Monday, 24 October 2011

The Oldhammer Contract

This is a brief guide to  getting the most out of playing Older Editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battle - notably 1st, 2nd and 3rd for those coming from later editions of Warhammer , maybe those from the early 1990s onwards (with thanks and apologies to Matt Finch for his Old School D&D Primer.)

OLDHAMMER: In Battle There is No Law


1. The Referee or Games Master


In Oldhammer Fantasy Battle there is a person who is in charge of the game. It's their job to check your armies are correct and everyone plays fairly. It's the Referee's job to remind everyone to take a Fear test when appropriate, and make the decisions on rulings where you've probably been used to 'dicing off'. The Referee never take sides, is totally impartial and his decision is final.

The referee will probably set up the scenario, placing terrain and describing what the objectives of each army are, sometimes in secret. Sometimes it's just to wipe each other out, and sometimes its to capture and hold a specific location, or sometimes more complex - not all sides will have the same objectives, the Goblins might be tying to capture a forest with lots of tasty mushrooms in them, the Dwarves trying to move a goods wagon across the table, neither knows what each others objective is, but the Referee throws them into this situation and the inevitable chaos that will ensue.  Occasionally strange wandering monsters will emerge to roam the battlefield. The local village may be defended by a trained militia or angry mob. These non-player forces are controlled by the Referee, often a threat to both sides, and their actions changing the goals of the scenario as the narrative progresses.

However, it is entirely possible to run a game without a Referee, but it needs the players to have the kind of non-competitive mind-set that comes from role-playing games. All players win by having fun playing the game, if your only fun comes from winning the game at any costs, Oldhammer Fantasy Battle is probably not for you.

2. There are no army lists except your own

Go and burn your Army Books, you don't need them any more. We're going back to basics.

Armies are constructed around a simple Points system, if you have spent X number of points on an army, and another player has spent  the same number of points, then that's fair enough. You aren't restricted by choice of faction or race, if you want to field a troop of Wood Elf Archers in the same army as a troop of Feudal  Knights, then go for it. Want to add in some Gnomes or some Lizard-centaurs or maybe even a Zombie Dragon, then go for it. This is how Forces of Fantasy [WFB1e] first introduced the concept of Army lists to Warhammer, the only restrictions being alignment (Good, Evil or Neutral), an innovation which is intended to preserve the flavour of the setting, and in no way an attempt to ensure armies are 'balanced' in strength.

All characters and wizards have the same access to the same magical weapons and spells, artefacts and war machines are not tied to armies. You want to field a Pump-wagon with your Dwarves? Go ahead. If you can pay the points for it, then you can have it. You can use Old School Fantasy Battle to recreate epic battles from fantasy films and novels, from Moorcock to Tolkien, you're not tied to one particular gaming world, and if you want to just grab whatever minis you have and have a bash, that's good too.

Because you're not restricted to collecting one range of miniatures, slavishly following a single Army Book, you're not forced to buy models that are just OK or playing 'counts as'.  There are no core / special / rare troops, no obligatory choices, you build armies that make sense for your campaign,  your scenario or for your miniatures collection.

While you might have guessed by now, it bears being said explicitly you're not limited to the miniatures of one manufacturer. While WFB1e does indeed lists Citadel order codes, there was nothing in the rules that you had to use those specific miniatures. Joe Dever and Gary Chalk happily suggesting Asgard and Dixon miniatures alongside Citadel miniatures in a Warhammer scenario based on The Lord of the Rings in White Dwarf magazine. You can use historicals from Perry Miniatures, Chaos Warrior HelsVakt from Red Box Games, Pig Faced Orcs from Otherworld, Elves from Thunderbolt Mountain, you can field huge lots of 80's Citadel miniatures you won on eBay, you can even field legions of plastic undead from Mantic, the choice is yours.

If you want to field strange exotic creatures carrying mystical force weapons that there are no rules for, then the points system is there [WFB2e and WH40K:Rogue Trader] to explain how to generate the stat-line and appropriate points values for such creatures. It's up to you and your referee, it's your game: in battle, there is no law.

3. Size does not matter

You do not need a 2000 point army to play the game properly.

Oldhammer Fantasy Battle is designed to scale. If you want to field 5 troops each, then do it, the core rules of Oldhammer Fantasy Battle works as a skirmish rules as well as a mass combat ruleset, which is why exactly the same core combat rules are used in Mordhiem (skirmish) and WFRP1e (one to one combat). It's just that you roll less dice, and you might want a bit more detail other than "dead". Don't worry, you still roll lots of dice, just a few less, and things still end up dead.

In fact the core combat resolution rules were never originally designed as a mass combat game, it is only the unit movement and manoeuvres which are based around the movements of large numbers of troops, the rest of the game actually relies on a 1:1 scale, and that in real wargames speak really means they are skirmish rules.

Oldhammer Fantasy Battle has more psychology rules than it's modern counterparts, there are more statistics for defining troops than later editions: Cool, Willpower, Leadership and Intelligence. That's because the people who created it were early (0e) Dungeons and Dragons players as well as wargamers, they were interested in character level combat as well as character level damage and character development over a series of games. They also were interested in alcoholic Halflings and drug-crazed Amazons, but then again, who isn't?

4. Stop worrying about game balance

As the Spartans will tell you, warfare has never been about perfectly matched armies squaring off at each other, and fantasy warfare even less so. One dark mage can flatten an entire nations army. A small band of heroic Men can overcome hordes of Orcs.  Loosing and winning are not the only outcomes of playing a game. When your Orcs decide to beat the hell out of each other just before they were about to claim victory, that's part of the fun. When a single lucky dice roll turns the tide of a battle, you know the gods are on your side, that's part of the fun.

Because you're not tied to a single Army Book, your investment (time, miniatures, books) is no longer wasted when a newer 'better' Army Book or game edition is released - these just give you more house rules to use, if your Referee and the players choose to. There are no broken armies, unless you create them yourself, if you decide to spend 1000 points in kitting out a single Major Hero with the Greater Rune of Death and 4 Power Weapons, and your opponent brings 1000 Snaga Goblins to the table, then a ridiculous, epic and fun battle will ensue!  Old School Fantasy Battle isn't about competitive army selection, but about: creating and meeting the victory conditions of a narrative scenario, tactics, creating amazing stories of derring-do, seeing what happens when ill-matched warbands face off (think Ogre - a classic board-wargame and scenario that at it's heart is about asymmetry), and ultimately doing battle on the fields, towns and dungeons of your imagination.


5. Tournaments - Just Say "No".


Oldhammer is not a sport. It's a game. And unlike Scrabble or Chess is far too reliant on random factors for player skill to really count in the win/lose/draw stakes.



Sometimes, I wish I could get away with creatling a retro-clone of Warhammer 2nd edition, with the sci-fi from Rogue Trader intact.


25/01/2013 - OK things have moved on since I wrote this, interested in more? have a look at the Oldhammer community forum and get involved, or yeah leave a comment!

39 comments:

  1. Get in!

    (I like your punny title as well)

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  2. So much good sense here - much appreciated.

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  3. Thanks - there's a lot to like here.

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  4. Really like this. Makes me miss the games that used to be played.

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  5. Lead the way, Mr Zhu. Lead the way.

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  6. Well spoken, too bad the truth is not always obvious.

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  7. Preach it bother!! Preach it! Can I get an amen? Amen!!! 3rd edition shall rise again!

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  8. -Has anyone tried to create a retro-clone of Warhammer and been shut down?

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  9. Sometimes, I wish I could get away with creatling a retro-clone of Warhammer 2nd edition, with the sci-fi from Rogue Trader intact.

    Do it anyway! I don't think anyone is squashing clones yet, are they?

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  10. Rules cannot be squashed (in the US anyway). All of those LSU-opoly and Buckeye-opoly monopoly knockoffs are not licensed by Hasbro. They don't need to be because you can't copyright or trademark the rules to a game, you can only copyright a specific rules text and trademark specific representations (e.g. Mr Moneybags and the property names). As long as all of the text is rewritten from scratch, and all of the WH specific things (e.g. Khorne) are removed, you're good to go.

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  11. This made me smile. Its not a warhammer clone, my Skulldred Skirmish rules fit your manifesto. Any minis, any manufacturer, points not army lists, 5 guys to armies, more fun etc. I just added maths free to the mix, because lets face it that whole look up table based system GW has been dining out on is a headache, and shift the points granularity down to individual stats and abilities. The campaign book I am working on lets you even add a GM. :) Hope you check it out ZHU.

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    1. Dave, I'm really sorry - stupid Blogger put this in the spam-bin and I only just caught it. I've been quietly following Skulldred since you started, and it looks great, not only the art but the rules-set is a very modern rules-light skirmish game.

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  12. I just now discovered this... but wanted to say that it's quite brilliant. A definite push in the right direction.

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  13. Great post. Sums up the Oldhammer ethos very well.

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  14. Wonderful post. Just linked to it from my wargaming blog. Would you mind if I copied it an posted on my blog in full, properly accredited?

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    1. Hey, thanks for the link and support. Feel free to use the "OLDHAMMMER: in battle there is no law" logo / banner thing I drew for any non-profit purposes. A few people are using it on their blogs as a 'supporter of oldhammer'.

      Afraid, I'm going to have to say no to copying the text for now.

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  15. Replies
    1. Brian May! Sorry, bad joke, but the tag on your comment makes it look like the name of the lead guitarist from Queen.

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  16. Brilliant !

    I'm jumping in the train, maybe a bit late but, I totally agree with your view (and the ones of Coop or Gaj) !

    By the way I'm still playing the old way (always a scenario, almost always with a narrative and different objectives (no symetric game), never a ranged battle, often with a GM, etc), even when using the more recent versions of WFB, but will definitively switch back to the 2nd/3rd edition from now on !

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  17. No matter what, hell yeah!

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  18. Hey zhu! Great post! I've added a link to it on my blog!

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  19. I'm not sure if you've seen it, but there's a Warhammer retroclone called ZWEIHANDER Grim & Perilous RPG at http://www.grimandperilous.com

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  20. Full of WIN!!

    /mordiano

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  21. I love it.

    I´m in. But to get the minis here in germany is a pain in the ass...

    http://spielmannsputtyandpaint.blogspot.de/2013/01/ranting.html

    I would like to hear some views and opinions of you guys.

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  22. Hurrah Sir, Play to enjoy, enjoy to play

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  23. Old School Fantasy Battle isn't about competitive army selection, but about: creating and meeting the victory conditions of a narrative scenario, tactics..."

    "Oldhammer is not a sport. It's a game. And unlike Scrabble or Chess is far too reliant on random factors for player skill to really count in the win/lose/draw stakes."

    Um...

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    1. "Um" what? narratives aren't competitive.

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  24. I can not believe how giddy I have been this last week since finding this community the wife had best take away my cards or I might end up with as many armies as I had in the 80's
    Peace James
    Exiles Painting

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  25. I can't find the words to express, my thoughts at the moment in finding sites like this - expressing an ethos I've aspire to for the last thirty years!
    I have the kit, I just need to find like-minded people to play the game!
    Keep up the good work.


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  26. Pretty good. Though I see nothing wrong with tournaments if one wishes to play in them or organize them. It's an easy way to get lots of people together with nicely painted armies for a day or two.

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    1. Nothing between consenting adults is wrong, but that doesn't make it interesting either.

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