Image courtesy of Studio Tomahawk

I'm a little late to the game when it comes to Saga, Studio Tomahawk's excellent Dark Ages skirmish wargame. I bought the main rules early on, played some demos, bought some Vikings, then let them sit on a closet shelf to gather dust. I finally got around to painting them last spring during a gaming hiatus imposed (cutely albeit) by my newborn daughter. I played almost weekly for a few months after and, as you Saga players out there know, I had a blast.

That newfound love of Saga coincided with the release of the Age of the Wolf campaign rules. Being a long time fan of roleplaying games and campaign driven wargames such as Mordheim and Frostgrave, picking up Age of the Wolf was an easy decision. Playing a campaign game, on the other hand, was another matter altogether. As is often the case, I read the rules as soon as they arrived then was off to play other games and read other rules.

With the recent release of the Aetius and Arthur supplement, which brings Saga to the Age of Arthur, I decided it was time to finally play an Age of the Wolf campaign. Otherwise, I’d find myself picking up Aetius and Arthur and starting the vicious cycle all over again. So, I reached out to the Saga players at the club and got a few takers for a campaign.

It’s time to reread the rules to prepare. This article will then attempt to break them down as clearly as possible. Coincidentally, this will be the first installment of a new column I call Rules in Review here on Little Wars...
 

Creating a Warlord and Warband

Image courtesy of Studio Tomahawk

An Age of the Wolf campaign begins by rolling (and/or choosing) a Warlord’s Motivations, Traits, and special rules.

The Motivations are King’s Domain, Dragon’s Hoard, and Skald’s Song which translate to the pursuit of land, wealth, and renown respectively.

Each Warlord begins the campaign with two out of seventeen available Traits with the opportunity to obtain more through the course of play. Traits are randomly determined with the roll of 2d6 with double 6’s allowing the player to choose freely. They have names such as Blood Feud, God’s Eye, and Troll-hide. Mechanically, Traits increase starting Land, Wealth, and Reputation scores, influence post-battle Fate rolls, and more.

As detailed in the core Saga rules, Warlords possess five special rules. In Age of the Wolf, Warlords roll for an additional, new special rule. They have names such as Son of Odin, The Bastard, and Steel Cannot Bite and range in effect from ignoring hits and fatigue to generating extra attack/defend and Saga dice.

Instead of going through the process above to create a Warlord, a player can choose one of the Heroes of the Viking age to lead his warband. If this choice is made, however, the player starts with a 3 point as opposed to 4 point warband and must use pre-determined Motivations, Traits, and special rules.

Once Motivation, Traits, and special rules have been determined, starting Land, Wealth, and Reputation scores are calculated. Each Warlord starts with 2 in each unless otherwise specified by a Trait.

Next, the Warlord creates his starting 4 point warband (again, 3 point if the Warlord is a Hero of the Viking Age) using the core Saga rules. Due to restrictions imposed by starting Land, Wealth, and Reputation, the warband cannot contain more than 2 units each of Hearthguard, Warriors, and Levy unless otherwise specified by a Trait

A Warlord's starting Power is then calculated by adding Land, Wealth, and Reputation with the number of units in his warband. Most Warlord's will start with a power of 10.

That's all there is to it. Now just give your Warlord a suitable name (so far, there's Ulfried, Erik, and Shamus Macnasty in our game at the club), and you're ready to start your first campaign season.
 

Playing a Campaign Season

At the start of a campaign season, each Warlord chooses between the Raid, Campaign, and Defend actions. Warlords choosing the Raid and Campaign actions also choose a target. Once actions and targets have been revealed, the players consult the Campaign Events Table to determine if there will be a battle and, if so, which scenario will be used. The scenario itself is determined by rolling on one of five tables.

To make it interesting, a Warlord who meets certain conditions can attempt to form an alliance with another Warlord. If an alliance is formed, the Warlords cannot Campaign or Raid against one another during the current season. What they can do, though, is include 2 units of Hearthguard or Warriors from the allied Warlords roster while ignoring restrictions on Land,Wealth, and Reputation. As I think you can see, this makes alliances a powerful aspect of campaign play.

Battles are fought using both scenarios from the core Saga rules and five new scenarios found in Age of the Wolf. These scenarios are Forest Road Ambush, Harry and Burn, The Burh, Scouts, and The Hazel Wands. I haven’t played all of them yet, but they’re a welcome addition to Saga, and the ones I have played have resulted in tense, pitched contests — just the sort of tabletop drama you want from a Dark Ages skirmish game.

A Warlord facing a Warlord with a larger force may hire mercenaries to make up the difference. Hiring mercenaries costs 1 point of wealth regardless of the number of points required. A unit or mercenaries consist 8 warriors on foot. However, Pagan Rus, Rus Princes, and Byzantine Warlords can hire 8 mounted Steppe Nomad levy instead. Another available option is to hire Jarl Sigvaldi and the Jomsvikings as detailed in the core Saga rulebook. But, this optioncosts 2 points of wealth and is discouraged in the official Age of the Wolf FAQ.

Once the battle is fought, both players go through the post-battle sequence. This involves determining the effects of Warlord and warband casualties, recording increases in Wealth, Reputation, Land and/or Campaign Victory Points, recruiting new troops to replace those lost in the preceding battle, and, saving the best for last, rolling on the Fate table. The results can be be either good (better units, a good marriage, reinforcements) or bad (famine, flood, revolt).

In a recent game that I won, I rolled Revolt! on the Fate Table while my opponent rolled 2D6 reinforcements. So, while I gained 1 Land and 1 Campaign Victory Point, I lost 1 Reputation and some warriors. My opponent, on the other hand, gained a new unit of warriors. The Fate table, therefore, introduces an element of uncertainty and can serve as a balancing or determining factor in campaign play based on the results.

Other activities that can be performed during the post-battle sequence include dealing with the death of a Warlord and buying land. If a Warlord is slain, a player can disband the warband and rejoin the campaign with a Warlord and warband from a new faction or continue on with the warband and create a new Warlord to represent an heir or new leader. A point of Land can be bought for 2 points of Wealth.

If, for some reason, a player cannot play his campaign battle, he can pay Danegeld in the form of giving 1 point of Land, Wealth, or Reputation. I particularly like Danegeld concept as it leverages historical flavor as a mechanic to keep campaigns moving.
 

End Times

At the end of the 6th season, the campaign ends, and the victor is determined. First, 2 bonus Campaign Victory Points are awarded to the Warlords with the highest Land, Wealth, Reputation, and Power scores respectively. Then, the Athleing Warlord (i.e. with a Power of 15 or more) with the most Campaign Victory Points is declared the victor.
 

Takeaway

I love mechanics that encourage and support narrative gameplay. In wargames, campaigns can do a great job of doing just that. Age of the Wolf does this in a manner fitting of Saga by keeping the system simple while providing at the same time enough depth to create engaging, narrative-driven gameplay. Mechanics such as Motivations, Traits, Special Rules, and named Warlords help to bring the game to life in the imagination of the players.

At the club, we're currently using a Google+ Community to share the tales that will comprise the sagas of our Warlords. I’ll share it here on Little Wars as our campaign progresses.

Until next time...

Tags: Dark Ages, Gripping Beast, Saga, Studio Tomahawk, Wargame