Monday, 17 October 2016

Battlefleet Gothic campaign finally over

In March, I declared I was “about to embark upon a campaign which will be a 50-50 mix of wargame and roleplay. Like Hornblower in space, what with BFG always harking back to the Age of Sail.” At the time, several of you asked how I planned to run it. Well, we finished the campaign last month, which means I’m now in a position to look back on the whole thing and share what worked and what fizzled. Mostly it worked… mostly.

The final confrontation. Having made a precarious alliance with a band of Eldar
refugees, Commodore Ortano's fleet launches an assault on the ork flagship.

The problem is that there are so many things I could talk about. I’ve made multiple attempts at writing this post, and all of them have descended into a sprawling ramble. I’m left with no choice but to resort to democracy. Oh how the High Lords of Terra would disapprove.

It seems to me that talking about this campaign could be broken down into the following topics. If you’re actually keen to hear my oh-so-wise thoughts on any of the following subjects, leave a comment, and I’ll express myself all over that particular area like an elephant seal landing on a squirrel.

Potential topics of burblage:

  1. The story details of the campaign. How did a disgraced ex-rear admiral from the Gothic Sector end up defeating an ork armada with nothing but a reconnaissance flotilla?
  2. The essential ingredients of a good narrative: conflict and change. For instance, a conflict: Clarence the elephant seal wants to put himself on Nibbles the squirrel. Nibbles is frightened of this possibility, and keeps running away. The change: Clarence sneaks up on Nibbles while he’s asleep and puts himself on Nibbles. As a result of Nibbles’ tragic death, Clarence learns about both physics and consent, becoming a more cautious and considerate seal thereafter. Wait, what was this bullet point about? Oh. Yes. Er… yeah um basically I’d talk about how you can set up a narrative and poke it in interesting directions even though you’re letting the players make all the decisions.
  3. What preparation is needed to run a narrative game? I did a whole bunch of world building and character creation to run this story, so I could go into more details on that, including a rather granular take on the crew of an Imperial capital ship.
  4. Initial thoughts on how the Epic 40,000 ruleset works when used in 28mm scale. Yes, there was a big ground combat component to this campaign. Yes, I was being ambitious. It kinda worked…
  5. Finally, this campaign featured persistent damage. If an Imperial ship was damaged or destroyed in battle, it stayed that way until it was repaired, and there were no reinforcements available. I could talk more about balancing that.

Conspicuously missing from that list is an explanation of the campaign rules themselves. That’s because it’s the one part of the whole shebang that was incredibly simple: we used the Battlefleet Gothic rules for the space battles and ship experience, but no rules at all for the roleplay side of things, despite the existence of various 40k-friendly RPGs.

I’m not averse to having game rules for social situations in RPGs, but in a Hornblower-esque story, much of the narrative centers on the relationships between the ship’s officers, which are revealed through little gestures and snippets of conversation, be it on the bridge or around the dining table. It would’ve felt weirdly unsubtle to say “roll me a social perception check.” Instead, it was up to Jon and Maisey to pick up on whatever hints I gave by the way I described things, and for me to react to the way they dealt with their crew.

Finally, you will have noted the presence of some hitherto unmentioned eldar ships in the photo above. That’s because I painted them in secret and had them turn up during a battle. Here’s another photo of the eldar ships in all their pristine glory:

Since their ships are made of wraithbone, I braved the dreaded white primer spray. It’s not obvious from the photo, but the ships have had all the crevices lovingly painted with a bone/brown shade, and the sails are semi-metallic and glossy. The intention was to get as close to a solar panel as possible. You’d probably need video footage to see how that works. Or your imagination.

Finally, one issue with the prow cannons on eldar ships is that they’re quite tall, largely to avoid having fragile gun barrels and undercuts. To get around this problem, I painted some of the guns as though they’re double-barrelled, as exemplified by this hellebore-class frigate:

OK, that’s all from me for now. Did any of the five subjects mentioned above hold any interest for you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get blogging.

Given how long it’s been since my last post, I will of course be unsurprised if the comments section ends up being filled with nothing but crickets and tumbleweed, and I have no one to blame but myself. Bad Charlie.


  1. Sounds like "it was worth doing and after a bit of a rest I'll do it again with a few improvements" (?) But I am speed reading at work. Naughty Z

    1. That's a worryingly accurate summary :D

  2. Tumbleweed. . . Crickets. . .

    Right, now that's outta my system, any or all of 1, 2 and 3 would be interesting if you expanded on it. The other two seemed much like rules jargon that i could probably fumble through myself... sorta... ish... (in a sort of, deaf man going to the orchestra kind of way)

    1. OK, so both you and MajorTheRed have voted for 1 & 3, so those are happening... we'll see about the rest :D

  3. Do it all! You solved your own problem by sensibly breaking the topics down, now you just have to decide whether to intentionally hold some content back from the blog (spoiler: don't)

    1. It's not so much "intentionally holding back" as "not worth the time if no-one's interested," but I take your point :P

  4. 1 would be really nice to read (always been a fan of your fluff).
    3 4 and 5 also! It's somewhat weird that in a universe where a frigate takes years to build, rules states that it only has 1 hp then is killed...

    1. Yay for fluff! Very well :)

      On the subject of ships dying fast, that actually has a strong historical precedent. A frigate getting a full broadside from a ship of the line was liable to be rendered useless, if not un-seaworthy or even sunk during the age of sail, I understand.

      Furthermore, in the battle of Jutland in WW1 (one of the only battles featuring modern-ish battleships) a great many of the ships in the battle took years to build and minutes to explode. Such is the appalling waste of war :(

      Anyway, the upshot of all that is that I was perhaps unrealistically forgiving on those Imperial frigates which were taken out of play, although one such ship was to meet its end in the final battle... :P

    2. I honestly think that it wasn't unrealistically gentle. There are many historical occasions where are minor hit would either disable, start a fire, or cause some damage that means the ship would remain afloat, but unable to continue contributing to the fighting. A power outage or something similar will mean that the ship is no longer in fighting condition but can be brought back into readiness later on.

      With the scale of BFG, frigates and destroyers are just a little too small to show this.

      This is one of the things about war-gaming that bothers me a little, just because a unit is out of the fight doesn't mean it's dead (or completely exploded). Minor wounds, concussions, etc mean that they might be back later, but in the time frame of the few minutes/hours that a game represents that person/unit is just unable to contribute. So I tend to refer to any thing removed from the fight as a casualty rather than a kill.

    3. Good points, Maisey. And Jutland might be an unfair example, since the new British cruisers had fatal design flaws. And you're definitely right about referring to models taken out of play as casualties rather than deaths!