Wednesday, 22 July 2015

In The Grim Darkness Of The Past There Is Only Lead: A Warhammer 40,000 Battle Report

Today I give you a battle report, but with a difference.  I met up with Paul at the weekend - a gentleman who I met through The Oldhammer Community on Facebook.  We've met once before and chatted a few times online but today we were getting together for our first game against each other.

Now, unlike some people in these circles I still play the newer versions of the game: much as, unlike some of the people who read the RPG Grognard blogs, I play some fairly modern and non-Gygaxian RPGs as well.  but I do have an interest in older versions of games I like, as previously mentioned. With Games Workshop games in particualr it's the background of the older product that appeals to me - I'm more interest in the late eighties/early nineties world than the more modern interpretation of it.  I still consult the older books for painting ideas, background inspiration and general enjoyment even if I tend to use the newer manuals to actually play games.

My WFB 1st/2nd/3rd/4th and 40K 1st/2nd books sit alongside their more recent brethren.

However, Paul gave me the chance to do more than just be inspired.  Glad to have met a fellow Oldhammer type person in Glasgow, he invited me to his pad to play a game of the very first edition of Warhammer 40,000 - with it's superfluous subtitle Rogue Trader.  He's a little older than me so played as a youth but by the time I got into Warhammer proper it was moving into 2nd Edition and so I've never had the pleasure.  I've had a copy of the core rulebook for the first edition for over a decade - it's one of the first things I ever bought on eBay - but it had never seen use as a wargaming rulebook.

.... and now, in my best Clarkson voice: Until now!

Some of the classic figures in Paul's man-cave.

Priestly Paul and I played no less than two games of Warhammer on our Saturday meet.  Priestly Paul has received this nickname at this very moment and he has it for three reasons:

  1. He is a clerical type at a local church, so he is literally a Priest.
  2. It brings to mind Rick Priestly the Warhammer guru, producing a sort of subliminal connection to Oldhammer. CHECK IT OUT, I'M DOING SUBTEXT.
  3. Now it isn't just Sister Superior who has a nickname here.

Anyway, Priestly Paul showed me his rather impressive collection of old plastic and lead which included some happy memories and some figures I've only ever seen in pictures rather than in the flesh.  This included Skarloc's Wood Elf Archers, which I squee-ed over quite a bit.

Hopefully I'll get to play against these in a wee Fantasy game sometime

 After swapping some painting and modelling thoughts, Priestly Paul walked me through to where he'd set a table up for us.  He proposed a wee scenario, since 1st Edition was more designed with scenario play than straight-up-stabbing in mind - I would try and move my Chaos Space Marine army from one table edge to the other, trying to get to the safety of the vintage Imperial Battle Bunker at the far end.  We had six NPCs cultists to carry there - infected by Tyranid plagues, we had to get them there so we could vivisect them for a cure.

Meanwhile, my chum was going to take on the role of the Tyranids who had urges to hunt me down.  Every turn a single unit of his army would appear out of a random forest - excluding the one in the middle of the table there were six such blocks.  In story we imagined this to be a thick jungle, with Paul wanting to tap into a Predator sort of feel.

Game set-up.  Note the scratch-built Grav Attack Vehicle on the right flank.

So, I brought out my Chaos Space Marine army - a wee 1000 point force assembled using the Emperor's Children army list from Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness.  This included a hilarious time rolling on the many random tables for mutations and chaos rewards, which led to some units getting better or worse deals than others.  A copy of my list is provided for interested parties.

This isn't the only D1000 table in the book.  This isn't even the only D1000 mutation table in the book!

Anyway, my men strode boldly forward... and were immediately ambushed by a squad of Brood Brothers lead by a Zoat.  This led to our a rather bitter close combat in which it became apparent that it's far harder in older editions to hit a target - Weapon Skill  4 vs 4 is a 5+ on a D6 to hit here, whereas it's 4+ in modern editions.  You also only roll for base-to-base figures, not for other members of the unit nearby, which was producing situations where a six man unit mostly weren't involved while one of their number got devoured.

Close combat works differently in 1st ed in that charging isn't worth bonus attacks but a +1 to hit - and two weapons don't give you +1 attacks, they give you double attacks but at a -1 to hit on your main hand and -2 to hit on the off-hand.  The end result is that a charging Zoat with two weapons and a WS of 5 is.... well, pretty good.
The Chaos Lord puts on a valiant fight but the Noise Marines ain't having much luck.

Truth be told, the whole scenario thing wasn't going my way.  Both of the randomly generated units spawned right on top of my guys, getting immediately into combat without any resistance.  The Genestealer Patriarch, a high level psyker, had some awesome randomly generated powers and was able to take control of my Jump Pack squad who then rained grenades down on my own vehicle.  

Psykers are an interesting part of 1st Ed.  Powers are randomly generated which is similar to quite a few editions, but the kind of powers are very different.  There's only one master generation method for a start, rather than sub-divisions by army or by type of power.  Many of the powers feel more at home in an RPG, which makes sense considering the half-wargame, half-RPG nature of the book - abilities to teleknetically open doors or stop time for 24 hours are great for scenario play but don't really suit a wargame.  The level of power in the top tier of powers especially feels more high level D&D characters than what I'm used to from a wargame - that mind control power, Change Allegiance, is for the whole game.  We decided to improvise a rule that I got an additional test at the end of every turn, however.

It's turn two and, as the man said, I've lost control again.

The second turn saw another unit spawn right on top of me  and very quickly we were surrounded and success was functionally impossible.  Priestly Paul, deciding to channel 1 Timothy 1:16 and show mercy, felt that carrying on proceedings wasn't hugely entertaining for either side so we should wrap things up and play a second game.

...But not before he fired a Barbed Strangler, a hilarious area effect weapon one of his Zoats was armed with.  Essentially an egg of an alien beastie fired at a foe, if it successfully wounds its target the egg implants and hatches as a parasite which consumes its host and then lashes out wildly at everything around it. 

Firing this at a poorly armoured Cultist unit had predictable results.

And round about here we decided to call it a day.

So, on to Game 2.  This time, Paul and I would set up on the long table edges and play a more traditional "kill the other guy" game.  Rogue Trader famously has very little in the way of win conditions listed - short of killing every opponent on the table there isn't anything like a Victory Point system, the focus remaining on scenarios and having a specific purpose to each fight.  Even the equivalent edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles had only a brief section on victory conditions, compared to later editions - each feels like it spends more time on example scenarios than a tournament-style game.

Deployment for round two.
This time things started a bit more in my favour, with Priestly Paul's Tyranids being almost entirely a melee army.  Genestealers, Zoats and Brood Brothers with small arms meant he had to get close, while my Noise Marines and Grav-Attack Vehicle could quite happily pick away at targets heading towards me.  My Assault Marines advanced around the side under the cover for fire, while the Cultists lurked in the jungle.

I should probably write a bit about my Grav-Attack Vehicle - I keep meaning to make a second, more detailed one.
A little aside now: we didn't use the core 40K rules for vehicles but the later "Vehicle Manual" rules.  In these ones vehicles have a special set of rules for hitting which involve a clear plastic grid going over a picture of the vehicle.  You roll to see how far off-target your hit goes, with hitting different part of the vehicles causing different effects.  (So blasting the barrel will ruin the gun, while hitting the driver's cabin might keep the vehicle from moving.)

These rules are part of the transition from 1st to 2nd Ed, which is a fairly gentle shift compared to the major revision of 2nd to 3rd. A lot of the things that seem weird to me about 1st Ed - like Space Marines with only Toughness 3 rather than 4 and Power armour that saves on a 4+, not a 3+ - get edited as 1st edition goes on and play reveals problems.  A bit like Original 1974 to AD&D 1st Edition, 40K 1st to Second Ed is a fairly organic process of combining magazine articles and common house rules with only a little truly new material.

I'm unsure quite how I feel about this system.  I'm kinda glad that 3rd ed moved from the Datafax style "weird subsystem for vehicles" and treated them more like normal units but that's more a factor in larger battles.  Here with just one vehicle, treating it as "special" wasn't a problem - but I'm not sure how much it added, since either way Paul struggled to have anything worth busting open armour.

The only rules for the Grav-Attack Vehicle are in the original vehicle style, not the data sheets - we used a Predator sheet as a proxy.
Well, that was weird, so back to the game. 

It was the cultists who saw the first real assaultof the game, but only after they'd had several rounds to open fire with their lasguns and pick the Brood Brothers off.  Alas, this left the substantially sturdier Zoats untouched and when they hit me in melee there was little a Weapon Skill 3. Toughness 3 baseline human  model could do to frighten them.

I wonder if he'd let me try to make a mould of one of his Zoats?

The Noise Marines, not wiped out in hand-to-hand combat straight off the bat, could have a bit more fun with their guns which are pretty brutal.  In this edition of 40K weapons don't have the flat AP stat of 3rd edition onwards but a variable save modifier - Bolt Guns are -1, Sonic Weapons are -2 and Power Gloves are -5.  This means that rather than get full save or no save, you sometimes get your full armour save and other times get a reduced number.  This is a little harder work but it's more granularity.  It didn't seem a problem in play, but in larger games with more different type of weapons it might bog us down.

The other really interesting thing was Following Fire, a rule I hadn't really noticed on reading but which Paul mentioned as being crucial.  One of my sonic weapons had Following Fire and this rule meant that if you successfully hit and wound a model in a target, you got to try to hit and wound a nearby model.  If you succeeded again you went for another adjacent model and so on, continuing until you finally fail a to hit/to wound roll or until there are no more targets you haven't hit at least once.

This rule is supposed to reflect how an automatic weapon can affect a whole unit.  It certainly makes weapons with this rule dangerous, and when a Genestealer unit tried to approach the Noise Marines with the Brood Brothers as a human shield that shield found itself cut down in rather short order.
There used to be 10 brood brothers in front of this unit.  No longer! 
 Still, despite some bad dice rolling luck at the start Paul found himself in control as the game progressed.  The Cultists, for one, might have had some luck with their shooting but in melee they couldn't last against a Zoat.  They were wiped out to a handful who legged it away from the battle, presumably vanishing into the jungle.


The Assault Marines also had Zoat problems, while the Noise Marines and Chaos Lord had to worry about the Genestealers more.  They're not actually all that well regarded by some people in the current edition of 40K - yes, they're close combat monsters but surviving into close combat is a struggle.  Here, however, the previously mentioned close combat rules and Paul's careful use of a fire screening unit meant they were put to very good effect.  Four attacks a piece, a charge bonus and no fight back from models not in base to base contact..... I was mauled, the Chaos Lord the last to fall.

My pretty Forge World Fulgrim model gets nommed.
 This left just the Grav Attack vehicle.  On the one hand, he had functionally nothing to hurt it - his army featured little in the way of heavy weapons, nor would melee do him much good.  On the other hand, what use was a vehicle unsupported?  I could frighten him with some heavy weapon fire but at the end of the day the battle was lost.

The Techmarine tries to off the Patriarch, fails, and then decides to retreat to base.

So, Priestly Paul can claim two wins over me, and I can claim some real Oldhammer experience.  I enjoyed these games, even though I lost - it was really interesting to see the game in play after all the reading of the books and Oldhammer blogs I've done.  Yes, there's parts where I really wished I was doing it the modern way... but there's definitely some good ideas in there and playing something smaller and more skirmish-y meant it didn't feel quite as much a slog as a 2,000 point modern 40K game can feel.

On reflection, I think I'd need to take some more hardy units - Terminators and Daemons, maybe, or perhaps a second tank - for survivability.  The Cultists were fun but pretty flimsy, and the classic T3/4+ power armour Space Marine stat profile isn't really all that strong.  Genestealers and the oft-forgotten Zoats are nasty in close combat and need to be taken out - a Devestator Squad instead of an Assault Squad would have been a better shout, with Heavy Bolters or Missile Launchers being the punch that might have swung things.

Anyway, after all that I gave Paul a brief instruction in Blood Bowl.  He'd played the game as a nipper but didn't have much experience in the current rules, which was what was going to be played at the convention Bring Out Your Lead.  (He very kindly invited to take me along, but I had to decline.)  Since I had some experience I brought my Amazons along and we played one half to demo the basics of the rules.  Fun was had, I think, and hopefully I'll have a new Blood Bowl buddy.

And before you ask, yes, at the end of the first half, he was 1-0 up.  :-P

Second ed pitch, modern ed rules. (And my cool American Football dice from Impact)
 Now, I wonder if I can convince Paul to come round to my own man-cave?  I've got plenty of games worth playing, including a few with Oldhammer credentials.  Dark Future?  Mighty Empires?   Man O War?


  1. This was a really entertaining read mate, loads of laughs! I love the Timothy reference ;-). You were really generous in defeat, which made it lots more fun on the day. Priestly Paul may well stick!...unfortunately Whiskey Priest already has that moniker so I can't grab that for myself. I enjoyed your comparisons with later editions of the game that I'm just not familiar with, and demystifying the AP rules was a bonus during the day. BTW, those cultists in the second game got wasted by a second Barbed Strangler shot, the CC zoats had been repulsed and re-engaged your Lord, leaving room for a third zoat to take a crack...and got through finally. Your idea of bringing Terminators and dropping the cultists and CC for Devastators is the right way to go...Area Effect weapons are needed to deal with Zoat-led Brood Brothers - squads, when combined, that pose lots of problems for other types of weapons. I was intrigued to see how well frenzied Brood Brothers with laspistols and chainswords performed...even though they never frenzied in game two. I can't see myself taking lasgun squads in the future.

    In truth, this was a game of modified RT rather than vintage...Version 1.5 if you like...hence the vehicle rules and non Major Character Zoats...

    So grateful for the BB intro, I'm pumped for BOYL now. I'd love to come and play some old school games back your way.

    1. Yeah, I'm mis-remembering the death of the cultists, you did indeed Barbed Strangler me again - that's a really brutal weapon.

      I think the Terminator save would have been a big asset against the Zoats, since I'd struggle to outfight them so I need to outlast them. More Following Fire weapons would definitely be my priority if I was building another list now I've seen waht they do.

  2. It would be great to try an ever smaller skirmish game of RT with an RT or Inquisitor band against a Chaos Warband sometime...

    1. I'd definitely be up for that. Maybe you could even make a Sensei warband ala Realms Of Chaos: The Lost And The Damned. :-)

  3. I've not played 1st ed since it was the only edition. :)

    I'd really like to go right back to its roots and field a rag-tag mob of thugs and loonies, rather than a full army. Ever since I first read the scenario tables at the back, I've thought I want a miniature of the infamous pirate Abdul Goldberg.

    (What were the rules for the Barbed Strangler, by the way?)

    1. Barbed Strangler is mentioned in the Zoat entry in the Tyranid armylist, White Dwarf 145. (The first ever White Dwarf I bought)

      Short version is: a rifle with 36" range, Strength 4, Save Mod -1. If you successfully hit and wound then the target dies no matter how many wounds remain. Furthermore, every model within 5" of original target is hit if a D6 roll equals or exceed the inches from original target.