Wargaming: Fantasy At the Halsethorpe Pyramid

02 March 2023
Return of the reaper.

Words and pictures by Jon Sutherland.


Following the Purity War fifteen years ago, the border region between the fast growing human settlements and Wildlands of the Old Folk has seen constant skirmishes, incursions and raids. In the north, where the vast pine forests of the Wildlands extend toward the settlement of Halesthorpe, a new danger that threatens to tip the precarious balance of power has emerged. Believed to be long-dormant and a mere relic of an older time, the Halesthorpe Pyramid has been emitting a low humming noise for the past twenty-five days...

The pyramid was built by the ancient Ameer, magical folk who were said to have the powers to cleanse and renew the land, returning it to a pristine state, a kind of ecological reset. The power of the pyramid was said to have been contained for decades by the Order of the Legacy of Ameer, a warrior female sisterhood. Their chapel lies beside the pyramid and rumour has it that it is their unspeakable activities that has awakened the ancient power.

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You are Burrhus, a decent sorcerer and somewhat respected on the wild-side of the border. In the past few days many of your neighbours have been complaining of headaches, bowel problems and unexplained sores and boils. Your normal repertoire of lotions, potions and tinctures has failed to cure a single one of them. If anything the situation is worsening... A dragon-rider from the south – Solon, a good friend and not the sort of person to create unnecessary alarm – reports his reliable steed, Cepheus is unable to fly. She was fine three days ago before they arrived at your camp.

The local tribes are convinced that the pyramid is active and is having a detrimental effect on their health. Wild-men, who trade with the humans, report the arrival of a magician who has been performing conjuring rituals around the pyramid. The tribal leaders firmly believe that the conjurer is attempting to awaken the pyramid. If successful, the Wildlands will be “cleansed” and the Old Folk will face annihilation.


Having shied away from fantasy gaming for over thirty years, I was tempted back in a roundabout way. I had a drawer full of Dark Ages figures with no real desire to play games with lines of shield-armed men trying to push one another over in the mud. I flirted with the idea of turning them into an early Crusade force and painting lots of Saracens, but instead, I started printing 3d fantasy figures with my resin printer. I then visited my local games store and hoovered up a couple of hundred goblins.

I like newer, novel rule sets, and I was tempted to try to convert Saga into a fantasy orientated system, but the scale would have been wrong for me: I don’t tend to do skirmish gaming. Instead, sweeping aside the headaches brought on by extreme mathematics, I reached for my trusty copy of Reaper (circa 1978). This percentage based system worked well then, was fast and fun. Contrary to popular opinion, although it was written by Halliwell and Priestly – who went on to create Warhammer – it does not really have any of the Warhammer characteristics at all. If you can lay your hands on a copy, give them a go. Once you have got beyond the multiplication tasks for firing and fighting, you won’t find much else around that is as simply satisfying as a basic mechanic (nostalgic! That takes me right back to playing an LotR game at the Margate Convention in the late ‘70s with Reaper... Ed.)

Alternatively, you could try Kings of War, the 9th Age, Fantastic Battles, Mayhem Fantasy Massed Battles, Dragon Rampant, Legions of Battle or even Rick’s latest fantasy set Warlords of Erehwon. I’m sure some you will want to use the various incarnations of Warhammer too. Warmaster and Hordes of the Things are also options for larger battles, particularly with smaller sized soldiers and there is a lot of support online for these two, now officially unsupported, rule sets.

In any case, what you want is a big skirmish system that allows you to “kitchen sink” wargame. What I mean by that is not being hamstrung by army lists or lore that forbids combinations of troops. Much of the fun of fantasy gaming was beaten out of players by excessive prohibition of freedom to create armies that you just fancied commanding. Really, who is to say to you with a straight face that you can’t have rat men and goblins in the same army? I think that dictating to players what they can and can’t use and fixing the game to a competition-based points system has held fantasy gaming back for the past forty years. It really should be a lot more popular. (On that basis, one might try Oathmark or Wars of Orcs and Dwarves, both of which I have reviewed and would be suitable: really the rules options are just huge. Ed.)



These simply reflect my own collection of figures; the humans tend to be Dark Age Picts, Normans and Saxons with a smattering of Halflings, fantasy adventurers and dwarves. The Old Folk include goblins, orcs, trolls and wild-men (Celts and Ancient Germans). This means that if Dark Age gamers want to get extra use out of their armies then you just need to add some fantasy figures.

It should be noted that all of my figures are on scenic, multi-figure bases: human sized figures are three to a base, characters and adventurers one-three per base, mounted two to a base and bigger monsters are singularly based. For the purposes of the ruleset, I simply count a base just like I would have counted a single figure in the past. I think the first time I ran a huge Reaper game was Pelennor Fields at Dragonmeet in 1981 with several hundred single based figures, so multi-basing is a step forward!


This is what I used based on what I have and what I printed!



Morale types:

A : Household troops;

B : Elite or veteran;

C : Normal troops;

D : Normal, but hard to control;

E : Disgruntled and unenthusiastic.







Tyler, the human conjurer is a student of Ameer history. He knows that the pyramid’s power is based on harmonics that produce a surge of energy capable of affecting the brain, heart and digestion of non-human creatures. The Order of the Legacy of Ameer has been trying to reboot the pyramid for decades, but only a month ago did their incessant wailing hit the right notes to trigger the system back into life.

Tyler is attempting to orchestrate their screeching and will soon succeed if he is not stopped.

The re-triggering event can take place at any point after game turn 10:



Note that wild-men are unaffected by the sound as they are humans. The expanding ring of death should be classed as a death spell or similar according to your ruleset.



I ran the playtesting on a 10 x 6 table using 28mm figures. Ideally a rectangular table is best for this scenario. I placed a semi-circle of three hills around a quarter of the table, plonking the pyramid on the central hill. Behind the hill was the settlement of Halesthorpe and the chapel. I placed two forests on the Old Folk edge of the table and another in the opposite quarter to the hills and Halesthorpe. I then scattered some rocky outcrops and brush to break up the open ground.

On the first hill I placed the Halflings (7 bases) and adventurers (3 bases) with the Picts (10 bases) in support. In the first hill gap I positioned the dwarves (4 bases) and the second hill with the pyramid was protected by the Normans (11 bases). The Saxons (24 bases) had the job of holding the second hill pass and the longer hill running towards their baseline. The Order of the Legacy of Ameer (4 bases) were placed near the chapel behind the pyramid next to Tyler.

Emerging out of the forest facing the hill held by the Halflings and adventurers was a pair of trolls and 10 bases of orcs. Attempting to force the first pass held by the dwarves were 6 bases of rat men. The task of taking the pyramid and Norman held hill was assigned to four trolls and 20 bases of goblins.

Threatening the pass held by the Saxons were 6 bases of Wild-men horse, 8 bases of small goblins and 5 bases of goblin archers (plus Burrhus, Solon and Cepheus). Assigned to carry the Saxon ridge line itself were 4 trolls and 25 bases of wild-men.

All of the Old Folk were positioned on the edge of the forest ready to move into action on turn one. The only real reserves that the humans have are the Picts; everything else is in their frontline.


Essentially this is a game that focuses around a single cataclysmic event which one side wants to trigger and the other side is intent on stopping. This could easily be translated into historical games. By simply switching the pyramid and its death-dealing impact to something like a bomb or the firing of a large weapon would work really well. Consider replacing it for a cache of explosives set to go off under a trench-works outside of Petersburg, Virginia in July 1864 or the Battle of Messines in 1917 when British tunnelling units detonated one of the largest pre-nuclear explosions killing 10,000 Germans of the 4th Army near the village of Mesen. You could easily substitute the pyramid with a large cannon that is being prepared to bring down the walls of a fortress.



I ran this twice, the first time, the Old Folk player used his trolls like main battle tanks and punched through the Normans and slaughtered Tyler before he had a chance to set off the pyramid. The second time, the Normans held firm, but the Halflings and adventurers were overrun, taking the Picts with them as they fled. Their flank turned, the dwarves fell back only to be caught in the general rout as the Saxons were driven from their ridgeline by the trolls and wild-men. Tyler kept trying to set off the pyramid but went under with the Order of the Legacy of Ameer in a charge by the lesser goblins led by Solon and Cepheus. Poetic justice I thought! 


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