We had our 90th and penultimate game session with our Warhammer group Wednesday.
It is with anxiety, joy and sadness that I end the campaign. I am quite anxious to end the campaign on a high note, and it is a joy to see the players revel in it and enjoy the epic finale, and it is with sadness that I am saying farewell to a story line and a group of characters that have lasted for that long. As a GM I’ve never had a game experience like this. The characters are like old friends, who easily fall into their old habits and quarrels.
The end has to come now. The system is at its absolute limit and the story is reaching an epic conclusion that cannot be topped.
If you are familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (or Battle) you will know what the Storm of Chaos is. For those unfamiliar with it, it is basically the apocalyptic invasion of a great general, who has united the four Chaos Powers and part of the world canon, described in quite a bit of detail. When I dreamed up the campaign, I wanted to have the character’s lives and fates intertwined with that story-line. That has succeeded. They are invested on a personal level and get to experience, as central protagonists, defining moments in the Warhammer world: the Siege of Middenheim and the death of Valten, the reborn image of the God Sigmar.
So the climactic battle last session was pretty wild, with player’s who started as lowly rat catchers,
smugglers and mercenaries facing off against multiple chaos giants, ogres and finally the great chaos lord Archaon himself and subsequently a greater daemon.
It was definitely fun, and awesome and epic.
From a mechanical and narrative perspective the battle worked really well. I had a strategic level, a tactical level and an encounter level in the battle. They had to allocated the strength of their relieving undead army to various crisis-points, with pre-determined outcomes, depending on the strength committed. When they had to save the gates to the city from being breached, we played with minis on a company level, with the characters as single unit, with several special abilities. When they moved into certain areas of the causeway they had encounters with their characters, and the resolution of the encounters impacted the tactical struggle and the future encounters.
I would have loved though if the final two encounters (which was basically one long encounter) had been a bit more on the edge of their capability, making it a more tense affair, just like their last big encounter (in a previous session) with Vardek Crom, the Herald of the End Times. However, in a system like Warhammer, it is incredibly easy to tip the balance completely. And I didn’t roll well either.
Looking at this Swordsman’s guide to creating encounters Encounter Guide I did a couple of things wrong. I stayed within the rules, but in the interest of tension, I should perhaps have added wounds (HP in D&D parlance) to the evil guys. I followed Ringo’s advice on mixing up the battle half-way, and pushed the characters around the battlefield. But I should have confounded expectations more, and maybe screwed with the battlefield in some interesting way. I could also have added a lieutenant or two, because it does create a much more interesting dynamic. However, as it was the Siege of Middenheim I also felt somewhat constrained, as they meet the Lord of the End Times shortly after he had slain Valten in single combat.
Ultimately, you want the characters to succeed, but it should be really difficult.
The final session (or two), will be have a more personal focus, with the group trying to use their strategic ability to rescue their home town from a subsidiary chaos force and perhaps confronting their arch enemy, Baron Wallenstein of Würzen. My challenge as a GM is to make it a fitting conclusion to all their struggles, failures, victories, retreats, cabbage eating and hardship.