Monday, 20 October 2014

Hero Hammer

I have a confession to make. I quite liked 4th and 5th edition of Warhammer Fantasy battle...

It was unbalanced, entirely focused on characters and monsters (as the description "Hero Hammer" might suggest) and had many elements of 3rd Edition simplified to make it more approachable for younger audiences. But I still kinda liked it. Let me explain why.

Army Books

Compared to the lack of background material for 3rd edition, 4th and 5th had a huge influx of content in the form of army books. Each book began the modern concept of describing, fully and completely one race or faction of the Warhammer world. Both in background and rules, the foundations of the races were laid down, units described and hobby ideas given. I still have quite a few of them on hand to read when bored as the imagery they present are, to me at least, the definition of the Warhammer races. The artwork was great throughout and really brought the world alive for my 10 year old brain (and little development of the grey cells has occurred since), even though it was mostly black and white the intricate pencil works and contrasting, smooth inks just kicked something primal in my head.

Later editions of the army books are more or less rehashes of this format, maybe they move sections about but the general shape of it is there. With one notable and rather tragic omission. In all of the Armybooks, barring the first High Elf and Undead books, there was a dedicated hobby and army building section. The reader was presented with a one thousand point army list, made of only models from the book, few magic items and the majority of the units made from the plastic regiment boxed sets. Following this was a brief discussion on what the units were for, roughly what they did, how to expand the force and what to do with older models as you bought more. This presented a much needed shove in the right direction for new players of the game, basically saying " I know this book may seem confusing, but here, use these guys and the rules for them in this book and you will have fun."

I cannot, for the life of me work out why this section was removed for later editions.

Supporting Content

This was a period when White Dwarf magazine was at its best, in my humble opinion. Featuring scenarios, battle reports, painting and modelling tutorials and new rules to support its existing games. Naturally interspersed with adverts for new and old products that for some reason didn't feel quite as obvious as they do today. This might be down to adult cynicism on my part though. 

A Gathering of Might battle report and surrounding fuss was a tour de force of these principles. For those that do not know, A Gathering of Might was the biggest battle report featured in White Dwarf to date. Using all of the Orc, Goblin, Chaos Dwarf, Empire and Wood Elf armies in GW's cabinets to fight as big a battle as they could. No one bothered to count the points for it but they guessed at about 25000 on the table.

Additional rules were provided for command and control, as with 4 players per side communication needed to be limited to simulate the Generals on field difficulties and prevent too close a co-operation. Mobile phones have of course yet to be invented in the Warhammer world.

Robin Dewes had written a short story as a pre-amble for the battle, mentioning two previous battles that had lead to this titanic conflict. Both of these tussles with greenskins had actually been White Dwarf battle reports, creating a sense of story and emphasis that this wasn't a random fight in the park. The battle was fought, fun was had and the Empire was dealt a heavy defeat. A few months later, follow up scenarios that describe the Empire's subsequent actions were printed. The two linked games were simple, if the Empire won the first battle they would be able to fight united in the second. If they didn't win, their reinforcements would be delayed or not turn up at all. So very simple but so very satisfying.

There also seemed to be a concerted effort to show an army building progression for newer players, to show them, in baby steps, how to grow their army and of course spend more money in their local GW. The 4th edition boxed game contained a staggering 104 plastic miniatures as well as card cut outs as stand ins for larger models that you could buy at a later date, or not. Split between 40 High Elves and 64 Goblins, it gave a great base for their respective armies. This was demonstrated in a White Dwarf battle report that used the boxed game as a base for both armies and included a few more additional units as well. These miniatures were then used to fight an Ambush scenario. To me, this is salesmanship at its finest. Showing that with just a few more miniatures you could recreate this spectacle and move on to have your own fun as well, yet didn't feel far out of reach as everyone already had the core of each army...

Man-O-War was also still a fully supported game so the ability to add that extra level to your game was also there, ever tempting by GW's cunning sales team.

The models

Much of the 3rd edition and earlier miniatures were around still, if they were not in the shops then they were available via mail order. Yet there were still a steady stream of releases, not always for the army of the moment but others too, including my favourite, High Elves and the 5th edition Army book. I will be honest with you, before 5th High Elves had it rough, 3rd gave them a motley bunch of poor (in my opinion) casts and 4th brought in a raft of chunky marauder metals and a glut of plastic spearmen and archers. For 5th, they were given some of the finest metal models they have ever had (again, in opinion), Gary Morley's mounted characters were fantastic, having such fine details and regal bearing they were often drooled over by a much younger me. Later on, the White Lions were released which again I found to be particularly fine.

5th did usher in some of the worst multi part plastic kits GW produced though to be fair, from comical Zombies to hunch backed Chaos Warriors. The again plastic models are the devil, so I ignore them anyway...

I do wish they hadn't painted so much stuff red though... If they had simply kept the aesthetic of  3rd it would have been perfect.

The bad and the really bad

For all of its completeness, 4th/5th had some serious downsides. The huge amount of magic items available made characters highly customizable and to all intents and purposes almost unstoppable. While most characters could be made pretty damned heroic, they never really stood much of a chance against a fully formed unit but some builds were definite stand outs. One particularly horrible aberration was a Chaos Lord of Khorne (ws9 with 10 attacks thanks to frenzy) wielding the blade of darting steel (all attacks hit automatically) just having drunk a potion of strength (+3 Strength) with the Helm of Many Eyes (always strike first). If the player was a total cunt, he would mount it on something flying as well so you couldn't get away from him. So yeah, that's 10 strength 8 hits that always go first and there is fuck all you can do about it. Units, monsters, even other characters, couldn't really do anything other than be removed from the table. Not really much fun. 

And sadly that was not the only cookie cutter beat stick. So 5th turned in to a character fuelled arms race giving it one of the worst reputations with players as so few people actually had fun playing it.

Which is a great shame really as it is so very easy to fix, yet for some reason GW never tried.

It also lacked quite a few of the complexities of 3rd and so suffered to a degree from a tactical angle. The moral system seemed particularly odd and it wasn't uncommon to see entire armies turn and run at the first loud bang.

Army selection

Army selection had only a few, broad outlines. Only 50% of your army could be spent on Characters, 25% on monsters, 25% on warmachines, 25% on allies and at least 25% had to be spent on units. It really doesn't take a genius to see where the emphasis lies looking at those numbers. 

Now what happens if you reduce characters to maximum 25% and put the minimum of units to 50%. All of a sudden the power builds are not possible, the points are simply not available. Units now must be the majority of the army, meaning that they have to do more than be artillery guards to justify their points. All of a sudden things start looking more like an army. Not really that difficult, is it?

Yet, GW didn't do this, they just released an entirely new version of the game designed to use more models and subsequently sell more boxes. A bit rubbish really and a way to put the final nails in the coffin for what could have been a golden age.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Army of four

So after a recent visit to Worcester Wargames, my local purveyor of new and old wargame tomfoolery, I have picked up some elves I did not recognise from the second hand boxes. Too new for me most likely but I have to say that they are fine models. I think they are Shadow warriors from the WFB 7th Edition releases but if anyone could confirm that it would be great. Usually, I am not fussed by a lot of the newer miniatures but these seemed particularly well done and certainly fitted my aesthetic of Elfdom, even if the leader does have a striking resemblance to Jon Bon Jovi in the 80's.

In the picture below they are about 70% done, all that remains is to sort out the skin properly and the smaller details, I think. Chances are I will find something else I don't like and spend ages pissing about with them.

Looking at the photos now I can see a load of different stuff that I have missed and/or want to do differently. The big knob on tip of the leaders sword is one culprit, I am rather aghast that I did not see that while painting but now it seems so obvious. Photography has multiple uses it seems, not only can I share what I have painted but can also used it for error checking!

Painting was super simple, as befits the one who painted them*: Green bits were Dark Angles green, highlighted up using progressive percentages of Goblin Green. The white(ish) was Astronomican grey highlighted up with more and more white before black wash being applied to the recesses. The dark brown is Vallejo's Dark Flesh with Graveyard earth mixed in for highlights. Light brown is Graveyard earth with Witch elf flesh mixed in for highlights. The skin is Vallejo's Bronzed flesh highlighted up with Vallejo's Elf flesh, all washed down with Gryphonne sepia.

*All paints are from GW unless otherwise stated.

Painting faces in helmets is causing me some trouble. As readers of some of my other blog entries may know, I struggle with flesh in general but on a helmeted head there is so little to work with it just seems to end up looking like a messy splodge. Any pointers would be gratefully received.

I am also looking to "Oldhammerify" them a little, so some stripy trousers may well be working their way in to the picture very shortly.

Life in the field

I hope to use these guys in 3rd Edition fantasy at some point so I went to the rule book and smushed together some rules for them.

Bon Jovai, wanted dead or alive in 6 realms will be an Elven Hero, with longbow, hail of doom arrow, light armour and a greatsword. That sword is far too large for a hand weapon but I am not sure where he will put his bow while using it. That is a problem that Bon must face alone.

He will be accompanied by six (as soon as I can source another three, if anyone has some up for sale please let me know) Elven warriors. +1 missile Elites, with longbows, light armour and greatswords (again the swords on the miniatures are huge). They will also be scouts.

Just out of curiosity does anyone know if Bon needs to pay to be upgraded to a scout or does he just get it by joining the unit?

Scouts in 3rd Ed don't get to deploy closer to the enemy like they do in later versions of the game so use of the advanced forces will get them half way there for some close up longbow action. Skirmishing and standing around some bushes should keep them relatively safe from missile fire but in close combat they will be living on a prayer.The hail of doom arrow should also be a nasty shock for any heavily armoured units not expecting it. 

I have also started work on some Silver Helm knights, so keep an eye out for them soon.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Elven Enigma

Out in the cold

Elves in Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd edition were one of the popular races. Often featured amongst the pages of white dwarf, rule books and these days on Internet forums. Wood Elves were often seen, particularly in battle reports and were used as the general Elf representatives. Dark Elves were well favoured as well but maybe that was more to do with the associations between Witch Elves and nerds...

High Elves on the other hand were a relatively rare sight. I was pondering on this and think I have found a few reasons why.

The fluff

In the 3rd Edition Rulebook, the High Elves aren't really presented in a wonderful light. Being described as hedonistic and lazy, with no mention of their martial abilities. Ulthuan is shown as having an inner and outer lands, held apart by difficult to traverse mountain ranges. The outer realm is never mentioned. Not the most inspiring write up in the world but if anyone could point me to any background material that I have missed, then please let me know!

The Rules

Where the background is scant, the rules are almost absent! High Elves have one rule: their Mages can swap out any of their battle magic spells for other spell types. Handy, if you happen to be a Mage, pointless if you are not. While magic is intrinsically linked to Elves, there must be more to them than that. Wood Elves have their Archery and Field Craft, Dark Elves have their Witch Elves, Assassins, Hatred and even potential mutation.

Improving the view

So, enough of the bitching, its hardly going to help to whine about a game that is nearly thirty years old. Instead, we could look at the Elven background from later editions and try and reverse engineer something fitting but more interesting to be used with mutual agreement with your fellow gamers.

Using 4th and 5th Edition fluff, Ulthuan is described as a glittering kingdom that has somewhat passed its best. Despite being over the hill, it is still one of the world's major players. The High Elven army is described, both visually and in text, as being well equipped and well trained with many elite troops. They are proud of their race and their kingdom, often looking down upon the other races and even on their more feral cousins. 

Everyone also seems to wear armour, even archers and war machine crews, who otherwise would not have any protection. I guess when you have so much time to make stuff and a dwindling population, there is always going to be a surplus of equipment. It also makes sense to try and stop that population dwindling further...

Actually that makes me think about one of the typical Elven units, the Spearman. Why would an Elf want to use a spear? They gain no bonus from the initiative boosts as they almost always strike first anyway and the extra half rank of fighters only works if they stand still, rather negating the advantage of movement 5. Maybe it's the desire to be another foot or so away from an enemy when you kill him. I dunno, but I prefer them to have greatswords personally, they are elegant weapons to be used with great finesse to match the Elven psyche yet also let them kill with alarming regularity.

High Elves strike me as the sorts who firmly believe that they are better than everyone else by nature. They have long lives with which to hone their skills and create wondrous works so who can really blame them? If any being lived hundreds of years and watched generations of lesser species die of old age, I think a little hubris is quite likely.

Representing the Pompous Artisan

As an addendum to the Rule books rules, I would suggest the following:

Pride: High Elven units are not subject to panic by fleeing allies of any race other than High Elf. All High Elves have +1 leadership up to a maximum of 10.

Elven Armoury: All High Elves come equipped with light armour for free. They are still bound by the Elven movement reduction and must still pay 3 points to purchase heavy armour.

Any thoughts?

Is a Dwarf just a Dwarf and an Orc just an Orc?

The class system

In a word, no, not really. At least not in 3rd Edition Warhammer anyway.

True to 3rds flexible form, the way of describing troops is much more customisable than in later editions with the use of the Elite troops system. The four additional purchasable ranks are split in to shock, or missile troops, with respective bonuses. Below are sample statistics for the varying level of Human Elites shock trooper, missile simply has +1 BS instead of WS which is a bit rubbish really.

4 3 3 3 3 1 3 1 7 7 7 7
+1 4 4 3 3 3 1 3 1 7 7 7 7
+2 4 4 3 3 3 1 4 1 7 7 7 7
+3 4 4 3 4 3 1 4 1 7 7 7 7
+4 4 4 3 4 3 1 4 2 7 7 7 7

As these upgrades are not tied to any weapon load out, your veteran troops can be armed with whatever you desire without the use of Warhammer Armies. If you desperately want hugely powerful +4 Dwarves with javelins, then that is entirely possible. I'm not sure why you would but hey, that is up to you.

So that's cool, we essentially have five different ranks of soldier for each race, no army book required, just the basic rule book... Well, technically there is a 6th, but soldier is not necessarily the best description.

The peasants

Human Levies 4 2 2 3 3 1 2 1 7 6 6 6

Levies! A noble general's last resort and a ruthless general's cannon fodder. Skaven do have this sort of troops in later editions of the game in their Skaven slaves but in 3rd every race can take them if they would like to. They cannot really be relied on to actually win a fight and their special, mandatory mob formation means that they will not be as useful or flexible as real troops. However, if you want an arrow shield or a lot of ranks, then levies are an option. Goblin levies especially, at their measly cost of 1 point per model.

For some reason, Levies got me thinking. They are named, they are not -1's. So I began to try and rationalise the Elites system, a particularly silly thing to do about a game revolving around toy soldiers but meh, I was bored.

Starting from the bottom

Levies: those who have not chosen the soldiers life but those that have been pressed into service, forcibly or otherwise. Slaves, potters, scribes, tailors, hairdressers anything you like but probably not a military sort.Terrible statistics and the mob rule limit their usefulness.

Militia: Those that have been given basic military training, they know which end of the weapon to hold and can follow orders, march in time etc. Basic statistics and can maintain a proper formation.

Professionals: People that have spent their life fighting and are making a career of it. They can do everything that a militiaman can but are better drilled and have more than likely actually fought before. The extra point of weapon skill representing their extra training and experience.

Veteran: Professional soldiers that know their way round a battlefield and have the scars to prove it. Hopefully they have even won a few fights and done more than just turn up. Their extra point of Initiative represents their confidence and a few dirty tricks they have picked up.

Hardened veterans: Killing people for a living is a lucrative business, the extra exercise and better food have made these guys stronger than their compatriots, not to mention it is often only the strongest that survive this far.

Seasoned Campaigners: Practised killers that have fought in several campaigns and survived. With the same stats as a unit champion, these guys are something to watch out for.

Beyond list building

So as established, the elites system is a flexible and open approach to list building but what happens when you go beyond the list? To use this system to enhance play not just when writing your army out but in other ways.

In a campaign setting troops would naturally distinguish themselves and the elites system is a great way of giving perks to victorious forces. If a particular unit destroys its own points worth of enemies without sustaining more than 25% casualties, they could receive a free +1 upgrade until they take 50% casualties in a game? Just a little boost to reward well used units and carefully played strategies.

As a direct antithesis to this, if an elite unit repeatedly performs poorly, knock one of their levels off! Obviously this would have to be done with mutual agreement with the view to fun and random dickery, not when people are actually aiming for a competitive environment.