If you’ve been following Goonhammer since the beginning, you may remember me as the guy who writes about campaigns, and maybe even that I wrote about a campaign I’m running. If not, here’s the brief rundown: After wrapping up my last campaign in 2018, I started a new campaign at the start of the year, taking place in the Astradus System, a system that was previously lost during the Heresy and which has now re-emerged in real space. You can read about my plans and the setup for the campaign here:
An Update on the Campaign
So after all that work to set things up, I thought it would be good to give an update on where things are–who’s leading, how’s the narrative working, what works, what doesn’t, and what I’m planning (though note that I won’t be giving away too much — my players may read this!). The good news is that so far, things are going pretty well overall. The players are enjoying the campaign, we’re playing a ton of games, there’s lots of conversation happening about playing — it’s all in-line with what I was hoping for when I started. The whole thing has been a lot of work to keep going so far, but the time has been worth it.
The Overall Campaign
The Astradus Campaign is composed of a series of Rounds, or 3-to-6-week periods over which games are played. During each round, players receive “Orders” that dictate the games they are supposed to play for that round. These usually include one matched game against a specific player (I try to do some record-matching here), one open game a player can get in against anyone, and one event mission that tends to be open but has specific rules associated with it. There’s also a Kill Team game on there and listed rewards for each game victory — note that players can have different rewards for the same mission, depending on their current standings. I also try to give most players one custom mission (a mission that only they and their opponent will play that round) and one standard mission (that everyone plays) each round.
Here’s an example of a player’s Round 3 Orders for one of the campaign’s Dark Eldar players:
Here, Defend the Tower is a custom mission for the Dark Eldar and Necron players — the Dark Eldar player won one of the “Capture the Tower” events in Round 1, and so had to defend his claim in Round 3. The second mission was one everyone had, though midway through Round 3 the new Maelstrom of War rules came out and we started using those instead of the mission rules for choosing objectives. Going forward, I’m planning to pick Maelstrom missions from the list Corrode and I put together in this article.
Prior to the campaign, I mailed players a bunch of envelopes that they were instructed to open each round. The cards in these determined the starting assets for players and also determined the size of armies they’d be able to take each round. Currently, here’s what they’ve opened:
This allowed us to do a bit of an escalation campaign as we ramped up, giving some of our newer players a way to build up to fully painted armies, while also giving us an opportunity to play more games at the outset. There are also Kill Team escalation cards that right now allow Kill Teams up to 150 points in size, but Kill Team has only been a minor part of the campaign so far.
By the Numbers
As I write this, we’re wrapping up Round 3 in one week, and here’s a quick rundown of the stats for Astradus to-date:
- 25 active players
- 107 games played (94 Warhammer 40k 8th edition, 13 Kill Team)
- 76 Warmaster Deaths
- 2 Allies discovered
- 3 Artifacts discovered
There are currently 25 active players spread across the Northeast corridor in the U.S. participating in the Astradus campaign, and it’s a lot to manage! Overall, things have gone pretty well. Here’s a faction breakdown of who we’ve got:
- 5x Orks
- 4x Space Wolves
- 2x Chaos Space Marines
- 2x Dark Eldar
- 2x Tau
- 1x Thousand Sons
- 1x Death Guard
- 1x Chaos Daemons
- 1x Ultramarines
- 1x Raven Guard
- 1x Necrons
- 1x Adeptus Mechanicus
- 1x Adeptus Custodes
- 1x Genestealer Cults
- 1x Deathwatch
We have a couple of stragglers who played in round 1 but haven’t participated since, and I’m hoping to rope them back in for more games soon.
Standings-wise, Orks are crushing it right now. 3 of the 5 campaign Ork players are in the top 10, and a fourth is in the top 12. Dan “SexCannon” Boyd is also doing pretty well as a participant, with his Raven Guard under the command of Shadow Captain Lanius taking the lead in this most recent round after a major victory over ANAmal.net. Sadly, the forces of Chaos are not doing so hot. I blame our Death Guard and Thousand Sons players, who have repeatedly eaten shit in campaign games. Makes our whole side look bad, really.
Speaking of which, ANAmal.net is currently in last place in the campaign among active players with 1 Campaign Victory Point earned, and that was for accidentally killing an enemy warmaster for once (his own Warmaster, Interrogator-Chaplain Barbatos, has done more wounds to himself with his relic combi plasma gun than he has to enemies). His Dark Angels have gone 2-9 in campaign games, with one of those wins occurring in a Kill Team game against Pwong’s Orks and the other happening when he and Felime switched armies for a game and he beat his own shitty Dark Angels. The upside is that he’s currently working on his army, and may eventually eke out a win here. Maybe.
So far, I’ve tried to go light on having a defined story for the campaign. This is intentional, to keep things loose while the players can build their own narrative hooks through games. The basic narrative is that everyone is fighting over lost relics and technology, but I’ve seeded a few interesting hooks into the player narratives to give them something to work toward and make things more interesting. The big ones there are rumors of a hidden lab that belonged to Fabius Bile that the Custodes are searching for, and some kind of unknown object in orbit around the Astradus star.
But those are more of a “slow burn” narrative that I’m doing things with throughout the campaign. Most of the narrative is being built by the players. And so far, the story is that Ork hordes are dominating both planets in the system (half the players live in two different states, and each one is being treated as a separate planet). Greggles’ Orks, led by the Big Mek Snazer Gob, have consistently dominated the surface of Lunoria, going 14-4 in engagements and injuring warmaster after warmaster. Their reign has only been matched by Ork Komandante Slay Guevara’s reign on Hephus, and the two have begun to battle for the favor of Gork and Mork by attempting to collect more gubbinz than the other. Bangskrit and Grubslag have been close behind.
To give the Ork players something to compete over, I started the King of Da Gubbinz competition. Essentially, I have the Ork players track how many vehicles and units with a 2+ save they’ve killed, and award them 1 Gubbinz for each. Whichever player ends a round with the most gubbinz is then King of Da Gubbinz, and gains a favor from Gork and/or Mork, in the form of +2 Strength and +2 Leadership. Right now Slay Guevara and Snazer Gob are tied, so each gets +1 instead.
Additionally, I decided to turn Relic and Ally discoveries into more of a roleplaying opportunity, setting up some quick events in our campaign Discord after each game win involving a relic. One example is the Slann ally Babajide, whom our Custodes player Felime won after beating Macathu’s Death Guard. Rather than just give Felime the ally, I instead described him finding an odd coin that led to the ally approaching him, and gave him a choice of whether to work with the Slann as a guide:
This opens up some opportunities. Story-wise, I can have Babjide be a step in leading Felime’s Custodes to the lab. If he refuses, I can have Babajide approach another player, or make the coin relevant in some other way — the point is, it gives me several options, and also lets me ensure that the wrong players don’t get certain relics or artifacts, such as a Tau player getting a force weapon. The net result was also great as well–Felime has started converting up a slann Kill Team (using Kroot Mercs rules) to represent the little lizardmen running around with his Custodes. Stuff like that makes my day as a GM, cause it shows that players are really getting into it.
The games have been good too! We opened up Round 1 with a special multi-player event called Capture the Tower. This ended up being 4 games (2 on each planet), with a special tower asset available in each and a special mission to play for them called “Capture the Tower.” These went over really well and led to some fun games. I liked them so much I decided to include an ongoing event in Rounds 2 to 5 called The Battle for Hive Primus/Secondus, where every round players have to play one Cities of Death mission and the players who amass the most wins over that period get to fight to win the hives as campaign assets. Capture the Tower was a real blast, and we ended up splitting the two games (one for each planet) into four. Each game had between 4 and 8 players and involved multiple lead changes. We used 2-player teams for ours. If you’re interested in the mission we used and the bidding system in that mission, you can find it here.
We’ve also done a few other special missions to accommodate stuff going on with players in the campaign. As a GM, these are fun slam-dunk moments where I can play up to what will make the players happy while also doing cool stuff. Here are a few examples:
- When ANAmal.net finished painting his Warhound Titan, we did a special mission called Smash and Grab representing his warmaster attempting to get the newly-arrived titan back to his base while Greggles’ and Pwong’s Orks tried to ambush it and take it down. It survived a single turn before exploding and taking out most of Pwong’s army. The players had a blast playing it, and in the ensuing haul, Greggles was able to take the lead in campaign gubbinz.
If you want to try the mission for yourself, you can find a link to it here.
- Two of our Round 1 tower games ended in draws. So in Round two, the tied players got to square off for control of the towers while in Round three, the players who won their games outright had to defend their towers from challengers. That led to some interesting follow-up narrative hooks as Shas’O Kin’Shi once again took on Magos Spindulus (both are veterans from the Paulus campaign, along with my warmaster, Kaervek).
- Dan “SexCannon” Boyd launched a daring mission to save a captured Inquisitor from a Black Legion hold, prompting a special game of Kill Team where his squad of Raven Guard were tasked with taking on a squad of Black Legion holding the Inquisitor backed by a Helbrute. At the start of the mission we set up two cells, one of which held the Inquisitor and the other of which held a Chaos Spawn. Dan opened both. Ultimately, Dan’s Raven Guard were able to rescue the Inquisitor and defeat the Helbrute, leading to him being able to recruit the conservative Inquisitor Rothko to his ranks.
- In Round 2, four of the Ork players squared off in a pair of missions called Da Road, where vehicle-heavy armies competed to peel out, do donuts, and vie for gubbinz on planets that are too small for two warbosses. The ensuing games involved motorized armies chasing across the wastelands, trying to tow piles of burning scrap behind them as other vehicles shot them down. Sometimes the best you can hope for is that a campaign game will channel the spirit of Gorkamorka.
What’s Working, What Isn’t
I spoke at length about some of the mechanics I wanted to use in my campaign and three rounds in I think I have a pretty good idea of what is and is not working. So let’s run through those aspects, with some thoughts on each.
Some things are working very well!
- Custom Characters
Although we’ve had to adjust some characters after the first two rounds, overall the custom warmasters were a big hit, and so in round 3 we added Lieutenants (characters with 1 free ability from the CAC rules in CA18).
- Custom Missions
The custom missions have been a big hit so far, which is good. Giving ANAmal.net an opportunity get clowned with his Warhound was well worth the effort.
- Roleplaying Opportunities
I wasn’t sure how the roleplaying bits would go over at first but so far they’ve been going over very well, and led to players really thinking outside the box about how to address things like books of ancient Chaos lore and how to incorporate allies into armies. The hard part is finding the time to do more of them, and to include more players!
- Campaign Discord
Having a Discord for the campaign is great. It’s an easy way to help players communicate and coordinate games, and players really seem to engage with each other there. Also it’s an easy place to post campaign resources.
- The Escalation Format
Starting small and ramping up really helped us get in a lot of games early and I think it was really beneficial for the players who were just starting new armies. As much as I think some players are looking forward to 2,000-point games, starting small was a good call.
What’s Not Working As Well
Other things, not so much.
- The Campaign Cards
This one pains me because the cards were a lot of work and I really love the final assets, but overall the players just don’t really seem to be using them much. I’ve handed out a bunch of assets so far and while players hold on to them for points purposes, the assets that give an advantage in games just haven’t really been used much. The exceptions have been the Events, which I gave to some of the players who were behind in round 1. In the future, I’ll probably give players more of these.
- Keeping Everyone Involved
As great as having a campaign Discord is, several key players just seem bent on avoiding it, forcing me to get in touch with them through Facebook. As a result, not only do I have to chase them down, they’re perpetually behind on campaign news and they miss other developments, leading them to feel less engaged with the campaign. That sucks, and it’s a hard problem to solve if they’re not willing to put in the work.
- Balance in Smaller Games Sucks
Running an Escalation league format early on was great, but it also caused some problems in that 40k is clearly not designed for 750 or 1,000-point games. Things have been smoothing out as we’ve moved up, but armies like Necrons are a completely different beast in smaller games where you can’t easily focus-fire a single squad to death to prevent them from using Reanimation Protocols.
- Some Warlords Are Much, Much Better Than Others
Although character creation was a success, some of the warmasters people created are just trash, while others are pretty good. Unfortunately, mine falls into the former category and not the latter, being a Black Legion sorcerer created prior to Vigilus Ablaze. If I’d known how big a handicap that was going to be, I’d have just made him a Chaos Lord from the outset. I also don’t really use his summoning ability much, but that’s really more on me.
As we move on to round 4, we’re getting into the 2,000-point list stage of the campaign. I’m eager to play at this level for a few games before we start figuring out how to incorporate Apocalypse into campaign games.
Here are some things I’m mulling over for future rounds:
- A big multiplayer Kill Team game around Bile’s hidden laboratory to advance the narrative there
- More artifacts and allies to hand out, with more roleplaying elements to get some of the players more involved
- A way to incorporate games my players will play at NoVA, so we don’t end up with too much fatigue from players trying to incorporate games while planning for and playing in a major tournament
- Apocalypse. If the new rules are good, It’d be cool to get games going before we do one bigass end of campaign event. Especially as we get into later rounds. I’m really looking forward to seeing how these rules play.
- Warmaster mulligans. For those players who aren’t happy with their warmasters, allowing for some rewrites or narrative adjustments (such as putting them in a dreadnought), and for some players to improve their chances if they messed up initially.
Anyways, that’s it for this update. I’ll likely post another update later this summer, sometime after NoVA is over and we’ve wrapped up round 4. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to shoot us an email or comment to us on Facebook or Twitter.