The Loaded Dice Table Talks - Page 3

Oct 10th, 2017 by Riel Richard

Andy Chambers

With the format developed and the game mechanics defined, Necromunda really leaps out from the pack of other offerings at its release because of its campaign-driven story telling abilities. Not only does the game offer up an intensely vibrant back story and setting that can hold its own among any notable science fiction worlds, it offers a player the chance to truly create the lore of their characters for themselves while playing the game. Necromunda offers a fantastic scope and feel from which players can develop their own story lines and narratives, and that scope and feel is largely responsible to the fine work of game designer and author Andy Chambers. From published background tales in the Black Library, to extensive work in both the Original Rulebook and the Outlanders supplement, Andy has given so much life to the underhive setting that it would overload a Bio-Scanner. A true player of the games he works on, Andy's character creations go far beyond those he pens in written works, and his Goliath Dog Soldiers exemplify this.

Rooted in the vast Warhammer 40K universe above, Andy explained to me that the microcosm environment of the underhive depths below in Necromunda offers a more intimate backdrop and lore and was much easier in large to write for.

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"That was part of the point of the project; to drill in to one particular world and see how it works in the context of the wider universe. Creating a universe in broad strokes is relatively straightforward because the devil is in the details, a chance to explore some of those details more intimately in a semi-roleplay setting was a wonderful thing".

Andy Chambers

The game is ripe with inspired themes, and really thrives as a setting: Wild Western-esque Frontier? Lawless Barbarism in a Cage? Overt Oppression and Class-war? Freedoms of the Fringe in Totalitarian Order? The potential for the environment Chambers engineered for the game seems limitless with tropes worthy of a university wine-and-cheese function, which gives game play a sense of variance and longevity.

"I tend to think of focusing on one theme too much in Necromunda is a mistake; I like the wild west elements for example, but get too carried away with that and you start trying to jam in wild west themes that don't fit. Likewise the class war and fringe of freedom undertones reverberate strongly for me and I explored them some in my Necromunda novel Survival Instincts. However I think Necromunda's appeal is partly from embracing all of these themes and not giving one too much weight above the others. It isn't a movie story line about freedom fighters vs the man that can be resolved in 1 hour 45 minutes, it can't be the wild west because a strong element of that is change and transition in a new land whereas Necromunda is locked in eternal medievalism etc etc".

Creating stories in what ever avenue and tone of the game's offerings that a player can choose comes from the rolled out, in-game experiences that make wargaming so fun, and Andy was great to share some of his experiences leading gangs through the rubble and decay of the underhive. In a workplace environment, having a game at your disposal that can be played out over a reasonable time frame can make an underhive opportunist out of any lunch break enthusiast.

"We played through for the base Necromunda game with the gangs we'd started with to follow the progression over about a year. A big studio league was part of the process so all of the core gangs were well-represented and we figured the variations in skills etc. was pretty slight anyway. A lot of Van Saar gangs seem to get started up and then falter possibly because they spent too much on starting guns and didn't have enough gangers/juves. Personally I used Goliaths (the infamous Dog Soldiers) just because I liked them best visually although its a close-run thing as I like all the Necromunda gangs a lot... I remember the leader of the Dog Soldiers, the Grand Dog, survived through a whole campaign without death or serious injury despite (or maybe because of ) using a plasma gun. He even fought off some leadership challenges along the way... The gaming style I use tends to be an 'in your face' approach so Goliaths fit that ethos pretty well, although it can't be said that their randomly rolled skills necessarily supported it! For Outlanders I personally used Redemptionists because I love a good zealot (with chainsaw or flamethrower)... We kept playing after the release of Outlanders, that much I can recall. Things puttered on with the Studio league for a while longer but by that time we'd been playing Necromunda heavily of a couple of years plus both Gorkamorka and Mordheim were starting development (Mordheim might have come later but I'm pretty sure some WFB skirmish with experience gain was being played around with, Tuomas Pirinen could tell you better than me). My last game I can recall was my Redemptionists vs a Spyrer gang, which was ugly business I can tell you. When I think of Necromunda I always think of it as being one of the best expressions of a miniatures based skirmish campaign I've known, every gang told its own story and I felt like the game supported that well with scenarios and skill / gear rewards for extended campaign play. It was right up there with Bloodbowl in that regard and I put a lot of that down to the guiding influence of Jervis Johnson in both games".

Providing an excellent template for a campaign system, Blood Bowl's straightforward game setting - that of a professional sports season - was quite eloquently adopted by the more diverse campaign nature of Necromunda, where the scenarios all function in a cut and dry enough manner to operate without the guidance of a game master/ dungeon master, which is typical of role-playing games. Necromunda offers this kind of self guidance while still being open concept enough that players could insert their campaign story and still have games that drove their narrative beyond a simple one-off match-up.

"We'd just come off doing 2nd ed 40K which had a similar transition from Rogue Trader's GM'd scenarios to a more straight up battle game so we had a lot of ideas floating around about how to do it. Necromunda worked on having a campaign and an RPG-like feel so it wasn't even necessary to make the scenarios all fair and balanced in a traditional sense as long as risk equaled reward for the players and the scenario itself had a good strong narrative going. A good example is the gunfight scenario... a really popular scenario with players, it was quick to play and had a really strong narrative so win or lose both players were invested in it right from the start. The rewards were high and it offered an opportunity for even the lowliest of street punks to pull off a victory against well-established gangs. Other scenarios used the scrap-based objective system to keep things interesting by encouraging movement and introduced random events to fill in for not having a GM. Jervis Johnson's experience with Bloodbowl was absolutely key as it gave us the progression and loot rules that rewarded gangs for every game played, doubly so against tough opponents. That progression knitted the games together so nicely that some scenarios virtually wrote themselves - rescuing imprisoned gang members, for example, or fighting out gang leadership challenges. I'm still very proud to have helped create the Necromunda campaign system because I feel we really hit gold with it. Just a few weeks into our first test campaign everybody's gang had their own story with their own winners and losers, rivalries and vendettas, challenges and outrageous claims were starting to go up on the notice board - it was pure awesomesauce".

Awesomesauce indeed. The in-game chronicles in Necromunda can become so very "cinematic" quite quickly, demonstrating the amount of work that went into tailoring the game as a vessel for story telling narratives. While it is not completely unique compared to other tabletop games that Games Workshop makes in regards to being able to produce memorable campaign events and unfurl captivating tales as played out on the table, the composition of Necromunda as a game really allows players to invest themselves with the gangs they create and bond with these little 28mm miniatures. From the painting and modeling, to even creating unique one-off scenarios for a campaign, Necromunda has a knack for producing fun times around the table with friends and fellow gamers.

"We ran a number of different campaigns at the Studio to test things out or just have fun, including multiple Bloodbowl leagues and Ichar IV for 40K. I always remember Bloodbowl and Necromunda (and later still Mordheim)as being the most heavily subscribed and plain old busy campaigns. I think the shorter time frame of the games helped with that as it was possible to squeeze in a game at lunch or just after work, but I think it was also the roleplay side of the game that helped appeal to artists, miniatures designers and painters - there were some really lovely painted and converted gangs around. The most memorable event game we did was a six player (I think, maybe more) treasure hunt with stacks of playing cards at various points on the table, searching a stack flipped a card producing either treasure (for red cards - hearts and diamonds) or a trap/monster (black cards Spades were traps and clubs were monsters). As you might imagine hilarity ensued as nothing but monsters and traps ravaged all comers, I'm pretty sure someone eventually pulled a red card but it was a long, long way into the game".

Compared to many other offerings, Necromunda has a very pub-style, beers-and-laughs kind of presentation with its smaller playing surface and more manageable miniatures count. The game itself seems like a more mature offering when compared to Warhammer 40K and the amount of disposable income required to field an army or two.

This more mature feel is not only created by the price point of Necromunda being "manageable during a self-sustained and/or post-secondary-student life", but even the content suggests perhaps a slightly older audience. When Andy wrote the Outlanders supplement, including the options for using drugs in-game like 'Slaught, Spook, and Spur merely echoed the punk-rock flag that the game seemed to be flying in many of its elements:

"I think there were some vague rumblings from some quarters - it was considered particularly edgy in the US in particular to admit that a future dystopian hell might also include an unhealthy amount of illegal drugs. Ultimately though none of the fictional drugs presented had direct links to actual ones and they all had nasty side-effects (see? Educational!), plus they'd been in the background since Necromunda was called Confrontation and censoring them felt cowardly. From a UK perspective drugs were a reality of any urban setting and clearly a source of gang tensions so we kept them in. As with all things edgy that appealed to a certain age range and combined with a low price of entry (ie. because you only needed a few miniatures to play) helped the game really take off. One of my fondest personal memories from that period is attending a store event in San Francisco - it was a hellish gig of five days in total with (for me) a 3000 mile flight on four out of those five days. However when I was there playing Necromunda some of the local kids told me that getting into Necromunda had stopped them getting into real gangs and 'turned their lives around'. I've no idea how much of their story was bullshit and if it was true whether everything worked out for them in the long run, but I sure as shit like to believe it did".

Rules for drugs, denim vests and Mohawk hair styles on characters, it all seems pretty subcultural/ rock and roll, especially in the 90's during right-wing British politics. But even the company's marketing seemed to promote the D.I.Y. approach; in an age before prefabricated terrain kits like the Cities of Death stuff there always seemed to be a push in the White Dwarf articles for Necromunda to make your own table out of free stuff, without a hint of up-selling. Maybe it was the time period in the evolution of realistic looking terrain, but the whole game felt, well, a little gritty.

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"Necromunda sprang more from roots in the 80's and Thatcher's hard right Britain than Blair's 90's. The destruction of British industry meant that urban decay was very real in the UK and reflected in its culture of punks, skinheads, rockers, mods, new romantics, goths, ska, reggae, football hooligans and a new kind of tribalism all round. Comics like 2000AD had carried forward that theme of crumbling urban societies ruled over by an amoral elite and of course sci-fi movies from that period fed into that as well. The movies are what stays with me the most, and they were a common language that writers and designers could share. Alien had shown us a 'used future' (that's term they use at Blizzard for it, a time when great strides have been made yet everything is still rusty and crappy looking) back in 1979, then movies like Blade Runner, Terminator, Running Man, Total Recall, Predator and Aliens all carried the same themes, Mad Max was naturally a touchstone for crazy half-feral gangs, but Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13 had an influence too. The western angle came almost entirely from Spaghetti westerns like a Fistful of Dollars and the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We knew having a lot of terrain made the game much better so we were keen to offer some in the box, the open gantry created by using card with plastic supports proved to be absolutely perfect for giving that much needed three dimensional aspect - that came late in the process for us of course, we'd been mostly playing on hand-built boards put together by Nigel Stillman and others so we thought of that DIY aspect as a fun part of the hobby".

Having put in time as a game designer with Blizzard Entertainment, with notable work on Starcraft 2, Andy Chambers has certainly not hung up his boots with his tabletop gaming experiences. "I'd like to think that everything from Necromunda is still with me, it taught me a lot about skirmish gaming and campaigns in general". At present, Andy does freelance game development work for tabletop games, and is currently down in the lab hashing out work for Bolt Action from Warlord Games, Dropzone Commander from Hawk Wargames, and All Quiet on the Martian Front for Robot Peanut Studios. Terms such as "used future" exemplify the look and feel of the underhive quite accurately, and it is this very look and feel that Andy's creative works were so fundamental in sculpting - not only in background lore and character development but in the very creation of the rules. Because if you roll a 54-56 on the Outlaw Rare Trade table, the shady scummer in the trenchcoat sliding you viles in exchange for a few creds is doing so as a detail of game realism. Just don't act heretical under the influence, there's Redemptionists afoot...

A used future ripe with strife and feuding set within the realm of an enormous space opera. Seems like fans could be nothing but happy with the offerings and potential for wonderful gaming in the forty-first millennium...