Friday, 1 February 2013

Worldwide Campaigns - Part 2

Welcome back one and all, to part 2 of my rant...I mean summary, of the phenomenon that was the Games Workshop world wide campaign! I am relieved that if you are reading this, then at least someone decided that part 2 couldn't possibly be worse than part 1.

Below is what remains on the list of events that we have not yet covered. The next event in particular I consider to be of major significance, a turning point in the history of the world wide campaign.

2004 - Storm of Chaos (Warhammer)
2005 - The War of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game)
2006 - The Fall of Medusa V (Warhammer 40,000)
2007 - The Nemesis Crown (Warhammer)
2011 - Scourge of the Storm (Warhammer)

So, we come to it, the event that inspired this topic, and has generated by far the greatest volume of debate and controversy. Even though it is seven years this year since the Storm of Chaos took (or didn't take) place, we still see the odd thread pop up in one of the various background forums from either someone who saw things go down and has questions, or a gamer who wasn't there and is appealing to the Loremasters for enlightenment.

I will talk more about this event than any of the others, because this is the biggy, so I apologise for that, but the Storm of Chaos was 'the daddy' as far as significance goes. I will say that I speak, as usual, from my own point of view, as a lover of stories, and with the considerable benefit of hindsight.

A couple of things you have to bear in mind about this event are that it was set in the Old World, the very heart of the Warhammer setting (not an Island in the middle of the Ocean, or on a far flung planet created specially for a war to be waged over), and that, at least in the beginning there was the promise that we as participants could affect the background of the Warhammer setting itself, by our actions in the campaign.

This was an amazing opportunity for anyone like myself, who places a high value on the story behind the games.

Now, there was an awful lot of ground work done in the lead up to the campaign, including linking back to some very old material, and I commend the writers for that. The story itself was great - up to a point.

I have read and re-read most of the material for the campaign, as I am lucky enough to have been able to preserve or locate much of what was made available at the time, and there was plenty of it!
As well as all the lead up stories, battle reports and special characters used as plot drivers, there was a day by day account of the war penned by Gav Thorpe, and the conclusions presented on the website which followed the end of the campaign proper.

Despite all of the work that went into the event, the quality of (most of) the material and the amount of control of the battles themselves given over to the participants, when the dust had settled and the conclusions written, it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong.

My recollection of the events are that the direction the campaign took was not what GW had envisaged. The forces comprising and supporting Archaon's drive across the northern Empire towards mighty Middenheim was fragmented and seemingly not as coordinated that that of the defenders of the Empire. The Orc players, who may have been expected to take the side of disorder, conducted a focussed attack on the forces of Archaon. The Empire meanwhile enjoyed spectacular success, which it is claimed was not represented in the evolving story.

The fact was that, for many reasons, the story that formed the backbone of the campaign was not being played out on the table. The Chaos invasion force was overall struggling to make headway towards their goal, and rather than let it turn into a damp squib of an assault by the armies of the Everchosen, it is claimed that the story was used to drive the action, and Archaon towards Middenheim, where actual battle results were failing to do so.

This created a situation where people felt that ths story was not being influenced by their actions as it should have been, and this feeling was compounded by the conclusions that were written following the end of the tabletop conflict.

There were, to my recollection, three particular items within post campaign conclusions that really sealed the fate of the campaign, and by extension, the concept of the Worldwide Campaign as a story development tool.

First, we had Belakor, the first Daemon Prince and Dark Master from the Dark Shadows Campaign and his entire Daemonic army banished by the Elven Loremaster Teclis. Just like that, they were dust.
Second, we had the big battle that a large part of the campaign plot had been building towards, Valten's army of zealots and Karl Franz's army engaging the forces of Chaos. Archaon laid low both Luther Huss, 'prophet' of Valten, the incarnation of Sigmar reborn, only for the Everchosen to be slapped silly by Grimgor Ironhide, who then, in a very un-Orcy fashion, decided that it was enough to have defeated Archaon, and let him live!!!

Last, and most grating for me as a Vampire Counts player, was the tale of Manfred von Carstein and his part in the war, which in the conclusion began when he arrived at the village of Sokh where the hard core of Archaons remaining forces had repulsed attacks by the Empire army.

Manfred's forces swept through the village, decimating the Chaos forces and driving the survivors into retreat. After this, he squared up to the Empire generals, ready to destroy them, and after a cinematic but wholly unrealistic exchange of words with the now resurrected Volkmar the Grim (previously slain by Archaon and then brought back from the dead by Belakor), Manfred turns his army around and marches away without a fight!

I'm sure there are other things that people could name, but those are the things that stick in my mind. The final nail in the coffin though, was that the entire campaign had no impact on the game setting at all, as ever afterwards, bit by bit any reference to it having taken place has been erased, and the clock in the current big rulebook timeline has been wound back to the year before the invasion. Every current source now says that the largest Chaos invasion in history is on the horizon.

I should stop at this point and pass on to you, dear reader, something that I have deduced after reading the campaign background material, specifically the Loremasters Journal, in order to be fair to Gav Thorpe at least. Part of the problem with the campaign was that the Chaos invasion forces seemed to lack the cohesion and direction of their enemies, but when you read the day by day account (at least the way I read it), it is littered with prompts and nudges. These hints roughly equate to Gav saying "you've spent far too much time fighting for this inconsequencial backwater, Middenheim is the prize" and to quote Richard Obrien in his Crystal Maze days, "On to the next Zone!".

Whether these really are hints, and could have been picked up on at the time, or whether my madness has found a new way to manifest itself I just can't say, but if you get the chance to read the Loremasters Journal, see what you think.

So where does this now leave us? Will the Storm of Chaos break at some point in the future? Or has the wheel of time ceased to turn and the Warhammer setting is now stuck in a paradoxical End Time that will never actually come because the clock has stopped before it is due to be unleashed? I know what I think.

And what did the experience of the Storm of Chaos campaign teach Games Workshop? Well I think it taught them something fairly obvious: you shouldn't put vast, epic and fundamentally world shattering events in the hands of fate (or wargamers) and beyond your own control. This is what they said they were doing with the Storm of Chaos, and when it didn't work out, they had (I suppose were forced) to take the necessary action to preserve the game background. Unfortunately this somewhat undermined one of the big attractions of taking part in the first place.

Now then, we can clearly see the impact of the lessons learned in the worldwide campaigns that followed, which I shall skim over because that's all they really warrant, and to prevent this post running into a third part.

The War of the Ring I can't comment on, but I am sure it would have been a great marketing excercise.

The Fall of Medusa V for 40K and the Nemesis Crown for Fantasy were both far simpler than the Storm of Chaos, with main plots that were all but predetermined and just needed a final decison to be reached about which participating faction managed to best achieve their allotted goals before the campaign ended. Both were launched with a free booklet with White Dwarf (thank you again GW), and accompanied by campaign websites.

Medusa V revolved around a planet created specially by GW so that it could be destroyed, and it was clear the planet was doomed from the start, about to be swallowed by the Warp Storm named Van Grothes Rapidity. The campaign included opportunities for every race pretty much to be played, which will always create a story that is hard to justify convincingly. There just isn't any good reason or even likely possibility that every race will have interest in a single world all at once.

The Nemesis Crown was not a high impact high potential damage campaign like the Storm of Chaos. It essentially revolved around the hunt by various races for a single magic item: a rathed potent shiny hat. Of course the Crown had the potential to destroy the universe, but this would never have been allowed to happen. Suffice to say that this campaign was never in a position to influence the game background.

The Scourge of the Storm campaign, though included in the Wikipedia list, was over before I ever realised it was taking place, and I am confident was less of a worldwide campaign and more of a marketing tool to get people playing the Storm of Magic supplement for Fantasy.
If the question is 'how do the campaigns that came after the Storm of Chaos differ from those before?', the answer must surely be that the opportunity for we as gamers to have a chance to affect the setting we play our games in was taken away, and in my opinion at least, the whole concept died when that happened.

When quizzed on the subject, the answer given by a prominent person within Games Workshop (who shall remain nameless due to my enduring respect for this person) was that the company did not wish to cause anyones collection to become invalidated by the results of a campaign. Though I can appreciate this approach, it leaves us with a game where the setting and its stories that keep so many of us hooked on the GW hobby stagnate, reduced to a paper backdrop for our battles to be fought against.

I have been told that other companies manage to progress their back stories without any obvious problems, which makes me wonder why Games Workshop can't manage the same, though they do seem to have 'back filled' and expanded on the background material with things like the juggernaut that is the Horus Heresy series, without moving the timeline forward.

In conclusion, my advice to Games Workshop would be that worldwide campaigns can be a huge draw for gamers, and have the potential to be really amazing events, but rather than campaigns which are simply too insignificant in their events to carry any real sense of moment, they should release them as all encompassing source books similar to those produced by Forgeworld. I would love to see a book which provides background and army lists allowing us to play games in the war-torn northern Empire following the Storm of Chaos. This gives those that want it what they wish for, without impacting the main setting.

On that note, my next few posts will describe just that: the disposition and concerns of the various main factions affected by the Storm of Chaos, that I wrote after much deliberation over how to create such a source book and save the story from the ridiculous fudges that ruined it for us. Maybe they will inspire you to play some games post Storm of Chaos, or return to the maelstrom of Armageddon and pick up the war after the Season of Fire? Or even perhaps have a check down the back of the sofa for that stupid Nemesis Crown. It must be somewhere...

It's been a long post, so thanks more than ever for sticking with me...