When hurling wave after wave of goblins into the maws of gibbering Bloodletters loses its luster, Eric Sarlin and Jeremy Vetock’s The General’s Compendium is just the thing to shake off the Warhammer cobwebs. These rules are not official, so you won’t see them in the tournament circuit, but this tome packs in a good offering of variants on the traditional fantasy tabletop wargame to inspire new and old players alike.
“It’s a good idea to give your banners characterful names like ‘Captain Maximillian von Schaedel’s Defenders of the Reik’ or ‘Ratnash’s Screaming Vermin Horde.’ Such names add color to the campaign and you should feel free to heap scorn on anyone who can come up with names no more evocative than ‘Banner 2.’”
The General’s Compendium opens with suggestions for ladder and tree campaigns (ladders are linear affairs; trees branch off the campaign depending on the outcome of each battle). The book really gets moving in the next three sections which deal with map-based campaigns. Roughly speaking, a map-based campaign is like a combination of Axis and Allies and Warhammer—strategy and tactics, macro and micro. A map is divided into territorial sections and players vie for control. Moves on the map are made in a fashion reminiscent of Diplomacy in that each player writes down his or her orders at the same time. The number of map sections a player controls determines the number of armies available for command. When armies meet, a tabletop battle ensues. Needless to say, this is a time-consuming endeavor. It’s a richer campaign experience, however, than ladders or trees which are generally little more than linked battles. Counters and forms used to be available for printing on a section of Games Workshop’s website, but as it happens when people revamp their sites, good stuff vanishes. (While counters for the campaign map are acceptable, the book’s authors have used Warmaster scale figures to represent their armies. At the same time, one can’t help but feel a tad giddy at the prospect of using old school, Avalon Hill-style counters alongside Citadel miniatures.) But what’s Warhammer (or a Warhammer variant) without army-specific rules? These are available too: Dwarfs, for example, don’t have to make terrain checks on the map for mountain regions. Sarlin and Vetock sketch out an elaborate campaign in the Land of the Border Princes (complete with an included 20” x 30” map of the region). While map-based campaigns don’t necessarily require a GM, rules are provided for just such a thing. Extra rules for GMs include the use of supply centers, army upgrades, scouting the enemy and random events.
Not every battle is decided on a picturesque grassy field like Braveheart (where background actors stand around sheepishly, leaning on their weapons as if they were walking canes). No sir, sometimes armies meet on rocky landscapes of volcanic ash or windswept deserts. These hostile terrain rules add both an element of danger to tabletop battles and new tactical considerations whereby smart generals can try to use the terrain to their advantage.
The last two sections of the book deal with ships and city sieges/sackings. The General’s Compendium covers rules for maneuvering (different rules for oars, sails, steam, etc.) and boarding actions. One imagines players expanding on these efforts to include rules for entire fleets and how to tie in these battles with the map campaigns. Raiding and sacking a city explains victory points cost for buildings and how to produce battle-ready units depending on the buildings that yet stand (stables, for example, produce cavalry).
The General’s Compendium isn’t short on hobby tips. Sarlin and Vetock provide step-by-step instructions and hints for a variety of projects so large it’s worth listing: razed farmhouse, razed woods, earthworks, barrow mounds, Border Prince forts, an orc hut, an elven tower, small forest bases, hostile terrain (several examples including a dense forest canopy, icebergs and lava), desert terrain, foamcore ships and city buildings. Between the other pictures and two-page showcase layouts, this book exposes the reader to a wealth of ideas for boats, towers, castles and bridges.
“If it has taken over a year to collect and paint your army, you should be understandably leery about joining an ambitious campaign that will require you to double the size of your force over the next few months. We suggest starting small, but it’s tough advice to take. Who wants to conquer the tiny hamlet at the crossroads when whole worlds beckon?”
Unfortunately, there’s not as much background fluff in The General’s Compendium than in most Games Workshop books. Most of the characterful color comes from snippets of a journal (belonging to a Burgermeister from a small town) detailing a series of escalating battles with an encroaching enemy force. Regardless, this is a tremendous resource for fantasy wargamers and offers ample new gameplay options to break up the midfield scrum that sometimes mars Warhammer matches.