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The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:17 am
by ArcticFox
So back in February of 2014 I posted this thread to describe the glorious end to the most successful and at the same time the most disastrous campaign our gaming club ever ran. It led to the collapse of the next campaign, which I also posted about here.

You might be wondering, "Why does ArcticFox keep posting about all the problems in his gaming group? He must really hate these guys!"

No. I don't. I really do love these people. I think that's why I get so frustrated. If I didn't love them like brothers, I wouldn't care.

So what's today's rant about? Well, not anything recent. In fact, this campaign ended just shy of 4 years ago, and had been going for 2 years before that.

It was The Blood in the Badlands. Mention that name in my gaming club and you're sure to get some eyerolls, disgusted looks, maybe a groan or two. And yet, it was glorious. 8 players, Warhammer Fantasy Battles, epic, glorious success and catastrophic failure all rolled into one book published (not playtested) by Games Workshop.

I've wanted to run another really great campaign, but it will never be. Not with this group, and for the last few years I've been struggling to understand why. I think the problem is that the ArcticFox of 4 years ago needed a little more life experience, and today's ArcticFox is going to take a crack at it. What follows will be a few vignettes, in separate posts, from that campaign, in chronological order as best I can remember them. Maybe by doing this I can achieve some sort of catharsis and allow myself to finally let go the idea of ever having another massive campaign in this group. Some of these events I may have described in other threads before, so if I repeat myself I hope you'll bear with me. I'll try not to, as I flatter myself in thinking that any of this is worth reading in the first place.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 1:50 am
by ccgr
Gladyou got some good bonding and experiences out of it all.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 7:57 pm
by ArcticFox
Story !: How many dice?

I wasn't there for this story. Well, I was physically there, but I wasn't involved in the game.

This took place at DropZone, what was almost the premier wargaming store in Maryland, now a closed down memory. This was during the heyday, when they had 4 gaming rooms which were almost always full. It was early-ish in the campaign, and the war was in full swing.

This game was being played between Tony and Steve (not real names), Wood Elves vs. High Elves, respectively. I was there playing a game against someone else that day (I don't recall who) so I'm going to attempt to reconstruct what actually happened, based on what I heard from both players later.

It was a Saturday, and the smell of gamer funk was heady in the air in the large gaming room at DropZone. The sounds of dice hitting tables, the cheers of a good roll and the groans of a bad one wafted off the bare drywall of the walls that had been neatly painted, but never fully decorated. The Blood in The Badlands was well underway, and the Wood Elves of Athel Loren were battling the High Elves of Ulthuan for one of the map grid hexes. It was Steve's turn, and he was in the magic phase. In WHFB, that meant you could have your wizards cast whatever spells they had prepared for the battle, which you'd do by rolling dice. The procedure was you'd declare what spell you were casting, declare the target (if applicable) and declare how many dice you were going to use in the attempt.

Tony's version of the story:

Steve picked up the dice, rolled two and saw that the total was not high enough to successfully cast the spell. He smiled mischievously at Tony and dropped the third die, which increased the rolled total to a number high enough for the spell to go off successfully. Steve was playing dishonestly, because he rolled the first two dice and then only threw the third because the first two weren't enough. Tony graciously let it slide because it's only a game..

Steve's version of the story:

Tony had already been getting away with some questionable tactics, like moving models further than their allowed move distance or shooting arrows through terrain that normally one can't shoot through. Nevertheless, Steve graciously let it slide because it's only a game. When the magic phase in question came up, he picked up the three dice and rolled them, but one of the dice sort of got caught between his fingers and dropped last. He never intended any sort of shenanigans.

The Investigation:

If there's anything I can't stand it's a cheater, and yet I know both of these men to be honest men who play an honorable game. Tony can be somewhat of a power gamer at times and Steve is a prankster of sorts, but neither of them would cheat, as far as I know. I've known Tony since 1989 and Steve since about 2008, but if either of them was being deliberately dishonorable in a game it would be a surprise to me, so i figured this must be a simple matter of a misunderstanding. I knew both of these guys, but this campaign was the first time they'd met, and this particular game was only the second time they'd played.

The way I saw it, it all came down to just how many dice Steve actually intended to throw. The fact that he picked up 3 dice suggests that was his intent, but what really matters is whether or not he declared that he'd roll 3, per the rules of the game. Steve assured me that yes, he had indeed declared that he would roll 3 dice. Okay, so if he declared three then he had to roll 3. No problem there.

So, I went to Tony and asked him. Here's how the conversation went...

Me: So did he declare that he'd roll 3 dice or two?
Tony: He rolled two, then a third.
Me: I get that, but how many dice did he declare he was going to roll?

Tony got a momentary blank look, blinked a couple of times, and said:

Tony: He rolled two dice but didn't roll the third until he saw the first two weren't a success.
Me: But how many did he declare he'd roll?
Tony: I'm saying he rolled two dice which didn't succeed, then looked at me with a weird smile then rolled the last one.
Me: (Exasperated) but you have to declare how many dice you're rolling first. What did he say?

Tony got that blank look again, and muttered "I don't know man. I just know he didn't throw that third die until the first two failed."

Tony's a good guy. We've been friends now for almost 30 years and I trust him completely. It's just that he's sometimes really stubborn once he's made up his mind on how to interpret something, and it's very difficult to get him to see it differently once he's reached that point. So I let the subject drop at that point and concluded that it was just a misunderstanding. I'm inclined to think Tony was being stubborn here, because of the blank look he gets when he realizes he's probably wrong but doesn't want to change his opinion. It's possible that Steve had forgotten to declare the dice that day, but I think if he had, Tony would have pointed that out.

The point of this story? Even honest people can have a disagreement over a misunderstanding. What makes the situation a bit juvenile is that both were perfectly happy to complain to me, but not to just talk to each other. Also, it's just a game. Everybody is happy to SAY it's just a game, but rarely do people ACT like it.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 12:15 am
by ccgr
Good story and moral lesson, thanks for sharing it. :)

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:58 am
by Sstavix
I do love these stories of your gaming (mis)adventures. :) Keep 'em coming!

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 9:22 pm
by ArcticFox
Thanks, guys.

Story II: The Skyscraper.

I mentioned in the last story that Tony and Steve were playing their second game. Well, what follows is the story of their first. I remembered this as I was recalling the details of the above story.

Today's tale takes place in the Games Workshop Battle Bunker in Bowie, MD in a tiny strip mall about halfway between Annapolis and Washington, DC. The Bunker isn't there anymore, but at the time it was a 24 gaming table hub of all things Games Workshop. The Blood in the Badlands campaign was still in its early stages and people were meeting each other and playing each other for the first time.

To understand this story, you have to understand a concept in the 8th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WHFB) that I like to call the "Power Gamer's Cocaine." WHFB was a great system as long as your armies stayed outside on the battlefield. Go inside buildings and... things get a bit wonky. This particular rule concerns how many troops can fit inside a building. The rule basically said that a unit can fit up to 5 troopers per floor of the structure, for purposes of size and being able to fire out through windows, doors, etc. The variety of possible buildings that can appear on a Warhammer tabletop meant that there couldn't really be specific rules for each, so the catch-all rule was (paraphrased) "The players should agree before the game how many floors a building has." This isn't hard to do for 99% of the population, since generally models built for tabletop wargames have an obvious number of floors in them..

Then there's that 1%.

In this scenario, Tony's force had rolled up on a fortress under Steve's control and was assaulting it. So far, so good. The players placed the castle on the table, and then began to place other scenery items on the table. Things like hills, forests, other structures, fences, etc. got placed, one at a time. Tony chose a tower and placed it a few inches outside Steve's fortress walls. This was the red flag that anybody who ever played Tony should have known to look out for. Steve never had before, at this point.

Now, I was at the Bunker that day, playing a game from the same campaign against another player, but as I looked over and saw that tower go up, a little voice inside my head said "uh-oh." I knew that Tony had placed that tower, and I knew what it meant. Too late, I realized that I had failed to warn Steve about Tony's approach to gaming. Now I was just waiting for the inevitable.

You see, as I discovered a little while later, Tony had proposed that this tower be considered 10 stories tall. Steve, being new to Warhammer, new to playing Tony, and a very laid back, friendly guy to begin with, amicably said "Sure. 10 stories it is." And nearly sealed his fate.

The tower model we're talking about here is about 6" tall and represents a wizard's tower of about 3, maybe 4 floors. (I don't remember exactly. I have a tower ruins model that uses many of the same parts but mine only goes up 2 stories.) That model isn't high enough to be able to see over the walls of the castle, but if it were 10 stories...

And that's what Tony was counting on. He was now playing as if that model were itself 10 stories which meant it would easily be able to shoot over the walls and into the castle courtyard. He then garrisoned a 30 model unit of elite Wood Elf archers into it which meant a murderous rain of wood and feathery death would be raining down into that castle every turn, and there was very little Steve could do about it.

I don't need to tell you that Steve was going to lose that castle. An army of fortified High Elven defenders was poised to lose a stone and mortar fortification to an army of Wood Elves with nothing but bows and a couple of walking trees.

Now, I'm making Tony seem like a jerk here and I don't mean to. As I said before he's a good guy. The problem is that almost every gamer has a sense of when they're gaming the rules, and when they aren't. It keeps us on the straight and narrow path that avoids exploits or holes in the rules that are obvious errors. Tony's brain did not come with that component installed in the software, and he just doesn't see it. From his point of view, declaring the tower to be a 10 story structure is a perfectly legitimate play since it violates no rule in the book.

Steve wisely came over to me, as the Campaign GM, ans asked me if this was a legitimate play. I went over, got Tony's side of the story, and made the following ruling:

Want it to be 10 stories? Fine, it's 10 stories but regardless of how many floors you and your opponent decide that building has, the actual height of the model doesn't change. Steve agreed that the building was a 10 story building, but it's still no taller than it was before and therefore it still can't see over the wall. Tony didn't like that ruling, but to his credit, he didn't pitch a fit about it. He accepted the ruling and the game was played. He did wind up putting that large unit in the tower and using it to shoot at Steve's defenders on the walls, but he did not have a line of sight to fire into the courtyard.

The moral of this story: You aren't being a jerk if you don't just let your opponent do whatever he wants. Some opponents will willfully abuse the rules to gain an advantage, and some just don't realize when they're doing it. Either way, even if you're laid back, don't be a doormat. Fair play is fair play.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Tue Oct 24, 2017 12:41 pm
by Sstavix
10-story siege tower.... :lol: My first thought was "forget the arrows, just start parachuting your melee units into their courtyard!"

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Tue Oct 24, 2017 1:49 pm
by ArcticFox
10-story siege tower.... :lol: My first thought was "forget the arrows, just start parachuting your melee units into their courtyard!"
Oh dude... it wasn't even a siege tower. It was just a wizard's tower placed as a piece of battlefield scenery.

Like any castellan would allow such a structure to be built so close to the fortress walls...

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:32 am
by Chozon1
I can't even. I would have probably just forfeited before the game started.


Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Wed Oct 25, 2017 1:22 pm
by ArcticFox
Story III: Honorable Combat

I decided to put in a positive tale, just to break things up a bit. I did say there was also glory in the campaign, did I not?

In this story, Tony and Sam had a battle in an open field. Tony was playing his Wood Elves and Sam was running an Empire army. Imagine high Medieval/Early Renaissance Germanic and you'll have a pretty good understanding of what the Empire in WHFB was.

Tony is an excellent wargamer but he often tends to forget things, which is understandable as complex a game as Warhammer Fantasy Battles was. We all forgot things, a lot, but I think Tony struggles more than most. The battle was going fairly evenly, with neither side gaining a significant advantage. Sam's long gunners (dudes with matchlock rifles) and Tony's Wood Elf archers were killing each other across the table while knights battled tree men.

At some point, about halfway through the game, Tony completely forgot about an important rule in his army that allowed his archers to pierce armor more effectively when firing at Sam's armored knights. As a result, his arrows were very ineffective in this round of shooting. The conversation went something like this:

Tony: Ok so your armor save is 4?
Sam: No, it's 3 in this case.
Tony: Really? Why?
Sam: Because I'm in short range of your archers... so I get -1 to my armor save, remember?
Tony: Oh! Duh. Thanks... That's really great sportsmanship, dude.
Sam: Thanks. If I win, I'd rather beat you because I outplayed you than because you forgot a rule.
Tony: Who taught you that?
Sam: My dad.
Tony: That's awesome, man.

And it is awesome. Sam went on to lose that game, but it was an honorable loss and he fully deserved to hold his head up high. I happen to know he regrets nothing. The moral of this story: Yes, kids do still listen to their parents, and yes, a battle honorably lost is better than a battle won by exploiting honest rules mistakes.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 2:05 am
by ccgr
Funny tower story but I like the third better :)

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:27 am
by Chozon1
That's just good sportsmanship. <3 Warms my heart, actually.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Mon Nov 20, 2017 2:20 am
by ArcticFox
These next couple of stories are the Bizarro images of the last.

Story IV: The Rules Are Terribly Unfair... Unless I'm Winning.

Sam's territory on the campaign map was in a fairly central location, and bordered on three others' who were on the opposing alliance. Sam was a good Warhammer player but his choice of faction (Empire) meant that to find victory he had to really work at it because that particular faction was one that required finesse. A lot of finesse. Too many options, in my opinion and a lot of moving parts in an army that was much better suited to players with a lot more experience and time than he had. As a result, he became a target.

One of the adjoining players was Dave, who played a pretty simple and very tough Chaos army that was more or less a point and click force. Not a lot of finesse to it, just run your very tough units at the enemy and watch them beat face.

So in the first game they play, Dave is attacking one of Sam's fortresses. As you can imagine, attacking a fortress by assault is not an easy thing to do, and the first couple of turns Dave was getting a pounding from Sam's archers, artillery, riflemen, crossbows, wizards... the works. Being a man of... volatile emotions, I got a series of profanity laces texts from him during the course of the game letting me know exactly what he thought of these siege rules, how unfair they were, and how it was utter... well, you can imagine what.

Now, I had no way to knowing what it was like to actually be there, but when talking to him about it later, Sam was very surprised at the nature of these texts. It seems Dave appeared very calm and reasonable the whole time. Maybe he just didn't want to be a jerk during the game and I was helping by being the pressure relief valve in receiving these texts.

Despite the complaining, Dave went on to win that game. His troops were overwhelmingly more powerful than Sam's in close combat once hand to hand was joined, and even with the disadvantages that exist when you're assaulting over castle walls, they still overwhelmed the defenders.

The moral of the story is, If you agree to play by a rule set, don't whine about it when things don't go your way. Especially when the game isn't even over and you haven't had a chance to see how it all balances.

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Tue Nov 21, 2017 5:57 pm
by ccgr
Good story and lesson as always :)

Re: The 5 Year Retrospective on the Blood in the Badlands: A Vignette Series

Posted: Tue Nov 21, 2017 7:34 pm
by ArcticFox
Story V: What You Don't Know Can Kill You

This next tale involves the same two players... Sam and Dave. You see, emboldened by his victory against Sam's fortress, Dave launched another attack into Sam's territory.

Dave's army, as I mentioned, was very tough and difficult to kill. To make things harder, attacking them in close combat conferred a -1 penalty to cause wounds against the unit. Read that last sentence again, with emphasis on the "close combat" part.

So Sam and Dave played another game or two, the entire time Sam applying a -1 penalty to his shooting attacks as well as his close combat attacks. He was mistaken about how that worked, probably having misunderstood the wording of the rule at some point or another. It's understandable, since that particular rule would be in the Chaos army book, not the general rulebook, so Sam didn't really have an easy way to read it. Besides, the campaign was being fought by honor system...

It was an honest mistake perhaps, but I know Sam's play style. He announces what he's doing, he announces why he's doing it, and he announces the rules he's using to give the opponent a chance to check him so he doesn't make mistakes.

Sam: "Ok I have 20 archers... rolling to hit, need 4's... ooh good roll I got fifteen hits. Ok now to wound I need... 5's... oh and with that special rule you have I need 6's.... Bah. Only 3 wounds..."
Dave: <Should be correcting Sam here on that special rule, but wasn't.>

Repeat the above exchange about 20 or 30 times in a game and you can see how that bonus really adds up, and when an army like Sam's relies heavily on shooting attacks, this is clearly not how the game was meant to be played.

So what's the deal? There are three possible reasons why Dave didn't correct Sam, in any of the games they played.

Maybe Dave somehow never noticed that Sam was applying this penalty to himself. I don't really see how that can be, especially since Sam like to announce what he's doing and why, but it isn't impossible.

Maybe Dave did say something, at some point, and Sam didn't remember. It's possible, but also unlikely.

Maybe Dave knew full well what was happening and chose not to speak up. There are many reasons why that could happen. I don't think Dave is a dishonest player, but I do know how hard it can be to point out your opponent's errors when it would hurt you. Maybe he first saw it during that fortress assault game and chose not to say anything, believing that the rules were unfairly favoring Sam's force and that somehow this mistake balanced the scales... but then couldn't come clean later because he'd lose face. Maybe he's one of those gamers whose mentality is that it isn't his job to make sure you know what you're doing, so your mistakes are your own fault. I don't know. All I do know is that Sam doesn't trust Dave as a gamer anymore, and I can't blame him. This is especially true because Dave rarely attacked anyone but Sam, despite pledging to back off a bit to avoid making Sam feel picked on in the campaign. (In fact, now that I think back, I don't think Dave ever attacked anyone else but me, which he did only once. The Knights of Bretonnia did not suffer Chaos to befoul their territory...

The moral of the story: It's never a bad idea to double check your understanding of the rules governing your opponent's army, even though that can mean not relying on your opponent. It isn't unreasonable to ask to look at your opponent's army book so you can see the rule for yourself. If your opponent refuses, I'd call that a red flag.