For 2019, I’m increasing the amount of narrative Warhammer Age of Sigmar content on the site. Aaron Bostian has kindly offered to write the piece below covering his experiences bringing a narrative perspective to a matched play Warhammer Age of Sigmar tournament. Aaron is a US-based NEO, or narrative event organiser, but recently decided to attend a matched play Grand Tournament. He, of course, brought the story along for the ride.
It can often be difficult for events in some areas to attain a critical mass of players given that Warhammer Age of Sigmar players often sit along a continuum between pure competitive matched play players and narrative role-players. Therefore, if tournaments and events are looking to grow their local player base then adding narrative to events in a way that does not tip the competitive balance is one way to achieve this aim.
I’ll hand it over to Aaron now, but you can also check out the Narrative Event Organiser Network, my narrative overview, the narrative articles section and my article on crafting a narrative for your Warhammer Age of Sigmar army.
Narrative AoS overlay
Some players might be reluctant to attend a two-day matched play Age of Sigmar tournament. One reason often heard is that newer or narrative players are concerned that their more casual approach might not give them a fighting chance to play and win against more practiced opponents. But a grand tournament is always more than a series of games. The exhibition of hobby, camaraderie with other passionate fans, and opportunities for socializing with old and possibly new friends are significant elements which combine to create a memorable weekend. In this article, I hope to suggest how narrative minded players can add a story-based approach to Age of Sigmar so they have more fun in a nominally competitive environment.
The Rend 4 GT – Olrika’s voyage
I recently attended the Rend 4 GT in Ravenna, Ohio, USA, joining 19 other players for 5 games across two days during the first weekend in December. The event is promoted as an inclusive event as part of the Rend 4 group that encourages all kinds of gamers, emphasizing hobby as much as generalship. You can read about this event from another player’s perspective on Chuck Moore’s blog, Strength Hammer.
Two friends in my local area loaned me painted Deepkin models (I’m still painting my own army at a terribly slow pace). So instead of spending the week before the event painting any remaining models in my army list I was able to develop some army narrative. It was a long drive, stopping by a friend’s place to pick up some terrain on loan for the event, and staying the night with another friend in Pittsburgh before making the final leg of the drive with him to Ohio.
The narrative hook – the Silver Shard
I started with inspiration from the novel I enjoyed reading most in 2018, the Silver Shard by Nick Horth. The book features a renowned privateer named Alrika Zenthe plying her trade in the mortal realm of Ghur. The exciting scene when she and her crew of the wolfship The Thrice Lucky hunted a giant shark, combined with my long interest in 19th century American whaling, convinced me the premise of my Idoneth Deepkin army would start as a captain and crew devoted to hunting dangerous beasts in the seas of Ghur for both profit and souls.
Translating narrative hook to army selection
I picked a Tidecaster to be the army general, outfitted with Born from Agony to put her at 7 wounds to make her a bit tougher in melee combat, and I didn’t stray far from my inspiration by calling her Olrika. Her crew was a mix of thralls, reavers, and some mounted Ishlaen Guard under the command of a wise Soulscryer who knew his captain better than she knew herself.
Tying the army back to previous events
I added an Archmage on Dragon as an ally, and decided this was the rogue wizard Fawkes, the prime antagonist of the Fawkes Hunt III event I had just run the previous month with Brian Orban. That event had featured Fawkes fleeing across the dangerous landscape of Ghur while pursued by an assortment of witch and bounty hunters.
I decided, since this archmage model was mounted on a dragon and painted by the same Brian, that I would consider that the Rend 4 GT would be something of a prequel narrative. I was going to explore how Fawkes had come to lose his dragon before the pursuit across Ghur featured in our narrative event.
Developing a connection between characters
The story for how this alliance came to be involved the archmage Fawkes charming the Fleetmaster Olrika to fall in love with him and offer her army as a personal guard and entourage (someone has to feed his dragon and keep his arcane laboratory stocked).
But it was the Akhelian King Korsynd, serving as Master of Arms in the crew, along with a soulscryer named Norhm, that saw through the wizard’s deceptions and recognized the danger he brought to Olrika and her devoted crew.
Korsynd, after a heated argument with his captain, resigned his commission and left with the soulscryer and his unit of guards; but they shadowed the army movements, looking for the moment to move in and possibly break the wizard’s spell on their Fleetmaster or kill him if possible.
This dichotomy was reflected on the game table as the soulscryer brought in a unit of Ishlaen Guard and Korsynd as a force fighting to keep Olrika’s crew alive in battle against enemies but not directly under her command.
Tying the narrative to game-play style
I had my narrative background for the army, but I wanted an interesting gameplay mechanic to help me resolve this story through the five games I planned to play at the Rend 4 event. As Rend 4 was going to be the prequel, I knew the Wizard Fawkes had to lose his dragon at some point and take up with a crew of Witch Aelves, so at some point he would leave Olrika and her crew behind, but how did that happen as part of his story? And how could I use the games to weave the plot points of that part of his story?
I wanted to create a narrative list of achievements to overlay across my matched play games. In this way, even if I ended up losing every game I would have a gaming component which could prove interesting to myself, at least. But it also had to be simple to explain to opponents and track.
The archmage Fawkes wanted to persuade Olrika to lead her army in support of his agenda. Olrika felt a knawing unease but couldn’t shake the spell. Korsynd saw the control Fawkes had over the Fleetmaster but was powerless to defeat him directly or break the spell.
I would track each game and the number of times these three characters were removed from the battle. If Fawkes on his dragon was eliminated more than Olrika, then his spell was broken and she resumed full command of her army. Korsynd surviving games also added to her chance of success.
Playing the Games
Here you can see how I tried to apply those principles and narrative components to each of the games through the weekend.
Game 1 – the story starts
The first game of the event was against my friend Matt with his colorful Ironjawz. Olrika led a successful raid for souls but was attacked and tangled with an orruk chieftain riding a maw crusha. Her bodyguard of reavers were quickly dispatched, and she was knocked unconscious, Korsynd’s counterattack with his Ishlaen Guard simply too late to save her.
But Fawkes rode a hungry dragon–at one point his dragon ate 11 boyz in two big bites. And his magic proved powerful against the primitive orruks. Olrika’s crew won a major victory (although she was left with a nasty headache for the next game).
Game 2 – Fawkes’ Dragon is lost
Of course, I knew that after logging a major victory I would be playing against one of the more serious competetive players. I joked with my friends back home that I might end up playing one of the top players at NOVA, let’s call him “Bill” in this article. And, sure enough, I was paired to play “Bill.” My friend Brian, spent the morning sending me encouraging messages, after reading my text about my next opponent, responded: “Okay, I’m not going to lie, that’s a tough draw. Just have fun….”
“Bill” was a fantastic opponent. It may have helped that I cracked open a quart of Black IPA from my favorite local brewery in Virginia and split it with him, to which he said it was his favorite kind of beer. But he was very clear about all his intentions, had a most friendly disposition, and he even contributed to my narrative… by intentionally killing my archmage Fawkes model on dragon before he swooped his phoenix to clean up Olrika and her guard the following battle round.
A major loss against “Bill” put me back close to the bottom of the rankings, and I had the fortune to play against the renowned painter we’ll call “Mike” for the purpose of this article.
Game 3 – a collaborative story-building game
“Mike” had also enjoyed some beer during game two, and I shared another quart of “Christmas” beer with him before we started. He answered questions about how he painted his Stardrake and incredible Stormcast army, and I think it was at least an hour before we finally finished setting up, decided to play a pure narrative game, and finally rolled for turn priority.
We nearly finished playing through battle round two when “time” was called, and we called it a perfect draw, but not before he made a particular effort, remembering how I had described my narrative dilemma and Olrika being under control of the rogue wizard. He decided to kill my Archmage Fawkes on Dragon in an effort to balance out the losses Olrika had experienced in the first two games.
Game 4 – still trying to escape Aqshy
Fourth game, Sunday morning, and after a long night drinking and hanging out with some new friends, my army attempted a raid against some Sylvaneth in Aqshy again. The TO apologized for matching me up with the same realmgate table I had lost on the day before, but i told him it fit my army narrative, as Olrika and her army were stuck in that realm and trying to get back to the sea. My opponent knew his army well and showered me with Alarielle’s mystic powers, but he did avoid taking out Olrika and charged Durthu into Fawkes instead.
Game 5 – the perfect ending
Final game found me playing against the ringer, the awesome guy behind the Rend 4 community, and he completely engaged in my narrative with me, making a special effort to concentrate attacks on Fawkes and take him out so Olrika could finally be free of the charm spell he had weaved around her and her loyal crew. And we also told the story about how Fawkes lost his dragon, surrounded by Khorne blood warriors intent on tearing it apart for their next BBQ feast.
I placed in the bottom quarter of the player list, with a 2/1/2 win/tie/loss record, which I was pleased by. I had prepared myself mentally to lose every game, which was a good part of why I wanted to create a narrative overlay so that even losing every game could still be interesting to me in the way it charted the story arc of:
- the hold Fawkes had over Fleetmaster Olrika and
- how he came to lose his dragon mount before fleeing into Ghur to escape pursuit in the Fawkes Hunt event the month previously.
This narrative overlay was not my original idea, largely inspired by the guys I worked with to plan the Coalescence global narrative events, namely Ming and the narrative hijack he organized to play during the South Coast GT in 2017 (check out the thread on TGA with the checklist and other details: https://www.tga.community/forums/topic/7855-narrative-hijack-of-scgt-2017/ ).
But rather than try to design a narrative achievement system to propose to the group, I decided just to create my own narrative hijack which only directly affected me, but I was pleased that every opponent was willing to engage me in my effort and even make some decisions, in some instances, to affect the outcome of my narrative.
To be sure, this additional narrative worked well at the Rend 4 event because it was intended to be more than a GT, with strong emphasis on hobby and socialization among players. In a more competitive tournament some opponents may have preferred not to engage with my army narrative and some could even view it as a kind of “slow play” but in this case, making efforts to streamline my narrative into something easy for me to track at the end of each game (I only tallied up when each of my three main heroes were removed from the table in respect to each other), and providing a brief, two-minute explanation to each opponent before the game began, it didn’t take away much time from the round to play through and resolve each game.
I want to encourage any narrative minded players to consider giving this a shot, creating an army narrative for their army and sign up to play in a competitive event. This can be as simple as writing a bit of narrative text to include with copies of your army list to something integrated with rules to determine the outcome of what’s at stake for the heroes involved. And to those more competitive minded players out there, please remember this game is more than chess to many of us. The time and attention poured into hobby, painting, and transporting an army to a big event and travelling a significant distance, has many of us craving more than just establishing a win/loss record.