Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Yesterday, all our troubles seemed so far away...

(note: I started writing this on Monday night, but didn't finish until after midnight.  So "yesterday"= Sunday)
Yesterday's March Madness Melee went off with barely a hitch.  Although I'd been worried about a lack of tables, there was no sign of the large Warhammer 40K game, and most of the players in the DBMM campaign were also no-shows, leaving us plenty of tables.  We started the day with 5 players, with two more turning up at later times (one due to work shifts, the other claiming family commitments though I suspect a hangover may have also come into play!) and a third who popped in to say hello but couldn't stay.

The terrain all came together nicely, and we got quite a positive response from the MAWS "Black Panthers" who were busy with their own impressive Napoleonic game in the main hall.  The brick walls that I'd hastily thrown together held up well enough on the day and the building interiors saw quite a bit of action during the game.

The one black spot for me was that sometime in between dividing up the forces and the end of turn 1, one of the players managed to drop the turret off the Brass Coffin model, breaking it into three pieces, but annoyingly didn't say anything about it at the time.  When I noticed that they were using the turret's cannon as a smokestack and that the hatch was missing, they then admitted to dropping it but insisted that it had never had the hatch on it, which I know wasn't true.  In the end I had to press them to tell me exactly how and where they'd dropped it, and after thirty seconds of scrabbling around on the floor I found where the broken hatch had rolled behind some pipes.

It's not so much that a model I'd worked hard on got broken within minutes of being handed over to someone, as at the end of the day accidents happen and it should be repairable (worst case scenario, a whole new turret would only be £3.50), but (a) not saying anything at the time it happened and (b) then lying about the hatch, well that was just shitty behaviour in my opinion.  And shitty behaviour will be remembered long after the superglue is long dried.

(Yes Saul, I used the shit-word.  Don't tell your mum and dad, okay?) 

Anyway, rant over, on with the battle report.

The Battle of Aldershot, 188x

Following the Russo-German invasion of Great Britain, fighting along the southern front had ground into something of a stalemate, with neither attacker nor defender able to make any significant headway (most of our previous games ended fairly inconclusively, with both sides able to claim partial victories)

In a last desperate attempt to break the impasse, German high command ordered a deep strike against the military town of Aldershot.  Britain had just begun fielding a new class of heavy landship, the King Henry VIII class, and the objective  was to capture the secrets of its construction.

This is the view from the British side.  The grey building on the extreme left of the board is the slightly relocated Chobham Armour Factory.  You can see a partially built King Henry-class landship on the rail flatbed.  The other objective is the Ministry building with the red roof just to the right of centre.  This is assumed to hold a set of technical blueprints for the King Henry class.  With two Leman Russ models in mid conversion, I decided that they would be painted up based on whoever held those two objectives at the end of the game.  So if the Germans managed to capture both the Factory and the Ministry, both models would be painted as German vehicles and be available to them in future games.

Here is the view from the German side.  As you can see, not only were the roads aligned on the diagonal to the table , but we took great pains to offset the roads so that the lines of sight didn't extend across the whole width of the board.  That way the vehicles wouldn't simply enter on turn one and then start firing immediately on turn two, but would have to do some manoeuvring first.

Roads in a built up area effectively limit the lines of advance for vehicles.  This layout had two main routes, but the open square in the middle allowed some crossfire between the two.

 I was very happy with how the square came out in the end with the park and the statue.  Not surprisingly this became a focal point of the battlefield, but more on that later.

One house-rule (ish) I implemented for the first time this game was to borrow the wound system from Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT for Main Characters.  In case you don't own that book or the Compendium, Main Characters have a number of wound levels (Unhurt, Wounded, Seriously Wounded, Mortally Wounded, Dead).  On a failed Save roll, the character knocks off the current wound level, and must then make another Save roll, continuing until either a successful Save roll is made, or the Character is Dead.  This rule allows Main Characters to last a little bit longer in battle, allows them to be wounded but carry on, but still has the chance of them dying from a single shot.

The battle started fairly conventionally, with the Kings Own Borderers and the light tankettes HMLS Elizabeth and HMLS Beetle deploying to protect the factory, while Major Roger D'Ars (hero of last year's Big Birthday Bash) led a platoon of regulars through the alleyway towards the square, supported by a Royal Horseless Artillery Gun-Truck.  The King Henry moved up the Eastern road to watch their flank.

Meanwhile, on the German left, Professor Wilhelm von Pugh was struggling to control his Tigger Mk II Springenpanzer, which suffered an early malfunction (for fun we decided instead of simply not moving on a failed Sustain, it would spring off in a random direction, which nearly resulted in it bouncing off the table on turn 1)

The leader of the Evil League of Evil, Dr Rebecca Henchwoman (promoted after the alleged death of Dr Vesuvius in the Big Birthday Bash) took up a position on the roof of one of the tall residency buildings, alongside her former nemesis, Hilda Brecht, She-Wolf of the 2nd Reich.  In the street below, the Brass Coffin (after pausing for field-expedient repairs) advanced to the corner and did its best to hide behind a lamppost, while the Masked Minions pushed forward towards the square.

The German heavy landship "Gotterdammerung" advanced down the main street on the German right, along with a unit of regulars, Baron von Guttstein and "Grosser Otto", the Clockwork soldier.  Gotterdammerung fired the first shot of the battle, not an enemy soldier or vehicle, but at the brick Gasometer in the Factory grounds.  The first shot from the Gotterdammerung's Lightning cannon arced out and shorted on a nearby chimney stack, but the second shot shortly afterwards triggered a massive exposion.  Luckily the only casualty was a special weapons trooper for the Special Aether Service who... we can neither confirm or deny was present for the battle.

The Borderers and... some soldiers from another regiment whose identity cannot be confirmed, managed to make it to the factory building itself where they setup defensive positions.  The two light tankettes moved up the main road in the vain hope of delaying the heavy German landship.  But that Leviathan was shortly joined by another vehicle, the Prussian Armoured Pullman "Heimdall", with its forward mounted flame cannon.  HMLS Elizabeth also came under fire from a Ludwig quad walker across the square.  The cannon blast knocked one of Elizabeth's tracks into reverse and she was stuck turning to the right.  She managed to get off a couple of shots before turning past the enemy.  HMLS Beetle tried to shield Elizabeth, but a blast from Gotterdammerung's Lightning gun shorted her control systems and Beetle charged full speed out of control into nearby building where it was stuck for the rest of the battle.  Heimdall took the opportunity to smother both the light tankettes in fiery death, resulting HMLS Elizabeth exploding in a small but spectacular fashion.

The German regular troops were the first to make it across the square and formed a screen to allow the Masked Minions into the Ministry building.  Major D'Ars and the British regulars fought a quick and bloody skirmish against the Germans and routed them, then the survivors charged headlong into the ministry building to battle the Evil League of Evil minions.  A fierce and bloody battle ensued in the hallway of the Ministry, and although the British platoon was all but wiped out, the Minions' nerve broke and they fled the building, leaving D'Ars in control of the vital plans.  The next turn, Baron von Guttmann entered the building, accompanied by Grosser Otto.  The one remaining trooper was killed, but Major D'Ars fought on alone, managing to kill Gutmann with a saber thrust.

The Professor von Pugh managed to bring the Springenpanzer under control and leapt over the building into the road , right into the sights of the British landship HMLS King Henry.  A blast from the King Henry's main cannon narrowly missed the Springenpanzer, setting fire to the building behind it.  The Springenpanzer leapt again, this time onto the roof of the Ministry building.  The King Henry tracked its turret around to follow the target, but as it did so a round from the Brass Coffin tore through the turret causing the gun to misfire.  The blast tore through the ground floor of the Ministry building, narrowly missing Major D'Ars and hitting Grosser Otto, which exploded in a shower of clockwork sparks.
(note: this might not be exactly how it happened in game mechanics terms, but narratively it makes a lot more sense than what actually happened, which was the Henry's round had no effect, while Otto was KO'd the following turn in close combat by D'Ars)

Shortly afterwards, King Henry hit the Brass Coffin and knocked it out with a critical hit.  The blast nearly killed off Hilda Brecht, who had come down from her sniping position on the rooftop and had been hiding behind the brass and burgundy vehicle.  Recovering from the shock she sneaked her way into the Ministry building without anyone noticing.

It was at this point that somebody woke up Hauptman Blitzmann, the German "hero".  Sleeping off the effects of the previous night's carousing, he was late to the battle, and led his platoon of Zeptruppen forward with all the dash and elan of a Galapagos tortoise.  Pausing only to importune a nearby maidservant, he settled into the safety of a building across from the Chobham factory, found a quiet corner and then proceeded to do nothing for the rest of the battle.

Hauptmann Weber, the Zepptruppen officer looked at his "superior" asleep in the corner and assessed his position.  The British were well forted up in the factory, and attempting to charge across the road in an unsupported assault was likely to be certain death.  The rest of the German troops were held up along Main Street and focussed around the square and would not be able to support them any time soon.  He then hatched a plan so fiendish, so diabolical, only a beastly Boche would ever think of sinking so low.

Weber grabbed the maid from where Blitzmann had cast her aside and roughly manhandled her out the front door into the street.  Waving a white flag, he called out to the British defenders.
"Zere has been enuff blutshett today.  Let us settle zis matter as officers and gentlemen.  Single combat betveen your champion unt ours."

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Colour Sergeant Davis stepped out from the factory gates, stripped down to his shirtsleeves.  Weber had expected to face a fellow officer saber-to-saber, but this common NCO was coming towards him bare-handed.  He would show the wretch the error of his ways.  Drawing his blade, he essayed a quick salute then lunged lightning fast, catching Davis in the right shoulder.  Looking down at the red stain spreading across his shirt, Davis looked up and said "You'll 'ave to do better than that, lovey-boy."  Weber never even saw the right upper-cut that lifted him two feet into the air and dumped his unconscious body onto the cobbles at the feet of three-times Regimental Boxing Champion, Colour Sergeant Davis.

Be off, you 'orrible little Boche.  You is messin' up my nice clean street.
(for the sake of the duel, I gave Weber the wound track, even though he wasn't an unattached Main Character.  But Davis had the Tough advantage, giving him an extra free wound level.  Both characters hit in the first round of combat, Davis failed his first save but made his second, while Weber failed all four saves on the trot to be taken out by a single blow)

A platoon of Grenadier Guards approached the square to try to join up with Major D'Ars in the Ministry building, but they came under fire from the Gotterdammerung and the Ludwig walker before facing off against a unit of German Jaegers and were routed ignominiously.  The Jaegers then forced their way into the Ministry building and surrounded Major D'Ars.  The plucky major fought for all he was worth, but eventually his luck ran out and numbers overcame him.

Main Street was turning into a landship graveyard.  HMLS Pinafore had come up to challenge the two German machines, but after first getting itself snagged on a lamppost, it took a hit from the Gotterdammerung that knocked its furnace offline for the rest of the battle.  The RHA Gun Truck, still nestled into the alleyway beside the Ministry, fired across the square and caught the armoured pullman Heimdall on its side armour, which exploded sending one last fiery ball of incendiary doom up Main Street.  The Ludwig quad walker crossed the square and headed up Main Street, while HMLS Mikado had come up behind the disabled Pinafore.

At the same time, the men of the Special Aether Service... or not... probably someone else entirely... had decided that the Borderers could hold the factory by themselves and had headed out across the street to the same junction where the Ludwig and the Mikado were converging.  At the same time, Lord George Fox, another latecomer to the battle, had successfully requisitioned two passing wagons and was trying to use them to quickly bring his platoon of men forward to the battle.  Finally, the Springenpanzer had leapt from the Ministry building onto the roof of the building... yes you've guessed it, overlooking the same junction.  It sent a couple of shells from its Steam Dynamite Cannon towards the factory, but with no effect.  Von Pugh then saw the SAeS troopers.... I mean bystanders, entirely innocent civilian bystanders... crossing the junction below, and raked them with his gatling guns, killing two of them.  The surviving ... civilians... opened fire with their new experimental Cone Rifles (heavy caliber weapons firing rocket-propelled explosive rounds) against the Ludwig walker, which promptly exploded, sending a fireball directly ahead.. straight into Lord Fox's improvised wagon convoy.  The bloodshed was... frightful, and only Lord Fox survived.

In the closing shots of the battle, the Jaegers in the Ministry building took some casualties from Gatling fire which sent them running from the building.  The only person left was Hilda Brecht, who was able to secure the secret plans, hide them about her person, then escape in the confusion disguised as a maidservant.

The Zeptruppen held to Hauptmann Weber's deal with the British defenders of the factory, which remained in British hands at the end of the game.  So the final result was yet another draw, with each side holding one objective.  Consequently one of the two landships currently in conversion will be painted up to go into German service as a Beutepanzer (Did you know.. that in the First World War, the most common tank used by the Germans was... the British Mk IV? They captured so many damaged or broken down British tanks they were able to repair and re-equip them for their own use.)

The Aftermath - the Campaign

As a result of the failed push on Aldershot, the mighty German war machine ground to a halt, unable to push any further towards London.  Seeing an opportunity, the British launched a counter-offensive in Wiltshire, aimed at cutting through the enemy lines at a weak point.  The route of attack was across the open landscape of the chalk plateau north of Salisbury, perfect countryside for the new landships to demonstrate their performance in open battle without infantry to slow them down.  Historians would later call it the Battle of Salisbury Plain.

The Aftermath - the game

Everyone seemed to enjoy the game.  There were a few moments where the rules let us down a bit - for example one vehicle penetrating hit description read "The vehicle fireman takes a hit." without really explaining what that is supposed to mean in game terms.  I found myself a little dissatisfied with a lot of the damage results we got - penetrating hits that pass through and do no effect, critical hits triggering a weapon to fire, in our instance killing an enemy contraption but otherwise doing no effect.   The morale rules also gave us some funky results - and in practice when units failed and were scattered to the four winds, most players were inclined to just consider the unit completely lost. I keep thinking I need to rewrite the GASLIGHT rulebook, (a) to incorporate our house rules (b) to clarify where the current rules are a little unclear and (c) make things a little more to my taste in places.

When I broached the idea of the next game with all the players, they seemed a lot more keen on the idea of an all-landship game than the "Battle of Llandudno" game idea.  On the bright side this does give me a break from working on buildings and city terrain.  I quite fancy knocking up a small circle of standing stones as a terrain piece for the "Battle of Salisbury", but that shouldn't take too long.  I'm going to have to sit down and take a good look at all my vehicles & contraptions to see how best we can field two fairly evenly matched forces.

The Aftermath - the project

.. you know what? It's later than I thought and I needs me beauty sleep.  I'll post about what I'm going to work on next later in the week.  But in short, I've got a hankering to take a short break from 28mm VSF and do something a little different.  Watch this space.


  1. Nice Batrep. Too bad about the funky play results, but that's exactly what house rules are for. And your time spent on terrain paid off.

  2. Very entertaining, thanks for sharing.

  3. Nice AAR of a singularly sanguinary battle Even after one game of GASLIGHT of my own I can see some issues need to be addressed, but as Sean says, that's what house rules are for. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Great AAR. I like your prose, puts me in mind of all those 'Bullshot' type movies and comic series, particularly the bit with the maid... ;-)
    You've done very well getting all this on the table for a game.
    I can sympathies with broken stuff, I'm always a bit paranoid when I let other folks use my painted stuff!

  5. Ah the maid. Hauptmann Blitzmann's player (who goes by the online handle of "Marvin the ARVN") has, shall we say, a "history" where it comes to housemaids.

    It was during one of the playtests of Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT. The players where stouthearted British agents of the Crown, and the scenario was inspired by the historical Mordaunt affair. Some beastly rotter had certain letters incriminating Bertie and was looking to sell them to foreign powers.

    Well first they tailed a prospective buyer to the German consulate, then violated extraterritoriality and literally dragged him out of there by his ankles and giving him a good British shoe-ing on the cobblestones outside (causing a minor international incident in the process). Then later, when they met with the seller in the German agent's place and agreed to buy the incriminating letters off him, as soon as the exchange was complete Marvin's character drew his sabre and ran the blighter through. He'd decided to tidy up any potential loose ends in the affair, and that meant leaving no-one who could blab about the letters' contents.

    To underscore the frightfulness of the betrayal, as GM I described a scream coming from an upstairs window. They looked up to see a maidservant who had clearly just witnessed the "tidying up".

    Without pausing for breath, Marvin described his character charging into the house where the maid was and rushing to the room where he'd seen her in the window. The next that anyone saw was the maids body as he threw it out of the window, proclaiming "No witnesses!"

    Needless to say, we've needled Marvin about his "Black Ops" approach to this very day, which is why when I laid out the terrain, I put half a dozen housemaid-type figures scattered around. Sure enough, Blitzmann took the bait (although to be fair the late Major Roger D'Ars also dallied with the maid he came across in the ministry office)