The Empress’s Hounds – Episode 1 Game 1

If you want more information on what’s going on, as well as the story so far, don’t forget to read the introduction page.

Scene 1 – Forest Clearing. Alistair Von Ferrumgard, leader of this band of Swordmasters watches stoically as his pupils form up in two groups of two and prepare for a mock duel

Introducing a player to a new game is tricky. You usually have to find a good scenario that is interesting yet not overwhelming, showing the game off without deluging them in details. Luckily, Open Combat is simple yet interesting enough that you can easily play it on a flat barren plain but see the ins and out of the combat system, enjoying the movement back and forth that comes from rolling a lot of 3’s and 4’s.

The Sister took the pair of Jochman and O’Dicca (who secretly are the main characters but don’t tell anyone), while I took the less teamwork focused (and less heroic) pair of Wolfgang and Zorros. All of them, as well as their master, use the Swashbuckler profile from the Sword Masters expansion to Open Combat, giving a pretty reasonable statline with a few of the special tricks that expansion added such as Lunging and Riposting (as you’d expect from a sword fighting expert). To add some variation, I tweaked each of the statlines for the heroes to play into the rough character archetypes I had scrawled down for them. Alaistair is the Old Leader (slower movement and increased mind to improve his use of Inspire), O’Dicca the Brash Youngster (increased attack), Jochman the Stotic Ally (increased fortitude) and Zorros as the the Cocky Bastard (increased mind to make him better at taunting opponents as well as some items to better suit the model).

Wolfgang did not receive any such additions – he is a mere swashbuckler. Take from that what you will.

One part of playing to tell a cool story rather than playing just to win is trying to play how best to suit the characters. I started off by not using Wolfgang and Zorros as a team – Zorros is more likely to push his junior assistant forward and wait for the moment to strike. Instead, I attempted to drag Jochman out of position, using the Taunt skill (which pulls a target model towards the character. Jochman however has no time for such childish behaviour.

Remember what I mentioned above about playing narratively? Well my sister managed to use her pair of characters exceptionally well. Despite Wolfgang getting up in both of their faces, the back and forth of Push Backs and Impasses went in her the pair’s favour. Eventually, Jochman was able to hold Wolfgang long enough for O’Dicca to flank around an deliver a strike from the rear arc, taking advantage of the massive reduction in character defence included in the Open Combat rules.

However, despite outflanking Wolfgang, it did not stop Lacele in turn being attacked from the rear (a move befitting a slippery character such as Zorros). In fact, he was able to land two good attacks, definitely a danger when you only have a fortitude of 4. Open Combat actually lets you land multiple hits depending on how many dice match the target result, so having a character with high ATK means you might end up with a maximum of 6 damage per turn (assuming you roll perfectly).

O’Dicca was easily able to turn around and fight back against her attacker (you can already hear the witty dialogue between the pair of them) using a combination of knock backs followed by lunges. Lunge is an interesting move in Open Combat, letting you attack with your speed rather than your attack state as well as giving you the ability to attack from 1″ away. The downside, rolling a 1 means you end up stepping into the fray, a mistimed lunge leaving you vulnerable. Rolling a 1 also means that you lose the initiative, leaving other characters on you team without an activation and at the mercy of your opponent.

Inevitable, with the fall of Wolfgang letting the pair gang up on Zorros, he soon lost the last of his Fortitude and the mock battle was over. Not even the use of his fine hat or cloak as a distraction would save him.

A good intro to the rules, as well as a fine start to the story of this group. The ruleset was really easy to teach a new player, with only a few core fundamentals to learn so you can focus on the actual gameplay. We forgot a few of the minor abilities (only remembering them part way through) but overall a success.

In the next game, I’ll be taking control of the bad guys, letting The Sister take control of the entire party and taking the first steps into The Estate of Vorpass!

The Empress’s Hounds

An advantage of moving back to Leeds was bringing me closer to friends and family which brings with it the advantage that I have a much wider base of people to see and play games with. One of which is my Sister, who runs her own blog covering her hobbies. She is not really a wargamer, having only had the classic experience of being dragged through a game of Warhammer or two and collecting a few of the old Bretonnian figures. However, she is a keen board gamer and a fan of all things fantasy.

One day last year while we were hanging out (thanks to me being a single-person household I was able to bubble with family), she expressed an interest in giving my hobby a go. And as you might have seen, I have been lacking in wargames in the last 18 months. Because of this, the idea of running a game ever two weeks sounded pretty damn great.

However, the eternal question is what to play?

After a few weekends of thinking about it, as well as watching some classic swashbuckling films and trying out a ruleset, we finally decided we’d play some Fantasy skirmish (and not just due to the pile of models I’ve been collecting for it).

Part of this was also down to the rules – Open Combat is a system with plenty of potential for including a whole variety of troops (everything from hordes of rats up to large beasts), easy to expand with a collection of house rules and most importantly – it was simple. There isn’t 101 moving parts that need to be pulled together, there isn’t a host of cards that each player must learn. Instead, all you need is a few D6s, a few models, a small board and the 1 page quick reference guide.

The other part was down to the story telling element of wargaming. Neither my sister and I are rushing into games for the competitive side – it’s much more interesting to use them as ways of creating an exciting plot. For this reason, we both got especially excited about the idea of using our games as the starting point for content for both our websites – I’d be writing the game focused side (as well as detailing the scenarios) while The Sister on her blog ( will provide the ongoing narrative written in universe.

However, we’d need a setting. And luckily I had one in mind…

The Setting

(map coming soon)

Midgard is a fantasy setting that I’ve been writing over the past few years as an excuse to let me use all the wonderful fantasy figures out there. It is a setting that contains elements of many other fantasy settings (such as the Old World from Warhammer, the Continent of the Witcher, Westeros, etc). At some point, I’ll write more about it but it’s a merging of low fantasy mud and grime while still containing elements of high fantasy and legends (such as encountering gods and there being other races without going too hard on the “humans are big racists”).

The main characters of the story so far are a group of the Swordmasters. These are the key agents of the main ruler in the world of Midgard, The Empress. At her command, they crisscross the realm to solve issues and protect her rule. It’s best to describe them as diplomats, spies and assassins all rolled into one, occupying the same slot as famous characters such as the Musketeers of the Guard in The Three Musketeers.

Going forward, we may encounter other groups working through the empire. There are a wide number of groups that go about their trade throughout the Imperial Lands and it’s kingdoms and into the unclaimed Marches, from the usual Mercenaries and Templars to Vampire Knights, Garou Scouts and Elven monks from secret temples hidden away where the average citizen would not expect to find them.

The Episodes

Of course, you can have all the setting you want but there must be a story within them. When writing the campaign, I’ve worked out that I want it to feel a bit like a premium TV show crossed with a little bit of the feel of the old Sharpe TV Movies. Each episode will contain a number of a scenarios (often using similar or the same terrain) while the actual plotlines may cross over between episodes, assuming the required dramatic cliffhanger is reached.

The Core cast will naturally move between Episodes and storylines (as well as having some bonuses to keep them around for longer), but you will see other characters join in for a few battles depending on how the fates go. Depending on how long we play, certain reoccurring characters might crop up, for good or for ill.


In the Prologue, a group of the Empress’s Swordmasters went up against some death cultists that had captured a member of the Siccarian Nobility.

Episode 1: The Estate of Vorpass

In Episode 1, the group of Swordmasters headed out into the Marches (accompanied by another trainee) on a brand new quest:

Game 1 saw an intro game, explaining the basics of Open Combat in the form of a training fight.

– Game 2 took them to the ruins of the Estate of Vorpass, where they came upon a servant of the Emperess in distress. (Link coming soon)

– Game 3 followed up on the events of Game 2, the party being ambushed as they prepared for a trip into the vaults of the Vorpass Estate. (Link coming soon)

The account of this episode from the scribes of the Swordmasters can be found at Wolfish Written

Episode 2

Episode 2 continues the adventures at the Estate of Vorpass.


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ChargeReal Designer Notes – Introduction

Earlier this year I announced I was taking a sidestep in my Ultramodern wargaming. As much as wargaming the real world was interesting, I was getting distracted by some of the surrounding “noise” you get from playing things that for some people are very close to home. The other reason for making the step was wanting to create my own setup, letting me use a wider variety of equipment and tactics in a wider variety of locations to run a wider number of scenarios.

And then the Ultramoderns went a little bit quiet.

That was mostly due to the fact the time I was spending on my ultramodern ideas was less spent painting or playing and more time spent on writing, crafting nations. I’m starting to reach the point where I can begin to explain some of the concepts I’ve come up with, begin painting up the forces and maybe even get a game or two in.

But first let me introduce you to…

The ChargeReal

The term ChargeReal is heavily inspired by the Strangereal, the setting of the series Ace Combat. As a backdrop to explain how every nation has super advanced fighter aircraft and every way is decided by them, it works well enough. There are multiple continents, multiple large nations and alliances that clash and it does a reasonable job of reusing real-world locations in a fake world. Even if the plot line does get a bit anime (the giant super weapons), it still feels cool and modern military.

(Sidenote: Belka did everything wrong)

Thinking about the Strangereal (and also Project Wingman, a similar game that made it’s own setting with a few more drastic changes), I laid a few basic ground rules for the world I wanted to make.

No Nukes

For as grim as everything is, we are living in an era where the great powers haven’t actually engaged each other in full blown conflict since the end of WW2. The reason? Thermonuclear weapons.

The world I’m designing need to have combat and not just proxy wars and insurgencies. I want a reason to have platoons clashing with platoons (without everyone either taking attrition damage or in CBRN suits and taking attrition damage). In the ChargeReal, the development to turn Uranium into material for weapons just hasn’t happened. Nuclear energy is in use in larger nations, depleted uranium is used in advanced AT weapons and the mining of uranium is still an ongoing industry.

Now, some careful wording. I haven’t banned other WMDs – chemical weapons (for as horrible as they are) are not a world destroying weapon. Biological weapons will probably be more likely a plot point rather than something to use on the table top. But dirty bombs? Unthinkable for civilised nation, but not impossible to appear in the hands of non-government groups.

No Superpowers/Massive Aligned Blocs

The other things stopping the world going to war at the moment is the cascade effect. Declare war on a NATO member, all the others join in. Like a house of cards, you poke one and the situation collapses. The complicated mess of countries and alliances that kicked off the Great War has only got more complex, leading to a current state of war between nations being much much rarer.

However, seeing as this is my personal world and I am doing my best impression of Ares, we’re going to have more wars! So, there is nothing similar to NATO or the UN (well there is a UN but it’s pretty much just a place for political shouting). Mutual defence agreements are much smaller scale, as might be expected in a world where everyone is a little closer to the same power level.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be alliances and agreements. It will just be a little more free flowing.

No Filling Off The Serial Numbers

Okay this is maybe a littl obscure but the concept is simple. It is very easy to make a nation that is literally a real world nation but with a few names changed and a different uniform. It’s very easy to make “not USA” that also uses all US gear and is large and almost a superpower. Except that solves none of the problems I have and you’re basically playing the modern world but with a poorly taped on sign.

Instead all ChargeReal nations have to be something new and unique. It might be a composite of several real world nations or even some nations in a historical time period. Some of my favourite nations to consider have been based around a unique hook – what would a nation that was formed from ancient tribal structures that managed to fight off all invaders with minimal adjustments look like? How about a theological state formed from a modern Western country? Not all of these ideas are ready but you can see the basic concepts. This is Alt-History gone a little wild.

Nothing Wildly Out of Ultramodern Time Period

At the end of the day, I play ultramoderns because the ultramodern time period is interesting. The level of tech and tactics on display, the decisions that need to be made. All of these come (in part) from the current level of technology. For this reason I’m sticking mostly to the current level of technology available at the time of writing… with some blurring. I think the upcoming Battlefield 2042 game has the right level of tech, or at least the most advanced toys I’d be willing to give out. With stuff like the T-14 Armata a more regular opponent, or troops having access to reasonable UGVs (maybe even some Chappie-esque artificial soldier used as force multipliers but still armed with realistic small arms). I’m not trying to go full Cyberpunk, just add a few toys into the mix.

Similarly, I’m diverging from the StrangeReal by not having experimental titanic super weapons. With the different focus

As a final point, not everyone is going to get the super high-end stuff. It’s unlikely that a small breakaway state from the Tsardom would be able to get their hands on autonomous weapon systems, but a special forces team from the massively advanced nation of Arcadia might have a few robotic friends to bulk up the numbers and take the strain.

That’s the basic behind the setting. I’ve got some information up on my wiki at Everything on there (and about the project) is liable to change but that will be where I keep the practical information. In contrast, the blog will have the more floral/well written descriptions of everything.

I have a few nations I’m mostly written up, but we’ll be starting with one I’ve actually begun making models for. I’ll produce the designer notes for the Republic of Shlyuz in the next few days.

July 2021 Project Update

July, another hard month on the old brain but still slowly working through it. At least the heat wave is over.

That said, productive month for painting. Also managed to do a little bit of a tidy up, part 1 of fixing up my workspace. The room I work in is mostly done, but I still have to work through the backroom where Is store my terrain and the 3d printing setup is.

The other thing from this month is realising just how much shit I have and how little I’ve actually painted up. I really need to stop purchasing things! Luckily, I’ve reached a point where I actually don’t need anything for the projects going forward (at the moment). I’ve also got plenty of 3d printing to look at.

Project 365

Another month, another graph style change. As you can see, I’ve started separating out my purchases and painted to reflect actual purchases and 3d printed elements. This is mostly for my own tracking – I want to reduce how much I’m buying, so being able to see that bar reducing is a great motivator

Speaking of, lets see how I did last month.

Painted: 34

Torgillius the ChamberlainGW1
Gorslav the GravekeeperGW1
Corpse RatsGW6
Bat SwarmsGW6
Gnawbone StrayGW2
Dire GoylesGW2
Golem (3d Printed)GW1
The Sewer (Warcry Terrain)GW1
Gravestones (Cursed City)GW2
Crows (Cursed City)GW2
Gibbets (Cursed City)GW2
Camp TerrainMaking Tlon8

Purchased: 50

Yndrasta, the Celestial SpearGW1
Golem (3d Printed)Last Sword1
The ChangelingGW1
Covert OperatorsSpectre6
Overt OperatorsSpectre6
Realmscape ObjectivesGW7
Adventuring CampMaking Tlon8

Painting is over the target (always a good sign) and the purchases were what I was expecting (Dominion release and a new Spectre release) but still a fair amount.

Battered Brush 2021

The event continues and I’m doing pretty well! I’ve managed to claw a little bit of headroom pushing forward so I’m not burning on the edge struggling to keep pushing. To illustrate this, here is a graph!

One thing as part of it is that I’m not really doing an offical Battered Brush, mostly because I keep doing non-Games Workshop products (partially thanks to my 3d printing additions).

At time of writing I am 58 days in with 64 models painted.

Project Fantasy

As a running trend, Fantasy was the main focus this month. As I mentioned last month, we kicked off with the release of AoS 3’s Dominion box. After separating it all out (and having to deal with a misprinted rulebook) I managed to build up a few of the figures. The standout so far has to be Yndrasta, the winged hero above that is a glorious figure. I still need to do a few tweaks (making the bases look a little less swampy) but I can’t wait to try out some things when painting them up.

At the start of the month, a friend pointed out someone was selling one of the old Warhammer Watch Towers on eBay. I’ve wanted one of these things for years, ever since they were first released. And seeing as I’m now running a fantasy campaign, it made a lot of sense to get a watchtower to fight around. It turned up rather promptly and I have to say it’s a lovely piece of kit.

The big painting progress this month was continuing on with Cursed City. At this stage, I’ve painted up the big three groups of bad guys (Zombies, Skeletons and the Menagerie) as well as the three villains to lead them. I’ve also cranked through the side objectives (partially to avoid painting big things) but all I have left before I work on the heroes is the vampires.

A new addition to the collection was this 3d printed Golem from Last Sword. He’s actually a pair of golems combined together, the mace wielding Pernach and the extended arm of the Sword Golem. This is the second 3D printed model I’ve painted up, and I’m really happy with the final result. Especially with the steam/smoke cloud which I painted up with a mix of hexwraith and nihilakh oxide over a white base. Seeing as I’ve used green to be the identifier for magic across models so far, it gives the golem an arcane look to it. I’m looking forward to getting it on the board.

And speaking of being on the board, I’ve played more games! With The Sister visiting every other week, we’ve finished off the first three missions of our ongoing campaign featuring the Swordmasters. These missions will form the first episode of the storyline that I’m writing, and even had a suitable finale that reset the cast ready for the second episode!

I’m going to be writing up a post for these games (once I get round to it) while The Sister will be writing the story up more narratively over on her own blog. I’ve also got some terrain pieces on the way to the second episode, so there might be a little gap before we start playing on episode 2. But I am also very excited to detail more about what’s going on and write up stuff on my setting.

Project Necromunda

Seeing as I was ahead on my painted models for July, I decided to take a look atht he Escher figures I’ve had sat waiting for me to start on the project. I have a rough idea for the scheme – inspired by a recent Kill la Kill watch, and having been told off for painting things in shades of brown, green and tan, I’m going for a scheme inspired by some of the clothing in that show, both in terms of colours and some design elements. I need to finish my test model but it setups up some cool ideas for the gangs theme – these Eschers being fashion focus, making clothing that is lined with chems to make the experience everything. Once the test model is done, I’ll get to work assembling the rest.

Project Moderns

I am getting excited about restarting my Project Moderns. With this focus on getting fantasy stuff painted, I’ve been spending some of my non-painting time writing up the details for the various nations of my fictional setting. I’ve come up with a few so far and I’ve been writing the details on my personal wiki. It been interesting trying to make setups that actually feel unique rather than just “what if USA but a different name.”

Perhaps more exciting than my dabblings in writing plausible nation states, we got some new Spectre figures this month (at the last possible moment). Six new sets, each comprised of matching Covert and Overt figures. This has been something people have been wanting for as long as I’ve been collecting Spectre’s figures and don’t get me wrong it’s a cool idea. But I can also see how hard it is to do, how it affects the miniatures pipeline (you’re getting 6 new models rather than 12 different ones) and if you’re trying to be sneaky with them, anyone who knows the range will spot them. But, thanks to the 3D design, Spectre have managed to get it done. Current favourites are the US and UK operators – I especially like the photojournalist look, so I will probably get plenty of use out of her in the civilian form even when she isn’t being sneaky.

In more practical things, Project Moderns and Project 3d printing has been crossing over. I’ve been taking a look at the various models from the Quartermaster War in Iraq Kickstarter I backed earlier this year. Perhaps the big standout from it was the MH-6. I’ve got a few plastic kits (in various stated of repair) but found they were a little fragile for wargaming. A resin model should be a little bit more “playing piece”, with far fewer little details about to fall off. Overall, I was really impressed by this model. I need to do some clean up, and there are a few bits of misprinting but nothing unfixable. Definitely a promising sign.

This does open up the possibility of attempting an armed version through some tweaking and I will probably replace my model kits with a 3d printed version. The next stage is working on a flight stand

Another item on the 3d printing chart was the BRDM, also from Quartermaster. This one came out well (aside from some curling on the rear portion due to some supports giving away). I’m going to mod this a little, opening up the turret ring to allow other turrets on there – making your own fictional setting means you can do crazy things like putting HMVs or RWSs on there.

I’m currently working on a nation which doesn’t have an army, only a religious police force. These BRDMs would be great for them, something with a touch of armour to them.

Finally for the 3D printing side, I’m taking a look at some figures that people have been producing as STLs. Combat Octopus and Turnbase Miniatures are two Patreons I’ve joined onto offering Modern/Ultramodern figurines. So far I’ve been impressed with the detail of each of them – there is a sculpting style difference to both of them but nothing too major. I’m going to dig in a little more on each of them – the scale difference on Combat Octopus might need some adjustment with the scale and the support situation is not great for either. But once I’ve nailed it down, expect some more details.

Project 3D Printing

But my 3D printing adventures were not just limited modern wargaming. At 9pm the night before my game with The Sister, I suddenly realised I needed a campsite for the party to begin in. In years past, I’d probably have just realised I was buggered and I’d be missing the cool centrepiece. However, thanks to the 3D printer I was able to go purchase some camp elements, start the printer running and by the time I went to bed I had… one failed print on the item you see above and one bed missing but overall not bad. Luckily, I just ran another job for the following day. A quick paint after work and I was good to go!

And here’s the final result. It’s not the best paint job but it definitely added to the game. I think this is something that 3D printing is excellent for – getting those extra little details that you might not buy in an order by themselves but are relatively quick to print and get ready to just add that extra edge to your board. I’m especially thinking street furniture for Ultramoderns, just adding extra cover or even vehicles to fill the streets.

That’s it for this month’s update, I’ll see you in a month!