"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." — Gary Gygax.


[WM/H] Top Five: Things You Would Totally Change About WM/H

Anyone else remember Fell Calls? The podcast about Warmachine and Hordes, back when the definite article was applicable to such things? No? OK fine, I technically nicked this from Elite Cadre anyway.

  1. 75 points should be the minimum threshhold for two-battlegroup games. At the moment, there’s a big jump from the standard 50 to the 100 point threshhold for a two-caster game; you have to put a lot more stuff on the table to justify that second battlegroup and it makes the games unwieldy. 75 points is not an attractive size of game at the moment, it has nothing to recommend it – it’s 50 points with more stuff but nothing especially fun. I’ve played 75 points with two casters and it’s been challenging but not to the point where it’s too cumbersome. You basically have a second battlegroup, and thus all the synergygasm fun, but you’re spending most of your extra points on it; you don’t have that much more non-battlegroup-stuff than you would do in a 50 point game. That keeps the games on the outer edge of “playable in a normal club night” and the armies well within “I can fit this in a man-portable figure case and set them up in a reasonable span of time” territory.
  2. Some serious changes need to be made to units, in order to address this. Since the dawn of time (or at least since that one year in the Mark I era nationals when the top tables had 300 points of models and one friggin’ jack, and it was the Scrapjack), we have had an issue where Warmachine armies in particular don’t field many warjacks. Much effort has been made to bugger around with warjacks’ stats and rules and the focus system and eventually just giving the damn things away via warjack points, but it doesn’t really work because it doesn’t address the inherent advantages possessed by units. I have been struggling to articulate this point since early in Mark I and have never quite managed to do it, but here goes!A ‘jack is a single point from which threat emanates, and most ‘jacks concentrate their threat on single points too. It is no accident that the popular ones have high-ROF AOE guns or Covering Fire or have Reach + Thresher or are good at trampling or are basically arc nodes on legs; these are the ways in which that single ‘jack can spread its threat out and engage multiple targets OR focus on one.

    A unit can do this all the time – each of those ten guys can choose their own target – and their threat doesn’t come from a single point of origin, it comes from a broad and diffuse area defined by the unit leader’s CMD radius and the unit’s movement options and whether it has guns or not. All units can innately concentrate their efforts on a single point or spread them out; not every ‘jack has the same luxury and many ‘jacks rely on inefficient or mechanically inelegant means to attempt it. I love Trample but it’s a ballache to administer and it’s still fairly limited and linear on most models.This is before we factor in the number of buff spells which affect a target model or unit. Let us consider Snipe. What’s more useful: buffing ten attacks that are just there, with all the advantages of flexibility discussed above, or buffing two attacks, one of which costs you a point of focus, and which will at best engage two targets from a single point of origin? What about 2d3 attacks? 2d3+2? Let us consider Blur. What’s more useful: buffing ten models with a wide footprint (able to jam effectively, in other words) from DEF 13 to 15, or buffing one model from DEF 12 to 14? In the majority of cases, your extremely finite focus is best spent on affecting the greatest number of models, and on affecting models which do not require further investment from your warcaster in order to see a return on investment. Don’t throw good focus after bad, basically.

    I don’t know how to fix all of this but a good start would be to throw away model/unit buffs/debuffs, especially upkeepable ones, and introduce more whole battlegroup buffs or upkeepable single warjack buffs. A battlegroup should behave like a more flexible unit (due to each element activating individually) rather than a bunch of individuals all wanting to hog the same finite resource. I’m aware that this makes focus seem less focussed, as it were, but it is one way of having warjacks suck less. Nonetheless, a warcaster’s power should be focused on their battlegroup and not on the miscellaneous dudes who are there to deliver that battlegroup to the enemy.

  3. Newer, better contexts for play. At the very least they should be updated with the ‘new’ deployment zones which have been tried and tested through years of Steamroller. They should be simple – Mosh Pit, Incursion, Destruction levels of simple, and maybe chuck the Hardcore one in there too. Mangled Metal is not a scenario (it’s a mode of play and should be doubled up with a scenario) and neither is Assassination (it’s the reason scenarios are necessary), get them out. Bring back Theatre of War, only keep it simple. Let’s have a straightforward campaign system with cool maps that inspire and indicate gameplay rather than governing it, or a demonstration of how to Forge A Narrative out of your regular games, or how to turn the abstractions of the scenarios into something that isn’t pure game but actually feels like a battle – but let’s not bloat the core game too much. Campaigns already represent a commitment: people will be showing up to play every bloody week until they’re done, and on a map they will probably be playing the same people a lot because of where the territories are. Putting more rules on top of that increases the buy-in and puts people off engaging. Also, put the Escalation campaign back in print already.
  4. No more toeing the zone, or toeing the forest. You must be completely within a forest in order to gain concealment and you cannot have concealment without also being in rough terrain. You must be completely within a zone in order to contest it. We need to address this quibbling over millimetres in a game of tactile objects which stray and wander all the time. Eliminating this thing where bases can be just touching something for rules perks means that people will be less keen to prove that they are not in fact just touching but are slightly outside. If it’s in it’s in, fine, but let’s have it acknowledged that there is a margin of error involved. Print a new Page 5 based on the great works of Duncan Huffman. Oh, and produce your own line of bases with the arcs already marked, or switch to a shape which has corners. I don’t care which, but one or the other, please?
  5. On a related note, there should be detailed guidance on how to define and set up your terrain. We should be shown how to use key terms like Rough Terrain, Elevation and Obstacle to model areas of a complicated hill with a cliff face on one side; we should be shown how to set up a board so that it offsets the advantages represented by the turn order; and we should be shown why it’s a dumb idea to put a wall on a hill (+6 DEF that can’t be bypassed even with Eyeless Sight?), or rather that doing so has consequences and should be done in a considered fashion. Even Warhammer grasped this, which is why the defenders in fifth edition Warhammer Siege had half the points of the attackers.

I wanted to add something about Theme Forces and making their purpose more consistent, but I said I’d stop at five, so I will.

[WM/H] In Praise of Hardcore

It seems odd that someone of my die-hard casual convictions (a contradiction in terms, I’m sure, but I will fight to the death for my right to not have to fight to the death, or at least until I’m bored) would embrace Hardcore, and yet, and yet…

Hardcore’s not perfect, in its current incarnation, but it has always had the seeds of glory in it and here’s why.

Fully painted

We are not tinboys. The spectacle of the wargame is important; if it weren’t we would all be playing chess or something. There is something about these tactile objects which speaks to us on a level that has nothing to do with rules and other abstract notions. They don’t have to be perfectly airbrushed hyper-realistic works of art, they just have to be done properly, they have to look like you were trying to achieve something by painting them. If you commission someone to do this, there is no shame in that. If you commission someone to do this and you accept a painting prize for yourself, you are a heel and a rotter and you deserve a slap.

One list

List chicken is a needless faff. I think you’re going to drop ARM-skew so I drop my ARM-cracking list and then you drop your high-DEF infantry swarm instead, and we have ended up in the exact situation that the multiple lists are supposed to avoid. All we’ve done is stress each other out and second-guess each other and start the game with bluff and suspicion and “gotcha!” – in bad faith, as the current discourse has it. There will always be players who struggle to beat other players and lists which struggle to beat other lists. No amount of extra lists are going to absolutively posilutely prepare you for everything you are likely to see across the table. Cut the crap, build one list and accept that you’ll meet your hard counter eventually.

Any points value

All points values have their virtue. 15 points skips the preamble and gets right in at the deathblow. 100 points is an art form seldom practiced in our unfortunate, uncivilised age. 50 points is still an acceptable median for most and I accept the argument that it allows you to balance and fine-tune your list’s capabilities so that it has some tech for everyone. My dislike is largely down to a personal inadequacy: I’ve never quite managed to build a 50 point list that I can run smoothly.

Death Clock

In Stallroller – sorry, Steamroller – 1 and 2, Nationals finals seldom went to round three, and events were often won by the player who could manage the clock to combine the alpha strike with the last chance to move models in the game – bugger that. Timed turns have one very significant flaw – nobody uses up all their time on turn one and everyone needs an extra minute every turn when facing denial-heavy forces (like, say, most Protectorate armies, where you have to work out what you’re allowed to do and to whom). Death Clock is the way forward. Here is your time: one minute per point. You have agency, you have control. Divide and use your time as you see fit.

Mosh Pit

This game is quite complicated enough without adding in “choose your objective type and track its damage and remember which one your opponent has bearing in mind they probably all look the same”, or “you get this many points for controlling and this many points for dominating the flag and that many for controlling and that many for dominating the abstract zone and – ” No. Enough. Elegant design involves paring down rules, not adding more.

There is a circle in the middle of the board, 24″ in diameter. If you have a model completely within it and your opponent has no models completely within it, you win. If your caster is alive and your opponent’s caster is dead, you win. If you have somehow managed to go through the entire event round with neither of these things happening, you both lose.


What’s that? Some jackass is playing keep-away? OK, fine. We had a rule for that back in the Mark One days. If your caster ends their activation completely within 7″ of a table edge on any turn, you lose. Job’s done. Current Hardcore’s POW 14 is too easy to soak; this is a more effective deterrent which allows even a SPD4 caster on the very board edge to get back into play if they run. This matters: the point is to discourage hiding in corners, not encourage convoluted chain-Telekinesis shenanigans.

Four prizes

Fastest caster kill. Most games won. Most opposing points destroyed. Nicest looking army, according to the judges.

These prizes are easy to administrate and they reward individuals who have taken an aspect of the game as far as they can go (efficiency, generalship, sheer mayhem and the craft of miniature wrangling). No ‘best overall’ which invariably leaves someone feeling gipped, and no sportsmanship scores for people to tank or act like jackasses to earn or scare them away from using the judges for their intended purpose. Besides, the thing about sportsmanship scores is that they depend on who’s met/drawn whom – it’s not like painting where you can go around and inspect everyone’s contribution during the lunch break.

And on the fifth page:

You don’t have to make the kind of plays which require the precise marking of arcs, the turning of games on laser-thin lines between bases which don’t quite fit snugly because the models are bigger than their game volumes, and the abolition of three-dimensional terrain. Somewhere along the line, this game for alleged post-pubescents has become one of counting millimetres to avoid free strikes, and touching woods for a bonus without standing in them for a penalty, and blaming yourself if your opponent takes the game way more seriously than you do.

This is not what Warmachine and Hordes are about.

Having a Pair means that you’ve grown up and admitted that being the best at toy soldiers doesn’t mean jack shit and isn’t a life-defining goal. Nobody worth sleeping with cares that you can auto-win on control points with your teleporting Circle army without a single model needing to make an attack.

What I like about Hardcore is that it’s fast and furious and fun. You don’t have time to quibble over every rule or measurement because you’ll run down your clock; you have to keep things simple and brutal and straightforward instead of gimmicky and bean-counterish. I’ll even let you bring your laser lines if you’ll let me declare the intent to leave no gaps. Deal?

[WM/H] Back on the Rack – Thoughts on Skorne

I haven’t been Weak. Not yet. Allow me to explain, if explain I can, what has been going through the old brainbox for the last week or so.

It started innocently enough, with the accidental assembling a trio of brave souls ready to face the worst that the IKRPG could throw at them and give me a chance to join the Century of the Fruitbat and use that Roll20 whatchamacallit. One of the players has an Enthusiasm regarding Skorne, which guided me in the direction of Iron Kingdoms Unleashed and the Skorne Empire rulebook. That brought something to mind – the half-remembered promise that this year (by which I mean next year, obviously) would be the year I finally ran some IKRPG tables at SmogCon. That brought to mind the chilling truth: to run the IKRPG successfully, with actual people, one conventionally requires miniatures. (You can run it as a conventional RPG, but it’s so obviously configured as a way to use your Warmachine and Hordes miniatures that it loses much of its charm if you do.)

Then there was a moment of horrible synchronicity, because this git happens to be what’s goin’ on in terms of Skorne releases at the moment:

Looks smashing, doesn’t he? This sort of chinked off my having seen the Skorne Army in a Box down at Firestorm a while back, and the creeping certainty that I’d like to run a Skorne-themed adventure at SmogCon, and that led to me looking at the other SmogCon events.

Hardcore. That’s interesting. I always quite liked Hardcore, and then I sort of had a shower thought about my old “as few actors as possible” policy in Hardcore events, induced by having seen the single circulating image of the Desert Hydra Gargantuan. Two Gargantuans (one of each) and Archdomina Makeda. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? One of them gets hurried up the field under Savagery while the other tanks under Defender’s Ward. It doesn’t work as well as I thought it does, because Savagery doesn’t work the way I remember it working, but it did make me giggle in my secret heart and I think I’d quite like to play with a Gargantuan and see how it gets killed when I’m the one using it.

On that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” note, I’ve been poking around Battle College and the forums, just to see what’s hot and what’s not these days. Besides the traditional Molik Karn delivery system, I’m seeing a semi-standard ranged support bloc (the Cyclops Raider, Mortitheurge Willbreaker, Extoller Soulward and a couple of warbeasts with good guns, like the Aradus Sentinel), and two infantry units edging out most of the competition: Nihilators and Incendiarii, both because they muller enemy infantry by the double handful. I quite like the look of the Praetorian Keltarii (little Hexerises with Parry!) and the Scarab Pack (that’s a lot of wounds to have damage transferred into, and some fun interactions based on their being a unit of warbeasts). The Siege Animantarax has received an erratum that makes it scarily shooty, although if we’re talking about guns I still have a sneaky soft spot for Venator Reivers.

In terms of casters, I used to be all right with Master Tormentor Morghoul back in the day, I like the look of Master Ascetic Naaresh (not a one-trick pony, but with a fun set of gimmicks to do with taking and healing damage and a lot of mobility), Lord Arbiter Hexeris (ranged support caster with an arc node; sound like anything I used to play?); any of the Makedas, or either of the Zaals.

Zaal actually makes me think, wonder if my old theorymachine Supreme Aptimus list might be worth a practical shot. I might go for the Scarab Pack over the Brute (many more wounds to transfer damage into) or a more aggressive/shooty beast like the Aradus Sentinel, but the goal remains the same; all the Ancestral Guardians I can carry, transferring damage onto well-placed ones or using Last Stand on them to bring out the Kovaas, and having swarms of infantry to generate souls. I’d probably not go for the field artillery (not sure what I was thinking there, may have been “gosh, aren’t I contrary!”) this time out, maybe small units of Venators or Keltarii instead. And maybe that Gatorman minion unit that collects corpses and turns them into zombie frogs.

Knowing where to start is a bit bewildering though. When I start thinking about armies, the urge is to go back to basics; one man, one starter box, and maybe look around for a Journeyman league, ’cause that structures the list-making experience around a defined point of entry, rather than me having to make my mind up. And of course it has to make a playable and amusing IKRPG scenario too. And there is the sad truth of Skorne and all things related thereto: painting that armour kills me and I need to find a way of doing it outside-in, letting the filigree paint itself during the early prime-and-ink stages of my process and focusing my attentions on stuff that isn’t so fiddly that it’s unsustainable in the long run. At the moment I’m thinking some sort of hide armour (similar style to my SAGA figures actually) and putting a lot of effort into painting the skin (something similar to my old Epic Skarre might work). That’s why it’s all been thinking so far instead of doing. The brain needs to settle and the initial fizz and fiddling subside before I go out and just buy everything.

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