12(mm) things I love about the Warpath setting

Lingering in the Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere

gaming settings scifi wargame

I love lore. It's one of the reasons I play games. Having read through Mantic Games's Warpath Sourcebook, I've been thinking a lot about the quirky cyberpunk / hard sci fi / comedy-of-errors / war-ravaged universe that is the Warpath setting. On the surface, it's just kind of general wargame science fiction fantasy, with a lot of the obligatory elements to make your tabletop battles suitably bombastic. The sourcebook, however, does a lot to develop the warring factions and the galaxy they fight for. Here's 12 things I love about the Warpath setting. That's 1 thing for each millimeter of Epic Warpath!

1. Variety

You can argue that this is meeting minimal requirements for a tabletop game, but it does strike me that the factions in the Warpath setting are suitably distinct from one another. Pick any two factions, deploy them on opposite ends of the table, crash them into each other, and it looks good. (Not only that, it appears that they'll play good, too, at least judging from preliminary battle reports.)

There are notable exceptions, but I don't usually throw myself into a sci fi setting exclusively for the technology. More often than not, I want to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations. Warpath's choices provides that pretty well.

2. Cyberpunk

I don't know whether Mantic Games considers Warpath to be cyberpunk, and maybe it's not the hardest cyberpunk around, but its central authority is essentially an incorporation of mega-corporations. There's not enough lore civilian lore in the Warpath Sourcebook for us to know how the regular folk of the Warpath universe get on, but I get the sense that nearly everybody lives in service of the Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere. With a name like that, who wouldn't want to?

As much as I enjoy optimistic sci fi, I do gravitate toward dystopian fiction. Maybe my reading of the setting is influenced by what I want to see, but to me it looks like this particular grimdark future, there is only profit. At any cost.

3. Mistakes were made

There's a thread of misjudgement woven through the story of Warpath, and the act of catching on to it definitely kept me entertained as I read the sourcebook.

First, there's the entirely manufactured rebellion of the orcs. The Council of Seven engineered, through a series of business deals followed by a major betrayal, conditions that would compel orcs to take a stand against their employers. It was a surefire way to cause enough of a social disruption that the council would have an excuse to step up and lead everyone to safety. The problem is, it worked too well, and the orcs remain a menace to the GCPS. (Interestingly, they're famous for being a mercenary force, so it's not a matter of orcs hating all humans. In fact, you could see orc forces fighting alongside humans, for the right price.)

The Enforcers were developed in part to protect the GCPS from orcs. The first iteration of Enforcers were enhanced with the eyes of an alien race. Literally, alien eyes were transplanted into humans to improve vision. Initial tests were positive, and it was with great excitement that several high-ranking officials went to see the first demonstration of Enforcer might. Unfortunately, the alien eyes had been secretly burrowing into the skulls of the Enforcers, which caused them to go mad and slaughter everyone in the test centre.

And then there's the McKinley Drive, the portable blackhole gravity manipulation engine that enables faster-than-light travel. After the genius Isla McKinley created her first test engine, the decision was made to try it on a full-size ship with its full crew complement. With great eagerness, the captain of the starship that was surely destined to be the first to break the speed of light flipped on the engine, and the starship instantly imploded. Thousands of lives lost. Several similar tests were performed throughout the McKinley Drive iterations, with the same results.

Later, while developing an improvement to the drive, Isla McKinley herself decided to participate in an early test. Suffice it to say that the drive has yet to reach 2.0.

There are more examples, but basically the Warpath setting has a respectable stream of very bad decisions being made by upper-management. I love that it's not the Plague or the orcs or the Veer-myn or a great big conspiracy that beleaguers the GCPS the most, but its own bureaucracy.

4. McKinley Drive

The calamities of its development notwithstanding, the McKinley Drive is one of the coolest aspects of Warpath lore. First of all, it feels like hard science fiction. I mean, it's magic to you and I because it's fiction, but it's written to feel like science. The drive creates a little black hole, and uses its gravity to fall to the pilot's desired location.

And I guess that all happens at faster-than-light speed. I don't know why, I don't know physics real or imagined.

The point is, it doesn't rip a hole in reality and travel through a meta-dimension of daemons, or travel through the unknown Drift where pieces of reality are traded for passage. This isn't fantasy, this is actual science, with black holes and gravity and stuff!

Beyond the imagined science-ness of it, the story of its development is good. Isla McKinley, though we hardly know her, seems like an intriguing figure, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already developed a conspiracy theory that she'd engineered her own "accidental" disappearance. Do your own research, is all I'm saying.

5. War!

I don't like war in real life, but it makes for really good motivation for your toy soldiers when you line them up on the tabletop. Obviously, a wargame needs a war. So when you play in an imaginary setting, you may as well make war the central theme of that setting. The setting literally only exists for potential conflict. There's nothing else you're going to do there. You're only there so you can pretend like your toys are fighting.

It's notable that the Warpath setting focuses on war only because the reality is that you don't have to have a setting that's nothing but war for a good wargame. You can imagine a world with lots of opportunities for exploration, dungeon delving, and traveling, and drop threats on the periphery of every activity. You can create a world where there's no war, and instead factions struggle for influence in their town. There are actually lots of possible settings for a wargame, and [pretend] physical combat doesn't even have to be a part of the game.

I've played those games, but they're different games. Sometimes you just want mindless combat, with rumbling tanks and big explosions and laser blasters.

6. Waaaaar!

(That's long lasting war.)

Most wargames only last an hour or two. You only need one or two wars in your setting.

Battle in Balin's Tomb is a great example. It's exactly 1 conflict, and you can play it again and again and again and never get tired of it. (Then again, maybe that's a poor example, because Middle Earth is rather known for its wars.)

My point is that you don't need a setting that's eternally at war for your wargame to make sense. However, when conflict is written into a game's setting, it makes you feel like you've got lots of room to play. You don't have to just play that 1 battle in the tomb, or just that one last stand on that one famous hill, or that 1 skirmish in the palace. You can stretch your legs, look around, find a planet you haven't explored yet, and then get stuck in with modeling and designing a battlefield and then playing out the battle there. With everlasting [pretend] war comes endless exploration of [pretend] battlefields.

7. Manageable factions

I don't fault any game for having a lot of factions, but you have to admit that lots of factions creates lots of hard choices. What faction do you want to collect because it looks cool? What faction do you want to play because it plays well? There's never just one answer to those questions.

It sounds like a back-handed compliment but Warpath only has half a dozen factions to choose from. I'm not accusing Mantic Games of a lack of imagination or initiative. I actually do appreciate their show of restraint, because even with just half a dozen factions to choose from, I'm not really sure which factions I'm going to pick up from the Kickstarter. Enforcers against the Plague? Enforcers against Veer-myn? GCPS against the Plague? GCPS against the Enforcers? Veer-myn against Forge Fathers? The possibilities are endless.

8. Minimal lore

This is another one that sounds like a back-handed compliment. Unbelievably, I appreciate that Warpath isn't steeped in detailed lore. I'll admit it, I'm not prepared to say I would mind some Warpath fiction, but I am saying that I have a lot of lore to consume from lots of other properties. If Warpath wants to keep the lore minimal, I won't argue. At least, not until I run out of Warhammer, Golarion, Forgotten Realms, Discworld, Sommerlund, and so on.

9. Hard sci fi

As sci fi wargames go, Warpath qualifies as hard sci fi. There are some species in the Warpath setting with psychic abilities, so it's not entirely based on fiction extrapolated from observable science. But it's a spectrum, and my hard sci fi might not be Asimov's hard sci fi.

There may be a wargame out there that's pure science fiction, but until I find it (and determine whether it's any good) I'll happily settle for Warpath.

10. Technology

The Warpath factions all have very unique technology, and I think it's their technology that defines them most. It's subtle messaging, but visually and intuitively you get a feel for each faction just by looking at their gear. There's obviously been a lot of thought put into the design of the tech for each faction.

That's nice for visuals differentiation, but I guess it's nothing a coat of paint couldn't also do. What the design also achieves is storytelling. The Forge Fathers have big stompy mining suits and great lumbering trucks and tanks. The Enforcers have power armour and hovertanks. The Plague uses tech that looks like it was designed for surgical invasion, and forceful insertion. The Asterians have elegant powersuits and "marionette" robots. Even the Veer-myn have tech, cobbled together from spare parts, probably, but that somehow takes on a threatening antagonistism.

I also feel like there's just enough lore for each faction that the technology makes sense. It's not like in the Star Wars prequels, where you can tell somebody's worked really hard on designing the look and feel of an alien race, but you also sense that there's no story behind the design other than what looked cool divided by what CGI could accomplish in time for the final render. Warpath, of course, doesn't have nearly the breadth of alient cultures to deal with as Star Wars (see point 8).

11. Weapons

The weapons in Warpath are a lot of fun. They're all detailed in Warpath Sourcebook, but they range from cool Judge Dredd style guns with inbuilt trackers to ray guns emitting beams of radioactive gas, plus of course all the classics, like rifles and laser guns and incinerators and missile launchers.

To me, weapons are to wargames what monsters (well, and magical items, and weapons) are to fantasy roleplaying games. I love a good list of weaponry, and I love discovering how the mechanics of the game represent them. Warpath has lots of cool weapons, and every faction has its favourite set.

12. Flexible

This is my third seemingly back-handed compliment, but I really like that Warpath is visually flexible. By that, I mean that Mantic Games produces really nice miniatures that look like commodity miniatures. You could use them in lots of different games, and you'd never feel like they were out of place.

As a sysadmin, I love commodity hardware because I know that no matter what, I can obtain more of it. It's common, not specialty. It's not the same as saying "generic" or "boring", it's an acknowledgment that a thing is produced for broad usage.

That's not to say that specialty items aren't nice. I love my highly stylized miniatures from very specific universes.

But I really value the knowledge that I can go out and pick up a game book from Osprey Games, come home and drop a few miniatures onto the table and play without feeling like the visuals and the mechanics are out of joint.

That Mantic has given so much personality through lore to such broadly usable miniature designs is really impressive, and it makes me appreciate the team all the more.

Epic Warpath

The Epic Warpath Kickstarter! ends tomorrow (or the next day? I don't know, New Zealand exists in the future.) If you like the sound of "epic" war at 12mm scale, consider backing it. And either way, check out the Warpath Sourcebook for lots of great sci fi lore.

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