witness to a scuffle outside; some local toughs throwing their weight around, demanding to see and no doubt put the fear into Captain Schiller, who I gather has been reinstated to the Watch and not before time. Leni, the Mootlander, took a whack to the head, but the others saw the ruffians off quite nicely, and when done… changing… I set out in pursuit. Can’t hurt to keep an eye on the Untergardners, and besides, after three days I was feeling a little peckish. I hadn’t dined, after all, since the caravan was attacked.

My little gaggle of mortal friends, I heard later, were off to see Stormwarden. I wonder if he told them?

Those of us not limited to Ariette’s perspective would probably like to know that he did not. Far from it. The phrase he used was something along the lines of “tell her if she comes near me I’ll split her pretty face in two and see if it grows back.”

I had a lot of fun with this one. The Racketeers who showed up were another Random Encounter from Warhammer City (and a Beggar also showed up on the way back from Stormwarden’s place, while the players were discussing what to do about Ariette, her ‘heirloom’, and their promise to Stormwarden that they’d keep the one very very far away from the other), but all the random encounters so far have led to some fun emergent subplotting with the Margraf, his specific choice of hostelry, his obviously-former-thief-bodyguard, and the Man who Comes Around and more or less runs the district they’ve ended up in. If this vampire deal runs dry, we have a run of other threads leading to the Man and the criminal underclass behind him, the Purple Hand, and now the Graf of Middenheim since the players are determined to out Ariette to him. Which will be interesting. So I have some statting to do for the next session, because it’s about time some of this stuff became concrete.

[WFB] The Inimitable Stylings of Mike Walker (with full WD article list)

The year, you see, was 1998. I had been in t’obby for almost two years and, after cutting my teeth on the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, was starting to sniff around something with swords, boards, and square bases.*

Mike Walker’s first article for White Dwarf was almost perfectly timed. To a lad who liked Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Spike Milligan, and also happened to be curious about Warhammer, this article was brain dynamite. It was funny**, it was apposite, and it was all paced and delivered in such a way that you couldn’t miss the point even if you were busy laughing at the bits about Kim Basinger and Goblins with silly names.

From brain dynamite to brain tape, Mike’s articles kept on coming out every now and then, petering out in the same month that I was off to university. Perhaps that accident of timing accounts for a lot; it’s the secondary school years that cement our sense of nostalgia out here in Middlehammer-land, and mine were, in a small way, guided by the irregular transmissions from a double garage somewhere in soggy Wiltshire. This was Warhammer the way I was playing it, on temporary boards laid over kitchen tables and double beds, and later the pub-in-the-club above the Hyde Park in Plymouth. Army lists may be quite cutthroat but characters had silly or at least referential names and it was the daft circumstantial moments rather than the brilliant tactics that made the longest impressions.

I’ve read and reread them over the years***, and a few years ago when I was writing for the now-defunct House of Paincakes Blog Network, I happened to mention Mike Walker in passing while talking up the relaunch of White Dwarf.

To my eternal delight, the man himself materialised in the comments. Not just to say thank you and gaze mournfully toward the garage door where, presumably, Dug Bugman and co. still languish in ancient toolboxes – ho no. Mike was courteous enough to provide a full list of his contributions to White Dwarf over the years, which I reproduce here (well, down there) along with some of my own hopefully-helpful notes on what’s in them****.

  • 224 (August 1998) – First Encounters of the Warhammer Kind – inc. The Battle of Newberry Pass scenario
  • 226 (October 1998) – The Battle of Iron Axe Ridge – a scenario for large armies on small tables
  • 230 (February 1999) – Thump & Grind – tactics for beating Skaven
  • 231 (March 1999) – Putting the Ploy in Deployment – a five step program for putting your models in the right place – before you fight, remember to SCRAP!
  • 232 (April 1999) – Fighting with Cold Blood – tactics for playing with and against Lizardmen
  • 233 (May 1999) – Like a Rat out of Hell – Battle Report, Mike’s Dwarfs vs. Gareth Hamilton’s tournament-tuned Skaven and some frankly dodgy rules calls. Mike wuz robbed!
  • 236 (August 1999) – Top Gear? – Chariot tactics and test drive
  • 241 (January 2000) – A Touching Dilemma – [not sure about this one, don’t have the issue any more]
  • 246 (June 2000) – The Gentle Art of Getting Fired – tactics for units that shoot things
  • 253 (January 2001) – Dicing with Magic – a walkthrough of the sixth edition WFB magic system
  • 254 (February 2001) – Unnatural Selection -approaches to army lists and setup for Mike’s league report
  • 256 (April 2001) – Dansing with Wolves – Mike’s league report, part one, and a kick in the eye for anyone who thinks Ravening Hordes was “balanced”.
  • 257 (May 2001) – It Ain’t Easy Being Green – Mike’s league report, part two, and a review of his Orc and Goblin army list
  • 258 (June 2001) – Fifteen Ways to Leave your Cover – how to ensure satisfactory terrain bunging
  • 260 (August 2001) – To Kill a Bloodthirster – if you need to be told what this is about, you are beyond help
  • 270 (June 2002) – The Strong, The Short and The Small – [Dwarf tactics, IIRC, but I don’t have a copy to check]
  • 273 (September 2002) – Pale Riders – Fast Cavalry tactics and comforting advice for Dwarf and Skaven players
  • 282 (June 2003) – The Black Art – [something about Mike’s brief dalliance with a Vampire Counts army, if anyone has this issue I want it]
  • 290 (January 2004) – Extreme Measures – on the perils and pitfalls of measuring, guessing and wrangling ranges
  • 297 (September 2004) – How to Lose at Warhammer – which I read right before I went off to university, and it might have been the same one that had the Army of Sylvania background in it, so in case you’re wondering how I turned out to be the way I am, blame this issue of WD.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a series at least as opinionated as Stillmania, and just as influential on the minds of young hobbyists (or at least me), there it is. Dig ’em all out, there’s a fan archive that will get you started (look, they’re not available through legitimate means and I’m sure as hell not buying cranchity old mags at collector’s markup, I have some standards) and have a butchers.

I’ve got to go now. The clouds have temporarily lifted from South Wales, and since I haven’t the faintest idea how to make hay while the sun shines, I’m going to do the next best thing and paint a Liche Priest. Come back next time, when there’ll be much more late-Nineties White Dwarf nostalgia and a sudden attack of the challenges…

*Memo to self: Swords, Boards and Square Bases would be an ideal name for the other sort of Middlehammer blog, the sort where you go boss-eyed and froth every time someone even says “Age of Sigmar”.
**I think it still is, but in some key respects I have never stopped being twelve. If I stop and think about it all I am of course far too mature to find the names “Wobblebottom Rumblebelly” or “Bugman’s Ultimate Response Patrol” at all amusing, but if you start thinking like that you end up far too mature to be playing with toy soldiers at your age, so – I’d watch out for that sort of thing if I was you.
***The ones I can still find, anyway. My original White Dwarfs were practically given away at a car boot sale just before I went to university, along with my second edition 40K and fifth edition WFB stuff. I should regret this more than I do, but eighteen year old me was delighted to pass them on to a twelve year old newly-minted hobbyist and honestly, I hope he still has them somewhere.
****I took a lot of things from Mike, including my love of footnotes and deeply unhelpful titles. I know titles like WFB MIKE WALKER WARHAMMER MIDDLEHAMMER FULL ARTICLE LIST WHITE DWARF L@@K would be better for baiting the clicks and optimising the search engines, but gosh it would be so boring.

[WFB] Battle Reports: The March on Caerdydd

Once, perhaps, this had been a Good Place. There had been grand towers and a safe harbour; a shining light of civilisation in the grim darkness of what the inhabitants, in their folly, called the Old World.

Then the elves had left. And then others had come. Columns of them, marching in perfect step, their ragged uniforms hanging loose on old bones and mouldering grave-meat, the howls of wolves in their vanguard and the shriek of a thousand bats in their train.

Lord Ruthven spurred his horse, more out of habit than anything – the beast would do as it was bade by an effort of will, but he wanted to put the boot into something today and by all the Powers, the horse was right there. Trotting up the wide old steps of the curtain wall, it bore him to a vantage point, and came to a halt without a hand on the rein.

He had not been wrong. To the north, a trail of destruction marked the ride of the Chaos hordes – trees felled for crude bridges, buildings toppled purely because they were in the way. Their wake offended his eyes – it was like a void in the world, the Winds of Magic deformed around one almighty Presence at their head.

Yet as his eyes turned to the west, he saw the dragonship riding at anchor. Ulthuan had come to punish the previous year’s raids; Ulthuan had come to reclaim its own. The High Elves were striking their camp by the shore already; they would be at the Shrine of the Old Ones well before dawn.

Lord Ruthven kicked his horse again, this time out of sheer frustration, and drove it into a canter, riding back along the column. Where was the degenerate when he was needed…

“Varney! Take your knights and ride north! Hold the hill forts until sunrise, no matter what comes your way. I ride for the Shrine!”

There were interlopers in his domain.

This would not do.

They have come, as the prophecy hath foretold. They have arrived in a land of permanent gloom, of mist-shrouded valleys and muttering suspicious yokels, where a castle looms ominous from every craggen hilltop. Am I talking about Wales or Sylvania? Does it really matter?

Look at them. Look at their foolish, optimistic little faces.

By the time I had risen from the crypt and invoked the black arts of Trafnidiaeth Cymru to deliver me, Daemon Dan Wilson’s Hordes of Chaos were already ready to Breakthrough. A third of the Chaos host would have to get them behind me in order to break the line and win the day (and as luck would have it, that’s 666 points’ worth, an ill omen if there ever was one).

There’s rather a lot of them, aren’t there?

Daemon Prince: Mark of Khorne, Soul Hunger, Aether Blade, Master of Mortals
Exalted Hero: Mark of Khorne, shield, barded Chaos horsey, Sword of Might
Aspiring Hero: Mark of Khorne, shield
16 Warriors of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command
12 Chosen Warriors of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command
5 Knights of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command
5 Chosen Knights of Chaos: Mark of Khorne, full command, Banner of Rage

Subtlety , as you can see, is not a priority here.

We do not throw games to beginners.
We give beginners the stand-up fights for which their souls cry out.
We tailor and we’re proud of it.

Sir Francis Varney: Blood Dragon Vampire Count with extra magic level, Cursed Shield of Mousillon, Ring of the Night, Black Periapt and Blademaster (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Hand of Dust)
Emmanuelle: Wraith with Cursed Book
Rosenkratz: Necromancer with extra magic level and Book of Arkhan (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Curse of Years)
Guildenstern: Necromancer with extra magic level and Staff of Damnation (Necromancy: Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, Curse of Years)
First of Foot: 18 Skeletons with spears, light armour, flag waggler, drum bonker
Templehof Militia: 15 Zombies
Templehof Levy: 15 Zombies
Black Monks of St. Herod: 5 Spirit Host bases
Old Knights of the Black Cross: 8 Black Knights with barding, full command group, and Banner of the Dead Legion
New Knights of the Black Cross: 8 Black Knights with barding, full command group, and War Banner

The battle-lines are drawn up…
Rosenkratz has had a splitting headache ever since that Daemon-thing gave him the side-eye, and he has utterly forgotten how to cast spells. No… Khorne is here, Khorne is watching, and Khorne demands valour and strength at arms! And who is Rosenkrantz to argue, when he stands alone against a charge that has ripped his bodyguard out of the world?
Hounded by a curse that won’t seem to shift, these Warriors of Chaos meet the Undead counter-charge head-on. Though Varney cuts down their Hero before he can finish saying “I challenge you to a duel before the Blood God’s gaze!”, they are made of sterner stuff, and hold…
The Daemon descends, and Varney orders his skeletons to part their ranks. This one is for him. This was the battle he was reborn to fight. In a flurry of steel and claws, the air heavy with the Cursed Book’s foul aura, Varney fights the Prince of Daemons to a standstill; each can land a blow or two upon the other, but the killing stroke eludes them. Khorne is watching, and permits no Hand of Dust be raised – so Varney has to do this the hard way…
Carnage has ensued. The levies of the Black Cross lie devastated, the Black Monks banished, but the back of the Chaos invasion is broken as the Prince vanishes to realms best left unmentioned. While the Chosen Knights are still at large, victory belongs to the Undead!

This game turned on a handful of dice rolls, but it didn’t feel like that – not at all. It felt tense as hell, largely because Dan had a good dozen dice to throw at every combat, and I had similar numbers for every spell. But mechanically, it came down to:

  1. Me rolling two Curse of Years spells at the start.
  2. Me casting one Curse of Years with Irresistible Force, and the other with a Miscast that cast the spell with Irresistible Force, in turn one of all things. Dan spent most of the game trying to Dispel these but couldn’t show a ten to save his life, so they stayed in play and whittled down his infantry until he removed the Necromancers the old-fashioned way – by ramming Chaos Knights into them.
  3. Dan failing one crucial Instability check with his Daemon Prince right when backup was on the way, his Chosen Knights having spent slightly too long chewing through Spirit Hosts, raised Zombies, and not-raised Zombies.

Meanwhile, within the ruined city proper, Lord Ruthven prepares to contest with the High Elves for the ruined Shrine of the Cytherai in a Capture scenario. Intrigue at court meant the People’s Prince Ben Panting would have to leave after the minimum four turns… and that wasn’t the only intrigue that held him back.

Prince Thanadin’s expedition advances in column, driving for the ruined Shrine, with skirmishers from Nagarythe covering the flanks…

Prince Thanadin: Elf… Prince… on a barded Steed, with Armour of Protection and the Amulet of the Purifying Flame
Cerith: Elf Mage, with extra magic level, a barded Elven Steed, the Seer honour, and a Dispel Scroll (High Magic: Flames of the Phoenix, Vaul’s Unmaking, Drain Magic.)
Daveorn: Elf Mage, with extra magic level, the Pure of Heart honour, and the Ring of Fury (Light Magic: I’d like to say I could remember but he never got to cast anything.)
10 Archers
10 Archers
20 Spearmen with full command group
10 Silver Helms with shields, heavy armour, full command group and the Lion Standard
20 Swordmasters with full command group and the Banner of Ellryian
8 Shadow Warriors
2 Repeater Bolt Throwers

Lord Ruthven’s Redoubt prepare to contest the ground; such precious ground, saturated with Dark Magic, must not be given up without a fight!

Lord Ruthven: Von Carstein Vampire Lord with extra magic level, barded Nightmare, additional hand weapon and the Carstein Ring (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Vanhel’s Danse Macabre, Curse of Years)
Romuald: Von Carstein Vampire Thrall with heavy armour, Battle Standard and Walking Death
Mama Haeckel: Necromancer with extra magic level and a Power Familiar (Necromancy: Invocation of Nehek, Hellish Vigour)
First of Foot: 30 Skeletons: light armour, spears, full command group
Local Yokels: 10 Ghouls with Ghast
Children of the Night (assorted):
2 units of 5 Dire Wolves
1 Bat Swarm base
1 Spirit Hose base
Old Knights of the Black Cross: 6 Black Knights with barding, full command, and Banner of the Barrows
New Knights of the Black Cross: 6 Black Knights with barding, full command, and War Banner
Wailing Nell: Banshee
Wuthering Nancy: Banshee

Once more, unto the breach, dear friends…

Sadly, we didn’t have as much photographic evidence for this one, so you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that Ben… did his best.

Intrigue at Court shafted him by putting Cerith in charge of the army, which left the Silver Helms vulnerable to a stereo performance from my Banshees that ripped a rank off them. That rank would be crucial, because it meant he couldn’t quite amass the combat resolution to get past my Ethereal units (who were supported by the nearby Battle Standard), and his Silver Helms spent the rest of the battle pinned in place by wailing tarts.

Things started to turn around when he cast Flames of the Phoenix and barbecued my Ghouls, and Vaul’s Unmaking to make the Power Familiar go away, but rapidly turned back around when both the Archer units broke in the face of Black Knights and a Curse of Years killed half the Swordmasters off. Daveorn helped by Miscasting his second spell, killing a Swordmaster and injuring his daft self into the bargain, which meant the Curse got him too.

A charge from the First of Foot routed the rest of the Swordmasters, and left the Skeletons and Lord Ruthven parked squarely in the middle of the Shrine while everyone else was fighting ghosts. Had the game gone on a little longer, the surviving Black Knights would have been lined up for some rear charges and, one would hope, thus turned the tide.

I actually felt a bit bad about this one. The Power Familiar in my army was a bit much, and I failed to notice Ben’s utter lack of magic weapons when putting Ethereal units into my army. (In my defence, I expected more magic missiles than what he could bring to bear – the Ring of Fury in particular was a letdown, only doing one wound on one Banshee during the entire battle.)

However! Both the lads seemed to have a nice time, and both remarked on the comparative cleanliness of sixth edition and how it’d be nice to play a 3000 point game of this thing at some stage. I’m down if you are, gentlemen. I may even bring the Dragon.

[WFB] Warhammer For Adults: the New Testament

This weekend, Ben Panting Esq. and the Faithful Dan are crossing the Border and playing some Warhammer Fantasy Battles on my home turf: which means a) Wales and b) the King of Editions, the Edition of Kings, WFB Sixth Edition. This above all things you must recall, else nothing that follows may seem wondrous.

Sixth Edition is unfamiliar territory to both the lads, and Ben in particular has taken every opportunity to sound out the greater Middlehammer movement and seek counsel. Which means he’s had a lot of advice from former tourney-heads. Which in turn means he’s been applying that advice and fine-tuning his list for what he might expect from me. Tailoring it, almost. And back in the day the very thought of list tailoring had me spitting into my snakebite and black*: that’s what Beards and Cheesers and Bad People do! A Good Player can build a Good List and Take All Comers! So say the forums and so mote it be!

And in the context of the time, I was right. But in the context of now, I am wrong. Allow me to explain.

Let us bring Dan into the equation. Dan is playing Hordes of Chaos. He is playing Khorne. And he is a little short for models and wants to use his Daemon Prince, so he has assembled a 2000 point army in which every unit is Marked and many are Chosen. Every unit has immunity to psychology until beaten in combat, at least one bonus attack, and generates an additional die for a Pile of Denial that stretches into the low stratosphere. He has more Dispel dice than my previous list had Power.

In short, purely by playing what he wants to play in the manner in which he wants to play it, knowing nothing of the King of Editions, the Edition of Kings, Dan has tailored a perfect Vampire-brutalising list. To give him a decent and rewarding game rather than the damp squibs I usually churn out when undertuned**, I will have to do likewise. Tailor into him and his collection. It’s the decent thing to do. He’s using what he has; I have the luxury of choice.

When I was a lad, playing fifth edition, I did not. Nor did anyone I knew. And so we ran our regular pocket-money-and-birthday-present lists into each other, because that was all we had the capacity to do. It was rare enough at first for anyone to even bother with points and an army list. I was happy if we had, at least on paper, a fair fight, and so week after week I sent my Chaos Warriors trudging up the field into hails of bows, bolts and bloody High Magic spells, or lurching after Skinks who merrily hovered within eight inches but without ninety degrees for the entire duration. Because that was the only way I could play at all: constrained by the figures.

Later, in those heady glory years of playing sixth edition with my first serious disposable income, the chief constraints were not the figures, but the available space and time. Games were played in GW branches or clubs above pubs, on four foot by four boards with, generally, a queue to use them. There was no time to write up a list on the night – we’d hold things up – and so the games were pick up affairs at modest scale. 1500 points standard, with the occasional top heavy 2000 pointer so we could use Vampire Lords and Dragons and such without crowding the board. But we could get a Border Patrol in, and when we were building new armies or pressed for time, we did. And if there was a Mordheim league or similar on, we’d play that for a month instead. And I played, week after week, because that was the only way I could play at all.

Later still, as a starving graduate student, when the King of Editions had collapsed into “if only Pitched Battles are played, then only Pitched Battles shall be provided!” and my army was showing its age, I tried building another with the limited means available. I had 1000 points of Chaos Warriors, again. The local store played exclusively 2000 point Pitched Battles in preparation for the tourney scene.

If I wanted to play at all, I had to borrow half an army and play with some jank I hadn’t made my own and learned and honed through the slow process of scaling up from Skirmish band to Border Patrol to 1000 to 1500 in scenarios that were built for mismatches to baby’s first 2000 point game – and my opposition would be loaded for bear, as the saying has it. And if that was the only way to play, I wasn’t interested, and WFB began its slow decline into second hand armies, a morass of trading and swapping and desperately searching for the game I had loved in the game it had become.

Now, I am an adult. I play my irregular games in modern, spacious gaming centres, on twenty-four or even thirty-two square feet of sleek neoprene, with a CHAIR. Each! Maybe even a side space for rulebooks, templates, casualties and the midgame pint***. Such, such are the joys. And these games are scheduled weeks in advance with other adults. They are anticipated, pondered over, thirsted after, and gleefully reported on. These games are a big deal. They should be more than the constantly, carelessly shovelled takeaways of the pick up game. They are more of a fine dining experience; a nice treat****.

And this is what makes me think. Dangerous, I know. It reminds me of the admonishments of Brother Ranz, of yesteryear, that a wargame is not escapism: it is played in the real world with and against your chosen opponent. With… and against. With… and against. With… And it’s that With that matters.

When one is an Adult, you see, playing Warhammer for (and against, and with) other Adults, one takes responsibility for fun, rather than expecting the game system to guarantee it. If the Faithful Dan is bringing a Pile of Denial that reaches such a grand extent, and a Daemon Prince, it falls to me to provide a force that can contest with his, that can make the game worth playing.

Back in the day, when we all stuffed our face with the unsatisfactory kebab-stuff of the pickup game twice a night three nights a week, we could afford to write off the duff ones. But now, when every game is arranged with care and anticipated for weeks if not months, we can – nay, must – curate those games to ensure that they are worth playing.

We may wish for an unequal contest. There are scenarios for that, which curate the experience and frame it. That is well and good. What is neither well nor good is the complete stomping that comes out of the blue, when both participants have prepared for their own different sense of a game – and prepared separately.

Which means that my outdated sense of the Ultimate Spirit of Warhammer, derived from Stillmania and authentic Middlehammer as it may be, is still wrong. It is born from a gaming culture and game circumstances of yesteryear, when we all did this all the time. Here and now, walking the one list into every game is leaving too much unplanned and unprepared for. It is on me, and you, and all of us, to play With each other and properly curate our battles, so that when we come to play Against each other we actually have a good time.

Here, for reference and record, is my own sense of the Ultimate Spirit of Warhammer (Revised Standard Version).

The perfect game is arranged a month or two in advance. A scenario is chosen and unless teaching and learning are the goals, it is not a Pitched Battle. Army lists are constructed through a discussion; what do we want out of this game and how can we be sure we get it?

On the day, the big game is teased and trailed with some warm-ups. A Skirmish or two, perhaps a Border Patrol before lunch. The afternoon is the Big Game, a stout 2000-3000 point affair ideally. Play proceeds at a gentlemanly pace without any “gotcha” moments or playing for the draw because it’s a bad match up.

It’s all over by teatime, and the outcome and the pitch for the next game can be discussed over your choice of hearty meal***** and adult beverage. Paid for by the winner, to ease the sting of defeat.

I haven’t quite pulled it off yet. But I live in hope.

* Half lager, half cider, dash of blackcurrant, all from the cheap end of the bar. A foul concoction beloved of goths, students, and anyone else with a minimal desire to remember tonight tomorrow.

** My 4000 point game with Ben was just such a disappointment, and an object lesson in what happens when army lists are not prepared in mutually inclusive detail. Of course, Cheater Panting had two generals, and full control over the best magic deck in fifth edition, so some of this comes down to administrative error and a little can be blamed on the system, but mostly it’s on us for not explaining what our armies did and what our circumstances were.

*** Of shandy, because my liver isn’t what it used to be, possibly because of the snakebite and black.

**** I was waiting for a breakfast order while I wrote this. Can you tell?

***** Or, if you’re me, a cheeseburger shorn of bun, chips and layers of sauce, forced to rely on its own flavoursome properties or lack thereof. No-carbs-where-poss diet, see?

[WFRP] “In The Year 2525…” Kommission for Public Order Digest – Aubentag 2 Sigmarzeit. Extract.

Item: that at two hours before noon a Caravan of Refugees on the Southern Road caused numerous Delays to Traffic while a Halfling among their number strongly disputed the validity of the Graf’s one-shilling-per-leg toll policy.

Item: that enquiries were made to the Elven and Halfling secretaries of the Kommission for Elf, Dwarf and Halfling Interests regarding the person of Kallad Stormwarden, signatory of the KEHDI Articles of Incorporation, donor to the city coffers and living ancestor to the Middenheim dwarf community.

Item: that the personage enquiring at the office of the Halfling Secretary bears passing resemblance to a known Public Nuisance and Exile from the Mootland Electorate.

Item: that similar enquiries are reported to have been made within the Wynd District’s dwarf quarter.

Item: that at around noon a Disturbance was seen in and about Grunpark when operatives of the Citizens’ Vigilance Committee were turned away from an Refugee Camp on the Park’s south-eastern corner, while within the Park proper a drunk did accost a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode and accuse the City’s water supply of “turning honest women into lovely trees.”

Item: that at one hour past noon a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode entered the Merchant’s Guild of the City and demanded directions to a repository of Cake whilst befouling numerous expensive fixtures and causing no small distress to the good burghers within.

Item: that at one and one half hour past noon a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode passed along Morrsweg behaving in a manner most intimidating to residents and refugees alike, before becoming involved in an Fracas with an employee of the Margraf von Totenbar which did lead to the breaking of the Margraf’s Nose and much Anarchic Mirth among the Occupants of the Prospect hostelry.

Item: that at two hours past noon a dishevelled Elf of no fixed abode was seen at the kitchen door of the Harvest Goose hostelry engaging the proprietor in spirited conversation regarding Cake, Mushrooms, and the Gräfin Katarina.

Joakim Ericsson

We continue to prosper. More funny voices and less rolling in this one, as I start to get my mojo back and remember how to improvise. It is coarse acting, to say the least, but the frightened members of the Merchants’ Guild (reminiscent of that “cake and fine wine” bit from Withnail & I) and the absowutewy wudicwous Mawgwaf got a few laughs and that’s what counts.

The Cake, in case you’re wondering, is a classic example of players escalating things. They’re going to see a living ancestor. They should bring him a present. Wait, he used to be a king? They should all bring him a present. Wait, he’s big into interspecies cooperation? They should bring him a present from their own people! And that’s why Siluvain spent her first afternoon in Middenheim trying to find a decent bakery that hadn’t been flattened in the siege… Because for some reason, fancy elven pastry came to mind.

The mushrooms are just a side quest.

It’s the first time I’ve run a campaign where all the characters have been what in a more rigid class-defined RPG would be called “Rogues”, and that’s unusual for me. I’m learning/making up some thieves’ cant for this in preparation for their inevitable encounter with “The Man” or the clientele of the Prospect.

Ariette von Carstein, incidentally, remains at large.

[WFRP] “In The Year 2525”. From the journals of Ariette von Carstein. Extract 1.

In my few years among the Aristocracy of the Night I have endured more than my due share of rude awakenings, it’s true, but this one took the proverbial cake, not to mention the proverbial biscuit – in fact, it made off with the whole proverbial bakery. For this, dear readers, is the day I awoke with an arrow in my gut, another in my knee, shielded from the noonday sun by a pile of corpses until a timorous priest raised up his hand to bless me and all but fainted dead away when he realised I was neither away, nor dead. I suppose I should count my blessings; a moment later and he might have completed his prayer and inadvertently finished me off. To find myself deceased by accident a mere day from journey’s end would be such a humiliating way to go.

The priest’s companions were made of sterner stuff. Apparently they were a refugee caravan from the freistadt of Untergard, somewhere down the river Delb; like so many others they were making their way to Middenheim, the Storm of Chaos having broken upon their homes before dashing itself against the Fauschlag. The witch among them, an old lady named Moeschler, must surely have had me at her mercy – warm hands on cold skin and a wound that cuts without bleeding are such telltale signs – but distracted by her own grief she turned her eyes from me and toward, apparently, a terrible revenge.

I heard all this second hand, of course, having spent a day among the walking wounded (loaded on a wagon with the children of Untergard chirruping in my ears). Much of it was solved for me by the halfling in their company – an unsubtle and salacious sort named Leni, not an unpleasant fellow in a nudge-nudge wink-wink sort of way. Apparently he is an exile of sorts from the Mootland, by choice and inclination – a small man with a large past. He had his suspicions, and at the close of the day I saw fit to confirm them – but ah, I run ahead of myself again.

The other players in this drama – Siluvain of Laurelorn Forest, a self-confessed thief, and Okri of Karak Hirn, a practical fellow who I’m sure is on the make somehow – raced off just after sundown, in pursuit of the runaway Moeschler. It seems the old baggage was more than she seemed – more even than the witch-sight might have told me, since she traded her life for that of the Graf von Sternhaus. I realised the moment the daemon of her vengeance shrieked over our camp (and set that twittering priest on his rump in a faint – hilarious!) that the game was up, and when it descended in fire and fury on Sternhause hill I was sure my journey would be wasted.

It was not to be so. When Siluvain and Okri returned from their pursuit, they had the body of the unfortunate gammer – burned out as her vengeance consumed her at the last – and crucially, not only her journeyman’s grimoire but the very text of the rite she had wrought! The fourth and last of their little party – a surly, surely somehow damaged peasant girl named Jarla who reminded me a little too much of my own humble origins – was all for burning the lot, witch and book and scroll all together. Cooler heads prevailed, and the prospect of investigating how she came by the rite edged out simply destroying it for safety’s sake.

While I had to vouch for my true nature – confronted with a direct question by the halfling Leni, who is not so much a fool as he acts – they have seen fit to trust me nonetheless, even so far as to grant me custody of the grimoire. They overestimate my abilities somewhat, but only somewhat, and I have learned from my master that one takes one’s lore where one finds it. I’m sure a delicate touch with the Fifth Wind will serve me well in some capacity, some day.

For the time being, with my journey curtailed, I elected to join the refugees and return with them to the City of the White Wolf. I confess myself curious about this ritual and its origins, not to mention Middenheim, a city I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing from the outside (and then only from a distance, with half the armies of the Conqueror between me and the gates). Provided the yokels of Untergard don’t see fit to bury me with a stake of hawthorn through my heart or some such rubbish, that is. We are two days out from Middenheim, and provided that the girl Jarla can keep her mouth shut around the priest, all should be well.

credit: Kugel Schreiber @ Malleus Maleficarum

And now, an explanation of sorts. In an attempt to blow the dust off my dormant “actually running games” skills and recover some of the joy that has dribbled out of my ears in recent months, I sat down with some friends and colleagues from le Twitch community (and Hark) and played through the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play second edition starter adventure, Through the Drakwald.

Now, Through The Drakwald sucks. It’s a collection of plot hooks thrown together without any hint of payoff – teasers that go nowhere, arbitrary scripted NPC deaths, and a heavy dependence on “roll to do anything” gamesmastery and “the party is together because the party is together” playstyle to actually have anything happen at all. The Oldenhaller Contract it is not. But I ran it anyway, because I could see how something good might be made of it with the little towns that all hate each other and the post-Storm-of-Chaos setting if it was made into something that just talked to itself a little better.

Also, everything is better with vampires, and Ariette von Carstein is one of the better NPCs from Night’s Dark Masters, so I swapped a badly injured Ariette (claiming to have been stabbed up by the Beastmen who replaced the arbitrary they-don’t-even-show-up-what-is-this-dead-end-shit Goblins) for the arbitrarily dead Father Dietrich and started grooming Dietrich as an antagonist. There were other changes – better foreshadowing around the gathering of the Beastman’s horn for the ritual, facilitated by putting a proper Beastman into the mutant attack at the start, and a general anti authoritarian streak derived from first edition WFRP, a party with three criminals in it, and the free town nature of Untergard itself. Perhaps having Granny Moeschler actually own a journeyman’s book of Amber magic was a bit much, but I wanted to get some decent loot in there to replace the icon of Sigmar, and it did prove to be a talking point at the end of the (long, too long) session.

It seemed to go well. Three out of four players will be back next time; the fourth enjoyed the roleplaying but found WFRP a counter-intuitive headache, which it is, and graciously permitted me to turn their character into a semi-sympathetic antagonist, which will make a fine B-plot once we arrive in Middenheim and I can settle into my preferred “intrigue and investigation in an urban sandbox” mode. I always like having a GMPC in WFRP – for some reason the concept seems to suit the mode – and Ariette might as well be tailor made for me. And since the players decided that Obviously the Bad Graf who did Granny wrong a century ago was another vampire and that made the timescale of the stupid adventure make sense, and the First Law at my table is “if the players come up with something better just fucking roll with it”, we have a burned-out daemon-haunted vampire lair to explore if the players get bored of being in town and decide to head back into the woods at some point.

So yeah, I’m running a WFRP campaign again. It’s good to be back.

This isn’t the only thing I’m doing, but there’ll be more on that later.

[WFB] Three Lists of a Thursday Night (Sixth Edition)

The first is simple enough: a to-do list, if you will. All in, the Mantic miniatures I own amount to 1200 points and will make a fine, upstanding start to a greater Tomb Kings force. They’re already primed, unlike the rest of my wastrels, and I’ve just this moment had a bit of a revelation about how I might like to proceed with this project. It involves using exactly one (1) Citadel Miniature, that being Neferata, and building the rest of the army out of stuff that’s currently available from companies who are actively making things. I mean: the only reason I went looking for Citadel chariots in the first place was because Mantic don’t make them, but now I know Tabletop Miniatures Solutions exist…

That seems like a pretty righteous solution. But in the meantime, here’s an army/to-do list:

Various Empire of Dust miniatures, spray-primed a nice sandy colour.
Nothing else remains, beside that great decay –
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Hero: Tomb Prince: 152
light armour, Crook and Flail of Radiance

Hero: Liche Priest: 160
Cloak of the Dunes, Hieratic Jar

Hero: Icon Bearer: 107
light armour, Icon of Rakaph

Core: 10 Skeletons: 90
light armour, bows

Core: 10 Skeletons: 90
light armour, bows

Core: 20 Skeletons: 210
light armour, standard, musician, Champion

Special: 3 Ushabti: 195

Special: 3 Ushabti: 195

Rare: Screaming Skull Catapult: 110
Skulls of the Foe

Total: 1199

Basic tactic is And Let The Heavens Be Darkened With Arrows, right out of the book: castle up around the Catapult, let rip with as much firepower as I can get up and in the air, and counter-attack with the Skeletons and Ushabti once the enemy are within scrobbling distance. The Prince is kitted out to strike fast and first, the Liche Priest to flee if the formation becomes insecure and also to potentially whack out an extra Incantation if necessary, and the Icon Bearer to put a bit of hustle in the Skeleton Warriors if they end up out of position.

The second list is a response to Mr. Panting’s little challenge. As he aligns himself with the King of Editions, the Edition of Kings, he’s asking those of us who were right all along to produce a 2000 point army list that we like. I produced a lot of 2000 point army lists back in the day, some more likeable than others, but here’s the current one that’s tickling my bristles. It’s an Army of Sylvania, by the way:

Lord + Hero: Vampire Lord: 439
Level 3 Wizard, additional hand weapon, barded Nightmare, Aura of Dark Majesty, Book of Arkhan, Ring of the Night

Hero: Necromancer: 140
Level 2 Wizard, Spell Familiar, Dispel Scroll

Hero: Vampire Thrall: 159
Army Standard, heavy armour, Walking Death, Talisman of Protection

Core: 30 Skeletons: 355
Light armour, spears, standard bearer, musician, Champion

Core: 10 Ghouls: 90
Ghast

Core: 5 Dire Wolves: 50

Core: 5 Dire Wolves: 50

Core: Bat Swarm: 120
2 bases

Special: 5 Black Knights: 141
Barding, standard bearer

Special: 5 Black Knights: 141
Barding, standard bearer

Special: Spirit Host: 130
2 bases

Rare: Banshee: 90

Rare: Banshee: 90

Total: 1995

There are several ways to play this one. It can form a block around the Skeletons, with the Dire Wolves, Bats and Spirit Host screening for the Skeletons, Vampire and Knights behind, and come on in waves; it can refuse a flank, with the two Swarm units set up there to interfere and press while the cavalry stack on one side and push like billy-o. Unlike many of my original lists, this one lacks the top-heavy hammer of the single Knight unit in favour of a combined arms approach. It also has a certain amount of baiting, switching and speedbumping capacity, with two Banshees and the Ghouls able to chill within 12″ of the Army Standard and make themselves useful. Incidentally, the Vampire Lord will probably take the Lore of Death, naturally hoping for that good Doom and Darkness (it stacks so well with an army that has two Banshee screams to play with).

But once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. Alternatives thronged my mind. I was briefly tempted by the Von Carstein theme force, but let’s stick to armies for which I actually have the models (dangerous, I know) and revisit an old friend with a new one:

Lord + Hero + Hero: Vampire Lord: 735
Level 3 Wizard, Zombie Dragon, Summon Wolves, Earthbind, Wolf Lord, Book of Arkhan, Wristbands of Black Gold

Hero: Vampire Thrall: 154
Army Standard, heavy armour, Spectral Attendants, Earthbind

Core: 19 Sylvanian Militia: 215
Spears, standard bearer, musician, Champion

Core: 11 Dire Wolves: 131
Doom Wolf, Scouts

Core: Bat Swarm: 60

Core: Bat Swarm: 60

Special: Black Coach: 175

Special: Black Coach: 175

Rare: 8 Drakenhof Templars: 290
Barding, standard bearer, musician, Champion, Drakenhof Banner

Total: 1995 points

Yes, I’m back on this bullshit again. This one has everything and then some, and it’s never even heard the words “top heavy”. The Lord starts in the lines to give everything a good yeeting forward, then flies out to join the cavalry for a mass push in turn two, popping Summon Wolves for the extra unit of D3x2 right when she can Danse them into some unsuspecting fool. The Skeletons plod upfield, helping out any Coach which bogs down, and are gradually Grave Markered into an unyielding tide. And if any other Grave Markers go off and spring some Skeleton Crossbowmen out of the ground like daisies, well: the more the merrier, eh?

I don’t know if it’s good, but it’s got three Terror-causing models, Magic Resistance coming out of its ears, and casts four Invocations and hopefully two Danses per turn. And a Dragon. At the very least, the games will be quick…