Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Hot Necron Love

So what's with all the love for the Necron concept?

For actual 40K gaming, the Necrons are like the Dark Eldar (aka Fetish Elves) - an interesting germ of a little idea that sadly lacks legs when attempts are made to spin their background out to provide a fully-fleshed out army. There's not enough there to provide an interesting and flexible army and everyone paints them boring silver so as a wargames army they are just dull, dull dull. It's no wonder that GW have sort of forgotten them and not bothered to update their Codex since they were first released.

But for our purposes there's just something fantastically awe-inspiring about the background. It's awful in the old-fashioned, Old Testament pretty damn good way.

Reasons for this

- They are impossibly ancient. Shockingly so. This is a race that waged a war of extermination for which the Old Ones essentially bred every other sentient species in the galaxy from primitive forebears and still hadn't really finished messing with the inoffensive arboreal primate species from a dull blue/green Galactic backwater floating third out from it's parent sun when it all went titsup.

(Next time you read some pulp horror and science fiction, note how often things are not just old, but anciently old and how shocking and disturbing this is for the protagonists. It happens all the time, it's virtually a trope. It could of course just be because most of it is written by Americans - as is often said, a Englishman regards 100 miles as a long distance, an American regards 100 years as a long time.)

Impossibly ancient is good. It puts them on a par with the Antarctic city of the Elder Things and the Australian cities of the Great Race.

- It's not that the Necrons want to NOM NOM NOM you, they are just the ancient race that are going to round you up for their God to NOM NOM NOM you. This is Grimdark.

What's more Grimdark is that their Gods are so ravenously hungry that after they've eaten everything else in the Universe, their all-encompassing hunger for energy sources will probably drive them to starting eating their own feet. There is no logical outcome to the activities of the C'tan other than for them to consume every energy source in creation until only one is left having eaten all the others and only has itself left to consume at which point it starts gnawing on it's toes and the universe probably vanishes through a plughole in the fabric of spacetime.

It's one thing to be Grimdark cattle for a NOM NOM NOM God race, it's quite another when the farmer can't even stop himself from eating the lot in one mighty assault of gluttony and in doing so will ultimately and inevitably destroy himself. That's Grimdark Plus.

- You can shoe-horn it into any background and it will fit like a glove. One day, somebody discovers a Necron tomb, next thing you know metal Space Undead are pouring out of tombs, killing all who resist and rounding the rest of humanity up just to provide one infinitesimal amount of a C'tan's required daily calorific intake because all this unpleasantness was planned back when the PC's ancestors were little rodents hiding under leaves.

Cthulhu? Do-able. D&D? Do-able. WFRP? Do-able and very apt. Star Wars? Do-able. Mouseguard? Perhaps not, unless you envisage an ancient race of mouse-sized anthropomorphic Space Undead just waiting to re-emerge into the long-forgotten sunlight. (They could look like little metal fat, mice with mice skull heads - this actually could work bloody well - where's my copy of RISUS gone?)

It's one of the best Cthulhu backgrounds I've seen that doesn't have a single Cthulhu Mythos element to it.

The 40K rumour mill has it that a new Necron codex is due for release. If that happens the old codexes (codecii?) will start appearing on eBay for pennies. Snap one up. Ignore the rules and the army lists, the background will be heavily inspirational for anyone with a love of all things HPL and Mythos.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Axles and Alloys II Blog

I've started a new blog for the new version of Axles and Alloys (which is tentatively titled Axles and Alloys II - Dork Future but might get subtitled The Axles of Evil instead). It can be found here along with the current playtest rules.

As a result all A&A stuff will end up on there instead of FightingFantasist.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Planet Hypogeum

(The fifth post today - clearly last night's KillItWithFire-strength curry has inspired me to greatness...)

Hypogeum or Hypogaeum (plural hypogea) literally means "underground", from Greek hypo (under) and gaia (earth).[1] It usually refers to an underground, pre-Christian temple or a tomb. -Wikipedia

That will do for a name. It means “underground”, it refers to the planet as Ecumenopolis-Necropolis and it has the cod-classical feel that suits Warhammer 40,000's grimdark.

Welcome to Planet Hypogeum Prime in the Hypogeum star system. When there was still such a thing as the Imperium of Man, Imperial astronomers and cartographers knew it as Star 0-935696-21-0. (A free lollipop to anyone that gets that reference).

Character Classes & Races.

I'm currently toying with just three. The setting is humanocentric so obviously we will allow Fighting Men, Clerics and Magic-Users. I'm thinking that Clerics will generally follow a much degraded and corrupted form of the Emperor as Omnissiah but it's important to remember that nobody on Hypogeum has any inkling of their being life outside of their planet other than in half-forgotten tales of being brought to Hypogeum from “somewhere else” during a great Sky War.

I'm also allowing Elves, but in this setting they are renamed Eldar. 40K has a whole sub-sect of Space Elves, those who turned their back on the increasingly degenerate Eldar civilization pre-fall and went to virgin worlds to become, essentially, Space Amish. If these have ended up on Hypogeum then they fulfill the Elf role.

Eldar PCs are renegades and outcasts from Eldar society, perhaps criminals. Eldar society as a whole is not overly friendly to Humanity, the full-on nasty, spiteful Elf archetype.

I want to add another “weird” race, outside of the usual Elf/Dwarf/Halfling triumvarite. Through a strictly scientific method (random thumbing through the books in the xD&D library) I found out the Fiend Folio entry for the Dakon. Dakons are intelligent, LN-aligned gorillas that speak the Common tongue. I envisage them as “noble savages”, clad in primitive jewellery and with dyed fur and ritual warpaint. They can be Fighting Men or Clerics (as tribal shaman) and while they can't wear armour, they do get a natural AC of 5 and a bare hand attack that does d6 (d10 in the original AD&D but I've downgraded it to match the power curve of the D6-for-all-damage oD&D). I might prohibit them from using human weaponry in which case they will get the +2 to hit from Fiend Folio.

Dakon (as NPC) - AC:5[14], HD:1+1, Attacks:Bare hands (1d6), Move:6, HDE/XP:1/15
Dakons attack at +2. Exceptional individuals may have levels in Fighting Man or Cleric classes.

Creatures of Chaos

The WFRP world has one of the best excuses ever written for nonsensical monsters that don't fit in with any known ecology – The Incursions of Chaos. Put as simply and as briefly as possible, the Warhammer World was once the home of an impossibly advanced, space-faring race which might have been the amphibian “Slann” race, but were certainly the Old Ones that the Necrons warred against. They had great warpgates at the poles of the planet for cosmic travel, after the great cosmic catastrophe they burst open and keep showering the world with warpdust, the solidified form of raw chaos and akin to radioactive fallout. Many weird and impossible beasts either enter the world through these gates or are produced by the mutating effects of warpdust upon the native fauna. So any nonsense in WFRP can be justified with the old “A Wizard Did It” piece of inspired hand-waving, only this time it's “Chaos Did It”.

(Interestingly back when 40K was released, the background was intended to be the far future of the Warhammer World. This extract from WD93's launch special on Rogue Trader proves it.

This seemed to be ignored and/or retconned in later 40K writing but it's such a stonkingly good idea that I've always remained loyal to it. Doubly interesting is the fact that the backstory of the Necrons fits in with this “fantasy future” idea perfectly with the original psychic tsunami of the creation of Slaanesh being the disaster that split open the warp gates on the Warhammer World. With Orcs/Orks, Elves/Eldar and Humans being warrior races created by the Old Ones to war against the Necrons we can see that the Warhammer World simply became Terra of the year 40,000.

Suffice to say this interpretation is “in” for Hypogeum. Neat that this new oD&D world is set in the impossibly far future of the games of WFRP we loved in the past).

Back to Creatures of Chaos. The fact that the entire centre of the world is a bloody big rent in the fabric of time/space letting raw chaos leech out gives me the excuse to use every nonsense Fiend Folio creature and the weird random stuff that Age of Fable's random dungeon and creature creator comes up with.

A Wizard Chaos Did It.


I've never used them in the past, but for me “Lawful” and “Chaotic” are wonderful words redolent of my early experiences in the RPG world. Like “Wandering Monsters”, “Cleric” (I never, ever went over to the 2E aberration “Priest”), “Fighter” (likewise – never “Warrior”) and “Dungeonmaster” these are words that are so tied to D&D in my mind that I can never imagine going without them. (I'm odd like that – in 40K I insist on Imperial Army, not Imperial Guard).

I'm tempted to use an alignment scale of Good-Neutral-Evil to determine an individuals general outlook on a strictly humanocentric scale. Totally outside of this axis is “Chaotic”. This is irrelevant to whichever coloured hat the cowboy is wearing and exists to mark a creature as being strongly tied by nature to the element of Chaos. All Chaos Creatures are Chaotic and so are Eldar – they are flighty and unpredictable and it was a personification of their nature that became the Chaotic power Slaanesh.

And of course because I like the word.

New Year (sort of), New Campaign Setting

I'd like to fire up more OD&D-style gaming this year at Stourbridge, and almost certainly with the Swords and Wizardry White Box version. Everyone liked the rule-lite (by modern standards) oD&D and it's attendant gaming style and I appreciate the better organisation of S&W, along with the fact that it resolves a few things that are really missing from oD&D such as a proper XP system.

After some rumination I came up with the following campaign backdrop.

Our campaign world (still unnamed) is a mostly-human civilization of the usual pre-Industrial Revolution setting. According to myth the people were brought to this planet by their masters, a race of skeletal robots. The people believed they were brought here as servants to the robot masters and to protect them from the wars that were ripping the skies apart but, to their bafflement, no sooner did they arrive then the robots constructed massive tombs under the planet's surface and retreated in their millions to lie down and die within.

Much of the planet's religions and philosophy is trying to make some sense of this and to determine if the masters will return in the future to act as mankind's saviours or not.

Since then the people of Planet Unnamed have fought wars against the Creatures of Chaos that stalk the surface of the planet and this continual state of siege that the people find themselves under has prevent their culture from advancing past a medieval state.

In the past few decades though, tectonic activity has started to unearth the tombs of the ancient masters and reveal that much-derided myth and religion has some element of truth to it. The people are only just starting to discover that robot tombs span the entire planet's crust (a sort of Ecumenopolis Necropolis if you like) and below these tombs - the laws of physics are breaking down completely.

The reality is that the people were never intended to be servants of the robots, nor were under their protection. The planet exists in the Warhammer 40,000 galaxy and is a Necron tomb world. Being on the losing side of a Galaxy-wide war that ended in the bleeding of raw chaos stuff into the universe, the Necrons hid themselves away until the day when the galaxy's "cattle" recovered from this chaotic holocaust and spread across the stars. The people from which our PCs are drawn were just intended to be the first wave of cattle consumed in the Necron's rebirth and conquest.

But something went wrong on this planet. As the universe shuddering and warped under the catastrophe that ended the war between the Necrons and the Old Ones, a tiny cancer of chaos leaked through into the centre of the World. Slowly growing and growing, it is now a mass of roiling chaos stuff and only the decaying crust of the planet holds it back from vomiting forth into space. It's warping effect creates more and more Creatures of Chaos, things that should not be and should not live.

So when are the Space Marines going to turn up and burn the campaign world?

They are not.

The Necrons have won the war. We are at the end of times now when the Gods of the Necrons, the voracious C'tan, have consumed whole star systems and eradicated the young usurper races. Only those areas of the galaxy quarantined off by the Necrons exist untouched, avoided due to their danger but soon the last C'tan will have consumed the other C'tan and the last, edible stars and as an unholy hunger for energy sets in it will start to look at the quarantined worlds and be unable to suppress the ravenous need that consumes it.

Axles and Alloys II - Playtest

DaveO, von Mike and myself play-tested the current state of Axles and Alloys II - Dork Future (although I may change the subtitle to "Axles of Evil") at Stourbridge on Friday night so I suppose that's another entry for the "games played/games run" list for 2010.

It went OK, but I think the increased complexity of the turning rules might suffer from being a bit too much to grasp "first time through" in it's intended role as a convention game. Previously a driver simply picked a so-called "clock face" between 9 o clock and 3 o clock, rotated his car to face this and drove straight forwards for his speed,measured out in inches. These were all written down in secret so that you didn't really know what everyone else was planning until it happened. Once everyone had moved or crashed, all the firing started in a hail of machine-gun bullets, lasers and napalm. Good fun and everybody picks this up by the second or third turn and the game ran itself.

Unfortunately it was so simple that I didn't enjoy playing it myself so now I have an approach that feels like proper driving with the risk of skids for turning above 12" speed and the ability to drift sideways with a large random factor involved. While it's simple when written down in the draft rulebook, I struggled to make it 100% clear with two players while making myself heard over the din of the 30+ people gaming at the Stourbridge club so worry that with games of 8-12 (the usual numbers for the earlier version of the game) it might all fall apart. Perhaps the rules are OK but the logistics of a con game are lacking, so I think I might need to provide play-sheets for every player in future.

We also tried out my racing rules, but that was a bit of farce and needs to go back to the drawing board. I rate vehicles as being of one of three weight classes to cover the range of suitable Matchbox/Hot Wheels toys from light beach buggies and little sports cars (Elise, MX-5 etc.) through saloon and muscle cars up to vans and very large American station wagons. Heavy vehicles are much slower so anyone who picks one to race in will have a poor game. I'm thinking that the speed factors should be modelled on the approach of Super Mario Kart and it's descendants whereby the heavy vehicles accelerate slowly and don't turn as quickly but have a potential top speed far in excess of the lightweight, fast accelerating and turning vehicles.

However I'm reasonably confident that when Friday's suggestions and findings are written up and incorporated into the rules it will be a good beta play-test version and releasable out onto the Internet to see what people think of it.

Novelty Monsters

I've grumbled about novelty monsters in the early issues of White Dwarf but, as is always the case, somebody has already done this before on the web only earlier and better and funnier. So, here are two great posts over on Headinjurytheater. Recommended.


British Army Photographic Competition 2009 Winners

Some very good pics from the Army's various theatres, taken by Armed Forces personnel.


Friday, 22 January 2010

White Dwarf 5

OH NOES! A big, bad company with a Space Opera "property" (itself heavily - ahem -
influenced by similar Space Opera "properties" that have gone before) is flexing it's legal muscles and trying to drive the manufacturers of science-fiction figures and games out of business! Damn them and their attempts to claim generic war-in-space imagery and concepts as purely their own invention! If only there was a young, British company with a punk anti-establishment attitude prepared to stand up against faceless big business and their questionable ethics!

Happily there was. I mean is. I mean was.

I suspect that back in the happy days before George Lucas's neck started to consume his own head, this figure range might have been problematical (actually we are taking advantage of our White Dwarf Time Tunnel here and leaping four months into the exciting future of 1978 to WD7 to grab this advert scan).

On the subject of white metal, I'm also struck by extracts of an advert for Greenwood & Ball describing their large scale diorama kits - "girl prisoner, woman wielding whip" and "evil queen clad in long robe lolls on a fantastic throne" and "standing over a shrieking lady prisoner" and "terrified girl lying at his feet" and "girl prisoner" (a different one this time). That's five kits in the advert and a quote from each advert giving us a S&M-tastic hit rate of 100%. The 70s eh? Makes me wonder if early RPGers were taking some influence from Gor or Eric Stanton (NSFW).

Also around in WD5 - Chivalry and Sorcery appears for review with an unintentionally amusing warning from Mr. Pulsipher.

"People new to the fantasy game genre should not try C&S."

Don Turnbull's column "Monsters Mild and Malign" (like anyone feels remotely threatened by Monsters that are mild...) is a mix of useful stuff and more novelty nonsense like the Goldeater, a floating hand that climbs in backpacks to consume gold (a clear attempt to rail back a Monty Haul campaign), Cyborgs and the Threep, a three-headed humanoid with a Cleric head, Fighter head and Magic-User head. Next issue this column becomes the Fiend Factory and we all know where that ends up.

(There is perhaps potential here for a Fiend Folio Rejects post for the future, cross-referencing the FF and it's publishing date with the MMM/FF columns in WD and seeing what exactly didn't make the cut in order to clear room for obvious heavyweights like the Flumph).

Games Day 1977 was in December and had 1000+ attendees. That seems a lot but then I suppose the hobby of wargaming in general was at something of a high water-mark in the UK in the 1970s so that might explain it. The D&D tournament was so over-subscribed that the first round wasn't even a scenario but a 15 question quiz designed to weed out a whole bunch of the 200+ hopefuls with questions like

What are the Hit Dice of a Hippogriff? 2+1, 2+2, 3, 3+1 or 4
How many types of Potion are listed in the rules? 22, 24, 26, 28 or 30?

Not much fun I guess if you turned up to play and got kicked out after a D&D rules trivia test. Still you could have bid on The Dragon #3 in the auction which reached a claimed World Record price of all of £4!

Big news items hide away in the almost contemptuously-mentioned-in-passing news column. GW are printing the UK edition of D&D (the rare version of the "Holmes" edition with the John Blanche cover and redrawn interior illos by Fangorn) and something called the Monster Manual, Advanced D&D Player's Handbook and Advanced D&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Perhaps the total lack of fanfare associated with this is down to misunderstanding the contents and new direction of the games, WD's news column simply says

"The important parts of Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry (supplements for the old D&D set will be incorporated into the advanced rulebooks..."

Perhaps people just thought this would be a minor revision and an omnibus edition of White Box/Brown Booklets plus the supplements.

Last word has to go to the Monstermark which not only won't die, it also won't print correctly.

Is this correction even correct? I have no idea...

Next issue - Traveller.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Grey Dragon

Dragon, Grey
(statted for Swords and Wizardy White Box)
Armour Class: 2 [17]
Hit Dice: 6-8
Attacks: Bite (1-6)
Special: Breathes void
Move: 12 (24 when flying)
HDE/XP: 8/800, 9/1100, 10/1400

Grey dragons, sometimes known as Void Dragons after their breath weapon are believed to be a rare magical cross-breed of the White and Black dragon species although this may just be pure conjecture. Their breath weapon is conical, 70' long and with a base of 30'. Within this cone, all gas is magically removed, the temperature is close to absolute zero, and the pressure drops to near zero. The remains of any beings killed by the Grey Dragon breath weapon are removed from the surface of the planet and appear out in the frozen depths of interstellar space.

A successful saving throw will indicate half damage as the adventurer successfully evades towards the edge of the cone. Immunity to cold will halve the effects of Grey Dragon breath, quartering on a successful saving throw.

At DM's discretion any pressurised container caught within the breath weapon will break and/or explode and all non-magical flames will be extinguished.

This Was What Axles And Alloys Was All About

Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars converted to post-apocalypse armed transport with guns and ramshackle, scrap iron armour plates.

Going Underground With No Maps

Is it possible to run a dungeon game without a map?

I suppose it ought to be since I've always managed to run above-ground games without maps.

If the party is trekking across woodland on their way from the town of Blasthof to the village of Splashdaun then I've never felt the need to draw a map showing the intervening terrain. I've always been quite happy to know that there is dense pine forests between the two and then introduce an encounter with flavour text such as;

"OK, you've been trekking a few miles through thick pine forest, traversing a series of parallel ridges cut by ice-cold streams. Suddenly ahead of in a small hollow you see the tumbled ruins of a domed stone shrine, collapsed and toppled in on top of itself."

Because I never use figures I don't even feel the need to map the shrine out. If needed (i.e. combat is getting confusing) I'll sketch something off the top of my head.

Mostly this works well because there is realistically only one route for the PCs to take. There is a rough footpath through the woods between Blasthof and Splashdaun and the PCs can either follow this or just get hideously lost and then the sole survivor can stagger back into civilization weeks later having eaten all the others.

If exploration within the forests is the aim of the scenario then I never feel the need to draw a map to scale. I simply might draw out a rough flowchart (akin to a rough sketch map of street plans to tell somebody how to find your house from the nearest motorway exit) and the distances between points are either flexible (as long or as short as needed) or completely glossed over and ignored.

I'd love for this to work underground because then it would remove the chore of intricate and tedious mapping from dungeon creation. I could simply declare an area of the mythic underworld as being "The Warpstone Mines" and dream up a couple of encounter areas. The rest of the PCs travel through this area is glossed over. For example, and as a direct parallel to the forest example above...

"OK, you've been trekking a few miles through rough mine galleries, checking your lodestone to try and keep yourself heading roughly northwards. The galleries appear worked out but the props look sturdy and the area doesn't appear immediately hazardous. Suddenly in a huge excavated space ahead of you you see a line of about a dozen skeletons in tattered miners clothes holding pickaxes. They are standing absolutely still."

There are a couple of problems with this though. They assume that all the underground areas are effectively traversable in all directions and if something does block passage, well that can be skirted around. Imagine the exchange when the players try to bluff their way across The Black Maze of Infinite Hunger by just saying "We keep heading North. Do we see anything interesting?".

This potentially changes the nature of the whole game as regards dungeon-bashing. No longer are the PCs limited to routes and passages they can find, instead the local environment of the dungeon just becomes a backdrop to travels and treks somewhere else. We run the risk of losing the whole claustrophobic feel of the dungeon where the adventurers tread very carefully and the environment is no longer the main hazard and the players are just waiting for the next encounter to be sprung.

We've effectively turned the underground into a version of the wilderness except with a stone roof.

This is why I struggle to do something with a super-loose mapping method that effectively only marks out relative position of encounters and surrounding scenery. One day though, I will crack this problem and come up with a good way of dungeonbashing without bothering with proper maps.

Monday, 18 January 2010

My God It's A Sign!

Why on Earth would it come with that description of Matchbox Cars on a search? It might have done that based upon my browsing history of searching for Axles and Alloys but...

It's a sign. I know it!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

My Bastard Child That Refused To Die

This was me in a previous life...


The surviving ruleset is here but it's essentially the v1.0 and hideously out of date.


Written in an idle five minutes to provide an excuse to go back to the "Dark Future" days and convert Matchbox cars into ramshackle, post-apocalypse "guns and armour plates" cars. A completely throwaway concept and game yet the thing had such legs that it ended up being played all over the World. The Stourbridge club ran it at shows all over the Midlands for a couple of years and it became popular to the point where people turned up to play armed with their own cars that they'd converted up themselves.

Even to this day I notice that forum and blog posts refering to converted Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars still refer to them as "Axles and Alloys" - a name dreamt up by fellow Stourbridge member Dave O. as a gag which immediately stuck. I can't even remember what it was called before that. Maybe something as functional as "Owen's Car Game". Certainly this stupid little game has had the biggest impact of anything I'd ever done gaming-wise and appears to be my gift to gaming geekdom.

A&A was the most high-profile victim of a complete gaming burnout that I suffered from in the early to mid noughties whereby I didn't touch a die, rulebook or paintbrush for about 18 months (and considered selling every gaming item I owned) and during this period I let my website hosting elapse so the only things that really survived were downloaded copies of the rules and other peoples websites and photographs.

In the past 18 months I've painted more figures than I've ever managed before but having painted up two Space Marine armies, in Epic scale for Future War Commander and the other in 40K for, well, 40k actually I'm starting to feel that the Space Marine painting has run it's course and there is nothing left in the tank as regards enthusiasm for it. As I said to Scott H. yesterday at the FLGS, I'm sick of the site of Citadel Enchanted Blue.

So, maybe the time is right to return to the A&A project and perhaps look at a proper v2 release. Maybe.

Mantic Elves

I bought some of the new 28mm Elves from Mantic yesterday and they paint up very, very quickly indeed. Here are the first four signed up to Prince Revlon's Pink Regiment...

Just basecoated silver with pink shields, some details painted on then a single coat of my favourite tinted varnish. I may return to the shields with some waterslide decals once I can find 20+ of the same design that suits - the box I bought is a complete 20-strong regiment.

Size-wise they are closer to GW's Lord of the Rings figures than their Warhammer ones, but the figures are cast with circular disc bases about 2mm thick which pushes into a circular recess on the square base so that they can be rotated to face any direction. If I'd thought about it before painting the first two I might have gone for gluing the figure straight onto a Games Workshop 20mmx20mm base - then the added height given by the double-base would probably bring them into line with all the other 28mm figure lines.

It's an academic point though as these are painted purely for fun as nobody locally plays Warhammer.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

White Dwarf 2 - White Dwarf 4

After all the excitement of WD1, for the D&D player at least WD2 comes as a bit of an anti-climax. In our 24 page issue we get the second part of Fred Hemmings' exploration of funhouse tournament dungeons but that's it for pretty much any mention of D&D until the return of even more bloody A-Level maths homework in the form of part 2 of Don Turnbull's Monstermark.

WD2 through to WD4 cover the rest of 1977. If there's a theme to these issues that hints at how British players seem to be playing the game, I would say it is "funhouse". British D&D'ers seem to be exploring glorified logic puzzles and riddles with a thin veneer of "underground exploring" slapped on top and encountering novelty monster after novelty monster.

Lewis Pulsipher rather gives the game away in his review of the brand new Tunnels and Trolls in WD2 (he isn't much impressed with it) by making the following telling remark.

"T&T is not really a serious game, though this might not bother British D&D players because so few here play D&D in a serious vein."

This is mirrored by the D&D material in these three issues. We get offered The Cloning Room, a room that creates an clone of the PC with opposite alignment which immediately attacks the original, The Clumsy Room which reduces all success chances by 75%, Don Turnbull's "Alice In Dungeonland" level (does this pre-date EGG's more famous version? Turnbull makes no reference to the Greyhawk one at all and goes as far as to suggest that it only suits a "non-Gygax" setting - irony indeed if Turnbull meant it), the Typo Monster (Spells cast in it's vicinity have one letter changed in order to amend the meaning - so that a sleep spell could become a speed spell or a sheep spell or a sleet spell) and the Glitch which simply causes all PCs in it's vicinity to fail all rolls, all the time. Coupled with the Hemmings article I wonder if this is representative of the way the UK game was (Pulsipher might be hinting at this) or conversely was completely unrepresentative but heavily influenced a lot of people who genuinely believed this was how the game was to be played having only these early issues of WD to point them in a supposedly correct direction.

(A lot of this reminds of me more of text adventure games like Zork and Philosopher's Quest than it does of Red Nails or The Mines of Moria. This text adventure thing is something I touched briefly upon before on a post about the Fighting Fantasy RPG).

Anyway, let's elaborate upon the point with scans of the Competitive D&D article from the first four issues of the Dwarf...

(Hooray, it's still the 1970s! Topless female fantasy art is still fashionable!)
Harking back to the Pulshiper T&T review it's also interesting that he finds T&T a pointless game because, essentially, we already have one market leading game for dungeon-based fantasy so why on Earth do we need another?

WD has introduced a brief news column, sparing a few words for each new event that is just over the horizon in the RPG world. Introduced so briefly as to almost suggest an inference that none of this is particularly important are the impending releases of something called Traveller, something called Chivalry and Sorcery, some board game called Cosmic Encounter and that the release date of this new Star Wars film in the UK will be December 26th, a full six months after it's US premiere.

A few first signs of future developments - Fighting Fantasy and it's gargantuan impact upon the UK RPG scene gets foreshadowed as Ian Livingstone gives us some creatures from his own campaign showing the inventiveness that will appear in his gamebooks.

Future GW Art Supremo (or whatever his current title is) John Blanche appears for the first time with a monochrome cover illustration for WD4. According to the date of his signature on the pic, the Master of Blanchitsu appears to have invented Chaos Spiky Bits all the way back in 1971.

Don Turnbull starts a column for reader-contributed monsters that will eventually become the quality publication that is the Fiend Folio - and viewed in light of the RPG scene that gave birth to the contents of Fiend Factory it perhaps explains why the Fiend Folio was so full of either one-use or no-use monsters. In a world of novelty dungeoneering, every monster is a novelty.

Available to the UK reader with a chequebook (or access to postal orders) are City State of the Invincible Overlord (£6.50 - £30 today), Tegel Manor (£3.50 - £16.30 today), imported copies of issue 7 of The Dragon (£1.25 - £5.80 today) - note "The" Dragon, not just "Dragon" - Tunnels and Trolls (£1.75 - £8.15 today), Starship Troopers (£7.95 - £37 today), First Fantasy Campaign (£5.95 - £28 today) - Judge's Guild printing of Arneson's Blackmoor setting - and last, but not least Empire of the Petal Throne is an eye-watering £17.50 (£82 today). No wonder it remained an obscure game. Incidentally the average UK weekly wage in 1977 was £68.70. Coop hereby promises to refrain from grumbling about modern Games Workshop pricing for at least a week or so...

Most optimistic advertising blurb of 1977 goes to J.A.Ball & Co. in their advert for their game 4D...

"It is our belief that 4D will eventually replace chess."


Oh No! Apparently Monstermark had some mathematical errors in it!

Who would have thought that!?

Almost as bad is the shocking realisation that Balrogs were missing from the original Monster Mark articles! Happily, Mr. Turnbull is quickly in to soothe us all with some comforting mathematical equations.

Fortunately, recipient of the communal Old School Renaissance Man-Crush, Mr. Paul Jaquays himself makes an appearance in WD3's letter pages in order to inject some good old-fashioned common sense.

The very first article on painting figures in White Dwarf turns up in WD3, but the origins of the modern "THE GAMES WORKSHOP HOBBY" (they invented everything you know and grew the embryonic Don Featherstone in a test tube) are somewhat humble as the available printing technology and budget doesn't even run to photographs. Eye candy figure porn will have to wait a few years.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was 1977 as described by the Dwarf. Coming up next, I strongly suspect, will be 1978 or at least the first part of it.

Three Double-Edged Artefacts


The Armour of Martyrdom is a set of full plate, apparently of divine origin and with a lore that states that many great martyrs of a Lawful (LN if using AD&D alignments) religion achieved great things and met heroic ends whilst wearing it.

The Armour is +2 plate, but counts as -2 against missiles. Any missile fired at a member of group containing somebody wearing the Armour of Martyrdom has a 50% chance of seeking out the wearer instead.

After each martyrdom the armour has vanished from the sight of man despite attempts to keep it safe. It then reappears, apparently repaired by divine hands, awaiting it's next recipient.


The Sword of Masochist is a +2 sword with a edge that never dulls and, in even the blackest of dark conditions, always seem to find some light to glint off it's blade. It's handle is trimmed with wraps of soft black leather with tiny sharpened spikes protruding. While a thick glove or gauntlet will allow the wielder to swing the blade without being stabbed by the spikes, each time a successful blow is landed the wielder will always take 2 hp of damage as he feels pain in the palm of his sword-hand.


The Spear of Stigmata resembles an ordinary spear, albeit with an intricately carved shaft bearing interlocking and overlapping designs of cruciform shape. The spear counts as a +2 but each day the wielder has the Spear in his possession there is a 1-in-6 chance of discovering, upon waking, that bleeding wounds have appeared in both palms and ankles that resist healing. The wounds themselves cause 2 hp damage and carry a penalty of -2 DEX for the day along with any other penalty that the DM feels fit.

Reroll on the next morning to see if the wounds continue or vanish. The wielder must roll each and every day to see if the Stigmata appears until such time as it is obvious that he or she no longer owns the spear for example it has been lost or passed onto another.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

White Dwarf 1

It's late May 1977. Somewhere in Wordsley, Stourbridge, England the future tyrant of Coop Towers is celebrating his third birthday and two days later, in San Francisco, George Lucas is about to walk past Mann's Chinese Theater fully expecting to see nobody queuing to see the film that has nearly put him into an early grave. Two days after that, the Pistols will celebrate the Golden Jubilee year by releasing God Save The Queen to a full on moral panic.

In the gaming world, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone run a small business from an address in London importing and distributing US hobby games. Originally they were selling hand-crafted boards for traditional games (converted from reject chopping boards acquired cheap on Camden Market) but a letter from a Mr. Ernest Gary Gygax of Wisconsin, USA offering them a review copy of his new game "Dungeons and Dragons" for their 'zine "Owl and Weasel" (it's title celebrating the necessary skill-set of gaming - wisdom and cunning) has sent their business off in another direction which is handy as their woodworker is not impressed with any of this modern rubbish and has left. It does leave them with the slightly odd and ill-fitting name "Games Workshop" though, originally picked to create a image of skilled craftsmen performing their artistry in wood.

(Uncertain of how many copies of this odd game to import, the pair settled it like real gamers and rolled a d6. It came up six, clearly a good omen, so the two wrote back to Mr Gygax and ordered six.)

A few years later, O&W has run it's course so the pair upgrade it to a fully-fledged professional magazine and O&W subscribers become subscribers of their new mag. It's title is chosen for it's deliberate double meaning - it could refer to either a denizen of a fantasy world or a small star that is no longer undergoing fusion, nicely covering the twin bases of fantasy and sci-fi that will underpin the magazine all the way into the next century.

So White Dwarf #1 falls through the letterbox into the long lost world of 1977.

However, Coop is only three years old so suffering from the E-number rush of birthday party jelly and 1970's Butterscotch Angel Delight he simply scribbles all over it in wax crayon, tries to feed it to Gerd, the family's gargantuan boxer dog and then it probably gets flung in the rubbish bin (recycling? what's that?) when Coop's Father arrives home from work in his beige Vauxhall Cavalier and wonders why there is paper pulp all over the living room.

Happily in an alternate dimension, Coop is old enough to sneak into pubs and so eagerly peruses the mag seeing what delights lie within for incorporation into this weird American fantasy game he has started playing.

Let's start with a word from Mr. Deathtrap Dungeon (but he hasn't written that yet)

Secondly, and out of a purely local and provincial interest, Chris Harvey Games (the other importer of US gaming goodness) are operating from Walsall and offering OGRE for £1.85 (approx £8.65 in modern money). According to Google Maps, the address is in a residential street and is therefore probably operating from a back bedroom - 1977 alternate dimension Coop could probably beg usage of the Cavalier and drive over to get his stuff. Assuming it doesn't rust away on the drive over to Walsall.

Metamorphosis Alpha has just been released and by a quirk of article ordering it's the first game ever to be featured in White Dwarf. Ian Livingstone reviews it and identifies it's influences as being Aldiss's Non-Stop, Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky and Harrison's Captive Universe before going on to offer his homebrew supplementary material converted from these sci-fi novels. So M.A. gets the first WD crunchy material as well. Coop can mail order this from those Games Workshop people for £3.40 (approx. £15.90 in 2010 terms) including postage.

A British D&D society is being formed in order to circulate contact details of players. Not being at university (or polytechnic as half of them were then) Coop perhaps should join this to make contact with other players, after all nobody will ever need a computer in the home and email is something for academics and computer operators working mainframes in posh universities so it's not like this computer malarkey will ever prove useful here.

Don Turnbull is attempting to come up with a method of rating the relative effectiveness of creatures to try and create a proto-Encounter Level. Unfortunately his "Monstermark" looks like this-

Jesus H. Christ on his tricycle. And what's with the disclaimer that the calculations might all be bollocks? Do you not have a calculator?

Oh. OK. Perhaps you don't.

I kid you not. This is almost beyond parody, but rest assured this will actually rear it's head with even more comedy value in future issues of the Dwarf.

(I'm not really mocking Turnbull who, as we will see later, pretty much carries the entire UK RPG scene single-handedly upon his shoulders all through-out the late 70s and early 80s with continual article and letter writing and probably much more behind the scenes to boot. Much respect is due.)

Somewhat surprisingly, considering it's a fantasy mag and it's the 1970s, it takes until page 11 before we get any baps out action.

So this rather belligerent young lady takes the historic honour of bearing the first naked ladybumps to be on display in White Dwarf. Grandmother of all who follow her.

Open Box is the main review section (a column that survived for so long under it's original title that it ultimately was only reviewing stuff that GW were releasing...) and covers Sorcerer and AH's Starship Troopers (amusing prescient quote - "...having seen good SF stories butchered by the film industry...").

There's an article on "Competitive D&D" that sheds some light on the strange ways that D&D might have been played somewhere. Possibly. My face goes a bit "sucking on lemon" to read comments like -

"The title, Competitive D&D, is really a contradiction in itself, since it implies the existence of a non-competitive version - a strange game indeed!"

I despair. (And not simply because that's blatantly not even a contradiction since the position taken actually posits that Competitive D&D is a tautology since the term competitive then becomes a redundancy). Competitive D&D is of course, the writers term for what we more commonly recognise as a Tournament scenario. This is the start of a three part article over the next three issues (so soak in the lesson over six months, early WD adopters) and describes a very odd couple of games.

Tournament adventures, in completely funhouse dungeons, designed around a game session that only lasts one hour. I don't think I've ever played in a session of anything that lasted less than an hour unless it was interrupted in some fashion. The scenario "The Fabled Garden of Merlin" is criticised as being too small in that it's very easy to travel through all 12 rooms and return to the surface back through them within the hour. What kind of speed must these games have been played at? I thought the pace of life was supposed to be much slower in those days as well.

I may in a future post return to this series and post the lot - I think it would be historically interesting as the dungeon style, hour time limit and 14-strong PC party is really like nothing I've ever seen in RPGing before.

Lewis Pulsipher crops up with an article which is a bit of a general and loosely structured ramble about D&D but he does say something which I found completely amazing for it's vintage and most definately of interest to the OSR. Let's quote him in full and remember that this is the summer of 1977 - not 1987 or 1997.

This is fascinating and suggests that pretty much from the off, the "Dragonlance/WoD" approach to running games was rife. That puts the cat amongst the pigeons somewhat - The WoD crowd can't accuse the Old School of ignoring plot arcs and the Old School crowd can't accuse the plot-obsession as being the modern Cancer That Is Ruining RPG. Consider this my contribution towards the field of Old School Archaeology for 2010.

Beyond this, someone tells us what is wrong with D&D and his solutions to fix it - poison should not kill automatically but continue to do the creatures base damage per round until a save is made and a comment that six players is too many for a party leading to some players being crowded out of joining in. There's also the bizarre Pervert class for D&D and a few puzzles (as in puzzle book type puzzles, not dungeon puzzles) which seem a strange way to fill space when the magazine itself is only 24 pages including the covers.

If you are still confused, the GW advert informs you that you can send an SAE to them and they will send you their free D&D explanatory leaflet. Whether this is to tell about the game you can buy or an attempt to explain the confusing one just have bought is not made clear...

If you don't already have D&D, the GW boys will sell it you for £6.75 (approx £31.60 - ouch!) and the supplements to try and make sense of it all for £3.40 each, about £15-odd in modern terms.

And that's your lot 1977 alternate dimension Coop. The back page is simply a Fangorn illustration (presumably either nobody felt that the back cover was prime advertising selling space or perhaps it's more likely that by the time we've got to p24 every single potential advertiser in the UK is already advertising on the earlier pages) promising us more of Turnbull's Monstermark (Dear Baby Jesus no!), more Pulsipher, Competitive D&D scoring and something called The Green Planet Trilogy.

Right then, two more months to wait. Since it's the late 70s I suggest you fill your time wife swapping, drink driving, pogoing and gobbing to the latest lo-fi sounds, standing on British Leyland picket lines and indulging in race riots.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Great White Dwarf Time Tunnel Project

You can imagine how childishly excited I was to acquire a PDF scan of White Dwarf 1 over the weekend. I mean to say, imagine the insane glee when that arrived at Coop Towers via devices far too nefarious to go into.

Then imagine the practically orgasmic delight when it was followed by issue 2, issue 3, issue 4 and so on and so forth right the way up to issue 90 with a random scattering of the next twenty or so. That's right a complete run from WD1 to WD90 and a few of the 90s. Sadly not a complete run of the 90s which is the era that I personally hold to be the acme of the Dwarf (before it went badly Pete Tong in the treble figures) but still - a dream come true to be able to read through the early ones. Looking at the covers, I was amazed to realise that at one point I owed a run from the late 40s up to WD140 or so with just one omission.

WD1 is dated June/July 1977. WD90 is neatly enough the 10th anniversary issue of the old magazine from 1987.

How do you go about diving into a collection like that? The only answer really is to it in order and that's when the idea of The Great White Dwarf Time Tunnel Project came to mind.

The issues neatly cover the entire period during which WD covered all forms of D&D. Almost - I have WD90 and then there is a gap to WD93. I happen to know that WD92 had an AD&D scenario called "To Rescue A Paladin" (or similar). This I think is almost certainly the last D&D article published in WD. I can't remember what was in WD91. WD93 is the 40k launch issue so you can probably work out the direction the magazine goes after that.

So I have 99.5% of all the D&D material and of course it goes from 1977 to 1987 nicely covering the period from OD&D with the introduction of AD&D and covering the golden era of the game in the UK. It even predates the launch of AD&D 2nd edition for maximum Old School kudos.

So over the next few months, or however long it takes I will blogging my experiences going through WD in order and reporting all the things of OSR interest as well as anything else that takes my fancy on an issue by issue basis, effectively reporting the news as to what was going on the D&D world at that time. Look for the "WHITE DWARF TIME TUNNEL" tags and lets see where we end up.

We'll start here...

...and end up here

Even More OD&D Weapon Damage

Back when I got into wargaming the riverine battles of the American Civil War, a wargaming friend lent me a book on the history of the ironclad warship. (This may seem entirely unrelated to D&D combat but pat yourself on the back if you recognise the link between the two which is actually a complete co-incidence and something I only remembered when halfway through typing this post).

Something interesting in that book was the experience of ironclad versus ironclad combat in the American Civil War. As wargamers we tend to look at the hard statistics of the weapons and theoretical performance of such and therefore decide that the big heavy guns mounted on the bigger ships were obviously better than the smaller guns on the smaller ships. I mean to say, it's logical isn't it? Bigger shot, heavier impact, longer range. Big guns outshoot little guns. End of. Anything else would be counter-intuitive.

Except that it's wrong. The only advantage the big guns had was range and often they were unable to use that because of the confined battlefields on the American rivers. Their rate of fire was slower than the little guns, and while you might assume that the heavier shot of the big guns compensated for this, in reality that didn't happen. Small guns fired so much faster that, all things remaining equal, they put a greater weight of shot upon the target than the big guns did in the same time-frame. They ranged in quicker and were able to exploit an advantageous position far more efficiently than the big guns did by getting more shots in while the opportunity lasted. Their speed of fire meant that they could locate a new target (or the old one having moved from it's original position) on a fluid battlefield comparatively quickly while the big guns were floundering around finding that their ranging shots were now zeroed in on ships that were no longer there.

Having read it, it seemed so logical that I immediately amended the rule-set I was using (Peter Pig's Hammering Iron II - a great game BTW with lovely resin and white metal 1:600 scale model ships). Had I not read this, I would have been baffled by any rule-set that worked under these findings and probably amended them in order to "be right".

If we view big blades as big guns and small blades as small guns, it's not that much of a stretch to see a clear parallel. Little, handy weapons strike at the target more often than big ones so while the big ones hurt more - the little ones have done enough to compensate. A D&D combat round is 10 seconds. Not simply a case of one d20 roll representing a single swing/stab/hack of a weapon. There is enough time in the round to have a window of time whereby some weapons may be thrust in multiple times and others have to be hefted, balanced, swung and and the momentum compensated for, not to mention the frustration of wanting to swing a Lochaber Axe but finding an idiot colleague in the way and spoiling your hack. And remember, we aren't talking about all hit point losses being spilt blood, but all the close shaves and little nicks and scratches to armour.

Ah, but you say, you are being disingenuous here. All you are doing is concocting a scenario whereby your favoured rule is justified and thereby having the tail wag the dog. The rule comes first and the justification comes second.

Guilty as charged. I am. But I don't care :)

Because if I can justify a rule, even if it's cherry-picking one scenario and deliberately ignoring four others, I'm happy. I have an explanation of why this works and in all honesty I'll accept any justification if justification it is. That actually is a little bit dismissive of my own findings - while I understand the attraction of different weapon dice, the scenario above is plausible enough to my own mind that I can happily run with it and I find I prefer it to all others, other than perhaps the idea of damage die coming from class, not weapon so that Magic-Users with swords do d4, Clerics with swords do d6 and Fighters with swords do d8. I'm still tempted by that one which to be honest isn't very far from my d6-for-all thinking anyway.

Pick your favourite scenario that matches the rules and disregard the rest. I'm sure I've missed a lucrative career as a doom-mongering climate change "scientist" here :)

Coop Actually Reads Three Entire Books!

I managed to do something really rare these days and that is to sit down and read not just one (rare enough), not even just two but actually three whole sci-fi novels. First up was "The Atrocity Archives" by Charles Stross. Stross's name is a little bit more obscure in the RPG world than it should be, after all his contributions to White Dwarf's "Fiend Factory" (later immortalised in the love-it-or-hate-it Field Folio) gave AD&D The Githyanki, the Githerzai, the Slaad and the Death Knight.

The Atrocity Archives is a bit of a mixed bag, so in that way quite close to the Fiend Folio. It details "The Laundry", the offshoot of the Second World War-era SOE department that deals with the Cthuloid menace. This isn't a bad idea but certainly based upon The Atrocity Archives (and the bonus novella "The Concrete Jungle") Stross isn't sure whether to play it for laughs by mocking the idiocy of the office workplace and middle management, whether to play it straight with maximum horror, go for a cult appeal by littering the book with 4chan/Slashdot/geek memes or whether it should be homage to HPL or not. The naming of the main character "Bob Howard" grates as well. Add a couple of continuity errors for good measure (at one point Stross describes a, presumably black, helmeted SAS man's eyes as swivelling everywhere like those of a "chameleon on acid" which would be a neat turn of phrase if he hadn't previously mentioned that the visors they wear are opaque - Stross clearly would have benefited from a critical editor) and it's readable but flawed. His included essay that tries to claim that horror and Cold War spy fiction are one and the same seems to be a stretch too far as well.

Much better to my way of thinking was novel #2, Kurt Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan". The first Vonnegut I'd ever read and this is a delight - a real black humoured shaggy dog story that's difficult to talk about without spoiling. I'll settle by saying that's the sort of book that you read realising that you've missed obvious hints in earlier bits and upon completion of the last page you should immediately return to page 1 and read it again with full knowledge of the denouement. Recommended.

Book #3 goes totally pulp-tastic with Edgar Rice Burrough's "Mastermind of Mars". Not actually a John Carter novel, instead our hero is Ulysses Paxton, enthusiastic American officer in the Great War who is such a dedicated servant of Mars the God that Mars the Planet rescues him after death and dismemberment on the Western Front and propels him into another "Earthman on Alien Sword-and-Sorcery Planet" tale. If you've read any of the ERB "Warlord of Mars" or the parallel "Venus" series you've read this. Lots of weird stuff including surgical brain swaps, flying belts (with "radium motors" natch for that true pulp weird-science feel) and a surprisingly modern-sounding satirical dig at organised religion.

One thing I like about ERB is that this is fantasy without any concept of Tolkien - I love the works of the South African Brummie but sadly he's just too influential on works that came later and nothing seems to escape his shadow. ERB (like Dunsany) is a great glimpse into a world where Middle Earth never happened and bookshop shelves don't groan under the weight of crap American multi-volume fantasy series detailing the exploits of thinly-disguised modern Americans in sub-JRRT worlds.

That was three books in late November and early December. I'll be surprised if I manage another three this year sadly.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Rogue Trader 3:16 Range Map

In an idle lunchtime at work I knocked this up - a range map for 3:16 mashed-up with John Sibbick's cover to the original 40K rulebook - a piece of artwork that blew me away back when I first saw it on the cover of White Dwarf 93.

You can get it here - http://www.mediafire.com/?fjg5n5ngu2m or click the thumbnail for the full size version. It's designed to be used with 28mm Citadel Space Marines or similar to represent the Troopers of 3:16.

OD&D Weapon Damage - Response

Looks like the last post supporting OD&D's use of d6 damage for all weapons seems to have struck a chord and even warranted a mention on the mighty Grognardia (a surprisingly large impact bearing in mind that I don't participate in any of the Old School forums and therefore lack any real promotional outlet for the blog). A few points were raised that are probably best answered in another post.

Two-Handed Weapons
There's a glaring problem with d6-for-all in that it disadvantages the two handed weapon wielder. Why lose the single point of AC bonus for omitting a shield when your weapon will still only have the hurty-squealy potential of the short or broadsword that is accompanied by a shield?

Personally, I'm not too bothered about PCs not taking the two-handed weapon. For a start, they aren't really practical underground. A quick scan through the insanely complete weapons list for Tunnels and Trolls lists a few sizes for two-handed weapons;

Flamberge, Greatsword - 6'
Two-handed Broadsword - 5'
Spontoon - 8'
Bardiche - 9'
Billhook - 11'
Demi-lune - 12'
Partisan - 8'

These are not handy weapons underground. In fact they weren't handy weapons above ground on the mediaeval battleground unless they were wielded by bodies of men drilled to complement each other. Swinging an eleven foot long pole with a spiky bit on the head in the middle of a confused, underground melee in a rough tunnel is just asking for trouble.

Anyway, good luck sheltering under your greatsword or halberd when the arrow traps are going off left, right and centre and acid is dripping from the ceiling. You'll wish you had the shield then. :)

Magic Weapons i.e. Swords
Put simply, only Fighting Men can wield magic weapons. There are a number of reasons for this thusly
1 - The weapon's ego won't tolerate being inexpertly waved around in the general vicinity of the enemy by a weedy academic. They have their pride and need to respect the wielder - which means they won't work properly unless handled by a professional warrior
2 - It's fair to say that when the Gods create magic swords they do not do so with any old length of pig iron. Maximilllian the Magic-User's sword is an old hand-me-down shortsword with most of the rust polished off that Grandfather was forced to accept when he was conscripted into the Great War Against Whatever (before he deserted and went home to Grandmother). Flaybreath the Fighting-Man's sword is a proper job, heavier and with a greater reach and probably beyond Maximillian's skill to use safely - he'd probably lop his own ear off. Maximillian trying to use the sort of pointy length of tempered steel (rolled on the naked thighs of Immortal Vestal Virgins) that Flaybreath dreams of being handed down to him by the Gods on the slopes of their holy mountain would be akin to giving him a Ferrari to go to the shops with when he'd be much better off with a Ford Fiesta. Maximillian should be frightened of any decent-looking sword.
3 - Demons in the sword argue with the demons in the Magic-Users head and start sulking and then don't work. (The DM's hand-waving excuse).

Following the comments on here and Grognardia, I am seriously tempted by the idea of damage, not by weapon, but by class. That's a wee bit similar to the idea in Tunnels and Trolls where Warriors rate their armour as double that of any non-Warrior wearing the same armour because they know how to use it to turn blows.

OD&D Weapon Damage

(Written ages ago when I first played OD&D and recently found in an long-lost text file)

OD&D has all weapons do the same damage. d6.

On the surface of it this appears to lack all sense and is one of the things that seemed to vanish very quickly in the early days of RPGs. By the time I had the Red Box as a Christmas present things had changed - daggers and clubs did d4, hand-axes, maces and short swords did d6, swords d8 and two-handed swords and polearms d10. That always seemed more logical as polearms look more likely to do serious damage than a club does. We don't have the English term "poleaxed" for nothing...

WFRP adopted a similar-ish approach with it's Hand Weapon and Two-Handed Weapon concept, bundling weapons together based upon how many hands it took to wield. Hand Weapons did a base d6, Two-Handed d6+1 with a lesser class of daggers doing d4. Clearly WFRP's designers either didn't see a difference in the lethality of swords against maces or either didn't care or just didn't think it was worthwhile including.

We used d6 for all weapons in Friday's game [the first game of White Box we played - Coop]. Describe your weapon, it does d6. This led to a couple of house-ruled deviations from the printed rules. Magic-Users can only use daggers but since a dagger does the same as a greatsword, we ignored it and our Magic-Users equipped themselves with swords thus solving years of "But Gandalf was a Magic-User! No he wasn't he was a Cleric! Well they can't use swords either!" arguments in one fell swoop. Our Cleric decided to use a Lochaber Axe as well since mechanically it didn't make much difference.

(Actually that's not technically true. A blunt mace or hammer may strike for d6 and our Cleric's Lochaber Axe also strikes for d6 but it makes a difference when it comes to fighting denizens that resist sharp weapons or trying to break open a chest. A Magic-User defending himself will do d6 damage whether he has a little knife or a bastard sword but a knife can be used to try and pick a lock and a sword can't whereas prodding a suspect loose brick with a knife puts you much closer to it when the trap goes off than 5' of steel does. It's therefore important to know the dimensions and type of a PCs weapon but generally anyone can wield anything and it doesn't really matter. It also avoids the nonsense whereby a Magic-User, or Thief in later versions, stands there and dies because he couldn't pick up the fallen Fighting Man's sword because err... the rules forbid it.)

Maybe in the original Chainmail rules nobody cared. A footman was a footman and in a mass wargame set 1 hit = 1 casualty and there just isn't enough granuality possible there to suggest that a Roman gladius might be slightly less lethal than a landsknecht's dopplesword.

But I recently realised something important best phrased as a question.

What's more lethal - being killed by a dagger or being killed by a poleaxe?

To the corpse, it's an academic question.

But a non-lethal wound is worse from the latter than the former? So all the non-lethal blows should be worse from the poleaxe than they are the dagger?

Well not necessarily. Let's remember what D&D combat really represents. Hit Points are not a measure of bodymass and physical resistance to damage, at least not for humanoid characters. Huge beasts I accept will take many bloody wounds, each of which would topple a humanoid before they kark it. Only that last blow is important.

Hit Points instead measure the life expectancy of the characters "under fire". It's best viewed via a wargaming example. A battalion of 500 men of Napoleon's Old Guard will last longer under fire than 500 15-year old conscripts pressganged from French villages and told to stand on the border against the invading Allies. It's not that individual Grognards shrug off wounds better than the conscripts (cannon balls being no great respector of age or rank) but clearly the life expectancy under fire of the unit is greater. The Old Guard will take more volleys and charges than the conscripts will before that fatal blow to unit coherency happens and the battalion dissolves.

Hit Points work in similar fashion. Fredrich the Fifth Level Fighting Man has more Hit Points than Severus the Second Level Fighting Man. Fredrich's life expectancy under fire (which in our terms means melee and being attacked by the environmental hazards of the dungeon) is greater than Severus. He gets to make the dodges and turn little wounds into tiny nicks far longer than Severus. Perhaps the Gods favour Fredrich more for the months and years of adventuring that he has entertained them with.

As we know, only the last, fatal blow is the one that matters. And if it's fatal, it doesn't matter what weapon delivered the blow.

Imagine the Master Assassin facing his target armed with his trademark murdering stiletto. How many times does he need to strike the target before the target dies? In game terms probably only once. After all he's got a reputation to keep up. All but the last of his successful hits see the knife whistle past the target's ear, stab at thin air as the target leaps back, all the while lowering the targets "life expectancy under fire" (which we call Hit Points) but suddenly the target is hit, has nothing left in the tank and the single lethal blow arrives. 0hp.

That is why all weapons should stick to d6 hit points damage.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

40k Combat Patrol

I took the Crimson Fists Space Fascists to an club-night of Combat Patrol at the Stourbridge club last night. Here are the requisite 400 points, resplendent in their shiny gloss varnish with force leader Brother-Chaplain Arkadius to the fore...

(Eagle-eyed viewers will spot "Powered-Armoured Libby" from Hasslefree Miniatures pretending to be a Space Marine Sergeant...)

Combat Patrol is a low-powered format of the game banning with anything with more than 2 Wounds, a 2+ armour save, ordnance, special "named" characters and any vehicle with Front, Side and Rear armour exceeding 33 in total. To my mind, it's closer to the spirit of the game as it was played in the Rogue Trader days with small numbers of troops and not much in the way of superheavymegadeath tanks or demigod characters. It's to be found on page 182 of the 4th edition rulebook, but is missing from 5th edition - you may formulate your own opinion as to why this is and I suspect it will coincide very closely with my own...

My force was 15 marines with a Chaplain although I suspect that having exposed them to a baptism of fire against James' Eldar the 100 point Chaplain isn't point values well spent, and simply taking 20 marines would have been better.

So that's another game to be added to the Canonical List of Coop's Played (and Ran) Games of 2010. Some pics follow - not all are Combat Patrol as there were another couple of games being played (hence the Nurgle Terminators which are not legal for Combat Patrol) and some stuff like the captured Tau hovertank were just in carry boxes.

Phil's excellent Tau Hammerhead "Looted Battlewagon"