Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Grande Review

(See also Part II, III and IV)

It is not quite spring, but I thought I might do a little spring cleaning around here. I have resettled to Boston and my interests have similarly been struck by wanderlust, migrating like nomads to fertile new territory once the mountain passes have thawed. In my ranging I have rediscovered Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and specifically the 3rd Edition (1987). In the growing old school wargaming renaissance scene, this version of the venerable grandfather of fantasy wargames is known as "Oldhammer." I quite approve.

Thus this blog has been repurposed, at least for the time being. I will still keep the old address from Swords of Minaria, but I thought it might be fun to give the page a new name and styling. The Border Princes, for those in the know, is an outlaw region beyond the pale of civilization: a no man's land well beyond the furthest frontier, where ignorant armies clash in the brutal wilderness in a vain effort to carve out a meek kingdom for a short while. If this sounds something like a roleplaying module you have played, then you would not be far from the truth. In reality, Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition borrowed as much from roleplaying games as wargames, and was the only version of the game to date that was developed to be fully coterminous and complementary to a roleplaying game (the much lauded first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay). The things WFB3 has in common with an old school roleplaying game (not the least of which is the requirement of a gamemaster) are enough to term it a hybrid roleplaying-wargame, but the full extent of this is better tackled in a future post.

For the first article that explores the rules and roles in Oldhammer, I wanted to begin a "grande review" of the armies and factions of the Old World. Those who came to the game after the late 80's might be surprised at the sheer diversity of troops available to an aspiring general. The familiar armies are all there, including Dark Elves, Wood Elves, High Elves, the Empire, Bretonnia, Chaos, Skaven, Orcs and Goblins, Dwarfs, Slann and the Undead. Joining these are many other warbands of lesser races, including Chaos Dwarfs, Fimir, Old Worlders, Pygmies, Halflings, Zoats, Giants, Ogres, Half Orcs, Hobgoblins, mercenaries from Nippon and the Norse. This diversity in choice really comes into its own when one takes into consideration the rules for hosts, allies and mercenaries. Each main army can choose up two, three or even five factions as allies and/or mercenaries, making each force truly unique. These warbands are often further bolstered by hosts of monsters, ethereal spectres (including wraiths, wights and ghosts) and Chaotic creatures. Each army certainly has a unique feel, with strengths and weaknesses, but is also able to greatly tailor its strategy with these supporting forces. To get a better sense of this, we will take a closer look at the Dark Elf and Wood Elf forces.

The Dark Elves: The Dark Elves are a Chaotic and Evil race that hails from the bitter cold lands across the Great Western Ocean. Exiled to this harsh frontier millennia ago, the Dark Elves hate their Elf cousins (must always attack them, with +1 to hit and Leadership) and have spent time developing their sorcerous affinity for very powerful demonic and necromantic magic. With such close proximity to the Northern Chaos Wastes, Dark Elf characters and units suffer random chaotic mutations. Within their armies, Dark Elf generals can field assassins hidden in units and frenzied Witch Elves (+1 to hit, wound and save while going berserk). They may deploy an array of dangerous heavy and medium cavalry, including Helldrakes
and Doomdrakes (knights mounted on powerful reptiles), although their infantry is fairly standard rank and file, including crossbowmen (who have access to short range repeater crossbows), armoured warriors and scouts. They can gain further support from animal handlers (driving more dangerous reptiles into battle), repeating bolt throwers (essentially a weak ballista) and a war altar (which acts as a very powerful army banner). They can call on allies and mercenaries to gain access to cheap hordes of expendable troops (Hobgoblins, Nippon, Skaven and Undead) or powerful heavy infantry (Chaos, Fimir and Ogres). They have access to monstrous hosts (including more reptiles and a dragon), ethereals and Chaotic monsters (including Chimeras, Hydras, Jabberwocks and Manticores).

The Wood Elves: The Wood Elves are the scattered remnants of ancient Elven colonies in the Old World, dispersed among the many deep and unexplored forests of that land. They are natural pathfinders, moving through tangled woods with no difficulty, and have spent their time away from their progenitors mastering the longbow (firing to a distance of 36") and becoming adept at illusions and elemental magic. They have access to a limited amount of medium and light cavalry and chariots, which typically patrol the wild heaths at the edge of a woodland kingdom, as well as a dizzying array of missile troops (including armoured Guards, who protect the settlements; Lord's Bowmen, who are the best marksmen in an Elvenking's realm;
regular archer levies and Glade Runner scouts). The Wood Elves also march with lightly equipped warrior kinbands and are further supported by beastmasters, falconers, hidden shapechangers and acrobatic wardancers. While the Wood Elves do not have any artillery, they can rally mighty Treemen to their aid, who are more than a match for most giants. Their access to magical illusions and the great number of troops that may adopt a skirmisher formation (nearly all of their archers, the wardancers and even a unit of cavalry) means that Wood Elf armies can be very elusive on the battlefield. They can summon support from High Elves, Halflings and Zoats (adding to their missiles, magic and cavalry) and monstrous and ethereal hosts.

The next article will cover the armies of the High Elves, the Empire and Bretonnia.


  1. Wow. You've just slapped me right across the face with a strong memory of my first ever miniatures.

    The image you've used above, where is it from? WFB?

    Each of the characters in that image has a mini. I got the set, plus paints and brushes when I passed my 11+ to get into Grammar school in..1988. They were really bad, aside from the Hobgoblin who was painted very well, by my dad.

  2. Yes that's right, it's from the WFB 3rd Edition rulebook, but the illustration belongs perhaps more properly to two 1985 2nd Edition box sets: BC1 Adventurers ( and BC2 Monsters ( The latter was an especially fantastic set (there's a couple of them going on eBay right now!). I loved the character that the old models had—no cookie cutter figures there.

  3. Greetings Evan,

    Cheers for the link to my own bloggery efforts. Awesome post matey, look forward to reading the rest! bookmarked :-)

    Ramshackle Mark

  4. Thanks also for the link - nice run down on the pointy eared ones!

  5. An exciting and scholarly first entry in an Oldhammer series of posts... Looking forwards to me.

  6. Is third edition the orangy hardback just before the boxed sets? I've heard that first edition is much more RPGish but I've never seen a copy.

  7. Hedge, yes that's right. First edition was inspired by OD&D, if I recall, but I don't believe it is explicitly RPG-like (it was intended to be a wargame from the start). Third Edition has more explicit RPG mechanics (such as character levels) and was meant to interface with the first edition of Warhammer Roleplay released at the same time.

  8. IIRC, the "level" stats was just the number of advancements to the standard stat line. It didn't have anything to do with the RPG.

  9. And I take it back, the 1st Edition of WFB was similar to a roleplaying game in rules. I had to take another look at the Character book to notice the careers and random encounter tables. It would be fun to combine 1st Edition, Warhammer Skirmish, Advanced Heroquest and 3rd Edition into a mega-skirmish-RPG-wargame.

  10. Got my hands on a pdf of 1e today. You weren't kidding how much like an RPG it was. I started with 2e and none of that stuff remained.

  11. Haha yep, I'm planning on converting the dungeoneering rules to Warhammer 3rd Edition and giving them a spin.

  12. Cool. That's something I've always wanted to do. Do you have the 1e Forces of Fantasy? They've got some rules on magic items that didn't make it to 3e or WFRP.

  13. Hm good tip, I will have to track that down. I hope to do a post about my dungeoneering ideas pretty soon.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...