Thankar lit a torch and edged closer to the doorway. The cavern entrance was hewn from the rough rock of the mountain face, but the ancient artisans had etched inscrutable runes around the perimeter of the opening. Thankar and his fellow warriors could only guess at the message as they stepped cautiously past the threshold and into the gathering dark. If the words were cautionary, they went unheeded.
The corridor sloped down, the flagstone pavers underfoot soon giving way to irregular pebbles and rocky outcroppings. Within minutes the warriors were enveloped in darkness, their way lit only by guttering torches gripped in steady hands.
Ahead lay their quarry: the vile, chittering Skaven raiders that had absconded with the halfling wizard Argus Nul after the massacre at the Stoic Arms. Thankar and his fellow warriors had tracked the foul ratmen to this underground lair, which offered their best chance at recovering Argus … or what remained of him.
Vincent and I had a chance to grab an empty table at Enfilade last month to play out the second game in our occasional fantasy mini-campaign set the Old World. In the first game, a warband of Skaven raiders swept down from the Grey Mountains to kidnap Argus Nul from his well-defended roost at the Stoic Arms Inn.
For this game, Nul’s gallant cadre tracked the ratmen’s spoor to the trackless caverns beneath the Grey Mountains, where our game begins. We’re using Open Combat, a fast-playing generic skirmish game that is great for games with 5 to 10 figures per side. Vincent brought his Dwarven Forge dungeon terrain to represent the benighted caves, plus some hungry fauna to populate the dank tunnels.
We played at Enfilade, a regional gaming convention hosted annually in Olympia by the Northwest Historical Miniatures Gaming Society. It was a busy day at the convention, and we were lucky to find an empty table on the perimeter of the gaming hall. I’m pleased to report that we had a steady stream of foot traffic coming over to check out our nifty terrain and miniatures, which was nice! It seems there’s always room for a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, even at a historical miniatures convention.
The game began with Vincent’s warband creeping into the dungeon to face my ratmen defenders, which had been deployed throughout the maze-like passageways and chambers. My rats outnumbered his guys, but his figures were more powerful on an individual basis. It would be an interesting game…
The battle was joined in the antechamber, as the elf warrior Carroth True-Shot spotted Vrictus of the Gnarled Root (my Skaven warlock leader) darting amongst the mushrooms. In truth this was a bit of a feint, as I had hoped to lure more of Vincent’s figures into the mushroom forest so I could flank them with fighters hidden in a side tunnel.
Actually, this is exactly what happened … except the combat didn’t go my way, and my flanking maneuver turned into a slaughter.
As the dwarves pushed past the corpses of the slain ratmen, they came into range of Vironq’s Hand-Cranked Doom Machine (my ratling gun). The artillery piece lit up the darkness of the dungeon as it blazed away at the invaders, bleeding them for every step they took deeper into the Skaven lair.
The predatory plants lurking in the dungeon also contributed to the dwarves’ woes, gnashing at them with toothy foliage and barbed tendrils. For the plants, we decided they would attack any figure that came within 3 inches of them. And since Open Combat is a very mobile game, with lots of push-backs and repositioning of figures, this meant that Skaven and hero alike had some uncomfortable encounters with the hungry plants in the dungeon.
Alas, it was too little, too late. Even as the Skaven began to stabilize the situation in the mushroom forest (with Vrictus using his Intimidate psychological attack to great effect against a dwarven champion named Sphen Coldwind), a handful of dwarves had slipped past and were approaching the door to the dungeon jail where Argus Nul was imprisoned. The lone Skaven guard was getting increasingly anxious as the sounds of combat drew nearer to the jail.
Finally, having lost his nerve, the Skaven guard butchered poor Argus through the bars of his cage, then fled into the darkness.
The few remaining ratmen beat a hasty retreat. For their part, the heroes recovered Argus’s spellbook — offering some small measure of victory even as they mourned the loss of the wee little halfling wizard.
Once again Open Combat gave us a great game, with lots of drama and seesaw action moments. Dungeons are exceedingly dangerous environments for Open Combat, because so much of the game involves pushing and bashing your enemies into stuff. When you hit a wall or a piece of terrain or another model, you typically take additional damage. On a wide-open battlefield, that’s dangerous enough — you can imagine how brutal it becomes in a claustrophobic dungeon!
We’ll see where this mini-campaign goes from here. Maybe the next game will be a town assault, where the ratmen are are storming the city gates to plunder the burgermeisters’ holdings? That would be a good excuse to get some of my town buildings on the table, too. Stay tuned!