Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Building Better Battlefields: Essentials and Theme

Many of us spend hours and hours assembling, converting, and painting our models to the best of our ability so that our army will look nice on the tabletop. But one area that helps enhance a good looking army is a good looking battlefield. Not only a good looking battlefield, but a battlefield that has a diverse selection of terrain that offers both benefits and disadvantages that help shape the course of a battle. But many times I see this big part of the game neglected, with terrain just thrown on the table with no real sense of purpose other than to break up the flatness of the tabletop. So I'm going to touch on the essentials of making a nice looking and functional battlefield in this article.

The 25% Rule
From the 40k Rulebook: "As a general rule in Warhammer 40,000, the more terrain, the better the gaming experience. If you use too little terrain, games will be short and not very satisfactory, with too much advantage going to the player who gets to shoot first. For a balanced game, where close combat troops have a chance to get into contact with the enemy without being completely blown away in a couple of turns, we expect that about a quarter of the total playing surface should have terrain on it. The assumption here is that if terrain pieces are roughly 12" by 12", then six or seven pieces are needed to fulfill the 25% recommendation on a standard 6' x 4' table."

I always set up my battlefields this way. On a standard 6'x4' table, I first mark off an area 24" x 36" with dice, which is 25% of the table, and then fill that marked off area with hills, woods templates, ruins, or whatever types of terrain I need for the theme I have in mind. Once it is filled, I then remove the dice and then arrange the terrain I have chosen in as much of a balanced manner as possible. I always do this before the type of mission and deployment zones are determined, unless there is a specific scenario that I am running.

General Terrain Types
Another thing to consider when setting up your battlefield is the types of terrain to set up. Generally there are 3 categories of terrain:

• Terrain which interferes with LOS and provides cover (woods, ruins, etc)

• Terrain which provides cover but does not block LOS (barricades, low walls,
craters, etc)

• Terrain which blocks LOS completely (hills, intact buildings, etc)

You need a good mixture of the above, taking into account that too much or too little of one type of terrain is going to unbalance the game, either limiting shooting severly by placing too much LOS blocking terrain, or making the battlefield a shooting gallery by having too little of cover and LOS blocking/interferring types of terrain. When I am setting up my 25%, I tend to choose equal amounts of hills, woods, buildings, ruins, etc, and placing them evenly across the table so that one side doesn't have more or less of each terrain type.

Defining the Terrain
Another important factor in placing terrain is defining the terrain as clear, difficult, dangerous, or impassable. Not only that, but make sure you discuss the terrain with your opponent(s). I can't stress that enough. There have been too many games that I have participated in where terrain wasn't suitably defined before the game, and people just assume it counts as difficult or offers cover based on how it looks. Also I have played in games where the terrain was clearly defined as difficult or whatever before the game starts, but then later on in the game a player has forgotten that a piece of terrain was difficult, clear, etc. I now make a map of the battlefield, numbering each piece of terrain, and in the side notes explain what terrain effects each piece of terrain offers. I then show this to everyone involved in the game so that they know what is what. (Now, if they don't want to read the map, you can't make them, but when they later attempt to claim a cover save on a piece of terrain that was marked as not offering a cover save, the only thing you can do is tell them they don't get a cover save and show them the map they refused to look at earlier!)

When defining terrain you should take into account the following:

• Which terrain pieces are area terrain, difficult terrain, or dangerous
terrain (or a combination)?

• Which terrain pieces are impassable terrain?

• Which terrain pieces are ruins?

• What cover saves do different terrain pieces confer?

• Which buildings are impassable?

• What are the Armor Values, fire points, access points and capacity for any

That is a lot of stuff for one opponent to remember, not to mention several players in a multi-player game. That is why I find making a map and noting what each terrain feature counts as and offers to be the easiest approach.

A lot of times I see players just grabbing terrain off the shelf and throwing it on the table with no real direction. A couple of City buildings mixed in with some woods and hills, and perhaps a bunker or other random piece of terrain thrown in. When I set up my battlefields, I envision in my head the different armies clashing over a special location of importance, whether it be to destroy a chaos shrine/altar, retrieve an important object that has been recently uncovered, defend an outpost, save a city under siege, etc. Whether or not that idea has any bearing on the actual game or not doesn't really matter, but rather the purpose it serves is to be the basis for the narrative of the game.

Why are these armies here? What are they after? Where is it taking place? Etc, etc.

So I set the battlefield up according to the narrative in my head. Then the mission is rolled for and deployment zones determined. In this way, you make the battlefield as personal to you as the models you are playing the game are personal to you, and you will want to make a battlefield that has meaning instead of just some random bits of terrain thrown on the table with no thought put into it.

So, for example, when I have run my Demon army, I envision a Chaos ritual taking place where demons are summoned to an arcane temple, and the enemy has come to stop the incursion. Or within a Chaos temple lies a demonic artifact and the enemy has come to either retrieve it or destroy it, and wards are in place that summon demons to protect it. Only those strong enough to defeat the demonic host can then retrieve or destroy the item. I envision this temple being in a remote location, such as a jungle or secluded area of woods, and so I build my battlefield around that idea, and only include terrain that fits the idea. It doesn't matter if the mission ends up being objective based or KP based, as I can tie the objectives narratively into the theme of the battlefield.

So I hope these ideas have helped. Setting up great looking battlefields can really enhance your games of Warhammer, both Fantasy and 40K, and make for an enjoyable game.

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