How to Run a Campaign Part 2: Narrative Campaigns

So my previous article of 5,000 words on the basics of campaigns didn’t scare you off, huh? Well, here’s a shitload more. This week I’m going to be discussing Narrative Campaigns.

Narrative Campaigns are the type you most commonly see in Games Workshop materials like campaign supplements, and tend to represent a series of pivotal battles in an ongoing campaign. They’re linear in nature, with the winner of each game receiving a bonus in the following game. They tend to work best for 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 campaigns, where you have clearly-defined sides and it makes sense to run through a set of predefined missions. They’re also better for shorter campaigns.


Before You Start: What’s Out There

Building your own campaign can be very rewarding, but it’s a lot of work! Before you crack out the pencils and google docs and start planning your campaign, consider playing an existing narrative campaign, or modifying one to suit your tastes. Here’s a list of what’s already out there for you to use, with some thoughts for the ones I’ve played.

8th Edition Narrative Campaigns

8th edition already has a few campaign resources you can turn to.

It’s a good book. Buy it already, Campbell. Jesus

Planetstrike and Stronghold Assault (Chapter Approved 2017)

Previously revamped in the Planetary Onslaught supplement in 7th edition, Chapter Approved 2017 included new, 8th edition versions of both campaigns. I expect they’ll update Cities of Death in CA 2018, given the new terrain and its inclusion in the core rulebook.

In Planetstrike, one player takes the role of the Attacker, dropping forces onto a planet from above, while the other takes on the role of Defender, attempting to thwart their invasion. In Stronghold Assault, players take on similar roles, with the Attacker laying siege to the Defender’s fortified positions. Each campaign lasts 6 missions, and both have custom warlord traits, force organization charts, and stratagems. You can also string both both together into a “super-campaign,” and they have bonuses for going from one to the next.

Overall, I like these missions. I liked them in Planetary Onslaught, and I like them here. Firestorm attacks, introduced in Planetstrike, are a little more fun that the Preliminary Bombardments used in Stronghold Assault, and less brutal. That said, the only thing I don’t love about them is that they can get a bit stale after 3 or 4 missions. While each mission is different and most are pretty interesting, having every mission being a variation of siege or drop assault can be a bit much.

Some Notes: If you’re going to play these, consider the following as tips to make sure you get a balanced experience:

  • Be sure to follow the rules for defenders setting up terrain however they want and getting free buildings. The defender needs the advantage of building the table as a killing field.
  • When trying to balance free buildings vs. points (most missions dictate that one player have more points while the other gets free buildings), give the points player about half the value of the buildings in additional points.
  • Read and use the custom stratagems! Some of them are really cool, and they help elevate the experience.

Forgebane (Necrons vs. Admech)
Wake the Dead (Imperial vs. Eldar)

These are both shorter campaigns designed for play with the armies included in the box sets. They have some neat concepts, but they might not be balanced for different armies or factions.


7th Edition Narrative Campaigns

There were also quite a few narrative campaigns in some of the 7th edition books. These are also based around specific factions, but there’s something for almost everyone in these and if nothing else, they can provide good inspiration for building your own narrative campaigns. You can use them for games of 8th, but you’ll probably have to do some modification work to update things for the new edition.

Sanctus Reach: The Red Waaagh!

This 11-game narrative campaign has Astra Militarum and Imperial Knights. As an added wrinkle, many of the missions are Planetstrike missions, and several call for specific units or combinations, such as having an Ork Stompa or a trio of Imperial knights.

Sanctus Reach: Hour of the Wolf

The sequel to The Red Waaagh! Is a 10-game campaign that includes 8 standard missions involving Space Wolves, Knights, and Astra Militarum taking on Orks, with 2 bonus missions involving Khorne Daemons. Some of these are also Planetstrike missions, and in total you can easily string these together with the Red Waaagh! Missions to recreate the entire historical campaign. My favorite mission of these is the one where Imperial players must rescue a Shadowsword positioned on a cliff’s edge while Orks bear down on their position.


Shield of Baal: Leviathan

This 6-mission campaign sees Tyranids taking on Militarum Tempestus, Adepta Sororitas, and Astra MIlitarum. There are no win bonuses, and the book introduces rules for both Cities of Death and Death from the Skies (most notably, Fighter Aces), the latter of which are used in its missions. These are also notable for including the “Skywar” rules, which specify a battle taking place high above the ground, and a mission where Imperial players have to evacuate civilians.

Shield of Baal: Exterminatus

This 8-mission follow-up to Leviathan adds Blood Angels, Flesh Tearers, and Necrons to the mix, and specifies both specific formations and units (such as Burning One C’Tan shard). This is also the one time in the fluff everyone talks about where Necrons allied with Blood Angels.


War Zone Damocles: Mont’ka

This book contains an 8-mission narrative campaign (with a full bonus map) that sees Astra Militarum, Imperial Knights, Adeptus Mechanicus, Raven Guard, White Scars, and Assassins taking on Tau (and Farsight). One of the more notable missions in this set is “Death in the Void,” which takes place in space and sees Imperial forces trying to destroy a satellite network.

War Zone Damocles: Kauyon

This 8-mission follow-up to Mont’ka focuses more on Raven Guard and White Scars against Tau. There’s a cool mission called Blood and Vengeance, that’s focused primarily on killing characters.


Warzone Fenris: Curse of the Wulfen

This 6-mission campaign pits Space Wolves, Dark Angels, and Grey Knights against Chaos Daemons and Chaos Space Marines and requires Wulfen to play. Its best mission is a cool canyon race where Dark Angel and Space Wolf units have to break through daemon forces racing along a narrow ravine, though generally I thought all the missions in this book were pretty fun.


Gathering Storm

If you want to play through the fall of Cadia, these books each have missions for the fall, including 3 for The Fall itself, 4 for the Eldar, and 4 for Guilliman’s forcesin Rise of the Primarch. These are all meant to be played with the Empyric Storm missions, and the third book also introduces Cataclysm of War missions, which are basically proto-8th edition rules in some ways.


Planetary Onslaught

The 7th edition Planetary Onslaught supplement has rules for Cities of Death missions that can be run in a campaign, if you can’t wait for CA2018, or if it for some dumbass reason doesn’t include them. It also has rules for chaining Cities of Death missions together with Planetstrike and Stronghold Assault. Though note that 7th edition Cities of Death were basically modified Maelstrom of War missions.


Building Your Narrative Campaign

Ok, so you aren’t a fan of any of those and you want to build your own narrative campaign. Cool! Here are some steps to help you get started:

  • Step 1: Figure out who’s playing
    Think about how many players you’ll have, and what factions they’ll be playing. Remember that these campaigns work best for smaller numbers of players, and with only two sides.
  • Step 2: Plan the overall plot
    Create a rough outline of the plot of your campaign. Who are the key players? What are they fighting over? What are the key twists? What’s at stake. Don’t go too crazy–the goal here is to go broad strokes and fill in the gaps as you play.
  • Step 3: Determine how many missions/Rounds to play.
    Based on your outline, you’ll be able to determine how many misisons you need to string together. My advice is to stick to somewhere between 5 and 7, and to have no more than 11. Also, odd numbers work better than even, since they ensure there won’t be any ties.
  • Step 4: Choose the missions
    Don’t reinvent the wheel — if you can, use an existing mission that accomplishes what you need story-wise. You should vary things up here, if possible.
  • Step 5: Create bonuses
    If you’re going to have bonuses for winning, this is the time to make them. They should be relatively small, and ideally tied to the following mission and thematically appropriate. Avoid making penalties for the losing players–rewards are always more fun.


It’s somewhere in here

 An Example Narrative Campaign: The Battle for Brimlock

Ok, let’s run through this process and I’ll create a narrative campaign from scratch to show some of the thought processes I use. Feel free to use this one as you like, or to modify it to suit your own needs.

Step 1: Figure out who’s playing

For the purposes of this example, the principle players are me, playing my Chaos Space Marines, my friend Thomas, playing his Orks, my friend Eric, who plays AdMech, and our friend Paul, who plays Space Wolves. That makes it pretty easy to draw battle lines as Chaos and Orks vs. AdMech and Space Wolves, and gives us some inter-team tensions we can plot out.


Step 2: Plan the Overall Plot

I like to use existing fluff when I create campaigns, so I typically start by just looking at old Imperial star maps from codexes (GIS “galaxy map 40k” to get started) and pick a planet or system. Hmmm… “Brimlock” is a promising name. I’m looking for a planet that might have one or two mentions in the fluff, but isn’t well-known, so I can make up whatever I want about it.

I need to figure out who the attackers and defenders are, but once that’s done it basically writes itself. There are two obvious ways to go with this:

Scenario 1: Chaos/Orks as Attackers

Chaos are after a macguffin. Maybe it’s an artifact, maybe it’s a weapon, maybe it’s gene-seed. Maybe they just want to burn an Imperial world. Orks are after a good time. Chaos can use Orks to get what they want, so a tenuous alliance is formed. The Imperial forces are defending their planets from invaders.

Scenario 2: AdMech/Space Wolves as Attackers

Brimlock has been besieged by Orks and Chaos forces for some time, and Imperial forces are hellbent on recapturing the planet. Although locked in bitter combat, Ork and Chaos forces put aside their fighting to repel incoming Imperial forces. They can go back to killing each other later.


For this scenario I’ll go with Chaos/Orks as Attackers, because story-wise, they’re more aggressive, and because I want to play Night Lords in this fantasy scenario. Next, I’ll write a quick blurb to share with the players. The goal here is to establish the key players, establish the battleground, and set the stakes. If my players have warlords with names, this will be a good time to include them.

“Brimlock is a remote planet in the Ultima Segmentum, oft-forgotten by Imperial record-keepers and ship routes. Its most notable feature is classified–an Adeptus Mechanicus installation housing considerable weaponry. Having come into the information of its existence by way of torture, a Night Lords warband has made its way to the planet, only to find it coming under attack by Ork forces. Seeing an opportunity to use the dim-witted greenskins to their advantage, a deal was struck. Unfortunately for both of them, a nearby Space Wolves battle cruiser responded to the Mechanicus’ distress signal, and has arrived to help them defend the valuable archaeotech and weapons beneath Brimlock’s surface.”

Great. That might actually be wordier than I needed. But if you’re this far into the article, you already know that I write too much. For this campaign, we’ll need missions that cover planetfall, fighting over some secure locations, and probably something that takes place in a facility. The general flow will be “Chaos and Orks land > They search for the admech installation > they lay siege to it > they infiltrate the installation > they fight over the tech inside.”


Step 3: Determine How Many Missions/Rounds to Play

I don’t want this to go too long, so we’ll plan on playing 5 rounds. Some of them will be 2on2 games, and some will involve separate games.


Step 4: Choose the Missions

Next I have to choose the missions. I’m going to start with the Orks and Chaos Marines making planetfall, then probably do 1-2 open area missions to represent engagements out in the open as Chaos looks for the facility and Orks just bust heads. Then I’ll want a mission that represents the facility being sieged, and finally a mission where the alliance breaks down and the three sides fight over the archaeotech.

Round 1: Planetstrike – Planetfall

Orks and Chaos Space Marines make planetfall, taking on AdMech and Space Wolves

Round 2: Eternal War – Roving Patrol

In this round, we split the teams up into two separate 1v1 games. The winner of the round is the team that scores more total VPs. If both teams are tied, the Defenders win a minor victory, but claim no bonus in the following round.

Mission 3: Eternal War – Scorched Earth

Chaos and Ork forces continue to pursue Imperial forces across the wastes, having picked up the scent of their real target.

Mission 4: Stronghold Assault – Bunker Assault

Having discovered the Installation holding the archaeotech cache, Chaos and Ork forces lay siege to the fortress’ defenses.

Mission 5: The Relic (3-player), Sector Mechanicus Battlezone

In the final round, Ork, Chaos, and Imperial forces fight a 3-way battle over an important archeotech weapon. In this game, teams use blind bids to determine turn order.


Step 5: Create Bonuses

Now that we have the missions, we need to create bonuses for winning each round. Remember, we’re creating bonuses, not penalties, and they should be small.

Round 1 Win:

Players on the winning side receive a +1 bonus to their rolls for determining who has the first turn, and a +1 to their Seize the Initiative rolls.

Round 2 Win:

At the start of the next game during Deployment, each player on the winning team rolls a D3 and gains that many CP.

Round 3 Win:

Attacker Win: After deployment, the Attackers nominate a single enemy BUILDING. Decrease that building’s Toughness by 1 for the remainder of the game.

Defender Win: During the first battle round, any Defender units that haven’t moved since deployment, other than TITANIC units receive the benefit of cover, even if they are not wholly on a terrain feature.

Round 4 Win:

Armies on the winning side can re-roll failed morale tests in the following round.

The Winner:

If the Imperial side has scored more wins overall, they win, and force the invaders back (though potentially having lost some valuable archaeotech assets–something you can resolve in a future campaign!). If the Chaos/Ork sides have scored more wins overall, then they win. If one of the Chaos/Ork players won Round 5, that player is the winner overall, and makes off with the valuable cache of ancient weapons.


And that gives us a quick 5-round campaign, with lots of mission variety. We’ll want to vary game size as well as we play, according to how players want to manage their time and what’s available army-wise. Resource-wise, this campaign requires the Chapter Approved 2017 book for the missions; although Planetfall and Bunker Assault are in the main rulebook, we’re using the Sector Mechanicus battlezone and some CA Eternal War missions. You’ll also need some bunkers and buildings to set up defenses for the Planetstrike and Stronghold Assault missions.

As you design campaigns, think about how you can make use of these extra narrative mission rules–there’s a ton of them and they’re all way under-used in my opinion. That said, don’t overdo it on combining them. Too many rules for one game and you’ll end up ignoring key rules. Stick to one thing at a time.


Go Forth and Run Things

Hopefully I’ve provided a good head start with some ideas for planning your next narrative campaign. Let me know if you do run one, and if so, how it goes. Or comment with your thoughts and questions below. I love hearing about other campaigns, so if you just have stories you want to share about cool campaigns, feel free to do that too.

Next time I’ll talk about Tree campaigns, which are like the more interesting, more work-intensive cousin of Narrative campaigns.