The joy of miniatures

A few weeks ago I noted that I was rediscovering my interest in Warhammer 40,000.   The necessary first step was revisiting the baseline post for the game on this site, which includes a series of rules changes/clarifications that improve what I consider to be the definitive edition, the 2nd.

I should clarify that I'm not one of those people that enjoy painting miniatures for their own sake.  I paint to play, period.  Absent a gaming environment, I wouldn't own any models at all.  The only model kits I retain from my childhood are the ones I adapted to use in wargaming.

That being said, if I know a game is coming up, I will throw myself into the act of creation and few things bring me more joy that watching a unit go through the process of acquisition, assembly, priming, painting and final finishing.  My painting table had languished for months, collecting various sundry items I was too lazy to put elsewhere, but now the main space is cleared and groups of models are staged around it, waiting their turn.

Amidst the current turmoil, it's a welcome escape to put on some music and focus my thoughts entirely on what shade of blue will suit the unit of Swooping Hawks I am working on.  Yes, the Eldar army is my current focus.  While I remain a 2nd ed. loyalist, I have no particularly affinity for Games Workshop's overpriced kits.  Many of my armies are built around equivalent figures from other manufacturers.

For example, my Imperial Guard is largely WW II historical models, and I've used some creative color choices on weapons finish and the rim of the base to indicate weapon types in the 40k environment.  The armored vehicles are modified Tamiya kits and these have been more extensively altered to feature weapon sponsons, crash bars and other features necessary for combat ops in the Grim Dark Future.

The determinative factors for me are cost and aesthetic.  For example, my Tyranid army is only a few years old, the last one I collected.  It is exclusively made of GW figures because these fit the bill and older kits are now selling for very reasonable prices.  My Eldar, on the other hand, is almost entirely Void models. 

Void was a short-lived competitor to Warhammer 40,000 that collapsed after a very ambitious launch sometime in the Aughts.  The parent company's demise (i-kore) coincided with worsening economic conditions in Michigan, and the result was many of the independent hobby stores went out of business.  As a result, I was able to buy a huge collection of figures for pennies on the dollar.  The Void aesthetic was more streamlined and less steampunk than GW's, so these models worked well as the advanced but declining Eldar. 

In fact, I only recently bought some actual Eldar models (jet bikes).  Again, prices for older edition kits are now quite reasonable, even as the current game's prices soar.

It's axiomatic that miniatures collections are never "finished."  People might sell them off, or they might stop using them, but no one ever proclaims the thing complete.   There's always room for one more model - and in fact, there's probably more than one model that still needs to be assembled or painted at any given time.

This means that if you take a month or a year off, when you come back, there's something ready and waiting for you to work on, which is nice.

More on Warhammer 40,000

One of the fun things about revisiting a favorite old game is that you get to revisit all the cobwebby nonsense you previously wrote about it.

As an author, I can say with some authority that revisions drive me nuts.  Nothing is worse than finding that you're circulation and obsolete version of a document you've long since improved.

With that in mind, I'm happy to direct people to the new, revised, clarified and in every way better post on my fixes to Warhammer 40,000, which of course center on the 2nd edition of the game.

Getting back into Warhammer 40,000

Other than a few posts about my still-incomplete Conqueror: Siege Assault supplement, I've been pretty light on the topic of gaming lately.  I intend to change that.

In the past couple of weeks I've rediscovered my fondness for Warhammer 40,000, though I must clarify that this is focused exclusively on the 2nd edition of the game, which went out of print in late 1998.

I'm sure cynics will suggest that I retain a fondness for that particular version out of pure nostalgia, but my affection for it is based on the objective superiority of its design over any of its successors (GW is apparently on the 9th edition now) and part of that excellence stemmed from it much more limited scope.

I don't think even seasoned players can reliably count up all the current army lists, variants, sub-variants and specialty lists GW is currently pushing.  I find that a huge deterrent to "getting current" and playing the in-print version.  I believe the 2nd edition, which had fewer, more distinct factions gave the armies much more divergent tactics, which made the game more interesting.

In any event, I reckon I will revisit some of these topics in greater detail in the next few days, and likely update my materials pertaining to the One True Edition of Warhammer 40,000.

Conqueror: Siege Assault - basic concepts

Over the next few days I will be posting some of the working rules I've developed for Conqueror: Siege Assault.  These are the trial versions and obvious need to be firmed up.

Feedback is much appreciated.

The Fortress

Fortifications over time have varied greatly, form simple earthen mounds to wooden stockades and finally stone castles.  It is impossible for one set of rules to cover all of these materials in detail (and foolish to try) so instead we will focus on the essential structures and provide rules to support attacking (or defending) them.

Curtain Walls

This is the building block of all fortresses, and their height and materials are entirely up to the players’ imagination.  For convenience, however, we shall assume that they are at least twice the height of models being used to attack them and created in sections six to twelve inches long.  They should have some form of parapet along the top where the defenders can stand and this should be wide enough to support two models.

The key features of curtain walls for our purposes are that they can be scaled using ladders and breached with greater ease than any other section of the fortress.  We will look into this in greater detail later.


Towers are self-contained defensive works that overshadow the curtain walls.  Towers are much smaller (no more than four inches on a side) and too high to be reached by ladders.  Breaching a tower is more difficult (due the deeper foundations necessary to support their immense weight) and also more dangerous to the defenders.

The Gate

The gate is the most vulnerable and therefore important point in the entire fortress.  The gate may be simply a gap in the wall or a complex building featuring a portcullis and multiple doors.  Either way, possession of the gate is usually tantamount to taking the fortress.

The Keep

Some castles may be built with a keep, which is rally just an enlarged tower.  The keep is too high for ladders, too difficult to batter down (since it is often inside the curtain walls) and it serves as the last refuge for the defenders.

Rally Points

In field battles, routed units have plenty of room to try to make good their escape, but within the confines of a castle, there are less options.

Troops outside the walls will fleet away from the enemy as normal, with defending troops attempting to reach the (relative) safety of their fortress. 

Within the walls, defending troops will attempted to reach a rally point, that is a spot within the castle selected before the game begins.  This will usually be a tower or the keep (if there is one).

Attacking troops will attempt to escape and will only rally outside the walls.

Special Morale Rules

Limited Outranking

Because the tight confines of a fortress do not lend themselves to fighting in close order, combats will generally not see the outranking bonus applied.  Thus units scaling walls, using siege towers, etc. will not receive this bonus.  However, where space permits (such as a breach), the extra weight of numbers will be felt.  The simple rule is: if both sides are fighting from a position where normal ranks can be utilized, this is included, if either side cannot benefit from it, no one does.

Desperate Defenders

Troops defending a fortress are under no illusion regarding their chances of escape, and typically will fight with greater determination than in the open field.  To reflect this “backs against the wall” mentality, defending troops gain a +1 bonus to all their morale rolls.  Note that this applies even to units outside the fortress (since the sortie may be their best hope to survive).

Special Shooting Rules

Full Cover

Units within a fortress generally benefit from a -2 to hit modifier for being in heavy cover.  However, if the walls are properly battlemented (which they should be), units may take Full Cover, that is stay below the parapet or step back from the arrow loop to avoid any risk of taking missile fire.

Units within a fortress may start the game in Full Cover (and it’s a good idea to assume that they do), and may only emerge from it during their own movement phase – they may not “pop up” during the opposing player’s turn to participate in their portion of the shooting phase.

Once out of Full Cover, they may not return to it until it is once again their Movement Phase.

Overhead Bombardment

Models on the top of walls or towers are assumed to be equipped with copious amounts of missiles (rocks, boiling liquids, darts, pianos, kitchen sinks) that can be dropped on the attackers below.

These weapons make missile attacks as normal during the Shooting Phase using their unmodified Shooting Skill.  Unlike normal missile attacks, the resulting hits are not halved (because the targets are so closely packed together) and have an armor save modifier of -2.

Models may only target models “beneath them” aligning as if they were to engage in Melee Combat.  Just as with Melee Combat, only a partial overlap is needed to conduct the attack.

Models may move into position (either up to the wall or along it to reach a troop concentration) and still attack without penalty.


Conqueror: Siege Assault continues to grind forward

I've been tinkering with siege rules for Conqueror: Fields of Victory on and off for years.  I'm currently in an "on" cycle.

Though I'm not sure what will come of it, it's fun to do some recreational game design, especially when it involves cool figures and a neat custom-built castle.

One of the great obstacles is integrating siege warfare into a system designed for open-field combat.  In the close confines of castle courtyards and along battlements, things like wheeling and formation changes just don't apply.

I also want to ensure that I'm using the right amount of detail.  That was the hallmark of the original system and I want to retain that.

At this point, I'm looking only at the culminating assault (hence the name) rather than the strategies of a siege (undermining, blockade, etc.) so that the game moves quickly.  I've been tinkering with a grid where each player picks an option and that sets up the type of battle, but it's getting somewhat complex.

In the mean time, the assault ladders are being placed and battle beckons.

Conquest of the Empire 30 years later

Over the past few weeks I've been doing some housecleaning and that's involved reviewing my game collection.

This in turn has caused me to pull out a few venerable designs and re-examine them.

Those of a certain age will recall that during the 1980s, Milton Bradley made a concerted push into the burgeoning wargaming market with their Game Master series, which combined high production values and plastic army men with a design philosophy that was closer to Risk or Stratego than Advanced Squad Leader.

The most prolific offspring of this project was Axis and Allies, which has spawned endless variants, both official and player-driven.   However, that was not the first offering, and earlier this week I dug into a battered copy of it's predecessor: Conquest of the Empire.

This was a multi-player strategy game of the Roman Empire at its height.  The players are rival claimants for the imperial purple, and they fight out their contest on an excellent map of the Empire.

I bought my copy from a classmate, and it was already well-used and missing all the money tokens.  That didn't bother me because I had no interest in the game as written, but instead used it as a test bed for various alternative mechanics.

Thus my first actual playing of the game was only a few days ago.  It kind of sucks.

I was warned about this from my classmate, and I now see that it was true.  I won't go into detail, but if you are expecting the classical design excellence of the peerless Shogun (since renamed Samurai Swords and maybe renamed again), you're in for a huge disappointment.  Combat consists of single die rolls to eliminate individual units, which is a grossly inefficient way of fighting battles.  Apparently this was before MB figured out that hurling fist-fulls of dice is not only faster, but much more satisfying.

There's also an inexplicable rule for inflation that I won't go into, but essentially it punishes players for capturing too much territory.

All that being said, the game still looks beautiful, and a single page of updates should suffice to make this the high-quality social experience it was meant to be.  I'll post it once I get a chance to try them out.

Another COVID project: a World War I card game

Around the time I was in college the great 90s card game fad started.  Perhaps the two biggest names to come out of it were Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering, but the fascination with custom/collectible card games quickly spilled over into wargaming circles.

The game that got my attention was Dixie by Columbia Games (which is still around).  Dixie was a fun little game of the American Civil War that allowed one to do run a small-scale in half an hour or so.  It was essentially the same combat system as the one used in their 'block games' for tactical combat.

It wasn't in the same class as other card games because while one could 'create' a deck, it had to conform to historical realities (one couldn't create a division made up of Iron Brigades, for example).

There were other card games, whose names I've long since forgotten, but Dixie inspired me to make my own game set in World War I.  I called it "Hymn of Hate" after a German war-song the British appropriated to describe the morning and evening barrages that fell daily.

The game went nowhere, though I did commission some artist friends of mine to make cards for it.  They went on to bigger and better things, and even used the card art, so at least it wasn't wasted.

All of this is the back story to a project that helped me keep Election Madness at bay, which was resurrecting that card game.

Between Hymn of Hate's original development and that last few weeks, I've played a lot more card games.  I got pretty addicted to Decipher's Star Wars card game (before George Lucas nuked it) and still have a good-sized collection of cards.  I've also used cards for some of my military operational wargames.

The result is that I've got a first-run version put together that pits two corps/army level commanders against each other for the mastery of the front lines.  I've been using normal playing cards to work with, but modifying deck composition to suit my order of battle needs.  At present, each side has a 60 card deck which includes the standard 52 cards plus the Jokers, two additional Aces, two additional Jacks and two more Jokers (total of 4 Jokers).

The number cards represent infantry battalions while the face cards represent barrages, trench artillery and recon elements.  I treat Aces as 'wild cards' that can do many different things to give the game more elements of strategy.

My goal is to get this to around 1/2 hour playing time, and it's getting close.  The trick is to balance victory requirements with decision making and also ensure that pure card draw doesn't determine the outcome.

I have a draft set of rules and when I get it cleaned up, I'll post it here.

Next up: Conqueror: Fields of Victory version 2.0

I've been rather quiet here of late and for that I apologize.  I started the year with grand ambitions of a new trilogy but I've gotten sidetracked in a much-needed revision of my fantasy/historical miniatures rules, Conqueror:  Fields of Victory.

This project has languished for years.  In fact, getting Conqueror into a publishable state took a decade.  In that context, the revision isn't that far behind schedule.

This isn't so much a new edition as it is a revision.  Naturally I'm fixing typos and cleaning up the language where it needs it, but that's not enough to justify the extra effort.

The changes fall into four areas:

Spells and Magic items -  These got a full review and as a result there are a lot of new spells and magic items.  The Magic School of Death got the biggest change and is now as scary as it should have been from the beginning.  Magic items also got a major workover, particularly in weapons.  The end result is more potent, meaningful options for your troops.

Special Rules:  Some big changes here, largely a result of feedback from players.  The list is still short but is comprehensive.  New additions include "horde" troops that gain an extra morale bonus for outranking as well as "rebellious" troops that get sidetracked into infighting during the battle.

Army Lists:  A glaring weakness of the original was that I didn't give you any ready-made options for armies.  This has now been corrected.  Players can still make up their own custom units, but I've provided pre-generated stats for a variety of iconic units like orcs, elves, dwarves, undead, and of course various flavors of human.

Point Values:  The "how-to" section has also been extensively rewritten based on player feedback over the years.  The process for making your own units is now easier and more consistent.

Oh, and the cover art is going to be much better.

I've promised myself that I can't do any fiction writing until this gets done, so I'm hoping to have this wrapped up very soon. 

Until then, Happy Easter!

Warhammer 40,000 2nd. edition, improved

UPDATE:  While this is a venerable post, I've dispensed with the nonsense of linking documents and just posted the whole thing, including the revised close combat system.

If you aren't a miniatures gamer, you probably have no idea what this post is even about, but if you are vaguely aware of a company called "Games Workshop," odds are you've heard of their flagship product:  Warhammer 40,000.

The game system has changed quite a bit over the years, and I'm one of those geezers who think it's been getting worse for 20 years.

The edition I prefer is the one that went out of print back in the 20th Century:  the second edition.

This post is dedicated to my thoughts, optional rules and is a resource for late-comers to what I consider to be the definitive version of the game.

Even fans like me acknowledge the game has some issues.  Long ago, there was a web site called and together with like-minded people, I generated a list of fixes and rules clarifications.  One of the interesting aspects was how widespread these patches were - a lot of people saw the same issues and came to the same conclusions about how to fix them

The Rules

While technically “house rules,” these changes are strikingly common and already in use around the world.  The purpose of this document is to organize and codify them, making it easier not only for experienced gamers to keep things straight, but also to recruit new players into the One True Edition of Warhammer 40,000.

Frequently Fracked Facts:  Except where noted, the written rules published by Games Workshop take precedence.  Unfortunately, some of these rules were not always clear and/or were distorted over the years.  To that end, we have provided a list of popular misconceptions to help players fully understand the underlying genius of these tragically flawed but ultimately brilliant rules.  Items that are marked (FFF) therefore not changes per se, but rather clarifications of things that players regularly got wrong.

  1. Core Mechanics

1.1 Measurement:  Many players may prefer to allow free measurement.  If both opponents agree, this is perfectly acceptable.  If it is used, “guess” weapons are placed where desired.  The defending player may adjust the template if it targets specific characters/special weapon troopers so long as the same number of models are affected.  To hit and/or scatter rolls are then made normally.

  1. Movement

2.1 Jump Packs:   Jump packs do not roll for scatter.  Ork jump packs roll a d6 for each model every time they jump:  on a 1, consult the malfunction table in the ork codex.

2.2 Charging (FFF):  Models may charge squads they cannot see.

2.3 Transports (FFF): Models in transports may only charge if the transport has not moved.  They do NOT count as charging from cover unless the transport itself is in cover.

  1. Shooting

3.1 Sustained Fire: Rather than use a 6” radius, sustained fire must be directed at a single squad, vehicle or squadron. 

3.2 Distribution of Hits (FFF):  Hits flow from front to back, both with templates and direct fire.  Thus a grenade or other blast template using direct fire would have to hit visible models at the front of the squad rather than bursting over (unseen) ones in the middle.  

3.3 Persistent Weapons: To speed game play, weapons with persistent effects (vortex grenades, plasma cannon) do not remain in effect.  The only exception is blind grenades/smoke launchers, which remain in effect (but do not roll for expansion/contraction) until the start of the firing player’s next turn.

3.4 Fire: Flamers, fire-based weapons and similar devices do NOT set models on fire.  Models hit by these weapons take damage as normal after which the weapon has no further effect.

3.5 Overwatch Follies (FFF): No rule in the old game is more controversial or subject to being screwed up as Overwatch.  Yet it is essential to keeping the game honest and not all that difficult to use.  Remember: models on overwatch still follow the normal targeting procedures.  The only difference is that it occurs during the opponent’s movement phase.  Non-phasing players should be open and honest about who is on overwatch and what they can see.  Similarly, phasing players should move their forces confidently and expect them to be shot at if they are in the open.  Again, the targeting rules are still in effect, so moving a more protected or expendable unit out in front will, in almost every case, draw overwatch fire away from more valuable targets.  Overwatch is the single most realistic aspect of Warhammer 40k.  Deal with it.

3.6 Reliable Weapons: Under the normal rules, ballistic template weapons (i.e. battle cannon, frag missiles) that miss must roll scatter.  A combination of “Hit/Misfire” results in the weapon hitting the user, an extremely silly (if sometimes entertaining) event.  Instead, template weapons that score a “Hit/Misfire” result are considered jammed instead.

  1. Close Combat

4.1 Leaving Close Combat (FFF):  The rules here are vague and poorly understood.  As the rules state, engaged models give their opponents a “free strike” if they wish to leave the combat.  Unengaged models (that is, those not in base-to-base), however may disengage without penalty, but must retreat and are counted as BROKEN.

4.2 Squad Cohesion in Close Combat:  Because the cohesion rules do not apply in close combat, some players have used the fact that unengaged models may leave close combat without “free strikes” to force attackers to chase them across the board.  This runs contrary to logic and the spirit of the game.  Therefore, unless unengaged models choose to disengage (and are broken as outlined above), they may not otherwise move away from an enemy engaged in hand to hand combat with their squad.

  1. Vehicles

5.1 Transports Are Not Death Traps:  Most datafax cards contain damage results that either kill passengers on a simple die roll (usually a 4+) or exterminate them wholesale.  This ignores the often considerable amount of armor they are wearing.  Therefore, passengers on board a transport that is the datafax indicates are killed (either on a 4+ or “all models on board are killed”) instead make an unmodified armor save.  If they pass, they are placed adjacent to the wrecked vehicle.

5.2 Out of Control (FFF): Vehicles that are stationary do not move out of control.  Only vehicles that moved during the previous turn must move out of control.

5.3 Taking The Wheel (FFF): If the driver is killed for any reason, the vehicle will still move out of control until another model on board can take over.  The earliest this can happen is after the owning player’s next movement phase.  Note that 5.2 still applies, so a Leman Russ that did not move in its previous turn that has its driver killed would remain stationary until its next movement phase, when a gunner could take over and drive it.

5.4 Turning Scrap into More Scrap (FFF): Remember that if a vehicle location is destroyed (such as tracks) additional hits to that location have no further effect.

  1. Army Lists

 6.1 But I Thought Farseers Were Rare:  Eldar are not required to take an avatar or farseer as an army commander, nor must Space Marines take Captains.  Any character can be the army commander.  EXCEPTION:  Because of the rigid hierarchy of both armies (for very different reasons) Tyranids and Imperial Guard must use their mandatory commanders.

6.2. Something’s Wrong With the Comlink: The Imperial Guard Codex has players roll a d6 for the “interference” on calling in a barrage with the comlink.  This can result in either extremely easy (2+) or almost impossible (6+) artillery support.  To make things more consistent no die roll is made.  Comlinks will work on a 4+.

  1. Wargear

Virus Weapons: Virus weapons are extremely unbalancing and should not be used.

8.0 Accelerated Close Combat resolution
Instead of rolling dice equal to the number of attacks, roll a single die and add a +1 to the model that has the higher attack characteristic (if it is a tie, neither side benefits).

When additional models attack, retain the +1 but omit the additional die.

For each parry, add +1 to the model's combat score.  Use all the other modifiers (charging, cover) as normal.


Get your free download of Conqueror this weekend

At the start of the month, wargaming web site came back online after a devastating hack. 

Conqueror was actually designed and tested with people from Warseer, so I decided that although I should be promoting A Man of Destiny, we needed to celebrate this great event.

So from December 9th through the 13th, you can download Conquer for FREE from Amazon.  Take a test drive, see how the rules work and send me feedback.  Over at the Conqueror page, I have a number of lists and articles about its development.  You can also comment on the Conqueror thread on Warseer if you like (and see how it was developed as it developed).