Two Player Campaigns – Gamemasters

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We’ve just had the preorders for the Leviathan box go up and every other video I see online has content makers painting their boxes. Not only did I not get a box from GW, but I also didn’t order one. That’s not to say I’m not interested in the new edition of 40k, the hype has had me pulling out  my Necrons and Black Templars to work out what I still need to assemble and paint (on screen – spoiler a lot).

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One interesting aspect of this new release is the inclusion of the Tyrannic War Crusade book as part of the rulebook in the box. In 40k, a Crusade book is a mix of a setting giving some background details of a conflict somewhere in the galaxy, it will also have some missions or scenarios to battle out along with special rules relating to the conflict. In the previous edition, these were designed to add to the core Crusade rules which is what the narrative campaigns are called in 40k.

Now this isn’t a 40k channel, but we do love campaigns. When we talk about campaigns in the multitude of Games Workshop games, we’re typically talking about a big group of players who meet up once a month in their local store to play. Unfortunately, that can be a bit tricky to organise and when you do manage to get it going it you can usually expect players to slowly drop off.

What’s interesting in this regard, is that the primary type of Campaign that Games Workshop actually produces is the two player format. Yes the main campaign rules for all their games can be played with any size group, the two player box set is their primary big seller and that will usually include a campaign. So with the big Leviathan release, that campaign is the Space Marines versus the Tyranids. From the outside, this looks like it could be a pretty great experience for two players. 

There’s even a specific planet that the conflict is being fought over, Oghram and fingers crossed we get to see some more lore and background about it. Realistically, 40k probably isn’t the best format for a campaign. Assembling an army is a big investment and the game will typically take up a full evening. So you want to try get a realtively fair game. Unlike the faster skirmish games where you can play 2 or 3 games in the same time, so having 1 unfair game doesen’t feel so bad.

 GW are pushing their big online narrative event where if you get the box you also have a code where you can report whether the Space Marines or the Tyranids won the battle. That is very cool, but by all reports the box is heavily skewed to a Space Marine victory, just by virtue of the points. 

I think you could have a lot of fun playing a series of games with this box where two players both build and paint their army to a certain number of points, then play a game and up the points for next game. That doesn’t actually need any of the crusade campaign rules though.

To take another perspective at campaigns, the two bigger recent release for the skirmish lines were Ashes of Faith for Kill Team and the Nightmare Quest box for Warcry. Might and Madness is the campaign book from Nightmare Quest and has a series of linked games with the Stormcast battleling against the Flesheater Court Ghouls to see who will control the Serpahon Realmshaper. Ashes of Faith takes it even further, this campaign is designed to be played across 7 games in total with a mini game where each side can attempt to control, investigate, or persuade territories to their cause. 

What I find really intesesting about these 2 player campaigns though is they are all doomed to failure from the start. That might be a little dramatic, but there certainly is a flaw with them. The basic concept is that winning games gets you prizes. In an event with lots of people the next round you pair the people who won and you pair the people who lost, so the second round will still be relatively balanced. You can’t do that with a 2 player campaign though, often what ends up happening is one player gets the advantage and snowballs with it for the rest of the campaign

So in this video, I want to talk about a different way of running these two player games. And this actually is a call back to the original Rogue Trader book. All the various warhammer games we love have their roots back in the 70s when Games Workshop had the license to print Dungeons & Dragons content. Even when Rogue Trader focused on two player games, it recommended the addition of a Gamemaster as an arbitor to help things go smoothly. In this instance, I’d recommend going a little further and have the GM as the antagonist. So one player plays through the campaign normally slowly advancing with their team while the other player essentially plays the enemies they face with the goal of making the campaign enjoyable and challenging. For the remainder of this video, we’re going to look at the Ashes of Faith campaign for Kill Team, but the lessons will equally apply to Warcry, Leviathan, or any other campaign you like the look of.

The Warhammer hobby overall is a very social experience, but it also has solo elements. Much of your time is going to be spent painting models. If we’re planning to GM a 2 player campaign, then we can start planning things ahead of time, before we even get round to finding our second player. In this case, the Ashes of Faith box has a ton of Chaos Cultists, 23 in total. 

Depending on how you want to approach things, you could also paint up the hero side for this campaign. I’m assuming the campaign player is going to be using the Inquisition. They might have their own models they want to play with or you might paint it up yourself and give them the option from your collection.

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We also should look at some scenery options. There are a number of locations in this campaign that you could try replicate. There’s a cathedral, a refinery, a manufactorium, an underhive, and so on. It does look like GW picked out the locations to fit with the range of scenery they currently offer.

Don’t forget to detail your Cult and the planet they’re on and so on. The campaign does already have a lot of this detail, it’s set on the world of Exhalus and it focuses on the city of Deepwell. Alternatively, you could use your own setting or maybe use Cubicle 7’s Gilead system which I talked about in another article. You do have a set of cards for the locations which you can randomise or if you prefer to you could pick out the ones you like, whether that’s because it matches your terrain or just feels right.

In the book with the Cultist rules, you can also find tables for operative and cult names. Elements like this help bring the overall story together so it’s good to develop it out. Check out my Necromunda focused video on AI where we used chatgpt to help us generate some background.

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Once you’ve got everything ready, you gotta make the pitch to your buddy. And during this it’s important to let them know you’re going to be shaking things up rather than sticking but the standard rules. This just sets the expectations so there’s no confusion about how it’s going to play out. As we’ll see later, we’re going to be taking some liberties so it’s important we’re upfront about it all and our buddy knows what they’re in for.

For campaigns, it’s generally based to plan out a regular schedule that works best for everyone and to have a fix end date, whether that’s an actual date or just a total number of games in the campaign. For this one, Ashes of Faith, the recommendation is 7 games in total so lets go with that.

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The most important step is to actually play some games. The campaign book does have an Initial Mission to play out which is a great way of doing things. It has the Inquisition kill team raiding a heretic base, points are gained for killing and capturing the enemy. In the first game, chances are everyone is getting used to their teams and the rule. I’d be tempted in this game to make things a little easier for the Inquisition team.

The main mechanic for the cultists is their mutate ability, where they change from the average human into terrifying abominations. For the first game we could leave that out, so it feels like the inquisitors have initially hit one of the low level parts of the cult. At the end of the game, let the Inquisition player level up as normal in the narrative rules but don’t do so for the cultists.

The Ashes of Faith campaign does have a funky mini-game that you play between games of kill team. Based on the number of victory points you get, you get cards which can be used to Control, Persuade, or Investigate areas. It looks fun and lets you slowly build up to a final out come which is nice. If you didn’t manage to get yourself the Ashes of Faith box, which unfortunately I think is probably the majority of people, then it’s by no means essential. You can still pick up all the Cultist models and ignore this aspect.

Here is the special sauce, this is what makes this format fun. You get to cheat.

Okay, maybe not cheat cheat, that suggests we’re being underhanded. As a GM the goal is to make for a challenging experience. To do that we’re going to take some liberties to adjust the game to the level of the player. That doesn’t mean we’re going to throw a game, indeed during the game we’ll just be playing a straight game of Killteam, but before the game starts when we select the Scenario and the Enemy killteam we can take some liberties to make the game a challenge but enjoyable for everyone involved.

As an example, there is one Chaos Cultist box that isn’t used with the cult, this is from the Blackstone Fortress box and was released as a stand alone box later. These guys are armed with Autoguns, a heavy stubber, a grenade launcher, and even a heavy flamer. If we were playing a normal campaign, these could never be used, but as we’re GMing they are something we can add to give the Inquistor team a little more of a challenge. It’s just a matter of getting the weapon profile from another kill team and adding it in. Similarly, we can straight add operatives from other kill teams. If the Inquisition team is struggling, they could get assigned a Space Marine as an extra operative to help out. This is something we always see appear in the books and it makes for a great way to keep things interesting. It might be something we do when we’re giving them a particularly hard mission.

We’re also not limited to just one kill team as the antagonist. On the second mission we might put the Inquisition up against the Arbites. A bunch of heavily armed fighters causing mayhem in part of the city is going to get noticed and the Arbites may not have been notified ahead of time. It’s a great thing about this approach, you get to use all your toys to craft the story.

Hopefully the Inquisition team will win some games and lose others, slowly growing until you get to your final game. In a normal campaign, the cultists would have been levelling up, probably either pushing ahead of staying behind the progress of the Inquisition team. We’re completely ignoring all that though and just focusing on making a fun game.

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So, for the final battle we can do something crazy like thrown in a Demon and let the Inquisition have a shot at taking it down. Doing something like this is going to stretch the rules and it’s important that as a GM we’re honest with ourselves that we’re doing this to make for an engaging experience. If the Inquisition team keep getting crushed game after game because we’ve been breaking the rules then that’s not going to be any fun. The goal has to be making the Inquisition the focus of the story, so if they’re losing the first few games then we need to adjust the opposition down. That’s not to say we should be throwing the game, but we can skewed the odds from when the game starts. Ultimately, this is about the player trusting the GM and the GM making the game fun for everyone rather than just themselves.

The basic idea for this is pretty simple and honestly could have been summed up in a few words, but it’s kind of fun to see what we can do if we step through it. While we’ve focused on Kill Team for this video, this kind of approach can definitely work for any campaign system you have, or even for one offs. It could make for a great experience with Leviathan with the GM playing the Tyranids and the other player running through the Crusade campaign rules.


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