Monday, 20 April 2009

Holiday Reading in Stygia

I'm off to the real world version of Stygia soon. Here's what I intend to be reading while pretending I'm lost within the video to Slayer's Seasons In The Abyss.

I went to Cairo and Giza many years ago as a 15-year old and ever since have felt that the experience was wasted on me at that age so returning to Egypt is something I've wanted to do for a long time.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Pics of My Epic Space Marines

These are the Epic Space Marines that I've been playing Future War Commander with since the start of the New Year. The idea behind them was to get a workable army painted as quickly as possible (before the impetus behind my interest in FWC waned in the face of not being able to get a game together) but still at a standard with which I'd be happy fielding on the table in public. Also I wanted to make sure that I could add to the army at short notice and for that I must have a paint scheme that I can replicate quickly, say painting reinforcements on a Wednesday night or Thursday night for a game on Friday evening.

As a result all the models are painted in a flat coat of Games Workshop Enchanted Blue, some contrasting detail picked out and then washed in "Miracle Dip" - in this case Wilkinsons Quick Drying Satin Interior Varnish (Dark Oak) - just like Army Painter but available in my local hardware/household store and much, much cheaper.

I decided to paint my army as the Crimson Fists chapter - not that I slavishly stick to "official", "sanctioned", "approved" colour schemes, usually prefering my own, but I knew the colours worked well and it's a nostalgia trip thing for the good old days of the cover illo to Rogue Trader.

Basing is much more simple than I usually do (and I dislike the bowling green effect that GW seem to like, especially for tank bases!), but I wanted something fast and since the other Epic armies at Stourbridge had the same green flock finish I thought it would fit in well. As it happens the blue of the armour and the green of the flock harmonises well together.

If you're not familiar with Epic 40k models, they are scaled to a rough 6mm representing a 6' human but the superhuman Marines tend to be taller and bulkier.

Chapter Master Pedro Cantor. Treated as "CO" under FWC rules. My basing convention for COs are three infantry models and transportation.

Space Marine Captain, a paint conversion of the Epic Chaos Commander with a Rhino chassis converted into a command variant with little detail bits from the bits box. Treated as "HQ" under FWC rules. My basing convention for HQs are two infantry models and transportation.

Another Space Marine Captain/HQ.

Space Marine Devastators and Rhino transports ("Support Marines" in FWC's "not challenging the Evil Empire's trademarks" parlance)

Space Marine Tactical Squads and Rhino transports ("Regular Marines")

Veteran Marine Commanders will notice that I don't have any Assault Marines. This is mainly because I hate the Epic Assault Marine figures which look extremely dated and I don't like the two-weapon concept they have at all.

Dreadnoughts, in FWC-speak these are three Support Walkers and an Assault Walker. Paint conversions of WizKids MechWarrior:Dark Age Battle Armor, Kanazuchi and Infiltrator MK.1 if memory serves. I just removed them from their original bases and painted them up, pleased with the results and they were effectively free coming from my old collection of MW junk.

Old-School Land Raiders (M1 "Big Mama" IFV). Daft design but nicely cast and proportioned and I have a nostalgic soft spot for these.

Newer-School Land Raiders, although I think in 28mm scale there has been a newer revision of the Land Raider design style since these were made. Nice models, look a bit more plausible than the older Land Raider.

Assorted recce stuff, Scout Bikes (M4 All Terrain Bikes), Marine Scouts and a command base that can morph as Forwards Artillery Observer or Forwards Air Controller. I mounted the Bikes in pairs rather than the usual three because I can then distinguish between Scout units and combat units although I haven't actually built any combat bike units yet. Basing convention for the FAO/FAC is as a HQ base, but with lighter transportation.

Evil, teleporting Terminators (aka "Power Marines"). Mega-expensive troops this shot alone has 960 points of troops. I could quite easily treble this if I painted up all my Terms :) Mounted in threes because I felt that mounting in 5 looked too dense and 4 looked messy due to the 5-man bases then looking as if one model was missing. Figures go further this way too.

Vindicators and Whirlwinds (or M1A1 "Bad Ass" Assault Tank and M1 Missile System). Whirlwinds can be on-table or off-table units.

Old Argentius, my proxy-for-any-type-of-Giant-Robot Giant Robot. Last saw action as a Warlord Titan (M3 'Death Dealer' Walker). A repainted vinyl Transformers toy (not articulated to transform) which being vinyl is still slightly tacky 12 months after being painted and probably will be for ever. Originally painted for an abortive Battletech-with-toy-Japanese-Robots project that never took off. Pictured with a 1:300 building and Space Marine stand to show scale. Base is 60mm square. And the pink is not pink in real life, but deep purple!


Swords and Wizardry Arrives at Coop Towers

Swords and Wizardry turned up yesterday, having taken 19 days to come from Spain. That's over twice the time I expect for whole boxes of slotcar stuff to travel from New South Wales to the UK which seems to take 8 days every time with no variation.

Internal paper is a bit cheap but very impressed with the quality of the binding and the strength of the cover. Unfortunately with it taking a near month to arrive at Coop Towers after ordering I had nearly a month to change my mind and decide that the White Box OD&D will probably be my Old School game of choice! I fancy a printed copy of the "White Box" version of Swords and Wizardry as well now, but the apparent time delay between ordering and holding it makes me lose interest in all honesty.

For the record I'd had PDFs of the original White Box OD&D for a couple of years without printing them out, I printed them out a couple of weeks ago and was about to slap down the trivial $5 (or whatever they cost) and upgrade to a proper, legit copy because I was quite happy to do so... it looks like I won't be able to "go straight" with it. Shame that, Wizards. Your loss and I won't be able to point interested Stourbridge players at a legit download for it. Wonder what I'll have to provide them with?

On the subject of hooky PDFs I torrented a copy of the Ork Codex for 40k. This isn't entirely "I don't want to pay for it" as I will need to buy it to make proper use of the Orks I got in with the Assault on Black Reach Set. It's on the shopping list it's just that it was late at night and I fancied a brief flip through to see what the points values were like and think about future model purchases. It's also nice to have the PDFs on a memory stick that I can carry around with me and read on my lunchbreak at work. So have no fear, a proper, shop-bought copy will be acquired in the future. It's needed for play after all.

Anyway, and this was what I thought was relevant to the recent Wizards PDF kerfluffle, the PDF I ended up had printers crop marks and timestamps on it, not page furniture you would find on a retail copy even one that had been gutted from it's binding and scanned as individual sheets.

So, clearly, this hasn't come about from a purchaser but has escaped onto the web from somewhere along the production process from mastering to physical copies.

Future War Commanders Command Future War On Surface of Amblecotius Agri-World

Sorry no pics. Forgot the camera so just a brief couple of notes on the game.

Played 3000 pts. of my Space Marines versus James W and his Eldar in a straight forwards encounter battle. I still haven't learnt how to use the unusual army that is the Space Marines properly under FWC rules, they are a paratroop army par excellence but once they have landed and massacred whatever they landed next to they tend to run out of steam. They seem to wipe out their surrounding enemy then find themselves unable to move very far across the table in order to sort out the more distant lot and the fact that arriving on the table by air means that they arrive in a somewhat erratic and disorganised manner.

It doesn't help that for two games running my losses in troops that were shot out of the air during the drop far exceeded my losses "on the ground". I may need to abandon the drop pod assault and go over to landing the Marines in proper dropships. Drop-pods that suffer from a Suppression result during the drop are lost, Drop-ships merely abort and can try again next turn. This could have saved me a lot of hassle - not to mention about 16 stands of Space Marine infantry and a Dreadnought over the two games. When you consider that in these rules a stand represents a platoon of about 15-25 men it's clear that I've lost probably 3 companies of Space Marines in two battles purely due to AA. Time to volunteer for the Human Bomb brigade perhaps.

I also tried out a Titan, fielding a Warlord Titan which faced off against two smaller Eldar Titans. Titans seem a little bit unpredictable - with shields up and the ability (unique to Massive-sized units) to fire primary and secondary weaponry together they tear through stuff, but once shields are down a Suppression result can be extremely nasty since the Titan is static for a turn and can't use an automatic initiative action (denied to suppressed units) in order to bring the shields back up to full strength. Had James had even a small collection of rubbish troops near the Titan when it was suppressed, weight of fire would have done for it. I mainly used the Titan because I'd based it up for play not because of any great plan. It was actually a repainted vinyl Transformers toy but what the hell - not the worst proxy I've ever seen. It killed one of the Eldar scout Titans anyway.

James did something weird by attempting over-run attacks on my CO base. Since the CO will retreat from this a few good assaults by a fast-moving Eldar Titan left my CO continually retreating tableedgewards but still within range of the Titan's assault. This meant that after a few good rolls on 2d6 from James to keep ordering the Eldar Titan my Chapter Master suffered the ignominy of being chased off table from a original position somewhere near the centre line. Methinks the Chapter Chaplain will be having a word with someone once they get back to the Chapter-Fortress on Rynn's World.

Sadly we ran out of time at 8 losses a piece (break point for both armies) as James' lift arrived early and I didn't think it fair to keep him hanging around especially as the battle had hit a natural lull.

FWC is currently sitting at the top of the pile on my list of All-Time Favourite Wargames. It takes me back to the days of huge Space Marine games in the mid 90s but is a far, far, better and more grown-up game.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Two Strikes For the Old School Renaissance

I took my print-out of the White Box PDF to my game of Future War Commander at the Stourbridge Wargames Club last night along with my copy of the 4E PHB.

Firstly, in a room full of wargamers and roleplayers I couldn't even give the PHB away. The response of the club's RPG group was "couldn't even give ours away". Another group had played a 4E intro session on the previous week and had no interest in a immaculate and free copy of the PHB. I'd worry seriously if I had anything to do with WotC.

Secondly, a few people thumbed through the White Box and we have a game on! Old wargaming mate Dave O. fancies a game of it so part of the Netherpit will be written up and DM'd for a game of the original and best in a couple of weeks time.

I'll write up the Future War Commander (Marines vs Eldar) in a later post. Unfortunately due to the early arrival of my opponent's lift home it got a bit curtailed but the game continues to be A - easy to play, B - extremely difficult to play well and C - my current favourite wargame.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

No Swords and No Wizardry

I'm starting to lack confidence that my Lulu-ordered copy of Swords and Wizardry will ever turn up. Supposedly shipped on the 27th March it's now evening on the 8th April and no bloody sign of the thing. I regularly get stuff from Australia to the UK in 8 days flat.

And Now A Brief Word From Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany

I've not read the book (Dunsany's 1912 work The Book Of Wonder) but Wikipedia has the following fantastic quote from it viz

The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man. Their evil tower is joined to Terra Cognita, to the lands we know, by a bridge. Their hoard is beyond reason; avarice has no use for it; they have a separate cellar for emeralds and a separate cellar for sapphires; they have filled a hole with gold and dig it up when they need it. And the only use that is known for their ridiculous wealth is to attract to their larder a continual supply of food. In times of famine they have even been known to scatter rubies abroad, a little trail of them to some city of Man, and sure enough their larders would soon be full again.

What more Gygaxian Naturalism do you need?

Assault on Assault on Black Reach

A Note to Games Workshop

When laying out the designs for the plastic sprues for the Space Marines in the Assault on Black Reach box set, don't connect the scrap of the sprue to the large, rounded areas of the shoulder pads. It's a pain in the arse to clean up and produce a nice, smooth surface, it really is. Also when you are aren't doing this, don't run the sprue right up to the raised "Tactical Squad" marking on the shoulder pad on one of the poses as this would make the pain in one's arse even more painful because then you'd have to be immensely careful with the sandpaper not to remove detail. Not doing this would be nice thanks.

A Second Note to Games Workshop

When designing the sprues so that the Marines' gun and hands pushes into the body of the piece via a peg and hole arrangement don't do anything stupid like make the peg far too big for the hole and ensure that the hole is so large (despite being undersized for purpose) with such a narrow rim so that it can't be opened up to take the peg without the Marine's wrist disappearing. Obviously if you'd done this then the peg would have to be removed with a Tamiya razor-saw, followed by more delicate filing of the remains of the peg in order to get the model to fit together and then the join wouldn't be a strong as designed. This would be a really dumb and irritating thing to do, especially in a set aimed at noobs. Cheers.

A Third Note to Games Workshop

I haven't started on the Terminators, Marine Captain, Orks or silly Ork helicopters yet.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

An OD&D Monster For Our Times

The Jaqula (aka The Red Witch of Red Itching)

AC 2
HD 7-9
Move 12"
Number Appearing - 1 (Unique)
% in Lair - 20%
Treasure - Type F
Alignment - LE
Bite does d6 dmg + drains 2 levels.

Vampiric Parasite appearing in the form of a middle-aged woman. Puritanical and voyeuristic, will stalk party before attacking in order to learn which party members offend it's puritanical sensibilities the most in order to concentrate later attacks upon them. Fascist lawful alignment. Will always loot victims for cash and food (especially pork and/or gravy) which it cannot gain sustenance from but enjoys the sensation of gorging upon anyway. Regenerates 3hp per round and can reform her physical form after death, burning and/or acid will not prevent this neither will the traditional stake-in-heart, only the hanging of the corpse in public (such as from a lamp-post) will prevent The Jaqula's later return. Lacks the traditional Charm Person-like ability of the true Vampire. Immune to any and all attempts to confuse via demonstrations of logic or intelligence.

Rules an area of the Dungeon known as The Panopticon in which her supernatural spies see all.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Empty Rooms and Underground Playgrounds

Strangely enough one of my fondest memories of D&D as a player was in a session of 2E AD&D where we explored a cave system for about an hour and found ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

On the previous weekend we'd gone into Birmingham to visit the games shop and purchased representative figures for our PCs. So on this session we had floorplans, admittedly just some green dry-erase marker scrawled on half of a scrap hollow-core interior door still finished in it's original gloss white. The DM was sketching out the walls and tunnel mouths and we were placing our lead avatars where we liked.

As I said above - Nothing happened. Whether from some freak happening whereby we only entered the empty chambers or just some extremely odd dungeon design we just went around exploring gloomy empty caverns and poking around to no effect in piles of rubbish.

And I was absolutely captivated.

What is this you say? D&Ding for bone-idle and risk-averse players?

There was something about the game, about the exploring that just seemed to click for me and when we finally ran into some minor dungeon fauna that lasted about two rounds of melee it seemed a bit out of place as if a bored and/or embarrassed DM had chucked it at us in order to avoid the stigma of presenting a dungeon with no traps, creatures nor treasure. But, perhaps because our DM seemed to be a dab hand at improvising little details, we weren't wandering through an uninteresting void looking for the "proper" rooms but lost within a real cave system and genuinely enjoying the exploration.

It's perhaps noteworthy that when I used to be a fan of text adventure games I loved mapping them out and would quite happily get lost for whole Sunday afternoons armed with pen, lots of paper, a ruler and a procession of empty "rooms", obsessively linking sections of map together and wondering where the unexplored doorway to the east led to and whether it would somehow link up to previously mapped rooms elsewhere.

Empty is good.

Too often busy rooms become important for what's in them as opposed to what they are. The room with the ten Orcs in it becomes simply a featureless container to frame "the action" and the thrill of exploration is lost. The Underworld should be a strange, alien realm where the surface dwellers don't belong and long periods of dice-free exploration and wonder serve to draw the players into the world whereas sudden wandering monster attacks can break the mood as the dice and rules and meta-gaming come out of hiding.

With respect to The Netherpit I've been wondering if the early levels (both dungeon and player) could comprise of minimal monster and trap encounters and maximal exploration. Could the first level of a dungeon really maintain the interest if it is a nothing more than a "safe" playground that the PCs can explore, experiment with and discover hidden caches of treasure without too much risk of injury or death? This could ease new players and PCs in without the sudden bangyouredead element common in low level play. Verbal play with minimal dice-rolling and combat used to be held up as somehow "better" than the traditional dungeon game, couldn't a dungeon game be run in a similar fashion, at least until the PCs are tough enough to fight things without too much fear of TPK?

Like most blog entries I haven't entirely thought this through but I will run with the idea and see if it appears to have legs.