|OLDHAMMER: In Battle There is No Law|
1. The Referee or Games Master
In Old School Fantasy Battle there is a person who is in charge of the game. It's their job to check your armies are correct and everyone plays fairly. It's the Referee's job to remind everyone to take a Fear test when appropriate, and make the decisions on rulings where you've probably been used to 'dicing off'. The Referee never take sides, is totally impartial and his decision is final.
The referee will probably set up the scenario, placing terrain and describing what the objectives of each army are, sometimes in secret. Sometimes it's just to wipe each other out, and sometimes its to capture and hold a specific location, or sometimes more complex - not all sides will have the same objectives, the Goblins might be tying to capture a forest with lots of tasty mushrooms in them, the Dwarves trying to move a goods wagon across the table, neither knows what each others objective is, but the Referee throws them into this situation and the inevitable chaos that will ensue. Occasionally strange wandering monsters will emerge to roam the battlefield. The local village may be defended by a trained militia or angry mob. These non-player forces are controlled by the Referee, often a threat to both sides, and their actions changing the goals of the scenario as the narrative progresses.
However, it is entirely possible to run a game without a Referee, but it needs the players to have the kind of non-competitive mind-set that comes from role-playing games. All players win by having fun playing the game, if your only fun comes from winning the game at any costs, Old School Fantasy Battle is probably not for you.
2. There are no army lists except your own
Go and burn your Army Books, you don't need them any more. We're going back to basics.
Armies are constructed around a simple Points system, if you have spent X number of points on an army, and another player has spent the same number of points, then that's fair enough. You aren't restricted by choice of faction or race, if you want to field a troop of Wood Elf Archers in the same army as a troop of Feudal Knights, then go for it. Want to add in some Gnomes or some Lizard-centaurs or maybe even a Zombie Dragon, then go for it. This is how Forces of Fantasy [WFB1e] first introduced the concept of Army lists to Warhammer, the only restrictions being alignment (Good, Evil or Neutral), an innovation which is intended to preserve the flavour of the setting, and in no way an attempt to ensure armies are 'balanced' in strength.
All characters and wizards have the same access to the same magical weapons and spells, artefacts and war machines are not tied to armies. You want to field a Pump-wagon with your Dwarves? Go ahead. If you can pay the points for it, then you can have it. You can use Old School Fantasy Battle to recreate epic battles from fantasy films and novels, from Moorcock to Tolkien, you're not tied to one particular gaming world, and if you want to just grab whatever minis you have and have a bash, that's good too.
Because you're not restricted to collecting one range of miniatures, slavishly following a single Army Book, you're not forced to buy models that are just OK or playing 'counts as'. There are no core / special / rare troops, no obligatory choices, you build armies that make sense for your campaign, your scenario or for your miniatures collection.
While you might have guessed by now, it bears being said explicitly you're not limited to the miniatures of one manufacturer. While WFB1e does indeed lists Citadel order codes, there was nothing in the rules that you had to use those specific miniatures. Joe Dever and Gary Chalk happily suggesting Asgard and Dixon miniatures alongside Citadel miniatures in a Warhammer scenario based on The Lord of the Rings in White Dwarf magazine. You can use historicals from Perry Miniatures, Chaos Warrior HelsVakt from Red Box Games, Pig Faced Orcs from Otherworld, Elves from Thunderbolt Mountain, you can field huge lots of 80's Citadel miniatures you won on eBay, you can even field legions of plastic undead from Mantic, the choice is yours.
If you want to field strange exotic creatures carrying mystical force weapons that there are no rules for, then the points system is there [WFB2e and WH40K:Rogue Trader] to explain how to generate the stat-line and appropriate points values for such creatures. It's up to you and your referee, it's your game: in battle, there is no law.
3. Size does not matter
You do not need a 2000 point army to play the game properly.
Old School Fantasy Battle is designed to scale. If you want to field 5 troops each, then do it, the core rules of Old School Fantasy Battle works as a skirmish rules as well as a mass combat ruleset, which is why exactly the same core combat rules are used in Mordhiem (skirmish) and WFRP1e (one to one combat). It's just that you roll less dice, and you might want a bit more detail other than "dead". Don't worry, you still roll lots of dice, just a few less, and things still end up dead.
In fact the core combat resolution rules were never originally designed as a mass combat game, it is only the unit movement and manoeuvres which are based around the movements of large numbers of troops, the rest of the game actually relies on a 1:1 scale, and that in real wargames speak really means they are skirmish rules.
Old School Fantasy Battle has more psychology rules than it's modern counterparts, there are more statistics for defining troops than later editions: Cool, Willpower, Leadership and Intelligence. That's because the people who created it were early (0e) Dungeons and Dragons players as well as wargamers, they were interested in character level combat as well as character level damage and character development over a series of games. They also were interested in alcoholic Halflings and drug-crazed Amazons, but then again, who isn't?
4. Stop worrying about game balance
As the Spartans will tell you, warfare has never been about perfectly matched armies squaring off at each other, and fantasy warfare even less so. One dark mage can flatten an entire nations army. A small band of heroic Men can overcome hordes of Orcs. Loosing and winning are not the only outcomes of playing a game. When your Orcs decide to beat the hell out of each other just before they were about to claim victory, that's part of the fun. When a single lucky dice roll turns the tide of a battle, you know the gods are on your side, that's part of the fun.
Because you're not tied to a single Army Book, your investment (time, miniatures, books) is no longer wasted when a newer 'better' Army Book or game edition is released - these just give you more house rules to use, if your Referee and the players choose to. There are no broken armies, unless you create them yourself, if you decide to spend 1000 points in kitting out a single Major Hero with the Greater Rune of Death and 4 Power Weapons, and your opponent brings 1000 Snaga Goblins to the table, then a ridiculous, epic and fun battle will ensue! Old School Fantasy Battle isn't about competitive army selection, but about: creating and meeting the victory conditions of a narrative scenario, tactics, creating amazing stories of derring-do, seeing what happens when ill-matched warbands face off (think Ogre - a classic board-wargame and scenario that at it's heart is about asymmetry), and ultimately doing battle on the fields, towns and dungeons of your imagination.
5. Tournaments - Just Say "No".
Oldhammer is not a sport. It's a game. And unlike Scrabble or Chess is far too reliant on random factors for player skill to really count in the win/lose/draw stakes.
Sometimes, I wish I could get away with creatling a retro-clone of Warhammer 2nd edition, with the sci-fi from Rogue Trader intact.
25/01/2013 - OK things have moved on since I wrote this, interested in more? have a look at the Oldhammer community forum and get involved, or yeah leave a comment!