The Necromancer’s Bane

I stumbled across this very reasonably priced booklet on Wayne’s Books when I was looking at some other stuff. I’d never heard of it, but I have been getting more interested in the history of fantasy wargames so I figured I’d check it out.

I found almost nothing else about it, apart from seeing that there were two supplements shown on BoardGameGeek: The Necromancer’s Spell Book and The Necromancer Besieged. As pretty much nothing else seems to be recorded about this game online, I thought I’d record what I’ve found out.

The introduction is sparse but claims that the rules were published in 1988 “at the request of Wargamers via Irregular Miniatures,” a company that is still around. It says the rules are meant for battles in a fantasy world like Middle Earth, Hyboria, or other mythical worlds (the text later references Andelain as well), but the army & creature lists are very Tolkien-centric. The main addition to the usual Tolkien-inspired bestiary of elves, dwarves, orcs, and so on is the Unicorn, a singular creature that occasionally joins the forces of Light against the Necromancer’s forces of darkness.

The mechanics of the rules are very calculation-driven, with small “random factors” added at various points in the calculations give variable outcomes. Each race (elves, men, dwarves, orcs & goblins) have a few special characteristics, such as elves never routing from combat. They also have various defense and attack ratings, which are used to determine casualties in combat. The points value of a creature is the defense value, which ranges from 5 (for a lesser orc or a halfling) to 1000 (for wizards, demons, dragons, and the singular Unicorn, more on that later). Being armored adds 5 points to the defense score (and points cost). This is probably ok, though I can’t help but notice that different races have features that vary considerably in power. For example goblins can only fight in two ranks while most others can fight in 3 or 4,  and are much slower to change formation than other infantry, which will put them at a bigger disadvantage than their slightly reduced attack values would suggest. I’ll need to play out some combats to see how hopeless the forces of darkness really are.

The Unicorn is singled out as a unique creature and is in fact the “Necromancer’s bane” of the title. It appears in 10% of battles (randomly determined, with no points cost) on the side of the forces of Light.

The rules give basing conventions for 6mm, 15mm, and 25mm miniatures, noting that Irregular’s 6mm figures are precast on the correct sized base. I checked with Irregular for more information about the rules and their relationship to the company, and learned that the publisher at “Brigade Games,” was Brian Gregory who also sculpted their 2mm figure range. Mr. Gregory passed away a few years ago; Michael C. Thompson, the author of the rules, was a friend of his. I haven’t been able to track down any further information about either. The acknowledgements thank Thompson’s wife Sharron and the Newton Aycliffe Wargames Group who play-tested the rules. (This group doesn’t seem to be around any more, but I did find an announcement of game shop opening in the area called “Brigade Headquarters.” So maybe there is some continuity there?) The “further reading” just lists Tolkien, Howard, and Donaldson — the mythical worlds already mentioned in the introduction and text — and the first expansion, The Necromancer’s Spell Book. No one is credited for the illustrations. The cover is ok, but the internal illustrations are even more amateurish line drawings.

I heard from another collector who has the expansions, and he reports that they add a bunch of spells, rules for single/personal combats, and rules for additional races including the undead (in the case of the Spell Book) and rules for sieges and naval combat, along with a wind spell (in Besieged). These would likely make the game seem more complete.  I only have the core booklet, and immediately wondered why a game named after a necromancer* had no undead troops, and also noticed a lack of chariots and various creatures that are mentioned in the first rule book.

The only other information I’ve gleaned is that the rules are regarded as unplayable. I’m not sure if this is true, but the long lists of factors that adjust melee and morale are daunting. Moreover a great deal is left to the players’ discretion, such as how many spell points a wizard should get, magic items for heroes and wraiths, and most importantly how orders (which are to be written before the game for each unit) are to be interpreted and applied. It’s clearly meant more for friendly games than competitions. The fact that the game was play-tested before publication seems to argue it is in fact playable, but the wargames of today and those of the 1980s are vastly different, and I’m not really tempted to try these out. Although it is just 22 pages long, I can’t help but think the time investment to figure out the rules would be pretty big.

*To be fair, it’s probably more of a reference to the necromancer in the Hobbit — which most readers of LotR identify with Sauron.

Published in: on October 7, 2022 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A lot of these older wargames club rules appear like a confused mess. Because it’s a club it’s a collection of house rules in a way. Joe plays orcs, these are the mods we use, etc so it’s more a booklet for new club members than a proper game. They know what’s going on but they’re not writers and don’t explain well.

    Back in those days we’d tend towards looking over the rules to pull out useful ideas and mechanics for our own games. From the cover I know I’ve seen it before but at most thumbed through it.

  2. Interesting. Now I know what the story is with Necromancer’s Bane.

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