Monday, January 26, 2015

The End Times Cometh

Are those the tormented souls of some of the  Old World's
most powerful entities swirling around  your monstrous
reincarnated form, or are you just happy to see me?
So last week, I and a couple of the guys at the club, as a sort of friendly interclub event with another Warhammer group, put together a big Warhammer Fantasy battle, because Mat just got his new Nagash model painted, and, well, to have Nagash in a battle, you'll need something appropriately epic for the End Times.

Part of the unique challenge to setting this up is the fact that Warhammer isn't really designed for large multiplayer battles. For one thing, how will the Winds of Magic rolls work? 2d6 isn't nearly enough to dole out amongst several players' worth of spellcasting, and too much means magic will be OP. How about rules for Inspiring Presence, or Battle Standard Bearers?

Another problem that big battles usually have is that it just takes. Too. Damn. Long. The last one we had with four players to a side at 2400 points clocked in at  eleven hours, of which the later half was just a chore: energy was low, tempers were running high, and it just eventually became thoroughly unenjoyable for many of the players.

Add to this the requirement of keeping the battle as fluffy as possible, and, well, it quickly turns into a thorny nest of problems-within-problems to solve for an organizer. For this entry, I'll discuss both the logistical and fluff considerations and the solutions that I came up with for the event.  The challenge could be summed up in three words-- I needed this battle to be Fluffy, Balanced, and Fun.

Who is Nagash?
Also, he takes killer selfies.
Art by John Sullivan
Nagash  is the creator of Necromancy in the Old World. In early game history, he was poised to take over the continent several times, but was destroyed in turns by powerful warrior-kings, and magical backstabbing. The new Warhammer End Time series of stories and rules dedicate an entire volume to his return, from the blood-fuelled ritual that killed off major Warhammer characters, to his return to his old country (now overrun by undead pharoahs and their legions), and his uniting all the undead factions by force, all of which culminate in his raising an army powerful enough to challenge the Chaos gods themselves, who are busy launching a seemingly-unstoppable invasion of the Old World.

Choosing Sides
So here we've got the primary combatants in this battle: on one side, Nagash and his undead legions, on the other Chaos united. Stuck in between is the Empire and other Forces of Order, though in the Nagash book he ends up helping them hold against The Chaos hordes. For the purposes of this battle, then, it'll be Nagash and "the good guys" vs. Chaos.

As any local gaming event organizer will know, one of the hardest parts of putting a big game together is getting people to simply commit and show up for the battle. While we got about a dozen guys expressing interest in joining, I was highly doubtful that everyone would show up, meaning that I couldn't count on pulling off a series of thematic, interlocked battles on several tables/battlefields.

The Order of Battle
Originally, I was envisioning a main battle played on the largest table, and on other, smaller,  tables, being played simultaneously, would be scenarios that would directly affect the main battle. Like one table would have an Empire army defending a pass against Chaos Beastmen trying to outflank the main battle line, and any Chaos units that got through would mean the appear *behind* enemy lines to wreak havoc. Or the ratty Skaven engineers invent a gigantic artillery piece that could lob warp energy across many miles to bombard the main battle every turn, and the Warriors of Chaos must march to neutralize the threat and seize the cannon (deployed as a terrain piece) from the defending Skaven.

 Of course, this all goes out the window fluffwise if I can't even count on people reliably showing up with the appropriate armies, so I had to come up with a flexible system that could accommodate basically any army that shows up, and still be in keeping with the fluff.

So. Where do we go from here? A multiplayer variant of Warhammer, called Triumph and Treachery, served as an inspiration. Fluffwise, it also worked-- since many of Nagash's lieutenants had been forced into servitude, many of them were manipulating events into their favor, creating a great undercurrent of politics. This backstabbing is also a regular occurrence, even among the Forces of Order who had their own traitors and political intrigue to deal with.

Alliance and Betrayal
One thing that quickly became apparent when reading the Nagash story is that everyone has their own agenda. Mannfred Von Castein, ruler of Sylvania, must come to terms with the return of Vlad von Castein, an arguably more powerful vampire lord who began the dynasty and is asserting his authority. The Imperial Archmagister, Balthasar Gelt, turns to the dark art of necromancy to help stave off Chaos, losing his soul and will to the dark art. The Skaven, responsible for the destruction of Nagash in one of his earlier incarnations, try to devise a plan to protect themselves against his inevitable vengeance even as they maneuver to to take advantage of the Chaos incursion. While different factions are banding together, there are old animosities that still simmer beneath the fragile bonds of alliance, and I wanted that reflected somehow in the way the battle played.

A system, then, that allowed for a flexible banding together of different armies would allow for last minute additions and dropouts to the player roster, and still retain the tenuous alliance and backstabbing politics of the Old World. In my next post, we'll go over this system, and what I hoped to accomplish in designing it.

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