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July 2021

Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

I came only recently to Tony Bath. I’d heard vague stories about a game in the misty past set in Conan’s world. Details were murky and scarce. It wasn’t clear if it was D&D or something else, and I couldn’t sort out how the game related to the archetypal barbarian.

In early 2011, while browsing the Hill Cantons, I discovered a four-part series about Bath’s Hyboria wargames campaign (December 2010). Author Chris Kutalik had got hold of a copy of Setting Up a Wargames Campaign by the legendary English wargamer. Kutalik doesn’t so much review the book as proselytize. That day I became an acolyte.

Today, we take for granted the campaign. For modern role-playing gamers, a single adventure is called a “one-shot,” and while the form has its merits, it lacks the scope, continuity, and satisfaction a campaign provides.

The Society of Ancients

Tony Bath founded the Society of Ancients and its journal Slingshot in 1965. Now in its 56th year, the society continues to thrive. It has an active members-only online forum, hosts an annual Battle Day, and still produces Slingshot bi-monthly in full color.

So it was, too, with wargamers in the 1960s. Pushing lead figures across a tabletop gets stale after a number of unrelated battles. The context, coming from historical accounts, is inflexible. The setup and tactics, again historical, are sometimes limited. Battles often ended in a slug-fest, there being no reason a general might conserve troops for the morrow.

Veering from the strictly historical wargame, campaigners step back from the table and consider the larger theater of operations. On large-scale maps showing rivers instead of streams, mountains instead of hilltops, countries instead of towns, opposing generals exercise strategy instead of tactics. They march armies, represented by pins, across the map, each general in secret from the other, until forces meet.

In the ensuing battle, the context, setup, and tactics are all determined by the preceding events and the terrain upon which the two forces find each other. Troops must be used effectively or be withdrawn to fight another day. This is the stuff of the campaign.

In Bath’s Hyboria, King Arthur and his knights waged war on Conan’s Cimmerian hordes.

In those years, Tony Bath devised the quintessential wargames campaign. But he went further, for he set the campaign in a fictitious world. He lifted the map from the end papers of a Robert Howard novel. He cribbed also the setting’s name, and so Hyboria came again to life in the second half of the twentieth century. Bath borrowed real-world cultures, both ancient and medieval, to populate the continent with peoples, whence armies were drawn.

In Bath’s Hyboria, King Arthur and his knights waged war on Conan’s Cimmerian hordes. Carthaginians struggled against Viking raiders. Picts crossed swords with Persians. Aquilonians, allied with Argives and Nemedians, laid siege to a Turanian town occupied by Hyrkanians.

Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming including Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

That was only the beginning. Bath describes the process and much more in amicable prose. Setting Up a Wargames Campaign was published in 1973 by Wargames Research Group. It had a second edition (1977) and a revised third edition in 1986. Copies now circulate on various reseller sites for not extraordinary prices. At the time, though, I couldn’t find any such copy.

Instead, I found a reproduction. As part of his History of Wargaming Project, John Curry, with the Society of Ancients, published Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming (2009, 2011), which is a reprint collection of three previously published books:

  • Peltast and Pila Ancient Wargaming Rules (Tabletop Warfare, 1976)
  • Setting Up a Wargames Campaign (WRG, 1973)
  • The Legend of Hyboria (Society of Ancients, 2005)

In setting up the Valormr Campaign, I’m using Wargames Campaign’s first three chapters, in which Bath describes the basics:

  • How to Set Up Your Campaign
  • Map Movement
  • Contacts, Battles and After Effects

I’m sure to make use of later chapters in subsequent campaigns. Furthermore, the ancient wargame rules Peltast and Pila will serve in campaigns taking place earlier in the DONJON LANDS time line.


Champions of Chaos

It was yet during Throrgrmir’s Renaissance when rumors spread to the four corners of the world about the wyrmlings which terrorized the dwarves in their dungeon domain.

Anax Archontas Pyrgos Pyrkagias came from lands far south of the World Dragon Mountains, where the red dragon was known as Lord Master of Flame Tower. He brought with him Solon Theros, a superhero with a reputation for ruthlessness, savagery, and cunning in war.

From a temporary lair in the Western Mountains above Darkmeer, Anax Archontas verified the truth of the wyrmling rumors. Then, with Solon Theros he made a plan to conquer the dwarves and thus begin the prophesied Age of Dragons.

Plan made, the dragon hissed at Solon Theros. “First, find champions from among the human rabble below to fight for our purpose.”

Regiments assembled before Solon Theros and Anax Archontas
Regiments from Dracken Deep and Ternemeer assembled before Solon Theros and Anax Archontas.

Wargame Scenario

Champions of Chaos is an introductory wargame scenario, in which Solon Theros chooses champions to fight for Chaos. It exercises four of Chainmail’s rule subsets.1 Thus, the scenario is conducted in four phases.

  1. Skirmish: Regiments from two petty states fight an engagement.
     ▪ Setup: Dracken Deep vs. Ternemeer
     ▪ Narrative: Killing Field at Aldefane
  2. Man-to-Man Combat: Surviving troops of both sides face off against each other—every man for himself.
     ▪ Setup: “Allies You Have None”
     ▪ Narrative: Four Without Country
  3. Jousting: Those who remain standing compete in the lists.
     ▪ Setup: Death Rides to Mortal Combat
     ▪ Extra: Strategy on the Jousting Matrix
     ▪ Narrative: Hargrane Against Nine in the Lists
  4. Fantasy Combat: Winners undergo long and arduous training under the whip of Solon Theros. One year later, the heroes are tested against fantastic creatures.
     ▪ Extra: A Final Test of Courage
     ▪ Setup: Heroes of Chaos

Solon Theros chose warriors from two of Darkmeer’s petty states. Neighbors Dracken Deep and Ternemeer are fierce rivals. Commanders Minke Meine and Annemie Tacx have met before.2

For the venue, Solon Theros chose Aldefane, a structure built by the Greater Race. Whatever its original purpose, its ruins now serve as an arena.

It’s been a lustrum since I played Chainmail. Before the Valormr Campaign proper, I refamiliarize myself with the rules for medieval miniatures in Champions of Chaos.


Notes

1 Another rule subset describes sieges. Too complex for the simple scenario, those rules may serve later in the Valormr Campaign.

2 Naming: Anax Archontas and Solon Theros, being from south of the World Dragon Mountains, get their names from Ancient Greek. For Darkmeer places and persons, I cull names from Dutch, Frisian, and Old Frankish. In all cases, I take license to suit my own ear, finding justification in the millennia between now and then.


Beliefs and Religion

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

—Mark Twain1

Beliefs

These are fundamental beliefs widely held among all peoples throughout the known world.

Eternal Recurrence

The world ends; the world begins anew. Time is cyclical. The most recent end of the world was the Rending. Before that, there was Ragnarok, a battle between the giants and the gods. Before that, the Great Deluge, the Ever Winter, and the Time of Fire. The present world will be destroyed following a battle between Law and Chaos. Chaos wins.

Fates and Destiny

In the north, they are the Norns. In the south, the Moirai personify destiny. To the east, one’s destiny is determined by the stars. In all cases, the common term is “the Fates.” The gods obey the Fates. It is part of divine responsibility. Mortal creatures may choose to obey or to resist them. Diverse myths portray a hero’s struggle against the Fates and his or her success or failure.

Religion

Most folk, particularly those north of the World Dragon Mountains,2 are adherents to the Pantheon of gods. Followers revere all the gods, the Allfather chief among them.

The holy symbol is the Ouroboros, a serpent biting its tail. The symbol is presented with the “bite” at the circle’s top. The inverse presentation, considered heresy, signifies rebellion against the Pantheon.3

Rituals, ceremonies, and festivals follow the Ring Cycle, which comprises eight annual cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, and an overall cycle of worldly renewal. The faithful make rituals daily as well as monthly and seasonally.

As such, churches and cathedrals are dedicated to the Pantheon as a whole, yielding a central place to the Allfather. At the same time, temples, dedicated to a particular god, are not rare, while shrines may be either to a single god or to the Pantheon. In no case is devotion to the Allfather ignored.4

A religious edifice of a community is staffed by clerics, who attend to the religious, if not spiritual, needs of the faithful. These clerics may be of the adventuring class or minister clerics. Minister clerics may rise, though slowly, within the church hierarchy to hold upper offices.

Community Size Edifice Office
Village Church (rarely temple) Priest
Small Town Church Curate
Large Town (or City) Church Bishop
Major City Church or Cathedral Matriarch/Patriarch

Each office is appointed by the next higher, usually influenced by its own superiors. For examples, the bishop of Valormr is appointed by the patriarch in the Grand Duchy’s capital city.5 The bishop appoints the curate of Odenwoad as well as that of Fyrir, and each curate appoints priests to surrounding villages.

Development Guidelines

In developing the DONJON LANDS setting, I strive to create only what is necessary for game play. Though I indulge to some degree when an opportunity to explore the world presents itself. In so doing, I follow two guidelines. Here I describe how they relate to the setting’s religions.

Ancient Models

To save myself a tremendous amount of work, I use as models ancient religions of our own world. The religion followed north of the World Dragon Mountains draws from Germanic and Norse mythology. While, south of the range, the inspiration is from Greek mythology, and east of the (unnamed) central sea, Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian. Models not copies.

B/X Implied Setting

A goal of the Wyrmwyrd campaign is to develop a setting that corresponds to the rules as written. In B/X, clerics “have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess” (B9). No gods are described. A DM, who so desires, might elaborate on the Pantheon to define a much more detailed and complex religion, while another might use only “the Allfather”6 as a generic god.

Notes

1 The quote is often attributed to Twain. The Quote Investigator debunks the myth.

2 The World Dragon Mountains are far south of the Throrgrmir Valley.

3 A sect or cult of Chaos might use the Ouroboros inverted among its membership—never openly in civilized communities. We may encounter the symbol more frequently in the dungeons.

4 One might imagine the predominant religion as pantheistic merging toward monotheism, as the Church of the Allfather consolidates its power.

5 As folk in Valormr prize their independence, there is some tension between the Lords of Valormr and the Church of the Allfather. The best they can arrange is for the Valormr bishop to be a local native, who then, so hope the Lords, keeps local interests in mind. That is not the situation at present.

6 Of course, one might want to replace the Allfather with the Allmother. I suspect a matriarchal religion—that is, one whose primary god is female—would look much different though, not just a change in gender. Further, it would be interesting to follow the evolution of a religion whose chief god is non-gender or non-binary or simultaneously male and female. I intend to experiment with these in future campaigns. Meanwhile, I would love to see your examples.


Valormr Heralds

From among local aristocracy, the Lords of Valormr appoint several heralds. They are charged with the duty to disseminate information throughout the domain. These tabarded riders can bring the news from the Free City to the domain’s farthest reaches within a day.1

Spring in the Eighth Year of Valormr2

Latest news from the dungeon, the following information is commonly known throughout the Throrgrmir Valley.

  • The Red Ogre, Emperor of the Undersun, has completed construction of a “great wall” within the dungeon. Imperial troops now man fortifications to block key passages in a wide perimeter, which encloses the subterranean empire.
  • The Red Ogre also built a library. Overlooking the Throrgrmir Bridge, the library is filled with ancient and modern texts from eastern lands.
  • The Red Ogre has come to an agreement with Pegasus Manes. The adventurers pay the Emperor’s “tax,” and his troops leave them alone in the dungeon—as long as the adventurers show no signs of aggression.
  • Griffon’s Claws continue to extort Valormr. With monies thus gained, they recently added a stronghold to Isolde’s Tower, which is now a formidable fortress.
  • Formidable though it is, the fortress does not hinder the blink dogs, who harass Griffon’s Claws within it.
  • Pegasus Manes has allied with the blink dogs and recruits a force to fight Griffon’s Claws.
  • While Faerunduine, Wyrm-Touched, sleeps and grows stronger, a previously unknown cult has erected a temple at the old Throrgardr Gate. The cultists built an altar from the petrified bones of the last wyrmling. The object of their adoration is the wyrm-touched dragon herself.
  • To house the tomb of their lost comrade, members of the Ghouling Gauntlet are constructing a shrine. Meanwhile, they look for signs of the vampire’s whereabouts since their first encounter.
  • The Red Ogre propositions Valormr to join the Undersun Empire. The Emperor and the city have made a temporary non-aggression pact. The Emperor now sends an ambassador with full honorary accompaniment—which is to say, an army…

This, I think, is the final installment of the Wyrm Dawn campaign. Play of How to Host a Dungeon created a complex underground environment, a robust history, and details this Dungeon Master would not have discovered without it. Tony Dowler created a truly unique game that deserves more attention and more exploitation. I look forward to using it to create more, bigger, more diverse dungeons as we further explore DONJON LANDS. Now on to Wyrmwyrd.

On to Wyrmwyrd

Notes

1 Departing in the morning, first to Fyrir and crossing the Abrandyr and a tributary at ferry points, a rider gains the village north of Ellriendi by nightfall.

2 While familiar with the calendar used in the Grand Duchy—as it is the primary trading partner, the fierce folk in the Throrgrmir Valley, favoring their independence, have long preferred to reckon years according to their own system. Thus, the local calendar begins from the Free City’s recent founding.


Wilderness Map

Another preliminary map. At such an early stage—that is, before the first door is forced open—it is premature to consider the wilderness outside our immediate adventure area. My purpose, with regards to Wyrmwyrd, is to show the greater area, however generally, in which events play out. Furthermore, the base, modified, serves as the strategic-level map for the Valormr Campaign, which takes place a few thousand years prior to Wyrmwyrd.

Wilderness Map—The Grand Duchy and Western Borderlands
Wilderness Map—The Grand Duchy and Western Borderlands.
Valormr left of center, Darkmeer in the west, the Grand Duchy east. One hex equals six miles.

In my childhood experience with wilderness maps, I first loved to make mountains. Later, I loved to do forests, then hills. Now I love to make rivers!

The north-south river right of center is in fact a canal, built by the Greater Race, repaired several times since the Rending.