Monday, 27 January 2014

Jervis Johnson and the random tables of RoC

Despite the fact that my collecting and gaming roots are planted firmly in the 1980's, I still continue to buy White Dwarf to this day, and I occasionally find a nugget of Old Skool. One such nugget appeared in January's White Dwarf in the pontifications of Jervis Johnson. Jervis has a regular column in White Dwarf on gaming, collecting and "The Hobby" at large. In this month's column Jervis tackles the subject of random tables, and makes some interesting observations on the old Realm of Chaos random tables. Here's what he has to say (the juicy stuff comes in paragraph 3):

Now, I have to give a disclaimer at this point which is to say that I haven't played an edition of Warhammer later than 3rd edition, and so my ability to comment on what it's like to play anything later is extremely limited. I know that a number of you who read this blog have not only experienced later editions of Warhammer but were also playing with the Realm of Chaos books, and so I would be interested to read what you think of Jervis's views, in particular:

- Did you, as Jervis suggests, use the RoC tables with little restraint and allowed them to dictate the composition of your warbands and how they should look and be armed? Or did you "take a dim view of this" and just use them as a guide?

- Jervis is of the opinion that players also took a dim view of "being required to convert models in order to be able to play a game." Did you, dear reader, really have such an attitude? Did you abandon plans for a game simply because the prospect of being "required" to convert models proved too much?

- Here comes the best bit: because of the aforementioned points, Jervis states that "those large random tables fell into disfavour, being replaced by the army lists and points values we see today." OK, firstly, army lists and points values were already prevalent at the time the RoC books were published, and secondly, how on earth would that suggested change make things more flexible for the player?!

Now don't get me wrong, I have much respect for Jervis and his contributions to gaming. But what do you think? Is this an accurate reflection of RoC or on this occasion is Jervis talking out of his chaos portal?

Jervis does make some intriguing marks towards the end of his article. The article basically revolves around some random equipment tables he has invented for his campaigns, and he leaves us with this tantalising nugget:

I wonder if this will remain in-house, or will something wider develop from it?


  1. During our Warhammer 3rd ed. games using the original RoC books in the early nineties, we regularly used the random tables for generating deamons and spawn to be used in our games. The standing rule was, that if whatever came out as a result could not be visually matched (within some degrees of freedom, of course) by one of the available models, you got to roll again. But the third result was final.

    But frankly, we didn't care too much about the visual match. I vividly remember the Jabberwock being a deamon in one game and a gibbering spawn in another. Truth is, it was way more exciting to use those tables than to be worried about exact visual representations.

  2. I have played (play) both 3rd RoC and the current (27th ed, is it?) Warhammer.
    To answer you questions:
    In RoC I have a kind of half and half approach. I roll up a warband and then see how this tallies with what miniatures I've got/want to buy. I will reroll or fudge a roll if necessary.
    While I don't take a dim view of having to convert miniatures I can see its draw backs. On a typical evening of RoC we will play two to three battles, if after the first I rolled a miniature that needed converting, that could hold things up. Having said that in real life I would either re-roll or, if I wanted to do such a conversion in the future, use a 'counts as' for the time being.
    Do people prefer Army Lists? Well some people undoubtedly do, I have one opponent who won't play RoC because he doesn't like the 'randomness', personally I can see pros and cons with both systems. Army lists should in theory provide a balanced game. Rolling up an army can provide wildly unbalanced forces (especially when players make the 'rolls' unwitnessed in the comfort of their own home. But then an unbalanced game can still be fun.

  3. The main draw back for me with army lists (especially with GW these days) is half the battle is won or lost by picking clever combinations of troops/weapons.

    I'm actually thinking about a rules system where unit design is an integral part of the rules, so if you see a cool miniature you can add it to your army, regardless of whether or not dwarf cavalry are 'allowed' or if a weak unit will cost you the game.

  4. Jervis is talking about the 'silent majority' of gamers. They just want a level playing field for their army and don't care about 'immersion'. There are legions of them and it's them that gets catered for. Jervis is actually stuck between two ideologies, if he could only realise that narrative and balance are best served by being separated instead of intertwined he would find games design a lot easier. Narrative should apear in the form of add-ons for a balanced game, that way the suits make money and the consumers have a clear choice.

    Not that there's much that can be done to repair the damage of 8th.

  5. Never cared about having to convert minis to pay ROC, for a number of reasons;

    Firstly, due to money constraints as a teen. Secondly, it took far too long to paint the damn mini's I already had to be bothered painting a new batch. And lastly, your warbands changed so often, that the prospect of converting /painting ad nauseum didn't hold much appeal for a pimply faced teen.

    We just played and used our imagination when using minis that didn't have the mutations we rolled, it was still fun.

    I think the random tables were/are great, it's part of what made ROC unique. It didn't inhibit play as Jervis suggests.....I suspect the real reason it was dropped was due to the issue of not being tournament friendly.

  6. I remember my first warband. The leader was a Beastman, which had a Multi-melta growing out of it's back, even though we played Fantasy. But then he was a pinhead and subject to stupidity so he couldn't use the Multi-melta anyway. Utterly insane and completely unplayable. I loved it! Of course he died in the first battle and I rolled up another warband which was a bit more successful, but I can't remember one bit about them.

  7. If you had a decent sized group and willing to have a little flexibility the game played really well, and the fact that it was chaotic, that you had to play the hand you had and it was great to have that thought process that

    Have to say the last game of this was at the Oldhammer day and am still working on the new war-band, which is progressing weirdly after a couple more scraps.

    The ironic thing is though that you had the tourney play with WHFB and the immersion play with war-band game.

  8. It would work brilliantly as a computer game set-up...