Perks of skirmish

Posted by  | Tuesday, September 18, 2012  at 10:40 PM  

Producing a concise set of rules for a skirmish game is a noble quest if ever there was one. Legends of the High Seas/Old West are popular amongst a lot of Mordheim's old guard. Chris 'Cianty' Templin and I discussed the cherry-picking of desirable elements from each others systems that games developers go through. A project like designing a game might be a labour of love or it might seem on the surface like all the concepts have been filched from an older game. For arguments sake let's call them homages not thefts! Combining existing principles with fresh devious imaginings in the process of conjuring new skirmish games and settings is only evolution.

Andy Hoare is putting touches to Get The Girl, Kill The Baddies. The godfather of grim and perilous adventure Rick Priestley has got himself mixed up in a wacky faerie tale universe where centaurs dressed as David Bowie brawl with flying monkeys wearing fez hats. In Fanticide, they use their faeces as missile weapons. Co-incidentally the fighting monkeys in my Marienburg campaign do the same! Apes may not fly in the Warhammer World but they can 'Scale Sheer Surfaces'. Chris Templin has meanwhile long brooded over his Gierburg skirmish game.

Cianty became temporarily obsessed with exploring nuances of non-combat themed tabletop activity. Worryingly it all sounded a bit like Chris was locked away at home playing with dolls as opposed to fighting battles with warriors! Ultimately his principles are correct. Not all skirmish battles should to be a pitched street fight or a raid. I'm a massive fan of narrative campaigning, particularly scenario-driven skirmishing adventure. Black Library novels tempt me for this exact reason! The stories are what give a system and setting gravity. Quality terrain and a heavily themed table help bring the stories to life. Some of the best scenarios I've had the benefit of playing were written to revolve around particular pieces of terrain. Kudos to Matt Ward for his themed terrain chapter in the latest tome of rules for Warhammer. He even mentioned the F word.

When tabletop adventure beckons, I find military battle themes less and less desirable. There are still aspects of grandiose warfare (and there's no escaping the war in Warhammer!) which strike a chord. In terms of a gripping story, the Warhammer Heroes novels by Chris Wraight homed in on conspiratorial angles which I found stirring and inspiring. The level of intrigue took me by surprise! Being unexpectedly sucked in my his adventurous hooks evokes all kinds of tabletop yearnings. With the importance of strong narrative, it feels tough to move away from the rich tapestry of the Warhammer setting. Countless materials are available to the keen researcher. You can really lose yourself in its depth. There's a realness to its application in gaming that I've found sorely lacking in Middle Earth re-enactments. As with anything I suppose its warhorses for courses.

In the Marienburg scenarios, we exploit comparably domestic themes; Fishwives, winkle-pickers or goose-girls being taken hostage, cargo shipments being moved or sabotaged, graves being looted for trinkets or fresh corpses. I had the recent pleasure of meeting fellow forum-goer Joao who is an avid collector of miniatures and he owns a lot of civilian themed characters. Plus he has modelled some marvellous marketplace buildings to game around. We will be getting together to play some games and I hope to bring pictures of our combined efforts on here later in the year. Joao has a interesting warband to add to our campaign story.

Critical tables are another personal favourite of mine. Charts add extra special moments to the story in Mordheim battles. Playing for the purpose of telling a story on the table is where lies the strength of a memorable skirmish. You strip away the juicy roleplay aspects and you might as well be playing another pitched battle. Not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with that. Attention to detail is what provides unforgettable moments. Unlike in Warhammer battles where the battlefield resets after each game, when you play Mordheim your heroes can die for real! If they survive (for long enough in the Free City of Marienburg) your heroes can prove what real men they are by visiting gambling halls, drinking dens, bordellos, drug parlours, or crypts in the Garden of Morr.

I've laboured the point before. Having to produce (what can claim to be brand) new rules is the most tedious and tiresome task in the hobby. Change is sometimes a necessary evil (ask a Champion of Tchar) if you want things to progress. There are already a zillion different rules in the Warhammer pantheon of games. If you look in the right place then you can find an existing guideline to apply to any situation. The fun in research can be what surprise gems turn up along the paper trail!

Why even write another supplement? Border Town Burning is immense. It is Cianty's brainchild and a wilderness supplement that won't be beat. Games developers have praised (and we now suspect cloned!?) its campaign objectives system. The city of Mordheim itself is great as an urban setting, motivating me to continue gaming when I ought to be doing real life stuff.

While Mordheim is fantastic, dark, gothic, grim and perilous, it doesn't have any pirates in it, it hasn't got enough elves in it, and it was based on an underdeveloped selection of campaign rules governed by a limited pool of scenarios. Mordheim only got better later on when the system was fleshed out by freelancers!

I don't play Necromunda. I'm not excited by the background of the game but what I do identify with is the notion of gangs. Gangs of thieves, assassins, drug smugglers, mercenaries, bounty hunters, renegades and a multitude of other desperado characters. Motivational ideals from Necromunda do not ring true in Mordheim. They will in Marienburg, the City of Secret Deals.

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