THEMES WORTH FIGHTING FOR
By Robert E. Allen III
March 24, 1998
How many times have you seen this happen in wargames:
Two armies, identical in force, lining up on opposite sides of one another for no reason other than to kill in the name of their god/king/commander/player. Some games give missions, but these are, more often than not, merely simple objectives -- "Capture Hill X", "Maximize enemy causalities, minimize own losses", etc. The thing that wargames benefit from the most is a good BACKSTORY.
Try out this backstory, which I have created for Fantasian force in GLOBAL GAMES' PLANETSTORM game:
During our glorious actions on Machine Planet Alpha-Tango, our forces have liberated a large amount of Machine data from a functional knowledge core. However, before these State heroes could return the data to our lines, they were killed in Sector 377.
You, Sergeant Rasputin, will lead a glorious attack force to retrieve this data, and, if possible bodies of State heroes for State funeral. As you know, Sector 377 is located in a heavily contested area. The bodies are marked with tracker beacons, as you know all Powered Infantry is. Sadly, the only forces that can be spared from the brunt of the fighting are your single squad of Powered Infantry. You must lead your forces to those co-ordinates and recover this most critical data.
The glory of the State rests on your shoulders, Komrade Rasputin. Do not fail.
-KOMMISAR SERGEI TSANN
Isn't that far and away more impressive than "Loot the corpses in the center of the table"? Then, you can imagine that the Machine orders would be something like:
>>>DESIGNATION: 0010011100101, EXTERNAL SECURITY HORDE<<<
>>>STATUS: POWERING UP<<<
>>>SYSTEMS CHECK: PASS<<<
>>>ORGANIC UNITS THREATNING DATACORE 1010001001100, UNITS AT SITE ABLE TO CONTAIN. FURTHER ORGANICS MOVING ON SITE, UNITS AT SITE CHANCE OF SUCCESS 0.21112%. REINFORCE EXTERNAL SECURITY HORDE BEFORE DATACORE LOST<<<
>>>DESIGNATION 0010011100101 DEPLOYED TO FUNCTION. DATACORE 1010001001100 WILL NOT BE COMPROMISED<<<
Now, we have a battle. The People's Glorious Fantasian Army Forces are all set to go in and retrieve the data from their fallen komrades. The Machine External Security Horde is higher in points, but so what? The scenario would be something like a 4'W x 6'L table, covered with buildings. The Fantasians set up 12" onto the table, and their objective would be 12" on the table -- the Machine player gets to pick the area. Mark the area with a spare Fantasian figure, or, in a pinch, a die or marker. They would have to get the data from that model and get it off their table edge before the Machines wipe them out. The Machines would set-up directly on their own table edge, and their mission would be to prevent this important data from falling into Fantasian hands.
But wait, you could make the game MORE interesting. What exactly IS that data, eh? Is it a special Machine map of production planets? Information about Machine troop deployments? And how did the Fantasians get it in the first place? Did their own Securiat forces steal this information from one of the other races? Would the Azaraim/Black Empire be interested in this information? (If it would be of value to the Fantasians, the Black Empire would certainly be interested…)
Alright, since I opened the kettle of fish, I suppose I should share some of the information on the races of PLANETSTORM. The Fantasians are an alien race, evolved from an aquatic mammals. They are hairless, and have leather-like skin that ranges from blue to brown on black. Like just about everybody in the game PLANETSTORM, they fight against the Legions of Steel and the other races clad in powered armor. The most interesting thing about them is their culture -- which is equivalent to a hard-line communist regime. The Fantasian State is ruled by the Party, which keeps the people locked into their communist ways by a constant war mobilization. Also, the value of life for Fantasians is pretty low -- their leadership stronger believes that quantity is far and away better than quality, and it shows in their military doctrine.
The Legions of Steel, or Machines, on the other hand, are just what you expect. Ruled by self-aware computers, these mechanoid are bent on taking over the universe and killing all organics in their way. Machines thrive by taking over worlds, turning them into massive production facilities that extend deep into the crust of the world, and making more troops and ships to send to war. So far, they have wiped out numerous races, and are on their way to wiping out more.
PLANETSTORM is about the actions of the League of Aliens, of which the Fantasians are but one member, attack the production worlds of the Legions of Steel. What this consists of is a massive space-navy attack on the Machine armadas that blockade their production worlds, landing League of Alien troops onto these planets, and destroying them.
It's all lots of fun. For a full look at the system, go check out my review.
Not that PLANETSTORM is the only game that benefits from a strong backstory and good plot-lines for the objectives. Let's look at GAMES WORKSHOP'S WARHAMMER 40,000.
Currently in the 40K (an abbreviation for Warhammer 40,000) universe, a new threat has cropped up. In the northern reaches of the Eastern Fringes of the Imperium, Imperial Outposts have been destroyed suddenly, without survivors or explanation. Then, as interest increased, one survivor was found and a the threat was revealed: the Necrons.
Since the Necron forces are soooo new, there have presently only been four (!) types released. Not much for a major engagement, so let's look at something small and simple. Necrons have so far attacked numerous small Imperial installations (and there are not many large ones in that section of the galaxy), looking for something. (Exactly what the Necrons want is still a mystery) Necrons seem to specialize in special, "hit-and-fade" tactics, thanks to their mysterious teleportation and incredible self-repair abilities. Unless the Imperial Forces are everywhere the Necrons are, they tend to show up for the battle after the Necrons have come in, found whatever they were looking for, and already teleported out.
However, the Imperium has managed to capture a nearly destroyed Necron during one of the few battles they have had with this new foe. While the installation holding the Necron is not sufficient to decode what the Necrons are all about, they have arranged to transport it to Mars. However, the Necron forces are not happy that the Imperium has gotten a prisoner.
Several times the installation has been attacked, only to be stopped by the valiant efforts of several squads of Imperial Guard. However, after these raids, the Guard squads are too depleted to continue as an effective fighting force.
Luckily, a Tactical squad of Imperial Space Marines has been diverted to the area to escort the captive to the Tech Adepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus of Mars for a complete investigation. As the Marines deploy in defensive positions, the Necrons make their re-appearance.
Here is the set-up:
4'x 6' table, with a building in the Space Marine Deployment zone to represent the installation holding the Necron captive, and light terrain covering the rest of table. The 10 marines (8 bolters, 1 Plasma Gun, 1 Missile Launcher with Frag and Krak) can deploy anywhere within 8" of the building, or on the building itself. The Necron Forces (5 Warriors, 2 Scarabs) deploy within 12" of the opposite table edge.
The Marine Objective: Prevent the Necrons from taking the captive. This means forcing them to withdraw when they lose 5 models.
The Necron Objective: Either wipe out the Marines, or get one Necron Warrior inside the building alone for one complete turn. This will enable them to get to the disabled Warrior, and teleport out successful.
As I said, this is far and away better than lining armies up just to beat the tar out of each other. Not that there is anything wrong with that -- but it should be the exception, rather than the rule.
COMING SOON: The joy of campaigns…
-Robert E. Allen III Warmaster@rpg.net