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"Song of Blades and Heroes: The Orcs and the Cursed Crawlers" Topic

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©1994-2022 Bill Armintrout
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1905Adventure18 Oct 2007 1:51 p.m. PST

Song of Blades and Heroes available at

This was an attemp to really push the limits of the point system and the game system as far as using way more models than the game calls for is concerned. In this case, it's a balanced warband versus 100 opponents. The game is designed for the 5-25 sort of range. It was also an attempt to break the points system by making an extreme army list (100 guys against 9).

Executive summary: The fight was even. It took an hour and half and both players helped out with the dice rolling for the 100 crawlers. The game isn't meant to have more than 25 or so per person, so it was a bit of a stretch. I won't ever take more than 30 models per person in the future. However, a simple patch of rolling for groups of 10 would make nearly any numbers feasible in the game. The attempt to break the new points system failed and the ostensibly unbeatable horde had a real struggle.

The story so far:

The Chaos Sorcerer Peldagast took his revenge on the halfling village of Harveston for organizing a militia which put an end to the extortion and brigandry his mutant followers were carrying out on the roads. Their stalwart resolve might have been enough to stop his cowardly mutant brigands, but they could do nothing against his most powerful magic.

He sent his familiar to drop a rune stone into their well during the night. Those drinking the water were cursed by the powers of change and transformed into ravening wormlings that hungered for flesh.

Peldagast ordered his new spawns south, into the Orc Forest to try to kill two birds with one stone. The orc cheiftan Traguk had refused to swear loyalty to him and a horde of over a hundred mutated halfling/earth worm hybrids would certainly cause them some trouble.

It was Grofar who was given the task of repelling and scattering the disgusting tube like creatures. He assembled his warriors and invited the goblin berzerker Marmar to come along.

The Cursed Crawlers: 300 points
Q2+ C0 = 3 points each -- 100 of them.

Grofar's Armoured Orcs: 300 points
7 Orcs w/ heavy armour, 4 with bows (medium)
Grofar as above but also leader
Marmar Q4 C1 Savage

The Crawlers won the roll off to see how was attacking and chose to attack. Banking on their high rate of activation to surround and crush the orcs.

Grofar scouted the land well and managed to draw them to a place where rocky crags and trees would make their advance difficult as well as providing him with a perfect gap to anchor his forces-- a copse of trees spanning between two rocky crags.

The Crawlers win the activation roll and go first.

Crawler Turn 1: The crawlers do a lot of 1 dice activation rolls to move things around the various crags and trees to make multiple activations in future turns far more useful. About 20 of the crawlers rolled two dice and almost all of them advanced around various trees and rocks and got so that they'd be able to charge the orcs if they moved up to hold the gap.

Orc Turn 1: Gorfag gave the order to his orcs to move up and open fire on the closest crawler. All the activation dice had fallen into play. Despite the high Quality the crawlers had because of their hunger, the arrows killed 3 and sent a further 5 running for their lives off of the table. Even with a -1 for shooting at range, it was very, very easy to triple the Crawler's rolls and get gruesome kill results.

Crawler Turn 2: If the orcs had another turn, the remaining sword and shield armed orcs as well as Marmar would be able to take the remaining part of the gap and make surrounding them very, very difficult. The crawlers had to be bold. 2 dice were rolled for the closest crawlers and one by one they ran forward, setting up a few 3:1 combats once the next wave charged it. It was time to roll them-- first roll was double 1s! Activation is over.

Orc Turn 2: Gorfar noticed that despite their great hunger, there were so many of the crawlers that the archers were disrupting them quite a bit. He ordered the archers who were not fighting off the disgusting dripping crawlers to fire on the centre of the mass. They did so and easily tripled 3 crawlers for the gruesome kill morale check.

When the measuring was done, over 60 crawlers turned out to be in long range of the one that was just gruesomly killed. They were also still quite close to their own table edge because of being slowed by terrain and the Crawlers failing their activation. 26 of them ended up fleeing the field of battle.

The remaining armoured orcs dispatched all but one of the wormy slugs that had reached them. Marmar and a couple more orcs moved up and almost completely closed the gap so they couldn't be surrounded. He yelled challenges at them, but respected Grofar's orders not to leave the trees.

Crawler Turn 3: Well, With 37 crawlers already dead and not one within easy reach of the Orcs, things weren't quite going to plan. The crawlers needed to get away from table edges pronto, so he opted for the safe route of rolling a single die for them. Almost all of them got to move.

Unfortunately, the terrain forced them to bunch together towards the center of the table. If the orc arrow fire was as gruesome as it had been so far, almost the entire horde could be making morale checks.

Orc Turn 3: The horde was approaching and with a quick move, they could pass through the side of the gap that was still unguarded and get behind them and completely surround them. Gorfar ordered his orcs without bows to regroup and spread themselves out just enough that they could hold the line and none would squeeze between them.

The one orc struggling with one of the crawlers failed his single activation dice. Three of the archers opened fire again at different points in the horde, and when all was said and done, 16 more crawlers were dead or had scattered into the forest.

This caused a morale check for all of the crawlers as they were now under half. So many of the crawlers were also close to the table edge as they fled from the arrow fire.

There's a 50/50 chance of rolling a 1 on 3 dice, so a solid half of the ones near the edges were likely going to scatter into the trees. And they did. A further 19 of them fled the table. Only 32 crawlers remained on the table.

Crawler Turn 4: The gap closed, numbers depleted, Quality 2+ not holding up to the massive number of gruesome kill checks the horde was forced to make. It was still possible to get a good number of crawlers into combat with one end of the line holding the gap and then maybe rolling it up. But it was going to take 5 or 6 crawlers activating 3 dice without ending the turn. Risky stuff!

And it worked-- 4 crawlers moved into contact with the last orc on the line, leaving enough space for the fifth to charge in. It also worked out that the orc wasn't quite hugging the rocky crag close enough and 2 crawlers were able to work their way through the gap. The funny thing was that with the orc defending the tree line, the combat was pretty much even.

And the crawlers rolled a 1! The orc a 5! Even with all that help, the orc still gruesomely sliced apart the crawler who charged at him. Two of the crawlers fled, and were cut down. The remaining two crawlers then fled as well for fear of the orc so gruesomely cutting them down en masse.

The crawlers weren't going to give up! My friend then went on to roll at least two activations on three dice with every remaining crawler on the board. Two or three crawlers made it into contact with every orc holding the line. They didn't have enough activations to actually fight or to work through that small gap on the left that the other crawlers went through earlier.

Orc turn 4: All of the crawlers were either on the line or right behind the line. Even facing 2 or 3 at a time was going to be no problem for Grofar's Orcs. They started chopping.

Between the easy kills and the high amount of gruesom kills, there was suddenly 18 crawlers left on the table. Too many of them broke from fright and were cut down. The Orcs also did a great job on their activation roll, many of them able to get power attacks off. 3 of the crawlers managed to make their flee moves through the gap and sort of got behind the orc line and managed not to completely flee off the table.

Crawler turn 5: 18 crawlers, not a dent in the orcs, scattered all over the place. What to do? Looks like it was time to start rolling three activation dice again, ensuring that the ones behind the lines do the attacking to deprive the orcs of the bonus for holding cover.

It worked quite well, 6 crawlers managed to gang up on the orc at the end of the line, but they only won the combat by 1. The crawlers attack bounced harmlessly off the orc's heavy armour. 4 of them also ganged up on Marmar, knocking him to the ground.

Orc turn 5: Marmar was in trouble, but the rest of the orcs were fine-- and it was time to finish the job. Marmar Jumped to his feet and slashed at one of his attackers. Unfortunately, he slipped on some ichor from a dead crawler and before they knew it the orcs were watching marmar be slowly ripped to shreds by the crawlers.

Krop, the most cowardly of the orc archers fled the field of battle. Three other orks broke off the line, but stayed on the table. Grofar was more angry than scared and stuck around. A couple of the orcs manage to knock a couple crawlers back, but it could be that the tide as turned.

I shouldn't have fought with Marmar as he was outnumbered. I should have started activating the other orcs to move up to help him out. Live and learn.

Crawler turn 6: The crawlers started off with a power attack against the most surrounded orc. And rolled a 1 vs the Orc's 5. Another gruesome kill-- and with so many crawlers close by and near table edges! None of them made really bad rolls though and one that ran from combat even survived the free hack.

Four more of them ganged up on an orc archer and managed to get a gruesome kill by rolling a 6 to the orc's 1. 3 more orcs fled the field of battle! Grofar and his orcs passed their under half morale checks.

Orc turn 6: How did this happen? Down to Grofar, an archer and an orc? With 14 crawlers having pushed me back to my own table edge! Three gruesome kills would be a good way to recover. The archer made one without much difficult and cut the crawlers down to 11.

Neither Grofar or the last orc made both activation rolls, so they just moved into base to base with the archer to limit surrounding the best they could.

Crawler turn 7: The archer had to die. The ability to pick a crawler and gruesome kill it at a distance had to be removed. 4 crawlers barreled into melee, but only managed to tie the combat. 4 others tried to surround Grofar, but when it was time for the attack to come, double 1s were rolled on the activation.

Orc turn 7: Grofar and the archer were being swarmed, So the orc between them decided to help Grofar out. With another easy gruesome kill, the crawlers were reduced to 8 in number with 2 on Grofar, 2 on the archer and the rest precariously close to the table edge. It was Grofar's turn.

With a gruesome kill and the scatter, it was done to 5
crawlers. The archer pulled his sword and hacked at one of the two crawlers still accosting him. He lost the combat by 1, but was protected by his heavy armour.

Crawler turn 8: The 5 remaining crawlers surrounded and spectacularly tore apart the archer. Grofar stayed, but his last orc deserted him!

Orc turn 8: Grofar-- double fail activation. Turn over.

Crawler turn 9: The last of the crawlers descended on Grofar. The final combat values: Grofar 2, Crawlers 4. Grofar crumpled to the ground as the crawlers feasted on him.


The game was pretty much even. Archers are the best at killing low combat guys and causing gruesome kills checks. And a horde has such a density of guys that gruesome kills really, really hurt.

The amount of die rolls for the horde player was painful. The game is not meant for packing in 100 guys into a small table. The entire game took about an hour and half because of this (a normal game of Song of Blades and Heroes is 30-45 minutes).

The rules produce very pleasing results. It really looked like it was going to go either way a couple of times. Neither side had particularly bad die rolls and both sides made about the same amount of good and bad decisions.

You can't rely on Quality 2+ if your combat is low. They just suck. They can move fast, but if the opponent even remotely uses terrain and missile fire well, you'll be making so many morale checks it's crazy.

I think the points system worked fine as far as producing an even match.

My friend said that next game he wants to play with about 15 guys, not 100, but still enjoyed himself.

So I'd say my attempt to break the point system failed and create an unfair warband failed.

Using group activations and morale checks would also get rid of the tedious die rolling involved with rolling individually for 100 models. I'd say with that simple tweak, large numbers can be handled by Song of Blades and Heroes, even if the typical warband is a large party of 8 or so guys.

ElGrego18 Oct 2007 2:41 p.m. PST

Thank you very much for the detailed account, Nathaniel… sounds like a lot of fun and I definitely need to get a copy for myself.


Hundvig Fezian18 Oct 2007 3:53 p.m. PST

I'm not familiar with the game system, but it sounds like the kind of playtesting you should really try at least a few times to test the extremes of a rules set. The point system appears to valuing things properly, at least for normal tables including some chokepoint terrain. The orcs would have been doomed on a flat empty plane (or is that plain?) though, right?

The only thing that turns me off on the rules is the way morale checks from "gruesome kills" seem to affect masses of troops. It doesn't sound like having a huge numerical advantage provides any kind of boost to help keep troops around…is that really the case? That doesn't directly affect the validity of the point valuations, but it's a mechanic that strikes me as a little silly. At 10:1 odds, 3-4% casualties leading to ~30% of the rest routing really seems wonky to me.

Of course, if numbers did prop up morale, then the swarm troops would have to cost more apiece, which would reduce their numerical advantage in turn… :)

1905Adventure18 Oct 2007 5:00 p.m. PST

The main issue was the lack of leaders. It was a swarm of 100 guys with no leaders, command structure or anything in a game meant to represent 10 guys a side. A party of 8 or so guys might well react to a gruesome death on their side quite differently than an army or regimented squad.

It's not right to ask a skirmish game to properly represent the command and control of an entire company. This game was pushing the limits well past where they were supposed to go.

As the the terrain and the orcs having no chance with less terrain, I'm not so sure. If they stick together, they can really limit the number of guys that can surround them. If there was no really good terrain anchor, I would have just formed the orcs up in a tight block and favoured one side of the board to try to engage only a portion of the horde at a time. The terrain simply allowed me to pull a Thermopylae on the horde. Even then, the surrounding only occurred because I misjudged the room needed for a base to sneak by one side.

The horde also had a distinct advantage in that they were on 18mm bases while the orcs were on 25mm bases. Which meant that more could pack around the orcs. Had they all been on 25mm bases, they couldn't have snuck around the side of the pass and they couldn't have gotten the 5 against 1 they did in some situations.

I basically would have put the 9 guys in a bunch with little distance between them so that the most that could hit any one of them would be 3 at a time. I don't feel I needed the terrain. And I did have to stretch my guys out in a line to hold the entire pass.

As for gruesome kills effecting masses of troops in the game being a turn off, it's important to remember that the game is not ever about masses of troops. Having masses of troops was my attempt to push the system into being something it isn't. And it still held up-- and gave the feeling of a mob of unorganized, leaderless crawlers scattering all over the place.

This was not a typical example of play, but a couple of gamers trying to push a system further than it should be pushed. :D And I think it held up.

Ganesha Games Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Oct 2007 11:48 p.m. PST

Thanks for the great report. I must stress out that the above was done with the NEW point system currently in playtest.

Ganesha Games will soon publish a free update PDF with the reworked point totals of all the 300+ profiles in Song of Blades and Heroes and Song of Gold and Darkness. The new point system will also be used in Song of Wind and Water, out in early December. For the moment, an Excel spreadsheet (done by the indefatigable AcarJ)is available on the SBH YahooGroup.

Who asked this joker19 Oct 2007 6:52 a.m. PST

Hi all,

It looks like the points system does what it's supposed to do. Of course, as usual, you can't point cost good/bad generalship. :)


Hundvig Fezian19 Oct 2007 8:02 a.m. PST

As for gruesome kills effecting masses of troops in the game being a turn off, it's important to remember that the game is not ever about masses of troops. Having masses of troops was my attempt to push the system into being something it isn't. And it still held up-- and gave the feeling of a mob of unorganized, leaderless crawlers scattering all over the place.

How difficult would it be to retrofit command control or horde morale rules into the game, though? It sounds like the system works pretty well even for large fights. Maybe they should consider an expansion with some specific rules for mass battles, rather than restrict themselves to skirmish gaming?

1905Adventure19 Oct 2007 2:39 p.m. PST

I don't think it'd be that hard, but the problem is that you do get into some incoherency when you start trying to blur the lines between a skirmish game and a battle game. Would 100 guys a side in a fantasy game really be "mass battle"?

It could be that the basic quality, combat and activation rules would port well into a mass battle game, and if that's the case, I think a design for mass battles from the ground up would likely be better than some sort of patch to try to make a low model count skirmish game into a mass battle game.

Hundvig Fezian21 Oct 2007 10:57 a.m. PST

Would 100 guys a side in a fantasy game really be "mass battle"?

Warhammer Fanatsy is often billed as a mass combat game, and 100 figs is a *big* force for some armies in that game. But I see your point…

Ganesha Games Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Oct 2007 3:01 p.m. PST

I'll be working on a mass version of SBH some day. Initially I thought of putting some notes for mass combat in the next supplement "Song of Wind and Water" but as I wrote them I realized that there was no way they could fit in a 35-40 pages book.

I'm planning to keep the same measuring and activation system but for units instead of single models, and I want players to arrange the units as they want (so no multi-based figs, just trays using the single-based minis they already use for SBH). I also want to use figure removal as a gauge of a unit's strength, something these days seems not to be in vogue anymore (after the success of DBx basing)

Shawnzeppi22 Oct 2007 6:18 p.m. PST


Thanks for posting the write up, sounded like an excellent & well balanced play test. I am unfamiliar with the rules system, but it also sounds as if the distance the forces were to the table edge (for determining routing off the table) was a critical factor… Not sure I like that part, unless the scenarios carefully balance that aspect with the shooters causing routs off the table from a distance.

At the risk of sounding like a smarty-pants, no one bothered to correct your statement. "There's a 50/50 chance of rolling a 1 on 3 dice." The probability of rolling at least one "1" on 3 x 6-sided dice is actually ~.412

Gamers should always be familiar with the axioms of probability; that way it's easier to blame the dice if you lose ;)

1905Adventure23 Oct 2007 1:07 p.m. PST

Right you are.

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