On the weekend of the 29th and 30th October 2022 the Goonhammer Open UK ran and one of the events we put on was The Siege of Vandia, a narrative campaign for Horus Heresy. In this first of two articles covering the event, Lupe takes a look at the sweep of the story, shows off lots of beautiful photos of the games, and recounts some tales of epic bravery. Next time in part two he’ll dive into some of the behind the scenes stuff, as he looks at how he approached the event and what lessons he learned from it.
The hive moon of Vandia, in orbit around the forgeworld of Tyras III, has long provided the workforce of millions to the factory cathedrals below. Tyras has been isolated for much of recent history however, kept apart by turbulence in the warp. But as the ruinstorm swirls and shifts, passages in the warp have finally opened up and the forces of the Emperor have arrived and made contact with the system. Though a forgeworld is the real prize, the untapped billions living upon Vandia are another enormous resource. Quickly arrangements were made for the recruitment of two hundred thousand new Auxilia in new regiments, a vast number of soldiers fresh for the war machine of the heresy. But the conditioning and training of these elite soldiers is not fast, and it will be months before the army can be mustered.
Sensing this moment of weakness the Warmaster sent an invasion fleet to the Tyras system. While the god machines of the titan legions can land on the great plates of the forgeworld, Vandia is protected by vast defensive macrobatteries. Any ship that lingers too long in orbit will be torn asunder by their fire, and it landing any titans would be far too risky. As such the Warmaster ordered a fast assault of the Legiones Astartes and Mechanicum forces in the region, ships crashing out of the warp in orbit and disgorging their dropships before leaping away again. Fire flickered in the sky as they arrived and the great guns turned towards them, but thousands of the finest warriors made planetfall to the great Galan Plains, an arc of open land spread around Hive Primus across half the circumference of the moon.
But these forces of treachery cannot take their time, they cannot wait for reinforcements. Hearing of the impending invasion through spies and informants, the Emperor has dispatched a relief fleet to Vandia. It will arrive two days after the planetfall of the traitors, and if the loyalists can hold then the traitors will be destroyed entirely. However, if the forces of the Warmaster can seize the macrobatteries then the loyalist fleet will be utterly destroyed, trapped between their guns and the traitor fleet still nearby. It all hang in the balance, depending on the strength and valour of the forces of the Imperium below.
The Siege of Vandia
This is the setup for the campaign that took place over the Goonhammer Open weekend: The Siege of Vandia.
Eleven loyalist players took to the field to defend the moon, composed of four commanders of the Imperial Fists, two of the Dark Angels, two of the Ultramarines, one of the Blood Angels, one of the Raven Guard, and one of the Lunar Wolves (loyalist Sons of Horus).
Eleven traitor players opposed them, including three commanders of the Death Guard, two of the Mechanicum of Mars, two of the Alpha Legion, and one each of the Sons of Horus, Emperor’s Children and Iron Warriors. They were also joined by a shattered legions force, turned to the Warmaster’s command, of Raven Guard and Iron Hands.
Across the weekend they played five games: three singles games of 2500 points, and then either two doubles games of 1500 points per player or one doubles and one larger 3000 point game based on player choice.
The missions were all selected from the core rulebook, but the deployment maps and special rules were determined by the course of the campaign. In addition, each independent character in each army could earn Honour by surviving a battle, and this could be spent on narrative rewards earned by Special Operatives (who were selected by a Supreme Commander from each faction to attempt additional objectives) or on extra reactions for that character and their unit.
To determine the outcome of the campaign the players earned Campaign Victory Points from their games – one for winning, one for having more than half their army remaining, and one for killing all of their opponent’s named characters.
The First Day
The air roars with the engines of thousands of dropships as the Warmaster’s armies arrive in orbit. The vast macro guns of the Vandia Defence Array stop an orderly descent, or the dropping of the great Titan Legions being deployed on Tyras III below, and so smaller craft must make up the first wave. The sky is dark with the swarm and below the loyalists draw up their forces to resist them. It is on the Galan Plains outside Hive Primus that the armies will meet for the first time. Desperate to try and stop the traitors from forming a solid beachhead, the forces of the Emperor meet them in open battle as the moon is still cloaked in darkness.
This first mission was a 2500 point singles game using the Onslaught mission on a Dawn of War deployment map, and played to only five turns (rather than the six in the book). The first clashes of the event were bloody and intense, but the traitors pulled a head, just a few points from the loyalists, as they successfully established their beachhead.
Glory to the Warmaster! The beachhead is firmly established and now more and more troops flood into the safe landing zone on the east most stretches of the plains. The loyalist forces are withdrawing in good order but they lack control of the field. The battles as they are pushed back to the walls of the hive will be bloody indeed, but the armoured fist of the Warmaster is swift and brutal.
The second mission was another singles game, this time using Tide of Carnage and the Hammer and Anvil deployment map. With the traitors ahead they automatically won the roll off and chose which player deployed first and therefore would go first (if their opponent didn’t seize).
Before they go underway however the allegiances were told who among them had won their games most effectively. The loyalists elected an Imperial Fists Supreme Commander from among these generals, and they would loyally stick with him across the entire weekend. The traitors, in a surprise move, initially appointed the commander of the Raven Guard and Iron Hands detachment. However, unlike their opposition they would, as you’ll see, happily overthrow their Supreme Commander after every single game.
The Supreme Commanders now had to appoint some special operatives to try and achieve particular goals. The traitors were attempting to take control of some anti-air batteries to ensure that they could keep ships in orbit for short periods and make use of their guns, while the loyalists were trying to reach control panels to raise the outer defences and erect additional barriers to protect them.
Though the fighting was fierce, the armies of the Warmaster once again pulled ahead, and going into the last game of the day they were in control of the field. Both they and the loyalists managed to have their special operatives achieve their goals however.
The landing may have been tough and the advance across the plains met stiff resistance but by the time the Traitors reach the Shield Wall of Hive Prime they have the momentum. The mailed fist of treachery slams full speed into the defences overwhelming the outlying positions almost immediately and pushing forward to shatter the remaining defenders and enter the city in a rush. If they can take the walls before night falls they’ll have the choice of when to push on into the city on the morrow, using darkness as their ally as they see fit.
In the first doubles game they played Shatterstrike with a Clash of the Line deployment. The traitors immediately overthrew their commander and appointed another, who immediately declared use of the orbital bombardment they had earned in the last round. The loyalist commander decided to hold onto their defences for a later round instead.
Orbital guns pounding the battlefield, the traitors assaulted the loyalist lines and great clashes broke out. However there were some special operations going on as well. One pair of traitors with great mobility were told to get teleportation beacons to the highest ground on their battlefields, which they managed, getting the teleportarum online for use the next day. A pair of loyalists also successfully managed to place boobytraps in key locations, which would later delay and disrupt the traitor advance.
With night falling the loyalists had managed to pull back a little, but the traitors were still just ahead, having taken the wall and being ready to move into the hive the next day.
The Second Day
The Shield Wall lies torn asunder, the armies of the Warmaster having breached them gloriously and smashed into the Hive. Though the loyal defenders fought bravely they simply could not hold them, and as night fell they were scattered and fleeing, desperately pulling back to regroup and await the next day’s fighting. When the attack comes it will be inside the hive city itself, a desperate scramble to hold key points for precious minutes.
Weary soldiers arrived for a second day of battle, tired from their fight the previous day and also the steins of long island ice tea consumed the night before. The traitors once more overthrew their commander, installing the Sons of Horus commander in his place. This commander would immediately make himself unpopular by declaring an assault before dawn to make use of night fighting, despite most of his commanders preferring to fight once the sun had come up, and to use the teleportarum to gain access to deep strike (a benefit basically only he used, and he managed to lose his game anyway).
This first game of the day was a single match of Dominion using a Search and Destroy deployment map. In addition three traitor commanders were tasked with creating terror in the hive itself, each destroying a key building to demoralise the inhabitants and defenders. Three loyalist commanders were instead directed to locate the entrance to the secret tunnel network under the hive and send a line unit inside to claim it. Both allegiances once more achieved their goals, but the fighting generally was bloody and tense.
Going into the last game the traitors were every so slightly ahead, but the entire outcome came down to the final stand.
Chaos reigns! The dogs of the Emperor are all but finished, and victory for the Warmaster is at hand. Though the defence was bitter there was no hope of its success, and now the terrible end is here. In small bands, broken and scattered, the loyalist forces find each other and join forces, desperately pulling together for a last, glorious battle. The traitors descend upon them like nightmares, ready to destroy them in their entirety. The loyalists must stand, strong and unyielding, or there is no hope of holding out long enough for the fleet to arrive and rescue the day.
The final mission was a Blood Feud using a Dawn of War deployment. To reflect the advantage the traitor brought into the fight, their reserve rolls got a +1 while the loyalists got a -1.
The loyalist Supreme Commander chose this moment to unleash all the rewards they had collected. Defensive lines sprung up, tunnels were used to move troops around, and the traitor forces were delayed and confused. The traitors, again, overthrew their Supreme Commander, and the new one elected to use their own benefits (from causing disarray in the city) as well.
The fighting was extraordinary bitter, and as the results filtered in the loyalists were pulling even, and then ahead. It was genuinely going to come down to the results of the last two tables. However both registered crushing traitor victories and with that they crossed the line and achieved their goals.
The loyalists slaughtered to the last. Vandia burns. The loyalist relief fleet arrives in grand triumph, only to be ruined by the fire of the macrobatteries, hundreds of ships shattered and broken. Fires flicker in the sky and on the ground. Now the new auxilia will serve the Warmaster, and the Heresy marches on with the powers of chaos stronger than ever. The charred corpses of those who opposed them only a faint memory of loss and sorrow.
After winning the campaign the Traitors overthrew their Supreme Commander again, presumably out of habit.
It was fantastic to see everyone really engage with the narrative and get into the spirit over the weekend, and I’m pleased so many people enjoyed themselves. Of course what’s going on behind the scenes is always a bit of a mystery, and next time I’ll pull the curtain aside and show off just what went into the narrative, and what went right and wrong from my perspective.