The Noob Looks At the Deathwatch
While catching up on a few things this morning, Caleb tells me about the event coming up on Tues. Oct. 8th on White Metal Games TV where they’re going to be painting a whole army of Deathwatch Terminators. I did not sigh in terror of my schedule or anything. I found myself thinking, “Okay… this is another chapter of the Astartes to learn about. ANOTHER ARTICLE!
Honestly, at this rate, I’m never gonna run out of things to write about. Especially with the release schedule Games Workshop has up their oversized pauldrons.
So Caleb, being the enthusiastic fan he is, had me look at some of them… and no. The Deathwatch wasn’t JUST a chapter of the Astartes… this was pretty much a chapter of its own made up of all KINDS of chapters of all the OTHER Astartes. What would make these folks leave their own battle brothers to join up with the Nightwatch? Stop me when this begins to sound familiar. Actually don’t stop me. I’m havin’ a good time.
So the Deathwatch are part of the Ordo Xenos of the Inquisition. Essentially, when the Inquisition needs someone UTTERLY badass in battle, these are the MiB’s they turn to. They’re your guys on the wall, making sure no alien may pass. Unlike the Gray Knights, who were engineered by the Emperor, recruit and train up their own as the Emperor’s super-duper double-secret Chapter of last resort; members of the Deathwatch are nominated by their chapters to serve. Only the best of any chapter are selected. (The best, of the best, of the best, as it were.) Typically they don’t do whole armies. Typically, it would seem, they don’t NEED them. They’re more Kill-Teams and smaller groups of specialists. For the inquisition, if there’s a problem, the Deathwatch are the first in. It’s the stuff they can’t deal with that the Inquisition will call out a whole chapter of the Astartes for. Cos’ if these guys can’t deal with it, THEN send in the marines.
While their origins are unclear, the Deathwatch’s inception in the 32nd millennium seem to revolve around marines of all different chapters being gathered and brought together against the threat of alien life. Whether it be any of the other races, or alien gods awakening somewhere out in the deeps of space. And nowadays in the 41st millennium, they’ve got their work cut out for them. And they’re asking the other chapters for more and more to stand on the wall and take their watch.
This is not to say that the Deathwatch forsakes everything they used to be. They bring with them their own expertise, ways of combat and weaponry. They all make their armor black. They all wear the pauldron of the Deathwatch. But they also wear the symbol of their former chapters on the OTHER pauldron. So you’re as like to see Deathwatch using the lightning claws of the Raven Guard, or on the Cycles of the White Scars. Or any number of different affectations or loadouts from all the other chapters. The only thing sure is that if you’re seeing them in that elite black livery, then you’ve likely already lost.
Now… I’m told that there’s going to be a bit of a bluish hint to the army that the fellas are doing back in the painting room. Essentially putting our artistic stamp on them to some degree. I’m also told that some of these are going to be painted a bit in the style of the more famous inquisitor, Gregor Eisenhorn, that the live-action TV show currently in development is going to be about. Which I suppose will make for an interesting time for the CG animators doing the Space Marines on-screen. I suppose you’ll see other chapters in the show, but when you see examples from those other chapters showing up in all black… I’m thinking that will probably be your on-screen “OHHH THIS JUST GOT REAL.” moment. I suppose we’ll see if the show makes it out of development hell. I am seeing that there’s a Playstation 4 title with their name on it as well. You know. At some point I really need to get hold of some PC versions of some of these games. If they exist that is. Sometimes the console exclusives tend to leave us PC Master Race folks out. At least until they relent. (I’m told there’s a game called Red Dead Redemption out there about cowboys. That’s a myth says I. There’s no such game for the PC.) Update: There IS one. I’ll look into that later. Old news for you folk. But not for Your Noobness here.
I’ve got a bit of context for what my Warhammer GM had in mind now on a game we tried. I remember we had, in that rogue trader game, an Inquisitor and one of the Deathwatch with us. NOW I get what a big deal this was. They strike me as having a bit of that Men In Black thing going on. Not as much as the Gray Knights. But they’re certainly more Men in Black focused since they they’re Ordo Xenos. Protecting mankind from the scum of the universe, and all that. They also seem to have quite a bit of the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones going as well. Clad in black, giving up everything they used to be to be part of this elite force guarding the world from alien threats. I’ve got this mish-mash of the oaths they take going on. The whole thing with existing only as Deja Vu. Painting up their ancient antique armors in the uniform black of the Deathwatch. They’re no longer part of the system. They’re above it. Over it. Beyond it. Night Gathers and their watch begins. And shall not end until their death. They are the watchers on the walls. The shields that guard the realms of men. They walk in the dark places no others will enter. They stand on the bridge and no-one may pass… Well… that last bit is Babylon 5. But being similar to the diverse and egalitarian makeup of the Anla’Shok / Rangers is pretty awesome too.
-Edward WinterRose is still ‘The Noob’ in practice when it comes to Warhammer 40K, but is learning more and more all the time. What should he call himself when he’s got enough knowledge under his belt? The Neophyte? That’d be in keeping… ‘DREADWARD’ has been suggested. He’s still chuckling over that one.
10 Things To Do With Obsolete Rulebooks
You’ve got em. I’ve got em. Your secondhand bookstore down the street’s got em. Sad old books that have existed past their useful span. Obsolete rulebooks. In a long enough span, it will happen in most games you play. The producers of your game of choice are gonna change things. “We didn’t know then what we know now.” they’ll say. And faster than you can say ‘new edition‘, a bunch of your books are obsolete and need replacing. It’s a goldmine for some….
So… let’s talk paper and square footage in your home. YOU have a metric eyesore of books that no longer make sense to own or use in the pursuit of your fantastic hobby. Codexes and previous editions no-one liked. (I know we agreed never to speak of D&D 4th Ed. again. But you can’t GIVE those away.) What do you do with em? Here’s 10 things you can do.
Just because they’re useless to you, doesn’t mean they’re useless to someone else. Especially a library or a school. A lot of us were exposed to gaming by people who’d resources enough to afford the books. But with RPG rulebooks selling up in the $75.00 range nowadays, a lot of kids aren’t gonna have that kind of bread. A lending library suddenly having access to your obsolete books can get kids into playing these kinds of games early on. And we all know RPG and Tabletop gaming teaches creative thinking and problem solving skills. Let’s get’em while they’re young!
A Warhammer WARHAMMER.
Another way to describe obsolete books is “Almost a big honkin’ block of wood.” And what can you make out of a big block of wood? It’s not a slicer. It’s not a dicer. It’s not a chopper in a hopper… what in the hell could it possibly be?? AN ACTUAL WARHAMMER. Now… the making of such a beast is a blog post all its own really, and you’re already thinking about how to do this now that you’ve read it. But please. Enjoy this pic of a flaming sledge destroying fruit. (USE AS DIRECTED.)
Hollow em out!
Now if these things are useless in a way that you’re feeling a bit… destructive. Make that work for you. Bore out the things and turn em into a secret book safe for your valuable valuables. A GAMING themed one. You’re not gonna find that on Amazon. And any burglar’s gonna have to be Sherlock Freakin’ Holmes to look at your shelf and go, “Obsolete editions all. These have had no place on a serious gamer’s shelf for years now. Ergo, they are being used there for something else… let’s see what they’re hiding…”
So… I will admit. I cheated a little. I did a google search on “What to do with old books.” By the Omnissiah… there are a LOT of pages for that kind of thing. Book sculpture, Book Furniture. Accessories. Costumes. There are thousands of Etsy shops out there that use books to make WHATEVER. You could even contact some to see if they’ll take your old soldiers off your hands as fodder for their sell-able art. They might even barter you something cool. Let’s hear it for a good trade… paperback. A-haha. Alas, my wife has also trained me in bad puns.
I used to cut out stuff from magazines to hang up in my locker. This is the kind of thing Gen-X-ers used to do before there were search engines to look for cat pictures and memes online. Like our Neanderthal cousins once did. Happily, I’ve ‘evolved‘ since then. There’s old books out there with art from big-name, award-winning artists. If you’re looking for some good quality art prints? You and your outdated codex have a date with an X-Acto knife. (Or better still, a book guillotine!)
THE EMPRAH DEMANDS YOUR PURITY. DISPLAY PROUDLY YOUR PIOUS AND RIGHTFUL DEVOTION BY TURNING THE PAGES OF YOUR RIGHT-HONORABLE OLD CODEXES INTO BLESSED SEALS OF PURITY, SHOWING YOUR AUTHORIZATION TO METE OUT JUSTICE IN THE MOST HOLY NAME OF THE EMPRAH OF MANKIND.
Ammunition: If all creativity fails, you can huck em at one another for fun.
Appraise’em and sell’em.
Is there an Antiques Roadshow equivalent for old RPG books? WELL THERE NEEDS TO BE! Get em appraised an sell em! E-Bay em! Get that money! What else to you purchase new little codexes and editions with? IT’S THE CIRRRRCLE OF RULEBOOOOOOKS!!!!
There will be some books you can’t even GIVE away. No matter how hard you look. There’s shredding services that will come to you nowadays. And you know these guys recycle. Pay some to come out to your house! If you’re very lucky, you’ll get ones that will let you chuck the books into the industrial wood chipper yourself.
And then there’s the other option…
I mean… I suppose… if you want to be boring, but you want to show off your gamer cred in? You can always prop up an uneven table with em.
Edward WinterRose is a 48th level Nerd, and maintains that this sort of thing is toxic to the personality and imagination, and offers himself as a meager example. ^_^
The Noob Learns to Play Warhammer: Underworlds
So earlier this week, Hunter, who sits behind me sees me looking around for things that need mentioning in print, and he asks if I’m familiar with Warhammer: Underworlds.
“Nope! Not in the least!”, I tells him.
So he offers to demo this for me. I’ve no minis for that kind of thing, but he says that’s no problem. And given that the Beastgrave set is going up for pre-order this week, there’s the nub of an article in there for me to write about learning to play in Shadespire. He recommended I have a look at some of the underworld factions and see which one I’d be interested in playing. Looking through, only a few really REALLY appealed. I can see that when I get properly into this, I may really start with some Greenskins as their MAXIMUM RIDICULOSITY appeals to me in a way that most of the ‘Grimdark Future’ doesn’t quite reach. Gimme a humorous take any day friends. Gimme-gimme those laughs!
Now… going through the factions, I eventually settled on Thundrik’s Profiteers. They looked like some nice distance-loving, gun and gadget-having DPS-ers who had the added benefit of whenever they get cards with points or a modifier of some sort, it doesn’t matter if the card says “PLAY AT THE END OF YOUR TURN” or not, them dwarf’s is able ta play em’ immediate like! Cos’ Dwarves is awsome like that!
Ahem. *drops accent*
Anyway, Hunter left Thundrik’s Profiteers at home by accident cos they were all set up for priming, and they never made it back out of his priming bin. ‘God-damn them all!‘ So I’ll have to pick something else. Ahh well. Dwarfs is for another day I suppose. Too bad really. I’ll see what else he’s got with him. Like they used to say on That 70’s Show, “It’s funnier this way.” Maybe he’ll have Ironskull’s Boyz on tap. The site I was looking at seems to think that they’re good for beginners like me.
Looking at an overview of how the game is played in that same article, the impression I get of Underworlds is a kind of cross between a skirmish board game and Magic: The Gathering. Or maybe for you folks who are more videogame card-game based, Hearthstone. Me? I think of something else. Dating myself here, but only a bit. I’m thinking RISK. Hey, the right card at the right time in that game is the difference between holding the Russian Bloc, or having to retreat all your armies down to Australia and then striking out in one final balls-out run of glory, leaving 1 or 2 armies behind you as you tear an arc across the world with a marauding mega-horde only to be wiped in a few successive turns cos you’re done after that. I’ve pals that still refer to that as, “Pulling an Eddie.”
There’s a few victory condition things too where you can still win the game, even if you’re getting your Boyz kicked all over the board. Just as long as you satisfy the card’s demand for the ‘Glory Points’ you get. That’s a bit Settlers of Catan or 7 Wonders for me, but both of those games are on my shelf at home, so I’m not gonna complain. There’s even a bit of Wiz-War in there, in that you roll initially to see which way the boards are facing to get a bit of a better strategic start. Can we tell I’ve got that one too? A friend was even nice enough to paint the game pieces in that for us as a gift.
HE DID have Ironskull’s Boyz! He even customed his a bit to be zombiefied versions of themselves. He says he’s got a themed deck for them based on the “Bouncer” or “Are you on da list?” deck. Happily, that’s a deck design that was mentioned in the article I read. So I’m not going in entirely blind. So yay! Beginner-friendly warband for me! We’re gonna arrange some time to do this sometime today.
So until we get a moment, this goes on hold for now…
Well, that could have gone better. I was right in that it felt a bit like a bloody-minded mash-up of several games I was already familiar with. The Card-Suspense of Risk or a deck-building card game. There was something of an element of Stratego to me, to be honest. There was the feel of a tabletop wargaming rig with all the hexmaps minus the headaches that come with facing. All in all, though, the reading I’d prepared myself with was okay, but didn’t prepare me for what was coming. Remember, kids. Cramming for a test doesn’t really teach you anything other than cramming doesn’t work in the end.
Hunter did a good job with your Noobness here. He didn’t go easy on me. And was patient with my trying to pick up the more necessary nuances. There’s a lot of balls to keep in the air here. And my inexperience with Warhammer really didn’t do me any favors.
To start with, there were a lot more objective cards than I anticipated. And many only seemed to grant their glory points, which you get for killing opponents units or completing an objective, at the end of the third round. (there are only the three.) So I was shedding cards to get others at the end of the first and second turns that really didn’t seem to be practical. Like ones that only scored you glory points if three people went down in a round. So trying to get an objective that I could score to start accumulating glory points went slowly for me at first. And if your opponent is accumulating them fast, and then using them to upgrade and inspire his units, then you can’t be slow like I was.
Secondly, I didn’t twig immediately to the difference between cards where I had to have a glory point to update my Boyz with, and ones that you could use any time the power step came along. This is more on me than anything to do with the game design. So in addition to not snagging glory points, I wasn’t really able to use half the cards in my hand to begin with. So I made what might have been a rookie mistake and discarded all the ones I needed glory points to use at the end of the first turn in favor of the other flavor. But that brings me to my other tactical mishap.
I get the idea that my Boyz weren’t really designed for needing to charge endlessly at my foes. The Foes in this case seemed to be a chaos group that Hunter had subtly painted with the theme of the Scooby Gang. I’d figured from my reading about Ironskull’s Boyz that some of their better objectives really came from Getting all your boyz INTO enemy territory and keeping your enemy in their territory. Which on hindsight, explains the ‘Bouncer‘ and the ‘Are you on da list?‘ nicknames for the deck Hunter had for my Boyz. You get em there, then you hold the line and make them come to YOU.
And I did manage that in the end. But they did outnumber me 6 to 4. A more experienced player may have used his power cards a bit more wisely than I did and parlay that into a win. But I kept not-noticing that many of the non-glory point dependent cards I’d kept also tended to stipulate that you couldn’t use them to your advantage if you had just used a charge action to close with the enemy. The All-Melee Boyz Choir here were a little disadvantaged by this since Orruks are a bit more in yer face, if ya ken savvy dat.
So I wasn’t getting the glory points early on, like I needed to be. I wasn’t conning the powers cards as closely as I ought, so my strategy of rushing the Chaos Scoobies really wasn’t working out cos the objectives I had that made that a good idea didn’t drop their points til the end of the third round. I’d even discarded one that REALLY would have put a kink in Hunter’s plans, had I the sense to use it. One where the Boyz can just snap up an objective off the board and keep it. That would have kept Hunter from meeting one of his objectives and getting the points he was upgrading his team with, which inspired them. Inspiring them allowed him to flip his characters’ cards over to a side where they had better stats, and made them that much more dangerous.
And all this… in the hands of an experienced player, might still have been salvage-able. Though really, an experienced player wouldn’t have been in my fix in the first place. But there was one final spike in the lid of this strategy of mine. And that was really no-one’s fault. It happens to everyone at some point.
Sometimes the dice are kind. And sometimes they are not. Last night, my dice were apathetic, lazy and contrary besides. Hunter’s dice were on point like a sniper in god-mode with a gyro-stabilizer implant. If I rolled a hit, he rolled a crit to defend. If I rolled a defense, he rolled a crit to attack. If he merely rolled hits, I rolled useless assists. Though I really can’t blame his dice too much. We even switched once. I continued to suck. (Eat yer heart out, Wil Wheaton!) I did apologize for my poor performance. I lost on my own merits in the end, even if the dice were agin’ me. I hope I didn’t get too much suck on his dice. (Ahem) In the superstitious magical thinking sense, I hope the suck doesn’t linger. (Again. AHEM.) I honestly feel like I ought to be posting a pic of myself in those ‘Dice Shaming’ threads out there. “I sucked with any dice given to me in my first demo of Warhammer Underworlds.”
I did lose, but in the end, I did get the much-needed objective cards I needed for the endgame. I also managed to take out at least two of his six Chaos Scoobies. My inexperience crippled me in the end. That said, I managed to pull out 8 glory points to his 11. So that was not an entirely horrible showing for Your Noobness here.
In summary… I think it probably would have served me a bit better to find and try to read the rules ahead of time instead of trying to learn the mechanics on the fly. This is not a game for beginners, and you really need to be cognizant of several influencing factors that can help or hinder your warband’s performance on the field. Being on more familiar terms with the game’s mechanics and the cards in the decks likely would have clued me in to some of the walls I face-planted into when it came to the terminology issues I had that kept me from using them effectively.
My being a bit more familiar with GW’s symbol-based dice and how they work would have made it a bit more enjoyable. This again is no slight on the idea of those dice. I played Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars a few years ago. And it took me a bit to get used to their symbol based dice too. I can appreciate the kind of copy-protection / profit margin that symbol dice engender for companies that make them. In that respect, maybe my age is showing a little. In my day, we rolled dice with numbers on em! Uphill! In a crowded game store fulla kids playing Pokemon! AND WE LIKED IT! Etc.. etc…
It wasn’t what I’d call a negative experience. Hunter was very sportsman-like, patient and didn’t patronize me a bit. For more experienced types, I imagine those three turns fire right along like those guys you see in public parks playing Speed Chess with timers. I managed to make our game take the better part of an hour. Which isn’t bad at all. (Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness on the other hand… YEESH! Set aside a day for those.) But I bet it would have run quicker had I known what I was doing a bit more. I certainly recommend it for experienced gamers who enjoy the thrill of combat who are familiar with how GW tends to structure their gameplay. Tacticians familiar with the strengths and limitations of the warbands they’re playing are going to likely have the best time here I’d say.
That said… Hunter put it out there that some mechanics of the rules will be getting changed with the upcoming Warhammer Underworlds: Beastgrave set that’s opening up for pre-order this weekend, and releasing next week. A fellow watching us play (I WILL LEARN EVERYONE’S NAMES PROPERLY SOON!) seemed a bit alarmed at a change in the mechanic of how charging worked, which screwed with his own warband’s proven strategies in the past. So don’t be like Your Noobness here. Make sure you’re up on the rules and how things work. Otherwise no matter how kind the dice are to you, you may end up like I did. A leader without an army. Surrounded by chaotic lunatics painted and dressed like characters from Scooby Doo as the final activation chip was flipped…
At least… until they’re all resurrected by the powers that be, and it all happens again.
— Edward WinterRose is a Warhammer Noob when it comes to quick skirmish-y games like this. He did play Gorechosen with one of his best pals once. Now THAT was funny!
My Convention Just Ended, and All I Got Was This Lousy Con-Drop.
You’ve been in the rarefied atmosphere of your favorite convention. A place where people are into all the things you’re into. A place where people get all your inside jokes and jargon without having to explain yourself. Where there’s literally so many activities and so much fun to be had, you don’t have enough time in the day to attend all the things you wanted to see and have fun at.
And when the stars align and you can get some lunch, or maybe get some gaming in between panels, you can pretty much just breathe in the feeling of all being right with your world. And you were feeling it underneath that current of fun you were having on the last day. There was the knowledge that you’d be leaving and going back home soon. And it’s almost like you were getting maudlin prematurely to save time. And you can’t imagine what it’s going to be like on Monday when you get back to work. UGH.
Having done two larger conventions a year, including DragonCon every Labor Day for a solid decade, I can tell you right now that what you’re feeling, be it a sci-fi, comic book, gaming or straight up professional convention that the existential dread you’re feeling is a real thing. Convention-nauts even have a term for it. You’ve heard of ‘Con-Crud‘. (IE The thing everyone gets sick with that year.) Now you’ve got… Con Drop.
It’s that ennui that sets in when you have to leave your own true tribe and rejoin the life of the everyday. The return to the grind of work and making your living way in the world after a straight 3 to 5 days of unadulterated fun-times. All the happy chemicals and endorphins have stopped and you’re actually having something of a physical crash as well, emotionally.
For LARP-ers and RPG-ers this can actually come with a secondary kind of drop referred to as ‘Bleed’. A thing where you’ve been immersed in character all weekend, but now that you’re you again and returning to ‘real life’, (Whatever that is.) you find you’re still in character and reacting as that character would. I know I had it after I attended New World Magischola for their inaugural run back in 2016. Happily, I was already familiar with Con Drop.
For both… what I recommend is something very much like divers have to do after having been very deep in the ocean for a period of time. They have to decompress otherwise they’ll get nitrogen bubbles in the blood, a condition referred to as The Bends. (Oh you think Con Crud is bad… UGH) Con Drop’s not nearly so severe, but dealing with it is very like the period a diver needs for decompression. You need some time to re-acquaint yourself with yourself and your life before you rejoin it.
Firstly, before you leave, don’t sweat the fact that it’s ending soon. There’s no need to blow your good time prematurely if you’re still at the wonderful thing. Enjoy it while it lasts! You can deal with con-drop when it’s over. Why did you spend all that time and resources just to bum yourself out before it’s over? Drop’s not going away faster just cos you’re getting an early start feeling bad. That’s like buying an excellent meal and not eating all of it cos you don’t want the experience of it to be so good you regret finishing it all later. Are you getting the goofy-ness of that? The same thing applies here to convention drop.
I know that when I am planning my vacation time for a convention, I always budget at least one more day on the end after I’ve got home. Just to myself, or just me and my wife. I do nothing of use. I don’t unpack. I don’t go through the pictures I took there, or go through posts from people I met or groups I joined. I don’t hit the sites for all the vendors I browsed and got cards from in the vendor rooms. The con is done, and I am done with the con for a year. Doing a post-con wallow in all its online glory is only going to be one more day of it when I am emotionally exhausted and need to be getting back to myself.
I do the things I normally do on my weekends. I work on my own projects or productions. I watch a movie or show I’ve not seen yet. Or maybe something I got recommended while I was at the convention. Catch up on my reading. Listen to my own playlists. I do NOT clean house. (Actually we do that before we leave so we don’t come home to a wreck from con prep.) I get a lot of rest too. Naps are great. I mean all the physiological and mental benefits of a good nap are documented legion. But you’ve also been walking all over hell’s creation for 3 to 5 straight days, dealing with crowds, dealing with the stress of being out of your environment. You may think you don’t need a nap now, future post-nap you thinks you don’t know what you’re talking about.
The whole point is to re-acquaint yourself with your usual routine. Take care of, and maybe just do something that NORMALLY makes you feel good and comfortable with yourself again. Don’t get into any kind of important project or something like work yet. Treat yourself to your favorite familiar dinner. Get rested and rebalanced so that when you rejoin your life and responsibilities once more, you’re doing it from a place of a normal day of relaxation with yourself. And you’re relaxing with positive feelings that you get from the everyday. Not the disappointment and emotional/physical withdrawal you’re experiencing from leaving the intensified fun of your convention of choice. You scan me? (WE GET YOU SIR!) Right. As you were.
And by the way, yes they’re back from the NOVA open, but our troupers (troopers) Caleb and Preston will be at Dragon Fall 2019 in Elmhurst IL. this October 27th to the 29th, running some painting classes. So having dealt with con drop this month, they get to look forward to having it next month too. I’ve said it before about where I’m working now… These are the problems you WANT to have. Nevertheless, spare a kind thought or two for our fellas with the brushes and merch. Working cons can be quite a different thing from just attending…
But that’s another story…
— Edward WinterRose is a decade veteran of DragonCon, the largest sci-fi convention in the United States, and another con where he’s head of the Geek Track, and a married in member of the game room staff. And is looking forward to returning to those cons next year.
The Importance of Gaming Terrain (or: Welcome to the Jungle, We Got Fun & Games)
“So where’s the building, then?” I asked.
My GM, who had planned this out grabbed a dry erase marker and moved around the table and considered. On the tabletop was a larger rolled-out, tan hex map with printed hexes on it. It was blank in an unrolled parchment kind of way for fantasy gaming, except for the regular pattern of hexagons, convenient for the moving and facing of gaming miniatures. The innovation here was a large coffee-table sized pane of thick glass; suitable for drawing on with dry erase markers.
There was a road, some bushes and carts. My GM reached down and drew in a large couple of rectangles for the buildings, then thoughtfully added a few other shapes for obstacles and the like. It was innovative to me. But visually, I wasn’t entirely IN the scene, ya know? My imagination was doing the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. And that’s okay. I’m not shaming my old DM’s game. He made that story sing and dance. And even if the map and terrain I was seeing were more akin to concept doodles on a napkin, I still remember them.
We were playing in service of not getting bogged down in the details. That was cool too. It was the equivalent of setting your videogame’s graphics settings to lower detail for faster performance. We had foes to slay, and at least 6 players with two characters each. We didn’t need to make this skirmish stretch into 3 sessions rendering the scenery as works of fine art. Especially if we meant to just erase them later. It was quick and dirty. And it was still fun.
But years later… I couldn’t tell you the details of that fight. Or what we were trying to accomplish at the time. This is no bad reflection on my GM. I tell ya sorry, gentle reader… But in my memory, it was ‘just another battle’.
Now contrast that with a time that I was with other pals of mine, and we were visiting a Games Workshop store here in Raleigh. My pal was checking up on minis he’d painted and put into a display case there as part of a competitive painting contest. My memory of the day is dominated by the large tabletops I saw there. Being a GW store, they had tables set up with countryside with hills and valleys and whole phalanxes of Lord of the Rings armies set to launch into one another. There was a blasted kind of cityscape, complete with ruined buildings and 40K minis jockeying for position on their Necron foes. There was a dark stone temple or dungeon setup with pillars and alters and a sense of claustrophobic cobbled depths and torchlight. I’d no idea what was being fought. Or what factions were gaming for victory. But I remember the scenes vividly.
I remember that.
Ultimately, I’m thinking this is the most valuable contribution your terrain is contributing to your wargaming experience. The memory anchored with the feeling of fun you were having at the time. You’re not merely flocking the grass and planting shrubs or bits of tree. You’re making a world your players are going to remember. I remembered the world I saw at the GW shop vividly enough that the next time I went back, I asked them if they’d let me photograph some of my minis on their terrain. They were very nice about it. And patient. Remember that, if nothing else. You’re making memories.
However, you’re making some practical decisions too. I mean let’s get down to brass studs here.
Setting the Tone
I saw an article recently where someone was confronting the idea of terrain not being important in a video game situation. And maybe that was true to some degree in the nineties… maybe even the early aughts. Back when the rendering power of your machine was likely not up to something you’d see in a modern game. Terrain detail was the first thing you’d sacrifice to get the action running faster. But even then, there were standouts where the scenery were likely THE visual point of the game. ‘Darkseed’ in particular was one, featuring the organic machine surrealist worlds of H.R. Giger. The alien menace of those worlds set the tone of the horror adventure. Again, it was almost a throwaway nineties game, but the visuals were astonishing.
The menacing tone of the unfamiliar or alien. The oppressiveness of a desert. The lush difficulty of a jungle hell. The burnt and blackened scorch of an entrenched battlezone. The world around you determines the emotion of the situation you’re conveying. And the more detailed that is, the more memorable the experience. It is literally the difference between night and day for some. Especially if your game has vampires in.
Setting the Action
And then there’s the effect all this terrain’s going to have on your players psychologically. You can tell them that they’re in in a dense forest, or a vast desert plain, or in a claustrophobic dungeon or space hulk all you like. There will still be something lost without that visual representation of how people are oriented. What they can see and what they can’t depending on where their character on the board is facing. What might be obscuring their line of sight. What they can realistically climb or jump up on or across. The suspense of a whole tabletop full of places their foes may be taking advantage of to ambush you.
There’s assumptions your players might make as to what they can and can’t do, and therefore how they might behave in a given situation. Might this unit take the shot if they can pretty much eyeball that they really don’t have the best position for it. Might they instead try to get a better position instead? Might they resort to a spotter and use an indirect method of fire once they have a solution on their target? If they see that river of lava over there, maybe they’re not just going to rely on the stats of their equipment, which tells them they can probably jump that. Seeing it there, they may think twice. They may take on the feel that there’s more of a challenge here. Especially since the person running the game has chosen the battleground. There’s that feeling for your players that they’re not on their home turf. How can they strategically turn that terrain to their advantage?
Confronted visually with a dense jungle where guerillas might have set any number of ambushes or traps, where they can barely see one another, are they going to stick together so as not to get separated, or do they spread out so a munition doesn’t take out everyone at once? Are they going to try and snipe or get a single burst off at that guy they may only see partially through the foliage, or are they going to ‘spray and pray’? But they’re already making decisions based on what they’re SEEING. Not just what the rules tell them they can and can’t do. And that’s going to lead to a lot less assumption and/or disagreements that can slow or bring a game to a tooth or tusk-grinding halt. Which brings me to…
Removing the Guesswork
“I waste him with my crossbow!”
“Dude, you can’t even SEE him.”
Ever launched into a ten-minute debate with a player over whether they had that shot or not? We had a ruler for that back on the hexmap and glass arrangement I used to RP over. But like the man said, it showed ‘Two-dimensional thinking’. “I can see over that rock/wall can’t I? How tall is it?” Blah Blah woof woof. In the case of your actual terrain, you’ve got that third dimension to work with and the measuring sticks to show whether or not your player’s got the shot or not. Whether they can be seen around or through that obscuring piece of scenery.
I’m already looking at some of the examples here in this jungle terrain set my people have done, and it has me rethinking strategy. The taller ferns here, the trees that your units ordinarily might not even look up into. The underbrush and bushes all around that indigenous life might hop out of. How I might want to set up a killzone or an ambush. All the decisions I might not even take into consideration on the hexmap open up to me and suggest different strategies towards my victory conditions.
The very practical ability to eyeball a situation and make it work for you, or replace the need to pull out a book and start math-ing your situation to death is, if I may paraphrase, a blood godsend. And probably worth the time and effort you’ll spend making it. Or borrowing. Or leasing, if you get my drift. We’ve got those too.
The Windup and the Pitch.
So we’ve covered points a bit more in-depth than I’ve seen when it comes to some of the research and reading I did for this article. Oddly, I was astonished at how little it was commented on in a cursory search on the matter. I mean, I’m not re-inventing the wheel here. I’m kind of editorializing on the idea of terrain on the gaming table. I wanted to know what observations I could bring without repeating what’s been said ad nauseum, etc. Most of what I found was commentary on what point strength armies recommended for this or that kind of terrain. Or reviews of existing terrain. Not the actual practicality of the stuff or why it’s a good idea.
And it is a good idea. It can make the difference between what’s a good course of action, or a party wipe. It’s the difference between advantage and disadvantage on the battlefield, and how your players will strategize. It’s the difference between a flat table and 3 dimensions. It’s certainly the difference between having to TELL your players what they can see, and being able to SHOW them. It’s the opportunity to move your players emotionally, or thrill, intimidate, terrify or otherwise astound your players instead of just rolling dice and cheering the occasional critical hit at just the right point in time. It’s whether or not your players are going to have a visual to go with the memory of that one session that will live on in their tabletop stories for years to come. It’s making memories.
What’s that worth to you
— Edward WinterRose is a 48th level nerd with a 30 year character backstory of roleplaying games across who knows how many gaming systems at this point. Oddly, he does not consider this time wasted, and will fight about it for days.
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