Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gaming Outside the Box Pt 3: Wow Factor

Real men may not look at explosions, but….

…they sure do cheer when things blow up on the tabletop!

This is part 3 in my ongoing series of posts about Narrative gaming. Now most of the posts will focus on 40k, but a lot of the ideas can port into any wargaming genre. 

When I speak of the “wow factor” I am talking about those epic moments in a game that get everyone involved cheering and laughing! Successful narrative games emphasize the fun aspect of the game.

Here are two examples from the event I just ran last weekend: first up is the Daemon Prince that just would not die! That monster made more saves than were statistically possible and everyone involved was whooping and hollering as he survived a torrent of fire that should have pancaked him!

Next we have the apocalyptically exploded Baneblade that took out buildings, terrain and scads of other models with it! The cheering on both sides of the table was so loud that it turned heads in the gaming hall!

There are ways of creating these moments artificially through special rules, random events and even through game master involvement.

Creating house rules to help the game feel more like the stories in the novels can be a great way to make those wow moments happen. Let’s look at one of the rules I made for the BAO event.

“Dangerous Terrain checks usually remove a model if they roll a 1 on the D6 test. In this event if the model fails the dangerous terrain test it is only removed if the model fails its saving throw (Armor or Invulnerable). Feel No Pain may not be used to save a model from a failed save in this case.”

Now this was a relatively simple change that allowed jump troops to cinematically jump in and clear troops from dense terrain like woods with less chance to trip over a rock and die. It also allowed deepstriking troops to be really gutsy with their deployment; just like they would do in one of the Black Library novels.

I also for this event took a page outta my S.O. Killzone design philosophy by including Fate and Strategy cards to each player. These were very well received and added a new twist to the game.

The Fate cards allowed players to do things like once per game re-roll all failed saving throws, gain furious charge for that assault that had to be won or double their firepower for one shooting phase.

The Strategy cards allowed for all sorts of nifty in game effects like giving players Orbital strikes, veteran infantry or tank crews and strategic redeployment of one unit.

Through game master involvement I was able to add tension to the game by having randomly deployed warp portals that would transport units that moved through them to a “pocket dimension” so they could attempt to claim an alien artifact.

These are just some ideas I have used to good effect, but there are countless more things that can be done to add that “wow factor.”  


  1. I'm really surprised we don't see more of this kind of thinking, especially given the complaining in this or that quarter about one or other thing the rules do badly - all we need to do is change the rules to fit our vision. After all, there's no GW designer standing over the table to compel us, and I'm pretty sure none of them would want to anyway.

    The pocket universe idea is a great way of getting another space in, without it being an interior, an adjacent battlefiled or another front. Did you represent the space physically, as a table?

    There's a lot to be said for a games master, and it's actually a role easily filled on the spot even at a large games club or whenever the chance for a three-way battle comes up - play a two-player, but with a GM livening things up. The trouble is, GW games don't really encourage this approach these days and players are naturally wary of the idea, or unsure how to go about it.

    I think there's a real use for a set of GM-substitute guidelines which could balance any impromptu 'let's do this because it's cool' decisions and let a pair of players get really creative without feeling they're giving up an advantage.

  2. Obviously I concur wholeheartedly, I too don't understand why there is not more of this type of stuff floating around.

    The pocket dimension was represented as a 2x2 foot sideboard. Where players had to fight warp critters and other players to grab the artifact. Which btw no one was able to claim it!

    Maybe I'll work up a game master guide for 40k, with ideas for how to accomplish the same without the extra body for a GM. It could be as simple as a couple of sets of random events charts.

    Thanks for the comments Porkster!


  3. Random charts would be a help for sure. And if each entry was of roughly equal impact in the context of the game as a whole the players could even be allowed to choose from the charts, a given number each.

    If there was a balance among the table entries, it might be possible to have the events situational and activated spontaneously in-game. One table could be for 'deaths' for example - when a model died a player could roll or select from the table a particular event (some ideas here:, but they could more detailed or army-specific). This could allow the other player the option of doing the same once later in the game, to keep things roughly 'fair'.

    But that's just the start. One event could even trigger a sequence. For example, a spontaneous roll could be made on a 'failures' table by one of the players when a vehicle is hit, getting say the entry 'fuel spill'. This would allow the other player a compensation roll later of course, but in the meantime could unlock the next event in a chain, maybe 'spark', allowing the spill to be converted to an explosion with any later hit on a 6, and that could lead in turn to 'plume', which would give reinforcements bonuses to show up by signalling where the action is. The chains could cross and branch. This could get all kinds of literary and cinematic sub-narratives running, and make the table feel more real and the action more open.

  4. Those are some fantastic ideas, I will definitely be looking for your feedback once I start that project!


  5. I'd be happy to give it. I've jotted down a few ideas and I'll have a play around with them in the meantime, to see if I can get them into a more useful form.

    Back to that pocket universe, it seems like a good approach - I'd like to have seen it. The nature of the warp in a 40K-playable sense is still wide open, but that charts a possible path. There's a comment at the BAO BoLS post that said your contribution was "a well thought out event and a wonderful experience" and I can believe it.