Welcome back, Scummers, to yet another edition of Necromunday! You all probably aren’t getting any games in these days, so why not instead spend some time designing custom scenarios for when you can get back in the proverbial saddle? This week we plumb the depths of custom scenario building and share our experiences making our own scenarios.
There are 40+ scenarios available in published material for Necromunda. In fact, we’ve reviewed all (or most, at least) of them! But, for whatever reason, sometimes they’re just not what you’re looking for. It might be that you’re planning a big send-off for your campaign, or you’re looking for ways to ensnare new players, or maybe you just have an idea that you want to try out! Any reason is a good reason to bring out a custom game, though, especially if you can tie it to a narrative that you or your players have crafted throughout a campaign.
Today, we’ll be going over a few of the tricks we’ve learned as we’ve trial-and-errored our way through a myriad custom scenarios that we’ve unleashed on our own players over the course of the past couple years. We’ve created scenarios out of whole cloth, tweaked some of the book scenarios to better fit in with our particular vision, and have certainly not been beyond outright appropriating custom scenarios from other Arbitrators! Within all of that, we’ve noticed some themes and mistakes that we’ve made along the way, so we’re passing these lessons on to you.
Building Your Own Scenarios
For right now, we’ll be focusing on custom scenarios that are essentially designed to be run by two players with their typical gangs, with little to no direct Arbitrator intervention or guidance. There are some beautiful and uniquely Necromundan moments that can be achieved on special nights when an Arbitrator is willing to put aside their own gang and instead pit a player’s crew against a teeming horde of Brain-leaf Zombies or a maze of death traps, but we’re not going to be going into that just yet. The base game absolutely supports a single-player plus Dungeon Master RPG-esque experience, but we’d be doing it a disservice to merely cover that as a side-note in here!
If you’re here because you’re looking to give the gangs in your Underhive something new and exciting to fight over, the first thing you’re going to need before actually writing out your custom scenario is an idea. Maybe you want to do something entirely unique, or maybe there’s something already out there that could be used as a skeleton for something new with a few modifications. In fact, acquiring those bones is part of a time honored tradition, that bears mentioning first and foremost:
Creating a custom scenario might be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it can actually be very easy if you remember the most powerful tool you have at your disposal: Stealing ideas. (Or, if that makes you feel weird, call it Taking Inspiration.)
We cannot stress how useful stealing concepts and designs is to customizing your own scenarios in Necromunda. In background, design, narrative, and play, Necromunda takes from a huge number of sources to make it the game we love, and your custom missions can, and probably should, be “borrowing” ideas, too! There are a ton of cool ideas for miniature gaming out there, and if you’ve come across one, you should feel free to adapt it to a Necromunda game.
In games we’ve made, we’ve taken ideas from movies, old Necromunda sourcebooks, novels, other miniature games, and existing scenarios! A lot of the time, figuring out the “what” is the hardest part, so if someone has already created something that you think will fit well into the framework of a Necromunda game, you should go ahead and use it as inspiration because, come on, it’s right there!
If you think the rules for Vault entry and End-of-Game mechanics in Archaeo-Hunters would work for your scenario, copy ‘em! If the objectives in Takeover are this close to being what you want the Control Points to be in your Necromunda version of TF2’s Gravel Pit, use ‘em! If you find another player who’s written a mission that automates wandering monsters in the Priority Phase, bring ‘em over and use them for your own zombies! There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every single time – use the stuff that works!
Scenario Basics & Essentials
So, you’ve got your concept, or ‘found’ your inspiration. Next up, you’ll need to define the basic Battlefield Setup and actual Mission Parameters.
Objectives and Victory
This is the big one, the whole deal that you’re building the entire rest of your scenario around. We can’t help you with this part – it’s your idea!
Do something new, or do something better, and you can modify all the rest of these to better suit your needs. Think of the rest of these as dials that you can turn to better tune in the general vibe of your scenario.
Battlefield & Deployment
Don’t be quick to dismiss this one with “Standard Battlefield Set-Up,” a custom Battlefield can influence how a scenario plays out more than almost anything else aside from objectives! This is your chance to dictate how built-up the terrain will be, or how many levels of platforms the action will take place on. If the floor is lava (or just a particularly active river or sludge), or the game’ll take place on a 2’ by 6’ battlefield for whatever reason, this is where you’ll make that happen.
If you are going with a more typical “Standard Battlefield Set-Up,” it may still be handy to dictate a standard size. After lots and lots of Necromunda games, we here at Necromunday are ready to say that we have a preferred battlefield size for a one-on-one game: 3’ by 3’. Be it a tabletop with 3D terrain or Zone Mortalis tiles, we feel like it’s enough room that shooting gangs can ply their trade but also small enough that combat gangs still have a chance to get up close and personal.
Deployment and Deployment Zones also go a long way towards establishing a tone for a scenario. Opposing edges can represent two gangs arriving simultaneously, ready to square off or even avoid each other as they race towards central objectives. Deployment pockets inside the battlefield could show a gang already on the scene, ready to fight off a rival for whatever reasons you’ve contrived.
Custom(10)? Get outta here with that garbage unless you’ve got a good reason for it! Even if your scenario isn’t Attacker/Defender with asymmetric crews, crew sizes should be tailored towards both the objective and the size of the scuffle you’d expect the mission to cause. A full-frontal planned assault would admittedly have both sides bringing every warm body they could hire, but smaller incursions and raiding parties just feel better with a smaller band of hand-picked gangers.
On some of our more recent scenarios where we’ve tried to use smaller crews, we’ve also incorporated some of the restrictions from the White Dwarf Gang Raids supplement: forcing leaders to sit out and only allowing a single champion has done wonders towards reducing lethality on scenarios where we’ve wanted to allow the common ganger to shine.
Whether you go with Pick (X), Random (X), or a sort of combination of the two that we’ve advocated repeatedly over here, Tactics Cards are a vital part of flavor that helps make Necromunda the unpredictable gem of a game that it is. If there’s a certain card that would absolutely break your scenario somehow or allow a particular gang to cheese their way through the objective then by all means restrict it, but most of them will generally be alright. Except Dangerous Footing. Always ban Dangerous Footing.
Naturally, it’s always about the journey rather than the destination, but gangs seem to really enjoy credits so we’re happy to oblige! We’ve largely copy-pasted the Experience and Reputation from most of the book scenarios into most of ours, since they generally do the trick and aren’t too fancy.
For credit rewards, however, it pays to be a bit more discerning! At a bare minimum, we recommend a 2d6 x 10 credit reward for any custom scenario that has a blanket win condition, or a d3 x 10 credit per objective reward on a scenario that has multiple objectives such as controllable points or loot crates. There’s an entire subset of really fun book scenarios that offer precisely zero credits as a reward, and are seldom chosen to be played as a result.
Lessons Learned: Scenario Design
While the above is the internal structure that holds a scenario together, the rest of it is up to you! Within those parameters you can construct just about any mission, but what else to keep in mind? We’ve been doing this for a while, so we’re going to hit on (what we feel are) the hallmarks of good scenario design, while also giving examples of pitfalls to avoid.
The first thing to keep in mind is that an Arbitrator or mission-maker needs to be flexible regarding their players. As any veteran pen and paper RPG DM will tell you, players are unpredictable, and cannot be trusted! Within your missions, build in a level of wackiness tolerance, as your players will find ways to surprise, frustrate, or impress you every time a new person plays one of your missions.
It’s also important to take feedback and update the mission as new players try it out and discover holes in your system. Use the first couple of run-throughs as a testing process and ask yourself “what worked?” And, “what didn’t work?” Most importantly keep your eye on the prize: a fun, engaging, and bespoke experience that your players will not forget.
Avoiding the Death-match
Unless your intent is to beat Stand-Off and Tunnel Skirmish at their own game, chances are your intentions are to create a scenario where the conditions for victory are slightly more nuanced than being the last gang standing. You can put all the time in the world into crafting bespoke goals and objectives, but if your players can ignore it and instead blast away until they declare victory, why bother? Case in point is one of our favorite missions, the oft-mentioned Archaeo-Hunters. In theory, the mission encourages an uneasy cease-fire as the gangs pilot the Automata towards the Vault, with an inevitable double-cross after the door has been destroyed. In practice, many players immediately open fire and attempt to slaughter the opposition, banking on the credits gained by their own fighters survival outweighing the value of the credits inside the Vault.
Some existing book scenarios, like Search and Destroy, circumvent this with a relative degree of success by counting only Victory Points gained by playing the objective towards victory and for credits gained as a reward.
Consider Progressive Rewards
Reserving all rewards for the endgame portion of a scenario is, perhaps, not the best way to do it. A lot of the time, one gang will leave a scenario with oodles of ill-gotten gains, while the other ends up empty-handed. While this might successfully mimic real life, in game design it is not optimal.
A good game will make both players think they came away with a rewarding experience. Despite the course of the game, the outcome is generally one-sided. So why not construct a situation where the “tangible” rewards of the game are parceled out whenever the conditions are met as opposed to the end of the game? This will also have the side effect of pushing the players to actually play the mission instead of just attempting to murder the other gang.
For example: Let’s say the battlefield is strewn with terminals, and the objective is to hack as many terminals as possible, and then retreat to a safe-house. For each terminal that gets hacked, the gang gets d3x10 credits, 1 victory point, and 1 experience. This way, even if a player ends up bottling or losing the game, they can still get some sort of cash reward for playing the game instead of going home empty-handed. They players will feel better after the game, and the campaign will be more balanced as a result.
Dan’s Custom Scenarios
What kind of article would this be if we didn’t have our own scenarios to exhibit? We’ve got two of Dan’s favorite custom scenarios for you today, so we’re gonna drop the first person plural for a change and let him speak for himself!
Dan: I’m bringing two missions to the table. The first is my version of an Ambull Hunt.
The bones of this scenario were first sent to me by a Something Awful Goon called enentol and I tweaked their work for Merton and I’s Cinco de Necro event in 2019. The idea is that 2-4 gangs have been tasked with tracking down an Ambull in the Underhive. They’ve managed to locate its nest, but haven’t yet been able to get eyes on it. That’s where the gameplay cuts in. The gangs are trying to secure the Ambull carcass or any Borewyrm carcasses for a credit reward from the local Guilders. Since an Ambull is a…rather large specimen, instead of dragging it out and bringing it back to their hideout, the gang that takes it down will have to defend their kill where it lies, and chase off any enemies so they can “process” it at their leisure. This game is specifically designed to be played on a 3×3 grid of Zone Mortalis tiles, but it can be turned into a Sector Mechanicus game with little trouble.
So, we’ve got rules, a narrative framework, and then some seriously enticing rewards to top it all off. I’ve used this mission in a campaign twice now: once at Cinco de Necro, and once in my own local campaign, and both times as a downtime mission. This game works great in downtime, as it is the perfect excuse to get a whole grip of players together to try and take down a truly fearful opponent. This scenario definitely benefits from having an independent arbitrator control the Ambull. The last time I ran this game, I was controlling it, and I tried to make it act in an unpredictable manner. But don’t count out those Borewyrms! Last time we played this one, one of the Borewyrms went out of action almost immediately, but the other performed three Coup De Grace actions, seriously injuring one of the gangers!
This scenario is a ton of fun, but it’s not perfect. I’ve since changed up how Borewyrm corpses are disposed of. Instead of leaving the battlefield, a Borewyrm corpse can only be scored if it is in a player’s deployment zone at the end of the battle, regardless of how many fighters they may have left. The idea is that the Borewyrms represent a controllable positive outcome that doesn’t depend on killing all the opponents left in the game. I’ve also since Removed bottle Checks from the game, as the starting gang sizes at 3 or 4 players are a little too small to ensure a fun game.
My second scenario is what I call Conqueror of the Spire.
I got the idea for this mission from the last section of the ancient Outlanders book (my copy is literally falling apart!). In that book, Andy Chambers (I think) created a gladiator-style mission for multiple players called “Lord of the Spire”. I never got to play this mission in its day, but I absolutely loved the way that they had set it all up. The powers that be in the Underhive have rigged up their own entertainment event, and in Necromunda, entertainment almost always means blood! Gangs are fighting over riches atop gantries that hang above a seemingly bottomless pit of sludge. In addition to the enemy fighters, there are a bunch of “buttons” set about the battlefield that will either grant boons or hinder the enemy. This mission is designed with verticality in mind, but it could be adapted to suit a Zone Mortalis board easily enough. Think Conqueror of the Pit in that instance.
I also created this mission for 2019’s Cinco de Necro event. We had 8 gangs, so we decided to do two downtime events: the Ambull Hunt and this one. I was more excited to participate in the Ambull Hunt, so I had Merton arbitrate this game, and it turned out I was wrong. This game turned out to be WAY more fun, and trust me when I say the Ambull Hunt was a ton of fun! Right off the bat, one of our players used the Hive Tremors tactics card to send the majority of the fighters into the bottomless sludge pit. After that, it was absolute chaos to try and race to the top to press the Big Red Button. Merton can tell you more about it, but it seemed like a hell of a game.
Merton: Just chiming in to say we absolutely did not anticipate Hive Tremors. Not only did it shake the majority of fighters into the Sludge, the player who ran the card chose to use it to remove both of the ladders that were supposed to be used to get from Level One to Level Two. So, instead of all the gangs rushing up the tower, they instead spent half of the game slap-fighting in the sludge and trying desperately to even get to the first button. It went for a few more rounds than intended, and absolutely wasn’t the sort of game I thought it’d be, but everybody had a great time. A++ would play again, even if some jerk shakes off all the ladders a second time.)
Dan: This mission lends itself extremely well to adapting. Whatever terrain, models, or narrative you can come up with, you could make this mission work for you. If I run it again, I think I would give some rewards for progress up the spire, not just for the gang who ended up smashing that MF endgame button. I can’t wait to engineer a situation where I can put my own gang in this game, as it looks like a total blast to play.
Custom scenarios are a fantastic way for an Arbitrator to let their creative abilities shine. And while Necromunda does indeed have a lot of scenarios to choose from, they’re not always perfect all the time. Consider giving the creation of your own scenarios a shot, and maybe even learn from our mistakes! That’s what we’re all about here at Necromunday, fostering a community of learning and growing!
Now, we know we have some creative and inventive readers, and we desperately want to read about your own custom scenarios! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with links to the scenarios you’ve built, as we would 100% love to check them out. While we think Games Workshop does a great job with our lovely little game here, we know that the best content for Necromunda often comes from its players, and we would LOVE to see what y’all have been up to. We’re on a scenario kick again, so tune in next week and as we finally dive into all of the Multiplayer Scenarios that the past six books have brought us!