The Astradus Campaign, Part 2: Warmasters

In my previous article about the campaign, I wrote about the campaign’s basic setup and the card system we’re using for conquered assets throughout the campaign. This time, I’m going to talk about the custom warlord mechanics that we’re using. In my prior campaign, we toyed with the idea of doing custom warlords who had more than one warlord trait. Ultimately, this was a fun idea but didn’t really work out all that well — players forgot about their custom warlords and their rules, and ultimately it was more of a narrative device than a gaming one. That said, at the end of our big Apocalypse game to cap off the Paulus campaign, one of my players mentioned that he’d be using his campaign loss as the narrative reason for his T’au commander being exiled from the Empire and becoming a pirate. I thought that was really cool, and immediately wanted to make sure we could incorporate narrative elements like that into our games.

Enter Chapter Approved: Every year chapter approved comes out with sweet rules around custom unit creation that never see much use in my group as a result of them not having points values or being set squarely in the “Open Play” box. Last year’s edition (2018) introduced a set of custom character creation rules that were perfect for what I wanted to do for the Astradus Campaign.

Introducing Warmasters

For the Astradus Campaign, I wanted to allow players to build their own custom special characters to play with, so that everyone would be kind of roleplaying their warlord’s rise to glory (or fall from grace) as they fought over the system’s planets. Here are the general principles I had in mind when creating the campaign rules for custom heroes:

  • Players should be able to (and should want to) use their characters – If we’re going to go through the trouble of making these custom characters, players should be able to use them. That means no restrictions on how often they can be used per round, and that means no permadeath for characters that die in a game.
  • Custom characters should be the only special characters allowed – This is partly because I don’t like using special characters in campaign games, but the gameplay implication is that custom characters then need to be strong enough that they can do what you’d want your army to do without the special character you’d normally take.
  • There should be a cost to your special character – While I want players to use their characters, there still needed to be a cost to taking them, in case someone didn’t want to bring theirs, and a cost for losing one in combat. I ultimately settled on a 25-point tax across the board for custom characters, and a reward of 1 campaign victory point each time a player kills a warmaster in combat.
  • Custom characters should be more fluffy than game-breaking – I’d need to review each submitted character for approval prior to them being allowed in campaign games. This ended up being critically important, and something we’re still working on.

Based on these principles, I settled on having players create heroes using 4 abilities, and called the created characters Warmasters. Each Warmaster would also have static wargear options, relics, and warlord traits, have to be approved prior to final use. Warmasters cost an extra +25 points over whatever their final unit cost would otherwise be, and if you include one in your campaign army, they have to be your warlord. I then sent these rules out to my players, along with a request for photos so I could use them to make custom datasheets for every warmaster, so the players could have the rules for everyone’s custom unit.

Here are a few of the results from goons in the campaign, which turned out awesome:

Lessons Learned

As I write this, we’re almost done with Round 1 of the campaign (and I’ll have an article on that in a couple of weeks), and we’ve got around 25 games in so far using warmasters, with several tweaks having been made. Here’s what I learned about using these, and what I’d recommend if you’re going to try and replicate this in the future:

  • The vetting process was extremely necessary. Most of the warmaster submissions I got at first pass fell into three categories: The first were warmasters who had fluffy abilities determined by their backstories. The second were near-unkillable beasts with a mix of 3+ invulns, only wounded on 4+, halving incoming damage, and feel no pain 5+ abilities. The third went the opposite direction and were character-sniping murder-machines designed to delete warmasters off the table as quickly as possible. I immediately put the kibosh on the third category, as I felt that having warmasters get killed all the time would be counter to what we wanted to do. I mostly left the second be, but tried to work with players to create custom abilities.
  • Creating custom abilities was a lot of fun and paid off. For several of the warmasters, we created custom perks and abilities that reflected their backstory. These were designed so they wouldn’t be game-breakingly powerful, but would give a cool extra flair to the character. For the aforementioned Tau pirate, we created a custom 1 CP stratagem that would allow him to outfit a unit of Crisis Suits with Coldstar boosters prior to the game. This had the benefit of being weaker than letting a Crisis Suit Commander with 4 meltagun shots per turn shoot at characters from 18″ away, while also encouraging a play style that people would enjoy going up against more, seeing more Crisis suits and moving around. For an Imperial Guard Commander, one of his four ability slots went to a custom Order, and another went to a custom command squad unit.
  • Some tweaks were required. We’re still tweaking some characters, as right now the “Shokk Attack Gun Warmaster Meta” has turned out to be extremely difficult to handle in the early, smaller games of the campaign. So we’ve been tweaking a few of the warmasters as we go.

Let the Games Begin

With the cards printed, our warmasters made, and a sweet rulebook available for download, we were ready to roll on the Astradus Campaign. In my next article, I’ll talk about Round 1, starting things up, and how I handled matching players up. After that, it’ll be campaign updates with ongoing plans and lessons learned. Stay tuned!