Monday, April 29, 2024

ISW: Grim Future Wargame Campaigning

"It is a dark and desperate age. The Imperium of Mankind stretches out across the stars, a galaxy-spanning realm unlike any other. At its heart sits the Emperor, a crippled god upon a throne of gold whose psychic might has held the shadows at bay for ten thousand years. Yet Humanity is beset by darkness and danger, surrounded by monstrous foes that seek nothing less than the Imperium’s utter and total destruction."

The following is something suitable for individual scale wargames (ISW) using with any edition of 40k, from Rouge Trader to 7e*.

This is mainly something for myself but I trust you to fill in any gaps encountered in play.

David Gallagher

Notes on running ISW campaigns

A squad of space marines descends into an abandoned lab complex. A hive gang contests the slums of an impossible city. Slaves to chaos gather a warband in a world gripped by madness made manifest.

This is mostly inspired by Luke Gearing's stuff and Muster and harkening back to the weird wargame-RPG that 40K began its existence as. Where a scenario would be run not unlike our conception of old school RPGs, rather than army lists assembled for matched play.

This means character generation should be a fairly simple and short affair. Everything else is is details. These characters don't necessarily die at zero Wounds, they just become combat casualties. Perhaps a some roll or test after the fight, with support allowing re-rolls allows the casualty to adventure again, but only if they can be brought home despite the injury here and now. All Wound are recovered after a time recuperating, excepting those lost to weird or lingering causes, which are then only recovered after addressing the root cause of the loss.


Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise. Thereafter they will attempt to work upwards -- gaining power, tools, followers, and influence.

Regarding Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak (in the grand scheme of things) and work up to the top. Or perhaps the entire conceit of the campaign is beginning play with very experienced characters, if the table prefers.

Generally, this means you begin as some Troop equivalent with regards to character types. Anything from a squad a Guardsmen, to Inquisitorial henchmen, to even a squad of Space Marines. Regardless of the actual character type, this sets a good bar for characteristics and equipment.

Other Activities

Something not covered by the wargame rules will eventually come up.

If discussion does not offer an obvious resolution, a suitable Characteristic may be tested with bonuses and penalties representing factors that either help or hinder. If no characteristic is relevant, the Referee may simply assign some chance of success (e.g., 3 or higher on d6) to the activity.

Ian Miller


Amongst the teeming masses of the galaxy, the characters are some of the few with a chance at something greater. They can potentiality triumph where others would be doomed to failure, and live where others would die.

All characters begin with one or more Fate Points.

  • On a 1, begin with 1 Fate Point.
  • On a 2-3, begin with 2 Fate Points.
  • On a 4-5, begin with 3 Fate Points.
  • On a 6, begin with 4 Fate Points.

It is possible for the maximum Fate of a character to increase as a reward for something the table deems to be a monumental accomplishment, to represent the unfolding of a great destiny, or perhaps recognition of a selfless sacrifice on the part of the character.

Fate allows characters to manipulate situations by mitigating bad results or turning mishap in fortune:

  • Spending 1 Fate Point allows a character to gain a re-roll.
  • Permanently burn 1 Fate Point to allow a character to avoid what should be certain death. E.g., perhaps catching themselves during a deadly fall, etc.
Spent Fate Points are restored at the beginning of next session or possibly in the middle of a session under special circumstances that the Referee deems appropriate.

Ian Miller

Oath of Moment***

A character who makes an oath of Perilous Proportions gains an Advance in addition to any wager or reward offered by others. The table should decide what counts as suitably perilous to the characters.

If they are found to shirk their Oath, they lose the Advance and may never again make an Oath.

Those failing the Oath lose the Advance, but may try again or make another.

Only one may be pending at a time.


When you make an Oath of Moment, you may make an Advance roll.

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-4: New Special. Gain a new special rule.
  • 5: Characteristic Increase. Roll a d6: 1-3 = +1 Strength; 4-6 = +1 Attacks.
  • 6: Characteristic Increase. Roll a d6: 1-3 = +1 WS; 4-6 = +1 BS.
  • 7: Characteristic Increase. Roll a d6: 1-3 = +1 Initiative; 4-6: +1 Leadership.
  • 8: Characteristic Increase. Roll a d6: 1-3 = +1 WS; 4-6 = +1 BS.
  • 9: Characteristic Increase. Roll a d6:  1-3 = +1 Wounds; 4-6 = +1 Toughness.
  • 10-12: New Special. Gain a new special rule.

Characteristics cannot be increased beyond maximum limits. If the indicated characteristic is already at the max, take the other. If both have been taken to the max, any other permitted characteristic may increased by +1 instead. 

The maximums above norm are generally: WS, BS, I +3; W, A, Ld +2; S, T +1.

Special rules here refer to one of the many so-called "special rules" in the wargames like "Stubborn" or "Frenzy", etc. Pick one that fits or make up your own! The various characters and units across the editions should provide a wealth of inspiration for what an advanced character could look like.


*I am well aware of and have enjoyed the various 40K trad games there are in the RPG side of things. However, the whole idea of an ISW is rooted in the enjoyment that I've gotten from playing OD&D with Chainmail like an actual wargame and not like the modern perception of wargames being strictly matched play miniature games (this is why I deem later editions as unsuitable for ISW). The first seven editions of 40K sharing a lot of the same 'DNA' means it is rich fodder to have scenarios featuring just about anything! And Battlefleet Gothic has fine rules for voidships, should the need arise. The bones of rich play should be self evident with these in mind.

**Fate Points are a classic idea from early WFRP. If it worked well for that pseudo-wargame RPG era there is no reason it can't work well here. If you wish to do something where the player characters 'play' as a larger group (such as a chapter of space marines) rather than individual characters, this rule can safely be ignored.

***It's literally Boasts from WutC. Thanks Luke! This makes it possible for characters to adjust a bit mechanically but still puts the emphasis on the experience the players gain and their increased ability to play their "role" they have chosen.


  1. Rouge Trader! No doubt the origin of the infamous mascara marines...

    Regardless, glad to see you post here again. This kind of stuff and your previous musings on individual scale wargames always tempts me in this direction, I would love to read about how you set up such a campaign before play. Are you using Chainmail as is? What do you come to the table with pre-prepared?

    I will have to delve into Muster, I didn't realise it was free!

    1. Muster is great!

      The campaign setup has been really irregular. Across the various times I've tried the above (or the more Chainmail OD&D setup), I generally focus all setup on the scenario at play. So in a simple case it was defining the general "parameters" of the wargame simulation like points of interest, environmental considerations, and a rough outline of resources (number of bodies, rough timeline of supplies, etc.). And nothing too super detailed either, since that kinda sounds intimidating in hindsight haha.

      It's not too different from a 'zoomed out' OSR-style kind of game really! For the Chainmail specific stuff, I use Chainmail with OD&D to cover individuals of note.