The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a massive place, and the “Narrative Forge” hobby articles encourage thinking outside the box (literally) when putting models together and stretching yourself out in the hobby. They aim to make hobbyists and players comfortable growing beyond imitating the models they see in their Codexes and playing the rulebook missions, and serve as a source of inspiration for anyone wanting to forge new experiences in the hobby. This week, Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones is continuing his multi-part series on creating and running campaigns. This week, he’s talking about how to make your own missions for Warhammer 40,000.
Making Your Own Missions
Welcome back to our series on campaigns. We’ve previously spent the last two articles of the Narrative Forge talking about how to plan and run Linear Narrative and Tree Narrative Campaigns, but this week we’re taking a bit of a detour to talk about a fun and sometimes necessary part of campaign design: Making Your Own Missions. Creating good missions in 40k can be difficult, and so today we’ll dive into some of the tools and options available to players, discuss what makes a good mission, and build some custom missions for the Aventide Campaign we plotted out last time.
Principles of Good Mission Design
Before we start talking about building the missions, let’s start with some basic principles for building a good mission.
- Keep it Simple. It should be clear what each player has to do in a given mission, and ideally what their opponent has to do. When you design a mission, it should have one primary objective, two to four secondary objectives, and a single twist or unique thing that players will have to deal with.
- Keep Players’ Options Open. Unless you’ve got a very compelling reason to do otherwise, your mission should let players build the armies they want. Try not to take away one of the more important creative elements of the game by limiting what they can take unless it’s really important. If you do want to do this, instead think of ways you can encourage or discourage certain types of units, to incentivize them to take certain things, rather than restricting what they can do. It will feel more fair to the players.
- Encourage Multiple Play styles. Try to make sure your mission doesn’t excessively punish or reward a single style of play. Missions that over-emphasize shooting or melee combat may completely invalidate certain armies. Try to give players multiple ways to tackle the problem.
- Have a Way to Break Ties. Ties kind of stink. Use secondary objectives as a way to award points that can help break ties and give players other paths to victory.
- Keep It Balanced. Matched play missions should be evenly balanced, so that no player has an inherent advantage. Narrative Missions get a little more leniency, but should still aim for relative balance unless both players want to go in knowing that it’s a long-shot. I find that most players don’t so much care for missions where their chances fall between the ranges of “slim” and “none.”
- Understand What Objective Types Work. There are only so many things you can actually do to score points in a game of 40k and because most games clock in under 7 turns, you need your objectives to be accomplish-able in that time frame. Generally, these tend to be killing things (including specific units or lots of units), being in a certain place (on an objective, in the enemy deployment zone, getting off the table edge), surviving with a specific unit (though targeting rules make this very difficult), or capturing something (like a relic or other object).
- Scoring Should be Relatively Even. If you’re using Victory Points to determine a game winner, try to keep the scale of points values you’re assigning relatively uniform. That is, don’t have primary objectives worth 30 points each and secondaries worth 1-2; your secondaries matter so little they may as well not exist. Generally, I’d suggest that total maximum player VP scores should cap out around 100 at the absolute most and should be more like 20-50 points, depending on how you’re doing scoring.
- Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. There have been a lot of missions designed for 40k so far and it would be a mistake to jump in and design your own without checking to see if something very similar has already been made. Before you start writing out your own scenario, it’s worth taking a moment to read through the Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook, Chapter Approved, Viglus Defiant/Ablaze, and Urban Conquest to make sure there isn’t already a mission that does what you want.
OK, now that we’ve got a good understanding of the fundamentals, let’s jump into how to build your own missions.
Things Every Mission Needs
When you sit down to design your own mission, make sure you’re covering all of the important bases. Let’s run through the checklist of things that every mission needs.
You have to define who will be playing in your mission. What are the sides or forces that will be engaging? For some missions, this can be as simple as “Two players with Battleforged armies.” Generally, you should try to let players build the armies they want to play, but if your mission calls for flyers or siege forces and fortifications, you should make a note of that.
You have to define where and how armies will deploy. The Warhammer 40,000 rulebook lays out 6 basic deployment maps, which are pretty solid for the most part. There’s an expanded set you can find in the Open War deck, and if you want to make your own, that’s fine too. Note that generally, players need more space for larger armies, and most missions have armies starting 24″ apart, or at a minimum, 18″. The 24″ starting range is a pretty solid one, and what 40k’s units are balanced around.
Deployment Process + First Turn
You also need to make sure you’ve covered how deployment will be determined and executed, and who will get first turn.
Scoring and Win Conditions
Your mission needs a way to determine a winner. While you can do a simple “do this or lose” for the objective, those tend to work best when used sparingly (in missions like the Relic), as they can make it too easy to close the game out well before the final turn. Most missions use Victory Points to determine the winner, and award points for achieving objectives, both primary and secondary. Typically the player who scores the most Victory Points is the winner, but if you want to have an alternate win condition, be sure to make it clear to players.
Every mission needs objectives, things for the players to accomplish. Objectives fall into two categories:
- Primary Objectives – These are the major things players have to accomplish, and should account for the bulk of victory points in a given mission. In fact, I’d suggest that in a given mission, these should be worth around half to two thirds of the available points a player can score. Primary objectives can either be zero-sum (there’s only a set total amount of points that can be scored by both players combined, such as in endgame objective scoring), or non-zero-sum, where both players can score points independently up to a max per player.
- Secondary Objectives – These are extra add-ons for points, and are very helpful for breaking ties if both of your players score well or max out their primary objectives. Secondary objectives should usually be smaller or less difficult to achieve, such that a player failing to score them won’t automatically result in a loss. A mission should have between one and five of these, depending on their complexity. Standard Games Workshop missions tend to use Slay the Warlord, First Blood/Strike, and Linebreaker as
Your mission needs a length. The average – and a good number for most games – is 6 battle rounds. If you go longer, prepare for those final turns to be very sparse, if they happen at all–the longer a game goes, the more likely a player is to be tabled (completely wiped out). Your mission should never be shorter than 5 turns, lest players feel like they didn’t get a fair chance to actually position and use their armies. Random Battle Length has players start rolling for additional turns at the end of the fifth battle round.
Finally, every good mission needs a Twist. Something to make things interesting for the players, something that will force them to think differently and strategize in order to win. Most of the time you’re creating the twist for a mission, you’ll be trying to model or represent something going on in a campaign or battlezone. Other times you might be trying to represent a situation like players losing contact with command. Either way, your twist should be big enough that players have to take it into consideration when they play, but not so massive that it dominates the game, and the twist shouldn’t be so complicated that players can’t immediately understand what it is and how it will affect them. The twist should be simple, giving players 1-2 additional rules to work with for a mission.
Let’s Design A Mission Already
In my last article I introduced the Aventide Tree Campaign and talked about creating custom missions for some of the scenarios. Let’s revisit one of those.
Mission: The Mines
One of the major branching points early on in the Aventide campaign map is The Mines mission, which leads into battles over either the planet’s massive mining machinery or a hangar full of extraction craft. Let’s revisit the brief:
2. THE MINES:Massive geothermal mining extractors, still fully-automated, run as the world itself burns. Both factions must rush to secure the extractors and ensure the last and richest of their spoils are diverted to them.
Mission Concept: A series of objective markers with “on/off” switches — whoever holds them last determines who’s getting the resource benefit (read: Campaign Victory points). Battlezone: geothermal mines, includes lots of geysers/explosive gas. Winner of round 1 gets +1 to their Reserves rolls.
OK, let’s design a mission around this.
- Sides/Forces: Standard battleforged armies is fine here. I’m not looking to get crazy.
- Deployment Map: This too can be a standard map. Let’s use either Dawn of War this one. Alternating Deployment is fine.
- Scoring/Win Conditions: We’ve got a major primary objective here, so this will be win/loss. It’s campaign-specific, so we’ll have points for tiebreaker purposes but the primary thing here is capturing the objective markers. There will be five of them, spread out and placed along the lines bisecting the table, and one in the middle.
- Objectives: The primary objective is to capture the five objective markers. Each is worth 3 Victory Points, but we’ll also have First Strike and Slay the Warlord to help break ties. Linebreaker doesn’t make a ton of sense here thematically, so we’ll go with something custom instead – Attrition: At the end of the battle, each player totals up the total value of all the enemy units they destroyed. Count vehicles with fewer than half their wounds remaining and units with fewer than half their models remaining as being worth half their value with regard to points destroyed. That gives us a third point to score and it’s zero-sum, so it’ll help break ties.
- Game Length: Standard 6 turns is fine here. I usually need a very good reason to use Random Battle Length.
- The Twist: The Twist here is going to be the Battlezone — This mission takes place deep underground in a geothermal mine filled with dangerous, explosive gasses. So let’s come up with a few rules to model that.
BATTLEZONE: GEOTHERMAL MINE
The mines of Aventide are filled with massive machines designed to extra the planet’s resources. But the planet’s governors got too greedy and mined too quickly, and now the tunnels are filled with unstable passages and toxic, highly-explosive gasses that make the area a nightmare to traverse.
Ok we’ve set the mood here, let’s make some rules. We need at least one and at most three — remember, we need to keep it simple. Let’s focus on the explosive gasses, the unstable passages, and drilling machinery.
Explosive Gasses: This is an easy one. We’ll make flamers and grenades extra dangerous – for everyone. How about a rule that makes them do extra shots and AP, but if you max out or miss, it blows up in your face. Let’s go with: “Explosive Gasses: Add 1 to the AP of Grenade and Flame Weapons. When rolling for a number of shots with a Grenade or Flame weapon, roll an additional D6. If you roll the maximum number of shots with a flame weapon or roll a 1 to hit when attacking with a grenade, the firing model suffers a mortal wound.
Unstable Passages: We need a rule to represent cave-ins, basically. An effect that’s commonly used for hazards like this is to have players roll for effects that cause mortal wounds every turn. So let’s go with “Unstable Passages: At the start of each player’s turn, that player picks a point on the battlefield and rolls a D6 for every unit within 3″ of that spot, adding 1 if the unit is a VEHICLE and/or has more than 10 wounds, and subtracting 1 if the unit is a CHARACTER or INFANTRY unit. On a 5+, that unit suffers a mortal wound.
Some Additional Resources
Hopefully you’ve been armed with everything you need to start creating your own missions. But if you’re still looking for some help, we have two custom resources for made by Goohammer’s own Programmer Emeritus, Greg “ANAmal.net” Chiasson. These are still in development, and will get a full release with their own articles soon but for now we’ve slapped them together in a format that’s suitable for public consumption. Probably.
The Random Mission Selector
The first of these two tools is the 8th Edition Mission Selector. As of this writing, there are currently more than 108 Distinct Missions in 8th edition spread across a dozen books, and while each one provides a handy table for rolling to select your mission, actually rolling to select from a broader pool than 6 at a time is hard to make work.
Enter the Goonahmmer Mission Selector. Just put in the options for the type of game you’d like to play – Open/Narrative/Matched and the objective type – and it’ll spit out a random mission for you and your opponent to play, along with the location of that mission bookwise.
The Open War Mission Generator
On the other hand if you want something a little more experimental, a little more avant garde, we have the mission generator, which uses random attributes from those 108 missions and the Open War deck to create a custom mission for you, albeit with a few options to tweak and customize the type of game you want to play. At the moment, most of the missions it generates are intended for Matched play, but we make look at broadening that in the future.
NOTE: The generator is currently in BETA mode. Some things may not work. We’ll be updating it and fixing any remaining bugs in December, and cleaning up the output a bit more but for now, enjoy some early access.
Next Time: Mass Campaigns
That wraps up our look at building your own missions. At this point you should have what you need from a principles and materials standpoint to start making your own missions but if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, drop us a note in the Comments below or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week looking at mass campaigns, or those campaigns designed to handle large groups of players with disparate goals.