Monday, 31 May 2010

Games Expo Next Weekend

Games Expo 2010 is coming up next weekend. Personally I'm starting to feel a little bit ho-hum about it all.

Firstly, it's gone up quite a bit in price. It's now £8 per day or £16 for a three-day weekend pass which isn't really a helpful saving as the "third" day is actually just free gaming in the hotel on Friday night and frankly I don't see that as worth paying extra for. I can go to my own club for that.

Also, there's nothing that I really want to buy. I quite fancy a Chessex Pound O' Dice but that's about it as the wargames traders have come to the conclusion that Expo attracts the wrong crowd so are all steadily dropping out.

And then there isn't much I want to do. Last year on the Sunday we just sort of hung around, looked at stuff and had a pint or two but I don't see that that is really worth travelling into Brum on a Sunday and paying out £8 for. The chance to meet Jackson and Livingstone on the Saturday is an attraction but really I don't do the whole hero worship business and while getting Steve J. to sign my copy of "Orange Book" Fighting Fantasy would be cool, I don't really feel right as a a 36 year old man asking other men for autographs. All a wee bit child-like.

Couple with the recent op and not wanting to stray too far from home and I might just knock it on the head and do something else that weekend.

Where We're Going We Won't Need Eyes To See

I had corrective laser eye surgery last Thursday, hopefully putting paid to 30 years of being badly astigmatic. It's quite a big thing really, a lot of people I mentioned it to regard it as something of a glorified labour-saving measure, pointing out that it will remove me from the hassle and expense of contact lenses and glasses. I find it more than that, I personally hold it to be a way of defying the hand of cards dealt out to me at birth that predefined me as short-sighted and, let's be honest, massively defined who the man who I would grow up to be would become. We're all geeks, we all know what I'm talking about and it's a valid question as to whether my interest in games, geekery, computing and sci-fi would have developed if I hadn't been prescribed with glasses from the age of six. I'd probably be somewhere else doing something different right now.

The speed with which my vision has gone from a crappy -6 to pretty reasonable has been remarkable over a long weekend, but still some distance to go. This will knock my gaming about, while it's good enough for close focusing and getting about (so far I've painted up a Citadel Termagaunt just to check if I've got my eye in and read the first two books of Asimov's Foundation series as well as been passed legally OK to drive and therefore got out and about), the eyes tire towards the end of the day and night visibility is seriously hampered by the glare of other car's headlights. So I probably won't be gaming at either club for a fortnight or so, as they come at the end of the working day and require a night drive home afterwards. Don't yet know what effect that will have up any blogging activity.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Return to Firetop Mountain

New purchase from eBay...

Gone onto the pile of "To Do" books and magazines.


I'd always assumed that the name of Fang's overlord Baron Sukumvit was just a funky word that Ian Livingstone had invented whole cloth. Apparently not...

(From The Guardian)

"All day the Thai army has been using armoured troop carriers to move soldiers beyond their positions towards the red-shirts fortified camp.

The troops are rolling out coils of razor wire across new streets, claiming more and more of the no-man's land between their sand-bagged defences and the redshirts' guards.

They are also working to clear routes for larger vehicles through the rest of the city.
Popular tourist strip Sukhmuvit Road is progressively being shut down by the army, who are blocking off side streets and moving traffic away from the thoroughfare. It appears the military is getting ready to move troops in, rapidly, to confront the red-shirts at their barricades."

Not having been to Thailand I didn't know that Sukhumvit Road (The Grauniad seems to be reviving it's much beloved tradition of typos) is a famous road in the Bangkok's tourist district. T

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Russ Nicholson Blog

The observant amongst you may have noticed a new addition to the blogroll on the right- Russ Nicholson has started a blog and commented on my post here.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Fixing Deathtrap Dungeon

The point of last week's post about Deathtrap Dungeon was that, essentially, I really want to like the idea (and therefore steal/reuse it) but can't get my head around the complete lack of logic behind it.

The idea seems fantastic. It's difficult to get more grim and grisly than a killer dungeon designed to be near impossible and then to run a whole happy carnival fair around the idea as adventurers, clearly a mix of the desperate, deluded and arrogantly confident, actually volunteer to have a go. It's very far removed from the Old Skool "minimize risk as much as possible" survival maxim and there's something very perverted about the concept - let's all have a disco to celebrate the fact that you probably aren't coming back because you are a blood sacrifice to this town's economic wellbeing. And you're not bothered by that because you think you'll get away with it.

It has such a contempt and lack of respect for human life that it begs to be used in an RPG. Under the skin of what appears to be a flimsy excuse for a funhouse dungeon is something really quite horrible. I described it last week as a snuff version of a fairground sideshow and I think that sums it up quite well. Don't forget, in the 1980s this was a children's book.

So how can we use it without great leaps of logic being required?

Magical Scrying

The obvious idea (touched upon in the comments section last week) is that some form of magical handwavium exists behind the scenes, carrying live feeds out to an audience via a series of hidden Palantir and probably large white sheets or whitewashed walls. Perhaps even a informal straw poll allows the dungeon to be tweaked according to audience wishes ("Who wants Tinderbeard the Dwarf to face the Wall of Spikes?" - cheers and whoops - "Who wants the Headhunter unleashed?" - more cheers and whoops).

The problem with this is that we've essentially released CCTV and Cable television into fantasyland. If the whole setup is unique then it won't last long being used in a provincial town for entertainment purposes when the benefits of owning the planet's sole CCTV and remote scrying system are so blatant that every overlord, good and evil, will be making plans to sack Fang and acquire the magical technology for his own purposes. It just isn't going to stay where it is when something of this potential power is being used for purely trivial purposes.

If it's not unique then the effects of releasing CCTV into fantasyland will be dramatic and everyone in power will have one. Then we'll have to accept a campaign settings with Elves and Dwarfs and Undead and Dungeons and Wizards and Live Television. This isn't a goer.


I did toy with the idea of the dungeon being "open-topped" and covered by grilles. This would then see contestants enter the Trial of Champions underneath the streets of Fang whilst the mob peer down through cast-iron grilles offering advice, encouragement, abuse, body fluids and rubbish. The mob would rush along streets and through cellars following the progress of their favourite.

This is a neat idea but falls over because clearly nothing can now be a surprise to the contestants. Turn up the previous year, watch the event, take notes and be reasonably prepared for next year. Throw this at your PCs and they will be doing everything in their power to sneak into the dungeon before the event and start rigging things and making maps. This won't fly.

Time Limit

Perhaps a time limit is set upon the dungeon. Get through the exit portal before sunset or you will be sealed in forever as a slave of the dungeon operators.

This could work quite well as all crowd watches the adventurers go in then all return at sunset to see Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them? This avoids the problem of the crowd that waits for something to not happen and means the Trial of Champions provides the opening act and possible finale of a day of serious drinking. This would work.


Another idea would be for the crowd to hang around and be informed of what is happening. We could erect a flagpole for each entrant with their own colour-coded flag. This flag is then raised as the adventurer gets past certain areas of the dungeon and removed when they succumb to the hazards. Perhaps each movement of flag is announced with shouting by the town crier ("Tinderbeard the Dwarf has passed the Gate of Flame.", "Thunderthyghs the Amazon has fallen to the Chestrap Beast" etc., etc.)

The crowd will then hang around watching the flags inch up either heading home when the flags are all removed or get excited and rush to the exit as a flag gets closer and closer to the top of it's pole. Perhaps if everyone fails "early doors", the Master of Ceremonies doesn't let on and keeps sneaking the flags upwards just to keep everyone in the right party mood and make them hang around spending money.

Isn't this all a bit poor for spectator sport and surely people won't put up with that?

Well, it's not really that unlikely. In 1892 West Bromwich Albion played Aston Villa in the F.A. Cup final at The Oval. Hundreds of Albion fans spent the afternoon congregating around the telegraph office at Smethwick, their sole means of finding out what had happened meant waiting for the telegram clerk to transpose the morse message coming down the lines shortly after the final whistle. He scribbled down the words "Albion 3 Villa 0" on a telegram sheet (which is still extant) and displayed it to a waiting crowd. (Something similar had probably happened in 1887 at the previous Albion/Villa Cup Final but we lost that one 2-0 so it isn't as famous a result in the Black Country).

If this is how Victorian football supporters followed their teams when playing away from home, I'm sure that fantasyland inhabitants would be happy with similar limited information.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Small Form Factor Warhammers

Played in two, very small form factor versions of Warhammer and 40K over the past week.

First up was 40K at Stourbridge, using the Kill Team mission from the new Battle Missions book. Forces are only 200 points (that's half that of Stourbridge-favourite Combat Patrol) but the game is an individual skirmish game - each model counts as a unit on it's own so there is no need to maintain 2" unit coherency. Leadership tests effectively don't matter until you get to half numbers upon which you have to make an Ld test at the start of each turn or your whole force "bugs out". This is a direct lift from Necromunda/Mordheim but is trickier than the older games in that the test gets 1 harder each turn to avoid high Ld forces from hanging around for ever.

Force-wise, I took only 7 Sternguard Marines from my Crimson Fists army with whom I am still in the throes of a love/hate relationship. I don't have any actual, proper Sternguard figures so they were just normal metal/plastic beakies and modern marines pretending. Sternguard seem the best choice from the Space Marine lists as they can be tooled up in small numbers, being able to take support weapons at any squad size compared to the Tactical Marines who have to field full ten-man squads before being allowed to upgrade bolters to support weapons. Sternguards also have lots of choices of bolter ammo (one that ignores cover, high strength ones etc.) which I totally forgot about from being new to using them.

Anyway, Sternguard Squad Alpina looked like this;

(For obscure reasons, all Marines are named after German motor tuning houses)

All Sternguard have Power Armour, Bolt Pistol, Frag and Krak Grenades

Brother-Sergeant Alpina - Close Combat Weapon
Battle-Brother Irmscher - Flamer
Battle-Brother Schnitzer - Plasma Gun
Battle-Brother Stohr - CombiWeapon (Bolter/Plasma Gun)
Battle-Brother K├Ânig - CombiWeapon (Bolter/Plasma Gun)
Battle-Brother Hartge - Bolter
Battle-Brother Brabus - Bolter

Combi-weapons are essentially the former (Bolter) with a single shot ability of the latter.

You pick three different Universal Special Rules (Feel No Pain, Tankhunter etc.) and assign them to three different models. This is actually a little bit clunky as it means that lots of little chits and markers follow the models around so that you can remember which one has Feel No Pain and which one has Counter-Attack etc.

We put every force on the table at once, Imperium vs Xenos with seven players which probably wasn't the ideal way to play but seemed to work out OK.

What I like about this is that it clearly isn't play-tested since lots of things make it creak around the edges and is impossible to play in tournament style. This is a good thing to my way of thinking.

Second up was Warhammer Border Patrol (PDF link) at Dudley Darklords. This is pretty much "Combat Patrol for Warhammer" with a tiny points allowance (500) and a few regulations to chuck out all the "Herohammer" stuff. This is the format I have been working towards with my Night Goblin army and so I fielded the following force as Turdspurt's Terrors having finished off the last of the painting and basing over the weekend.

The Blue Moon Bugger Boys arrayed for battle. Since this pic was taken I've added another rank of speargobbos so they are now 25 strong.

Turdspurt - 1 Night Goblin Big Boss - Light Armour, Great Weapon
The Blue Moon Bugger Boys - 25 Night Goblins with Shield and Spear, full command
Dogfelcher's Arrer Ladz - 25 Night Goblins with Hand Weapon and Shortbow, full command
Crackfinger's Arrer Ladz - 25 Night Goblins with Hand Weapon and Shortbow, full command
Special Brew Suicide Squad - 6 Ball-and-Chain Fanatics (2 per unit).

That's actually slightly under points as I can take another Night Goblin but the units are maxxed out (BP allows only 25 per unit) so I can't fit it anywhere! At 82 figures this is probably one of the largest forces you can field under BP rules - I have managed to draft up a 101 figure list but that lacks the Special Brew Suicide Squad and probably isn't all that good.

James W. fielded Dark Elves and Scott fielded his Chaos Warriors. Turdspurt's Terrors turned out to be quite vicious at this level, with a 4' x 3' table (the recommended size for this level of game) the battlefield is quite tight which plays into the hands of the massed shortbows (cancelling out their poor range) and fanatics. With the other players fielding quite expensive troops in small units, the cheap Goblins come into their own. While they are poor in combat, their rank bonuses, cheap command and cheap spears (fighting in two ranks) mean that they end up doing OK when the results are worked out so basically Gork is on the side of the big battalions and we have them.

The only game I did poorly in was a flukey one whereby I sent two Fanatics straight through a Chaos Warrior unit to no effect (snake-eyes on the dice for hits, no kills) and in routing the neighbouring Chaos Marauders pursued straight through into my own whirling Fanatic taking seven kills and routing the spearmen that had just won the combat. Still, if you aren't prepared to put up with chaotic random nonsense like this, pick another army. Such as, err... Chaos. Which turns out to be a well disciplined crack force.

We got six games of this (three each) in over an evening with most games taking about 20-25 minutes. Good fun although I suspect I'd have had a harder time of it if I had been facing larger armies of cheaper troops. James also kept forgetting that Dark Elves suffer Hatred of everybody and everything which not only short-changed him but all suggests that by hating the World and everything in it, wearing black eyeliner and claiming to be Otherkin, Dark Elves are actually an army of Emo kids...

The next step with the Goblins is to expand them to 1000 points but it might be worthwhile waiting until July when Warhammer 8th edition is released before doing any serious army planning.