Thursday, November 21, 2019

Oldhammer meets Age of Sigmar: Battle for Black Fire Pass

As most likely none of you missed, GW recently announced that its necromancers are hard at work resurrecting the Old World. They expect to take about two or three years to give us more clarity on what this will mean. Meanwhile as one of those madmen that like both the current AoS lore AND the Old World I've just decided to go have fun right now (as to what is planned: que sera sera). One of the things on my to-do list was fight a big battle over Black Fire Pass. Yesterday evening, I did just that.

And some call this a skirmish game...

I've had a few tries running narrative scenario's and campaigns. Rules-wise they never quite worked out as planned (if they got of the ground at all). Game wise they were (almost) always a hell of a lot of fun (even the ones we couldn't finish or that turned out not to work). As to Black Fire Pass I was postponing this scenario because I felt it needed some custom terrain (and proper objective markers). I actually have a plan, but in the end I decided against waiting to complete it. Lets just take what I have and go for it. After all Black Fire Pass is the site of multiple battles.

From the moment I saw the Orc and Goblin horde in 1988's Warhammer Armies book, I wanted to play with one. Having my fully painted host assembled on the table here (and remembering I've got more painted models at home) makes me both happy and a bit proud.
As a bit of extra motivation to play a Black Fire Pass scenario. I know a Dwarf player who soured on Age of Sigmar. His units are disappearing, no rules are forthcoming for classic fantasy armies and the current 'battle tomed' armies on a 'matched' playing field turn any classic army into bone soup (and not the good kind Nagash likes). I actually find myself souring on AoS on this count as well. Taking a big tool box fool of Orcs/Orruks to a game and achieving absolutely nothing against a modern army is taking its toll. I don't mind losing, but not even scratching the other player? It started to feel as if I had to take one of my modern armies out of the display case, run it past one of those boring 'meta list whatchamacallits' and turn the entire wargaming experience into a number crunching math exercise. As creative as the new army books are, on the table the armies tend to turn into one trick ponies. Do the Idoneth have units besides Eels? Are there Karhadron left that actually take their ships into combat? Well you can complain like this for hours (but I won't).

A serious host of Dwarves gets ready to kill the hell out of an outnumbering horde of Orcs and Goblins.
The answer to this problem is obvious as it has been with us since at least 3rd edition (the one that got me started). Back in the olden days you could use a GM. That would give you someone to blame for failing to balance things out ;). With one-on-one battles without a GM its just a matter of picking opponents with comparable dispositions and then just letting it go (note to self: do not insert that song here). In other words: forget the rules, go with what works. For a Black Fire Pass scenario we grabbed the free warscrolls originally published when AoS was released. These contain all the units we want to field and they have not been bogged down by FAQ's and new unit counts (a unit of 10 fanatics for instance). Yes there are some inconsistencies with the latest updates, but these can be resolved by shrugging and deciding to go with whatever will look cool on the table. There's the whole trick: find a fun opponent with a shared goal. In this case the goal was to have fun blasting at each other's armies in a classic tale of the fight over Black Fire Pass. 

Skarsnik tried bellowing some instructions over the din, unfortunately his (and Grom's) artillery was ahead of the army and blocked the pass.
With that speech done, let's move on to the game itself. To make it interesting we needed a scenario. AoS scenario's consist of rules for set-up/deployment, some special rules and (a set of ) victory conditions. The AoS source material is full of example missions. Especially the Realm Gate Wars source books. As these where (mostly) published before points where reintroduced into the game they tend to be more narrative. After skipping over a few pass scenario's in the latest General's Handbook (they where to objective oriented for my taste) I found a scenario called 'Against the horde' in the Realmgate Wars Vol. 3: Godbeasts.

Meanwhile after years of 'display duty' the Gob Lobber rolled into action once more. 
the Battle for Black Fire Pass scenario we based on this consists of two sides: attacking Orcs and defending Dwarves. As a special rule each turn one Dwarf runesmith can try to teleport a unit of dwarves within 12" 'through the mineshafts' anywhere on the board 9" away from enemy units. Assuming the controlling player rolled a 5 or more on 2d6. The Orc army was divided into four groups, each led by a general. If a general got killed, his entire group would desert the field. Aside from that each orc general was allowed to use his command ability each turn. For troop selection we aimed at Orcs outnumbering the Dwarves about 2 to 1 in units. So for each unit the Dwarves deployed, the Orcs would deploy 2 units. We planned a 5 turn game. If at the end of turn 5 even a single Dwarf was left standing, their side would win. The Orcs had to annihilate the defenders to score a victory. Not very elegant, but apt for the setting. For deployment we used the short table edges and allowed each army an area of up to 18" to deploy in. Only flying reinforcements (if available) could use the long sides of the board to enter during the battle (it is a pass after all).

Thormgrim Grudgebearer looked a bit white around the cheeks, but was determined to hold Black Fire Pass against the assembled Orc horde.
Deployment was fun and (in part thanks to the new movement trays) fast (for the Orcs and Goblins). The Orcs where bunched together and made for an impressive horde. The Dwarves where set-up in an equally impressive firing line. I got to use an all star general line-up: Azhag the Slaughterer, Grimgor Ironhide, Skarsnik Lord of the Eight Peaks and Grom the Paunch. It may not have been very accurate background wise to have all four in command at the same time, but it was just too cool not to field them. The Dwarves had both king Thorgrim Grudgebearer and the Thorek Ironbrow on the table. I even remembered to bring my restored Gob Lobber along so it could fire some goblins for the first time in decades. We made it a 6 wound Grudge Thrower that gave a goblin unit -2 bravery on successful hits. Ah the ease with which you can add a few tailor made rules to AoS.

With movement phase one complete most of the Orc and Goblin Army was running the length of the pass. The Night Goblins not so much. They rolled a solid 1 for their run and managed to trap a lot of Orcs behind themselves and the idiotically placed artillery.
This was my Orc list:

  • 1 Azagh the Slaughterer leading a Greenskinz Big Mob formation (consisting of)
  • An Orc Great Shaman on boar (ancient Wurrzag model)
  • 20 Orc Boyz (Classic Ruglud's Armoured Orcs)
  • 20 Orc Boyz
  • 10 Orc Boyz (formerly known as Black Orcs but scale creep took its toll)
  • 3 Orc Boar Chariots
  • 5 Orc Boar Boyz 
  • 1 Orc Warboss on Boar (ooops I realize I made a rules mistake here, he's not allowed in this formation)
  • 1 Grimgor Ironhide leading an Ironjaws Big Mob (consisting of)
  • 10 Black Orcs
  • 10 Black Orcs
  • 10 Black Orcs
  • 1 Giant 
  • 1 Skarsnik of the Eight Peaks leading a Great Moonclan (consisting of)
  • 1 Night Goblin Shaman
  • 5 Squig Hoppers
  • 6 Cave Squigs 
  • 2 Night Goblin Squig Herders
  • 1 Mangler Squig (yes, this is not quite correct ruleswise either, luckily I forgot to apply the rules of the formation as well) 
  • 40 Night Goblins with spears
  • 20 Night Goblins with bows
  • 20 Night Goblins with bows
  • 2 Doom Diver Catapults
  • 3 Goblin Fanatics
  • 1 Grom the Paunch leading a ragtag rabble of:
  • 2 Rock Lobbers
  • 1 Orc Bully
  • 2 Snotling Pump Wagons 
  • 4 bases of Snotlings
The Dwarves after movement phase one (and two (and three)): standing still as tradition dictates.
The Dwarves brought the following units (I did not make this list so hopefully there's not too many mistakes here)

  • 1 Thorgrim Grudgebearer
  • 1 Thorek Ironbrow (Anvil of Doom)
  • 2 Organ Guns
  • 1 Dwarf Cannon
  • 1 Gob Lobber
  • 2 Runelords
  • 10 Hammerers
  • 10 Longbeards
  • 10 Longbeards
  • 20 Dwarf Warriors
  • 20 Dwarf Warriors
  • 10 Ironbreakers
  • 10 Irondrakes
  • 20 Quarrelers
  • 20 Thunderers 
  • 1 Gyrobomber 

We gave all units in this army the keyword Dwarf, because we're rebels (and it made our lives easier during the game).

The orcs got even nearer. One Snotling Pump Wagon actually managed to make a 23" move by rolling a lot of sixes for movement. You can't fault Snotlings for their enthusiasm!
We had a lot of fun with this battle, but I also learned a few important thing. First and foremost: the orcs where doomed to failure. The table was 72 inches long. You can take 36 inches of that distance for both deployment areas. Now assume Orc units have an average move of 9" (this assumes an average (optimistic) roll of 4 for running). It will take a unit of unimpeded Orcs four turns to traverse the gap between them and the Dwarves. That's a bit much in a five turn game as you'll want to spend a few turns punching said Dwarves as well. Now you might cut down the time down to three turns with some lucky running rolls for units and a proper charge. But still, it was too far. For next time we should either extended the game time (perhaps to 8 turns) or go for a regular long edge deployment with 12" deployment zones (reducing the gap would've to a minimum of 24").

The fastest Orc and Goblin units charged into the Dwarven lines in turn three. 
We I had a lot of fun with artillery bringing two rock lobbers and two night goblin catapults that wreaked havoc on a Dwarf Cannon crew and a group of Quarrelers. The two Dwarf Organ Guns kept jamming every turn (bad luck for my opponent). We turned it into a running gag about goblin corkers sneaking into the dwarven hold to stick corks into the cannon barrels on the eve of battle. Now should I convert a goblin to fit that part? (answer: I most definitively should do that).

The Giant and Mangler Squig duo charging into the Ironbreakers ended up with a lot of Ironbreaker shaped bloodstains on the pass floor.
I've summarized the battle itself (somewhat) in the captions with the pictures. It basically boiled down to a fun, manic charge. Not very tactical maneuvering towards the enemy-wise, but very tactical when it came to orcs and goblins shouldering each other aside to go forward (okay it was a hot mess caused by awful deployment of artillery* on my side).

*Game of Thrones, Battle of Winterfell bad deployment I dare say.

Killing Azagh would've destroyed a large part of the Orc and Goblin army. Being an Orc this gave Azagh zero reason to hide in spite of getting every grudge in the game thrown at him and steadily losing wounds due to a sustained Gob Lobber bombardment.
A wonderful moment in the game was caused by one of my Snotling Pump Wagons. It hit a Dwarven unit. I bought this particular Pump Wagons in a blister at the rear end of the eighties. I've owned it for almost thirty years and it had managed to get into combat until last night. Unfortunately it charged a unit of Dwarf Longbeards, failed to do any damage and then got splattered into tiny little pieces. In other words: it performed as expected.

There where two Snotling Pump Wagons. One charged a unit of Hammerers, the other a unit of Longbeards. No Dwarves where harmed as a result of these actions.
My opponent had a chance to roll some attacks for Thorgrim Grudgebearer. He turned out to be a deadly opponent, killing two Orc Chariots on his charge.

Ancient Black Orc models are scaled to just the right size to function as regular boyz these days. My Ruglud Orcs have been mounted on cork (and 32mm bases) to warn younger opponents they are not Goblins.
This Battle for Black Fire Pass ended with most of the armies never coming to grips with each other. No problem we're already planning a second match with tweaked rules. Maybe we'll add a rule from the Spellbreakers mission from The Realmgate Wars Vol. 1: Quest for Ghal Maraz to it. The orcs and goblins have to destroy a Dwarf artifact to win (and the Dwarves can use this artifact to wound units as long as it is in one piece). Maybe we should at a few points to the map, forcing the Dwarves to move a bit. Or maybe we'll just try this mission again (with shorter distances or more turns).

The first charge ever of this pump wagon was not wise (or effective), but it was on a tabletop charging things, and that's what I care about most.
From a grey-beard perspective this has restored my joy of Age of Sigmar. The rules took second place to having fun. The core rules of AoS make it very easy to set-up a quick game in the spirit of old school Warhammer (Oldhammer). I admit this is not the old school that gets joy out of flapping through page after page of obscure rules in musty tomes to find out the turning radius of a chariot on difficult terrain (and I respect people who enjoy that part of the hobby). The enjoyment here is the one that let's you translate (any) wild idea to a quick and enjoyable story-driven game. We picked some rules, tweaked them (ignored the rest), grabbed some terrain, picked up our lovingly collected armies and enjoyed a story while throwing some dice and having a laugh. Ditching the by now equally esoteric volumes of FAQ's, Errata, Designers notes, Battle Tomes and General's Handbooks we restored the most essential part of any wargame: fun.

I still love this banner I painted years ago.  
Next time I'll bring the Man Mangler into the fight as well :) As an aside, I'm also going to try applying the 'ignore most rules' tactic to 40K (8th) soon. The new edition base game with the indexes was so much fun. Unfortunately every new rules release and fresh codex, while adding color to the game also exponentially ups its complexity. For someone disinclined to spend days studying game rules it pulls the game further off kilter (as with the old school rule reading above, all respect to the enthusiasts who like this part of the game it's just not my thing). As the current edition stands I can't even make an army list without software support. I suspect taking a chainsaw to the strategems and beta rules and focusing on narrative games will make the 40K fun again for me. We'll see. 

Thorgrim Grudgebearer taking the time to kick apart a few chariots. Add 'making my weapons dirty with ill-built chariot wood' to the Book of Grudges. 
Coming soon: a (few) very long Townscape post(s) (spoiler alert: page one of the assembly guide is completely built, it just needs a dab of paint).


  1. Looks like great fun! Always great to bring out the big hordes of miniatures that we squirrel away and get them into combat (some for the very first time!)

    Now you should replay the battle with the same armies, using WHFB 6th and see how it turns out ;)

    1. Tempting...although I would be even more tempted to go for 3rd. On the other hand my reckless rebasing may have made that a challenge to pull of :)

    2. You would have to knock out some quick card movement trays to make it work with the round bases.

      And if you really wanted you could do 3rd and 6th ;) I think you might find that there is a significant time difference for those large armies!

  2. And yes, please do make some corkers!