Campaigning for Glory- running a 40K campaign

Hi everyone, Michael here to talk to you about the benefits of running a 40k campaign at your local gaming club and to offer some advice to budding campaign organisers based on my own experiences. For more reviews, analyses and battle reports, check out the Tactics Corner.

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First off, a little bit of my campaign history for 40k. I have been running 40k campaigns for many years now at local gaming clubs. My very first one was the Vogen Cityfight campaign, the rules for which were published in White Dwarf. This was an awesome campaign with very simple rules that gave my Orks a chance to rampage though the city streets (and required me to build and paint of 30+ foamboard city ruins for the campaign). This was a nice, easy campaign to get started with as the rules were already provided and simply required me to recruit players and organise games.

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My most recent campaign has just come to a close. My map-based 40k campaign involved 18 players (15 initially, with more added as we went on), ran for 11 months and featured over 130 battles for control of the Kharysian sector of an Astra Militarum world. This was by far the longest and biggest campaign that I have ever run and I think it was generally well received by the players at the club. For anyone interested in reading the rules for the campaign or seeing how it progressed over the course of the year, you can find it on my blog. This article is going to discuss some of my experiences over the course of campaign and some advice for budding campaign masters.

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Why run a campaign?

The simplest answer is: you want to play some games of 40k!

The reason that I started my last campaign was to get to know people at my local gaming club. I had started attending the Dundee Wargames Club about 4 months before I decided to start the Medusa IV campaign. I had gotten to know a few people that I have played over the previous months, but there were still a whole lot of 40k players at the club that I had yet to meet or play. Running a campaign gave me a way to interact with a lot of the gamers at the club and to play a variety of different opponents that I may not have been able to play. It was a great way to introduce myself to the members of the club and to get my name and face known there.

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Running a campaign can be a great way to get to know players at a local gaming club or a great way to start a new gaming club in your area. Obviously, when to start organising a new campaign will differ for each player and each club. I doubt I would have had much success if I turned up to my first night at the club and announced that I was going to organise a new 40k campaign.

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Keep it Simple!

I would recommend keeping the rules of your campaign simple, especially if it is the first campaign that you are going to run.

I have frequently had visions of massive map-based campaign systems featuring different sized armies manoeuvring around the board, backed up by supply lines and air drops, with small outflanking and guerrilla forces launching ambushes on marching columns, but a more complex campaign doesn’t necessarily make a better campaign.

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40k is a complicated enough game as it is, adding a whole bunch of additional rules just to fight games may put off a lot of players or players in the campaign may simply ignore many of the new rules.

My own campaign was quite simple. Players simply picked a tile on the map, fought a battle and if they won, rolled to see if they captured the tile. There were additional rules for gaining resource points and constructing buildings to give you a bonus in some games, but these were optional and players could go through the entire campaign without using them if they wanted. Even if they did choose to use them, they were simple enough to pick up quite easily and didn’t get in the way of games.

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Remember, the campaign is there to encourage you to play more games of 40k, not to restrict the number of games that people can play. If you ever find yourself saying “sorry, you can’t play a game this week”, I suggest you re-think the rules of the campaign.

I would also advise against having too many army choice restrictions in play. People want to play with the models that they have lovingly constructed and painted and might not like being told that they are not allowed to take them. Our campaign allowed 30k armies and Superheavy vehicles. I find that players organising a game at their club will generally impose their own restrictions on a game in terms of army selection without the campaign organiser needing to get involved. Of course, if one player’s Imperial Knight army is steamrolling all the other armies you could always “encourage” them not to use it in a few games (it could be out of fuel until he captures that nearby promethium refinery).

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Getting Organised

This was my first campaign that I ever organised using Facebook and it was a life saver!

Previously all my campaigns were arranged through emails and it could get pretty complex searching through all my old emails to see what moves people wanted to make, who was playing who, etc.

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For the Medusa IV campaign, I made a closed Facebook group for players to join. This allowed me to post the updated campaign maps, let players know what games they had to play that campaign turn and share any battle reports or photos from players in the campaign. It also allowed players to organise when to play games and engage in trash talk with their opponents before a game or gloat about their glorious victory after the game.

Encouraging these grudge matches and narrative play can be a great way to get players more invested in their games and the campaign.

If you are planning on running a campaign, I would strongly recommend using something like a Facebook group (or a forum page if you are all members) to organise and run the campaign, as it makes things much easier.

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Having Contingencies

I was blown away by the number of players that signed up to fight in my last campaign. Fifteen players was about three times the number of players that I had previously had for any other campaign. I decided to organise different campaign alliances made up of 2-4 players with the same army or forces likely to fight together.

This enabled players in an alliance to fight any battle for another player in the same alliance. This is important for when life gets in the way of 40k (don’t you just hate it when this happens?). Emergency cancellations, flat tires, national sporting events- all these things conspire to get in the way of your carefully crafted campaign and it helps to not have campaigns derailed simply because one player cannot show up for their game.

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Obviously it will depend on how many players you have in a campaign as to whether you can set up different alliances or sides in a campaign, but I would recommend doing this if you can. This stops the campaign from being put on hold when players are on holiday or on the basis that some players cannot attend a gaming club every week.

In my own campaign, if a tile was unoccupied, players were allowed to fight anyone to try and claim it, not just people in the campaign. This represented a set of scouting forces meeting one another and having a battle. This allowed others to get involved in the campaign, even if they could not commit to taking part on a regular basis.

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Make sure that each campaign turn or round gives players sufficient time to get their games arranged and played. As I have mentioned above, not every player can attend a gaming club every week. My own campaign turns usually lasted about 4 weeks. This should have hopefully provided players to get at least a game or two in each campaign turn without them feeling like they were getting left behind.

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Pester, Pester, Pester

One thing I have noticed is that as campaign master, you will generally need to be a pest to the players in the campaign, constantly bombarding them with emails or messages along the lines of: “please remember to send me the moves for this turn”, “please remember to send my your results for this turn”, “please give me a sign of life so I know I am not just shouting into the void. Please? Anyone?”.

Many players will need frequent reminders over the course of the campaign to get their moves or results back to you. This is fine, many people have busy lives taken up by friends and family and other hobbies (or so I have been told). Again, I find that Facebook is great for this, allowing you to tag specific players if you need their campaign moves or results.

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When you are requiring feedback from players, remember to give them a decent amount of time to get back to you. I would generally post the results of the campaign games on the Friday morning (after the club night on a Thursday). The players’ next moves were to be decided by the following Tuesday evening, giving even the slowest of players over 4 days to get back to me. If I hadn’t hear from them by the Tuesday morning, a gentle reminder on the campaign Facebook page was generally sufficient for them to get their move in to me.

On the other side, it is important to be strict with your deadlines. Having players trying to make moves for the last campaign turn or fight battles from the last campaign turn can make things quite complex for the organiser and lead to confusion with other players.

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Bringing in Fresh Meat

Don’t be too afraid to allow new players to join in to the campaign. The longer a campaign is running, the more chance there is that players will have to drop out due to other commitments. It helps to be able to bring in new players to keep a campaign going or to welcome new players to the club.

It may help to have rules to help new players from being steamrolled by those who have been in the campaign for a long time. For example, in my own campaign, players get a 50 pts bonus to their army for each tile that their opponent outnumbers them by (i.e. a player with 8 tiles fights a player with 4 tiles. The player with 4 tiles gets an extra 200 pts for their army).

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Know When to Stop

It may help to have a fixed end point for when your campaign will finish. A 40k campaign that runs on indefinitely has more change of petering out as time goes on as players continue to drop out or move on to new games. Maybe you could finish the campaign off with a bang by hosting an event such as an Apocalypse or multi-player game

How long your campaign will run for will depend on how much enthusiasm your players have for it and how keen they are to keep it going. I had no set date to finish when I started my campaign. I didn’t think it would last as long as it did, but I kept it going as long as people were interested in playing. After losing about 6 players over 2 campaign turns, I decided it was time to wrap it while players were still enjoying it, rather than have it steadily decline until only one or two players were left.

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It can also be nice to take periodic breaks in the campaign for a few weeks. This gives players a chance to play other game systems that they collect and stop the feeling that they have to play 40k each week.

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General Advice

Here are some more general tips for running a campaign:

  • Make it impossible for players to be eliminated for the first few turns of the campaign. There is nothing that will demoralise a player more than getting worked up to take part in the campaign and then getting knocked out in the first round.
  • Have some fun with it. I gave each player a list of secret objectives to complete in order to gain big bonuses to their armies. It forced them to try and fight all the different alliances on the map and play a variety of opponents. It could be something simple, like the first player to destroy 10 tanks gets a bonus tile or bonus building.
  • If you are using a map based campaign system, allow players to attack anywhere on the map. If they can only attack adjacent tiles/locations, they may get stuck fighting the same players over and over.
  • Have a go yourself. Get involved and fight some battles in your campaign. You went to all this effort, why not enjoy it.

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So have a go at running a 40k campaign. It could help re-energise your local gaming group or just give you a reason to play more games. For those of you interested in running a campaign, but don’t want to come up with your own rules, you can check out the rules for my campaign and see if they suit you (the empty map for the campaign is even provided for you to use).

Have you ever run your own 40k campaign? Any advice to offer to others out there on making it a success?

And as always, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off of retail, every day!

You can also pick up some cheap models in our Second Hand Shop. Some of these gems are quite rare, sometimes they’re fully painted!

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About Michael Corr

An avid 40k player and blogger from Scotland. I started in 3rd edition and have been playing ever since. I detail my adventures in my own blog "St Andrews Wargaming", highlighting my mediocre painting skills, regular battle reports and my occasional random ramblings.

10 Responses to “Campaigning for Glory- running a 40K campaign”

  1. Ytook September 9, 2016 1:47 am
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    As some one who regularly has to try to wrangle only 4 people in to agreeing on a time for D&D I can attest to the need to pester 😛

    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr September 9, 2016 8:19 am
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      Definitely! You can feel like a nuisance at times, but it has to be done.

  2. Grimjuc September 9, 2016 7:33 am
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    15 players actively in a campaign that is INCREDIBLE!!! I have had more players in a campaign but it was not map based so that number of yours is much more impressive.

    I really like the idea you had about being able to attach anywhere on the board that is nice. Having allies being able to fight your battles if you can’t make it is a nice thought.

    I honestly don’t like map based campaigns because players drop too often, miss turns, you have to remind people of attacks, and player schedules. It is a huge commitment for the players and the campaign manager.

    I could go on and on but if you are looking for ideas on how to run your next one let me know. I have a few formats that worked really well and require way less effort than a map based campaign.

    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr September 9, 2016 8:22 am
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      Thanks. There were a lot more interested in the campaign than I first thought.

      I’ve had campaigns where you can only attack adjacent tiles, it very quickly dissolves into the same 2 or 3 people playing one another each turn.

      What sort of campaigns have you run before that were not map based?

      • Grimjuc September 10, 2016 4:32 am
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        I have run map based campaigns which fizzles out after a month or two. My most successful campaigns have been more of a good vs evil narrative where a key planet is under siege by the forces of darkness.

        I would break the campaign into phases of 2 weeks. Each phase would have a special mission like sabotage or another “different” mission. The side that won the most games in the previous phase gets +1 points, the side that won the most special mission games would get +1 points and a small campaign bonus like 1 unit may infiltrate or force a random enemy unit into reserves or something else. When you plan on 8 phases that is a 16 week campaign; which is a healthy amount of time for a campaign. You could change it to 6 phases where it would be 12 weeks; that would work out better if you were doing a summer campaign.

        Army Breakdown:
        good = imperioum
        nutral good = eldar, Tau
        nutral = necrons, Nids
        nutral evil = dark eldar, Orks
        evil = chaos

        It is not a straight good vs evil. It is more of a happen of circumstance situations between armies, where armies are fighting for their own side but really their goals might align more with the goals of the imperium or chaos. Here is an example: If you have a Necron player and he plays against Tau; the Tau player is playing for the side of good and the Necrons are playing on the side of evil. Or if you have Space Marines vs Eldar; Eldar would be evil and Space Marines are good. If you have two armies on the same tier you can have a roll off or an army can choose a side. The idea is that anyone can play vs anyone. When you have that kind of freedom it takes a lot of stress of the player and organizer. Essentially everyone just has to report games.

        Last time myself and other organizers got to make all the phase missions which were a blast to make and the best thing is, they don’t have to necessarily be fair. Winning phase missions were well received but many complained that standard lists did not work as well as custom lists and they did not like the fact they had to point a special list up just in case they were going to play a game using a phase mission.

        One of the best things I like about this setup is that you don’t even have to have two campaign players playing every game. Only one person has to report the game, which was only a problem once or twice because a player did not want to report a loss. You can even run this kind of campaign in multiple cities or states, mine had players in three different game stores playing in it but I have had success with only one game store as well.

        At the end of the campaign I organized a 40K event match. There was a 2v2 game of 1500 points per player and it was a 5 hour timed game. There were other side tables that would play across turns normally like a 1 on 1 match but every 3 turns if the objective was secured that table would throw on an effect onto the main table. Like a cannon table where in the next shooting phase the side which controlled the objective would be able to place a ordnance shot on their next shooting phase. Having each table have their own respective turns; meaning that it each table would not slow down the progress of the main table. I had another table with an objective of escorting models off a table. When a model was escorted off the side that it belonged to would get to bring a dead unit back from the main table. The idea would be to limit the use of other players playing on multiple tables or other players using other player’s models.
        I have dabbled in the realm of unit experience, which was a lot of book keeping which was a huge pain. I have done a campaign where I had players create their own special character whereas the campaign progressed your character would get stat bonuses or new special abilities. That worked out better and was a lot of fun but I wanted everyone to build their own HQ model for the campaign that would be “their” character but a lot of players did not want to do that. It goes to show you that you can have crazy complicated campaigns that can be successful but it comes down to your core group of players.

        Anyway the point of any campaign experience is for every player have fun and play games. If you are successfully doing both then your campaign will always be a success.

  3. Scumlord September 9, 2016 12:20 pm
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    Great article! I’m starting one soon myself, so some real notes from the front is really helpful.

    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr September 10, 2016 2:00 am
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      Glad I could be of some use!

  4. tag8833 September 9, 2016 2:15 pm
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    Pretty Savvy Advice. I’ve participated in, and run 6 campaigns since I’ve started up in 40K. I think I agree with most everything you said.

    There is simply nothing better you can do to build a sense of community than to run a narrative campaign.

    Our Current Campaign, The Battle for Aria V, is already one of our most successful ever. We’ve got 8 active players, 2 players in the roles of NPC’s and myself as the Campaign Master.

    It features a novel solution to the adjacent tile syndrome that plagues map based campaigns. We’ve setup 6 groups of tiles that represent continents / areas of interest on the planet, and whenever a player wants to deploy an army (banner) they roll a D6 and deploy it into the center (neutral) tile of the appropriate section. Whenever a player loses a battle, that banner is returned to orbit, and must redeploy next round to a random group of tiles.

    I’m also very proud of our NPC component. We’ve name them the “Unknown forces”, and their primary roles is to make sure every player is engaged (has one or more battle), and to fill in if a player can’t scheduling a battle. We also use the Unknown Forces to instigate team games that provide an interesting change-of-pace for participants in the campaign.

    A few additional thoughts I have on running successful campaigns.
    1) Keep the meetings short. We always meet in person to do our strategic movements, and in some of our less successful campaigns the meetings have drug on and become drudgery for the participants which kills enthusiasm.
    2) Mix up the games. It is super important that the campaign includes variety. In previous campaigns we’ve had random game size. In this campaign we are highlighting team games as a change of pace.
    3) Keep it simple. A bit of a rehash of something you talked about in the article, but it is so important to make sure that the special rules employed are simple, easy to understand, and don’t slow down the games. I’ve always found it to be more successful when the special rules apply at the strategic level (Map) rather than the Tactical level (game).
    4) Include a hobby and/or fluff writing component. It is important to face it that not all gamers are equal, and if superior strategy and tactics are the only way to gain achievements as part of a campaign, some of the most important participants will feel disenfranchised. For our current campaign we have a hobby challenge (build tokens to use as your banners, Paint a Troop), and a Fluff writing challenge (develop a backstory for your army, batrep a game) each round. That validates players that may otherwise feel less involved, and makes your campaign stronger overall.
    5) Be adaptable. When you see a campaign mechanic that isn’t working or is getting exploited, change the rules. This is especially important when players are falling farther behind. I always like to include a rubber-band effect. In this campaign, the last place player gets bonus points, and can roll on a table for another random bonus.

    If anyone wants to check out the rules we are using for our Aria V campaign, here they are:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xYYStGxn68f597UcG5sL4D0ecISWPMhplHpeelug0bQ/edit?usp=sharing

    They are only 3 pages, but have worked pretty well for us so far.

    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr September 10, 2016 2:01 am
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      I’ve never thought of a hobby/fluff component before, that is a great idea for reaching out to a range of players.
      I also like the NPC idea, gives the campaign master some players to collude with for making fun scenarios and missions.

      • tag8833 September 10, 2016 6:35 am
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        Fluff and hobby are something that helps campaigns linger.

        Every time I look at my Tyrannofex, I remember the campaign that I painted him for.

        In my 1st campaign I wrote fluff for my Tyranids (Hive Fleet Nessie), and a backstory for a particular Hive Tyrant (The Sorrow of Nimber) that was the best painted model in my collection at that time.
        https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nEcbhjR1N3Mz8AqcQGAv-s0nXG-wM413-oeYt6TQSjQ/edit?usp=sharing

        Over the years I’ve continued to develop that fluff. I develop a backstory for almost every army I field based on that. It helps me remember to keep my tourney armies fluffy and fun for my opponents.