Jake Castro and Aaron Bostian are no strangers to running narrative play events for AoS. Both of them ran CGNE last summer, Jake with his local group in Orlando, FL and Aaron with his group in central VA. After this year’s event, they sat down to talk about their respective events, the similarities and differences, and shared some lessons they each learned.
AARON: Jake, you and I each ran a CGNE18 event on Saturday, June 23rd for our respective local gaming clubs. Although we ran the same event we made some tweaks to the main pack which made our events unique. Can we talk about what was the same and what was different?
JAKE: Certainly. Feel ‘tweaks’ might be selling it short a bit: I did a pretty extensive rework of the event for my players.
AARON: And I effectively ran my event straight out of the box with only a few changes. So this should be interesting.
JAKE: Let’s get to it!
AARON: This was the second annual event each of us ran, but we both had fewer players than last year. How did having fewer players this year affect how you planned for your event? Did it make a difference on how your players experienced Coalescence?
JAKE: Well, I have to admit that my venue has always limited my number of players. My venue has only three tables and since most of my scenarios are best with two players, I’m limited to a maximum of six if I want to run the event in one day.
Last year I had a lot of participants, so I ran the event more like an escalation league where I would record progress on a weekly basis, allowing folks to come in and play at their leisure. But if I’m being honest, that wasn’t particularly ideal. I got a few complaints about players getting steamrolled by overly competitive lists and confusion about the Battleplans I wasn’t there to answer.
This year, with only two players involved I was able to take a far more ‘hands on’ approach to running the event, directly narrating the event and serving as referee and game master for every battle.
It was a much more controlled environment, and I think the event was better for it. The players all told me they enjoyed it more as well, so the feedback was positive. I’m thinking I’ll aim for smaller, more directly controlled events in the future. How about you? How did it affect your event?
AARON: I agree that narrative events can be more dynamic when game mastered by a player not directly involved in the win conditions. I only had 6 players, but one arrived late so I played the first round and then another had to leave early so I took over his army, so I filled in more as a player than GM. But I enjoy smaller groups where I can ask the other players questions about their heroes, and add to the narrative as we play.
For example, last year I had 15 players, and two of them were new and I asked an experienced player to lead them in a 3-player game while I guided the other 12 players through the there battleplans of Coalescence. That gave me time, when I wasn’t answering questions about rules, to take some pictures and check in on the 6 different games, but even though I wasn’t playing a game myself I couldn’t really engage deeply with any one particular game for long.
This year we had more events in the region, and I had considered just attending one of those other events nearby rather than running a small event locally. It worked out well for a few local players that may have not gone to one of the other events, and I was pleased to have the chance to play some games myself.
How did having only 2 players work for you in your event, Jake? Acting as game master for one game with 2 players sounds like a great way to run with some detailed narrative play.
JAKE: It was actually quite entertaining for all involved. It allowed me to more directly incorporate the stories and characters of the individual generals into the overall narrative.
For example, the horde of chaos warriors that Rikkva the Deathless (my Event’s custom Empower NPC) became my Empower General’s tribe of Tzaangors working under her as raiders, while the grand army of Serendis Stormeye’s Banishers became the ragtag band of mercenary Kharadron Overlords my Banish general brought to the table. The big final battle I planned to be about the completion of a ritual by wizards and priests? The Kharadron General simply laughed, said he put his faith in steam and steel, and turned the scenario into a dramatic and incredibly fun hold out with the sky duardin forming a gunline and shooting off assailants off the board, disregarding the ritual in favor of wiping out those who would stop it.
It generally was just a good overall experience, more personal and comfortable for all involved. I imagine some of that might sound familiar?
AARON: Half my players were new to AoS (only playing for the past month) with one old friend that hadn’t played since AoS came out 3 years ago. So I wanted the event to be easy for new players to enjoy. I started with an introduction and narrative round, which was just getting six of us around one table and I spent a few minutes reviewing last year’s event, reading an excerpt from your short story, and explaining the predicament of these separate armies gathered around some shattered realmgates.
I dropped the Skirmish portion for round one, just told players to create 500 point warbands with minimum sized units. It was a fast and fun round, and warmed everyone up to playing and feeling comfortable. Most of the players also hadn’t met one another before, so I think that short first game was something of an ice breaker, and we started the second round an hour after the first had started.
I ended up playing my old friend during the second round. He was a bit rusty on the rules, but had printed a copy of the new edition core rules, and we used that game as a learning experience. He also smashed my army to pieces—and he enjoyed the feeling of winning after his loss in the first game. Another old gaming friend stopped by, and we ended up spending as much time catching up and sharing what had gone on in our lives as we did rolling dice. But, like I say, gaming is a great way to enjoy some time with friends and a Narrative event can be a great opportunity to relax and not worry about finishing the game on time or even who won (he did).
On the topic of socializing, after the second round ended at “around” 4 pm, we broke for dinner and walked around the block to a local BBQ Place. We spent the next hour eating BBQ and coleslaw, drinking beer, talking about the new edition and visiting Hawaii and the possibility of Fyreslayers that could summon “endless terrain” volcanoes.
How much did just plain socializing feature in your event?
JAKE: Not as much as I’d planned for due to my smaller than expected turn out, but a steady and pleasantly casual atmosphere settled in. Discussions between the players and I were largely on the backstory of their generals, the armies they’ve collected, their general experiences with Age of Sigmar.
My event diverged significantly from the event most folks ran. For starters, I reinvented every scenario for the event to correspond to our local narrative, and basically wrote my own custom scenarios for each round. Since our events take place in Orlando (the City Beautiful of Florida), it only seemed fair to place them in Ghyran, the Realm of Life. Specifically, in a part of the Realm known as the Greenglades. And seeing as how last year everybody fought over the Font of Eons, a mystical fountain whose waters had healing properties, I felt it only made sense that the players this year continued to chase that resource. It lent to a fun narrative with a centric focus on the motivations of our local generals, and that led to some great conversations and fun lore exchanges!
The first battle became about scouting out uncharted springs of healing water from the Greenglades (the Font itself was rendered inaccessible in the aftermath of last year’s event). After the Empower General captured the springs with a decisive victory in the first round, he had to have his Tzaangor band escort a caravan beast carrying the water through enemy territory in an ambush scenario with the ambushers being Kharadron Overlords. Both players really got into it, discussing the motives of their characters in each mission. The Tzaangors were fighting on behalf of Tzeentch wanting to capture the Godbeast and seeking any advantage it could, meanwhile the Overlords were literal mercenaries hired by the Banishers in the absence of available local forces. So it was quite fun!
AARON: We had a 40K player show up and express interest in learning how to play. He couldn’t stay the whole afternoon, but one of the other players offered to take him aside and run a demo game for him, and that allowed me to play against my old friend during round two. Up through our BBQ dinner break, the day was mostly social. But then when we prepared for the final epic team game, that’s when things got serious. After dinner we had exactly 6 players, not including myself, so I decided to run a single big game with the 3 players of each team on a side. We put two tables together, and I read aloud the rules for the scenario, making some minor adjustments for 3 players per side instead of the suggested 2 players.
That last game took a while, but it was fun for everyone involved. There was a loyalty check after turn one, and only one player decided to try defecting–his plan to coordinate with an opposing player to switch sides didn’t pan out, and he was stuck right back where he was! Oh, he had been the team’s warlord, too, but was stripped of that title. But with his Destruction army of Ironjawz, he really just wanted to tear things up, and his hero’s insane goal was to kill so many enemy models that he could stand up and take on the godbeast himself! It made a crazy kind of sense, and for the rest of the game that player’s army wrecked havoc across his portion of the table.
One player had to leave before the end, so I stepped in and took over his army through the last two turns of the game. Players had been moving heroes to pick up realmstone shards, and the Empower team was ahead with a Deathly Black Knight prancing around with two stones. It looked like Empower would win as the Black Knight moved toward one empty corner of the table… and the only forces of Banish that could stop him seemed to be so far away… at the bottom of the fifth turn a unit of Blight Kings moved to within 12 inches of the Black Knight parading with his pair of shards… the Nurgle player actually managed to roll boxcars for his charge, and moved enough models into position during the pile in move to cut down the Knight and take away the shards, stealing victory away for the Banish team.
I know you didn’t have enough players for a team game in the third round, but how did the final game go in your event, Jake?
JAKE: It actually went great! As I mentioned, I was running a branching tree of custom-tailored scenarios for our event as opposed to the event pack’s scenarios. These culminated in a showdown in the middle of the City of Orla (our local event’s locale, adjacent to the Greenglades in Ghyran), right at the foot of their Realmgate, the Gate of Swans (I used a Baleful Realmgate to represent it in game). It was set up much like the Ritual Battleplan from the 1st Edition Age of Sigmar Corebook, with the Banishers setting up a ritual to seal the gate so Eristrat and Archaeon’s forces couldn’t pass, while the Empowerers struggled to stop the ritual or wipe them out before it could be completed.
Originally, I had planned for this to be a multiplayer battle with 750 point worth of warriors allotted to each participating player. However, because it was only two players, the final battle felt like a very personal affair, with the two Generals bringing their most elite and pivotal troops to either defend the gate or take it. It turned into a very white-knuckle affair, with both Generals reaching for some pretty crazy gambits; the Banishers were Kharadron Overlords, and had no Wizards or Priests under their banner to progress the ritual, so success would only be possible if they wiped out the Chaos forces with their firepower and stalwart defense at the foot of the gate. The Empowerers were forced with stiff opposition, and attempted to decimate the duardin warriors with a headlong blitz into their lines with Tzaangors and surprisingly killy heroes. Meanwhile, during this battle I allowed both players to control a pair of custom-made heroes unique to my event to supplement their forces, adding a little flavor to the mix beyond just their respective armies.
It was a hard fought battle, but both players had a lot of fun, and after a hard fought battle, I held a brief and informal award ceremony for my players, we all walked away with some rather good memories and some new friends. I couldn’t ask for the event to have ended on a better note.
On a side note, I know you’ve asked once or twice about those unique characters I ran for my event, so if you like I can give you a little more on that. Lord-Castellan Serendis Stormeye, leader of the Banishers in the Greenglades, appeared in narrative piece I wrote for the lead-up to Coalescence 2018.
She was a cool idea and I decided to work her into our local event directly as a Faction Leader, whereas Rikkva the Deathless was a character whose name I’d been bandying about since last year in our local narrative with far less fanfare, and decided to finally give her a model and have her lead the Empowerers. With a little time and effort, I made both of them some custom Warscrolls, and during the event I had planned to have them make spontaneous appearances across the event, appearing from nowhere and leaping into battle to assist players who may be having a rough time or be dealing with a more one-sided battle.
The idea was that the players would control them as they wish, like a unique ally to their army. To have them work with any army in the event, I had all participants in the army add a unique Keyword to their army: BANISH or EMPOWER, and had all their abilities trigger off of those keywords, as well as allowing armies with those keywords to apply their unique buffs or spells to them as if they were part of their army in the first place. This led to an interesting moment in the campaign when, in the final battle, Rikkva the Deathless benefited from a Tzaangor Shaman blessing her with the Arcane Transformation spell, turning an already melee-centric character into a truly terrifying force on the battlefield, killing nearly ten Arkanauts in just one round of combat!
It was a fun experiment and if my players feedback is to be believed, a good one. I expect Rikkva the Deathless and Serendis Stormeye will be back for Coalescence 2019 in Orlando, and perhaps other local narrative events I may run….
AARON: Thanks, Jake!