A chap called Scott Bowman on the GASLIGHT mailing list posted that as a complete newbie he was finding it hard to grasp the basics of the rules from the new hardback Compendium. I can't blame him, as the book includes rules from the basic game, Battles, Adventures and Expeditions and To Be Continued all shuffled in amongst each other. It was a design choice, but to be frank not the one I would have made. I still recommend anyone new to the game pickup the PDF of the original book (available from Wargames Vault or RPGNow) and learn the basics from that before cracking open the Compendium.
Scott also suggested a blow-by-blow tutorial of a game to help newbies learn the rules and I think it's a splendid idea. So crack open your copy of the Compendium and hold onto your hats, boys.
Part One – Planning and Preparation
Unlike some games, GASLIGHT needs a little bit of preparation before the game. Firstly we need to sort out the forces we'll be using. The authors recommend that for starting players, one unit of Extras, one vehicle or conveyance and one unattached Main Character is easy to handle. GASLIGHT is generally written written with the assumption that it's being used in a large multiplayer game, with eight players or more some of whom will be playing for the first time. If you're playing a smaller game with one or two players per side, once you get a little more experienced with the rules I think most players should be able to handle double or triple that, though having too much on the table may slow the game down.
Now obviously what troops you use will depend entirely on your collection and what you have available. If you don't have any vehicles in your collection yet, replace the vehicle with a second unit of troops. It just so happens that I've been painting up a selection of 19th century British and German forces, with vehicles, so that's what we'll use. Assuming one player per side, let's start with...
One unit of Regular Infantry
One Gun Truck
One Main Character
One unit of Regular Infantry
One Quad Steam Walker
One Main Character
That's fine for a tutorial but.... it's not very colourful is it? In my experience, you get the best out of GASLIGHT when you approach it with a properly Victorian or Steampunk-y flair. I also think it's easier to identify units if you name their officers, especially if you have multiple players. A player might have trouble remembering if he's commanding “German Infantry #1” or “German Infantry #2”, but he'll remember “Hauptmann Klinkerhoffen and 1st Platoon of Company B” If you're stuck for names of a suitable nationality, I find the 1966 World Cup Squads a useful resource. So let's try that again.
Captain Hurst and 1st Platoon of the East Surrey Regiment
Royal Horseless Artillery Gun Truck “Oliver”
Major Stiles (on detached duty)
Hauptmann Weber and 1st platoon of the Infantry Regiment No 84
One “Ludwig” class Quad Steam Walker
Count von Hurlitz, special agent of the Kaiser
Much better don't you think? Whatever the setting of your GASLIGHT game, whether it's lacepunk pyrates or Darkest Africa, try to give everything colourful names. If you start feeling obliged to put on a silly accent then you're probably doing it right.
Next up we have to stat out all the units. Starting with the regular units, GASLIGHT suggests (Section 3.1 p. 7) that a unit of “western” troops should be made up of two Main Characters (An officer and an NCO) and eight Extras. Personally I don't always bother with NCOs as Main Characters, but for the sake of this tutorial we'll play it by the book. To assign Shoot, Scuffle and Save scores we look at Section 4.1 p.10. Extras are easy, just pick the appropriate values from the table on p.11. All our troops are Westerners/Europeans so Shoot 8 Scuffle 8 is appropriate.
For our attached Main Characters, you can roll on the Character Attributes Chart on p.10 but to save time I like to just assign values based on the two highlighted rows across the middle of the table. I count the officer as a Leader and the NCO as a Veteran. For each Main Character I'll assign each of those two values to either Shoot and Scuffle, then give them a Save equal to the lower of the two values. So for example, the leader column has values of 10 and 11 highlighted. If the officer figure is wielding a sword, I'd give him Shoot 10, Scuffle 11 and Save 10. The NCO might have Shoot 9 Scuffle 8 Save 8.
For the unattached Main Characters I like to actually roll on the Adventurer column. Heroes are particularly powerful in GASLIGHT, and I'd only use them for truly epic characters where appropriate to the scenario.
These are only my personal preference. You can roll everything for every MC, you can manually assign ratings according to a scenario, or based on the figure (so a big bear of a figure wielding a huge axe might deserve a Scuffle of 12 or 13). You could rate each MC with either the higher or lower highlighted value in each trait, so that leaders are always 11 in everything, NCOs are always 9. If you want to put together balanced opposing forces, there's the points value formula in Section 4.3 (p.30) The choice is yours, and one method may work best for a scenario-driven game while a different method might be better for a campaign battle.
Now by the book, all Main Characters have one or more specialist Skills. These are generally beneficial, but there are one or two that are actually disadvantages. Personally I only use these for unattached MCs, or where appropriate to the scenario. For a regular game like the one we're playing for this tutorial, I'm just going to roll once for each unattached MC. Major Stiles rolls a 7 “Swift” giving him a 10” standard move, while Count von Hurlitz gets a 10 “Fencing” which means those years at Heidelberg gives him a -1 on Scuffle rolls (note that GASLIGHT tends to apply modifiers to the die roll rather than the value, making -1 an improvement.)
To arm your troops, scoot forward to Section 6.5 Firing at Personnel and the Missile Attack table on p.55. What weapon you give your troops depends on the figures and the period/style of game. For an ACW game or earlier, Muskets or Muzzle Loading Rifles might be the norm. For the mid to late Victorian period (1870-1890s) I play in, the Repeater/Breach Loader is a good standard weapon (like the good old Martini Henry rifle), which allows you to give primitive troops Muskets while elite modern troops might be lucky enough to have Bolt Action Rifles (like the Lee Metford)
If any of your troops or Main Characters have any weird science or Steampunk weapons, then either rate them as one of the “modern” weapons on the table (for example, the multibarrelled rifle wielded by Vicky Hawkes in the picture on p. 1 of the compendium might cound as a Light Machine Gun) or head to Section 5.2.1 and the Anti-Personnel Weapons Capabilities Chart. Again use your method of choice to generate the stats of the weapon. Personally I'd consider the fictional description of the weapon and assign stats but if all else fails just roll for everything.
Now for the vehicles and on to section 5.1 (p.31) Again you have free choice on how you give stats to the vehicles and weapons. This is one area where I definitely prefer to manually assign values based on the appearance and nature of the model, varying up or down from the highlighted median values. Just as with the troops, to arm your vehicles you'll also want to flit forward to the Heavy Weapons Capablities chart in Section 5.2.1 (p. 36) or the Artillery Effects Table in Section 188.8.131.52 (p.56) or even the table on p55 for Machine Guns.
The Ludwig is a relatively squat beastie, but although its crew compartment is well armoured, it has a lot of exposed machinery around the walking mechanism, so it gets a slightly better Save of 10. I rate the rest of its stats in comparison to other vehicle models I have, making it a little slower than average but able to turn 90 degrees. It's very heavily armed with two short-barrelled but large-calibre guns on the turret ring and two Heavy Machine Guns (which I rate as linked together with an impressive 6 shots against infantry - simply doubling up to 10 shots would have made it far too deadly)
Balancing vehicle forces against each other is a bit of an art. If one side has a lightly armoured vehicle with primarily anti-personnel weapons and the other has a heavily armoured tank with a massive cannon with a +4 SRM, the battle is not going to be balanced. Both the Gun Truck and the Ludwig Walker are “eggshells with howitzers” which should make for a bloody but fairly balanced game.
So with everything statted out and vehicle & unit record sheets filled out, we're almost ready to start the game. The one last thing to do is to create an Initiative card deck, with a card for each unit, vehicle or unattached MC in the game. Personally I like to go to town on these in advance of the game, with attractive card backs bearing the GASLIGHT logo, but I've also in the past turned up to a game with a random selection of toys and a pack of blank index cards which had unit names scribbled onto them minutes before the game started. It really doesn't matter, as long as you have a set of cards that you can shuffle and turn over in sequence, with one card for every unit, vehicle or unattached Main Character in the game.
Coming Next - Part 2 the Game itself.