Monday, 21 April 2014

Astra Militarum: A Review (Part 2)

It's A Wyvern, So What Would Be The Point?

Let's continue with the run-down on the Codex sections.

Storm Troopers Militarum Tempestus (i.e. Bad Latin Meaning Troopers of Stormy Things: i.e. Storm Troopers) are, aside of hilariously seeing GW on the receiving end of legal threats (from a bigger fish, oh look, they’re reasonable all of a sudden), is the first of the elite choices with new models. So now you can take them in platoons, they are the only types of unit that can take Taurus Primes, they have their own command squad type, and new, snazzy weapons. They can no longer scout or infiltrate, but they do still have deep strike. They can spam a lot of ap 3 lasgun shots (plus a salvo strength 4 special weapon version), and the hellguns can be boosted by the Guard Orders, making them serious trouble for stuff with good armour. Throw in a Biomancy Wielding Primaris, and you have the potential to pick off some seriously weakened Space Marines. They’ve also got some serious discounts from last time, in spite of being better. Yeah. Buy new plastic models!

Wyrdvane Psykers. The Wardian (i.e. Brainlessly Awful) style rename for the Psyker Battle Squad that everybody expected to disappear, but remarkably it remains! However it is a bit rubbish, effectively being a single Lv.1 psyker that has access to the same disciplines as the primaries, and having ablative wounds from enemy shooting and perils of the warp. For 60 points. Plus, the unit’s old abilities (super pie plate and reducing leadership) are gone. They expect you to buy multiple packs of the Sanctioned Psykers set just to get one likely under-whelming psychic power from a 5-10 man squad. The only plus is having transport options. Once again, you suck for buying metal and finecast models.

Next we have Ratlings, who, like Wyrdvanes, didn’t get new models. They’re pretty much what they were in the previous book. Their new rule, shoot sharp and scarper adds a bit of flavour, being able to shoot and then run (like the order). But that’s it. Guess what. Finecast.

Now we have the big fellas. The Ogryns and Bullgryns. New models all, and thus, lots of new juicy things. Both types are Stubborn, Very Bulky, and have Hammer of Wrath. Bullgryns come with two distinct flavours. The close range grenade shooting, moving cover type, and the melee nutters. The moving cover comes from the slab shield, large shields that boost their armour save when in base to base with each other, and cover saves to friend and foe when shooting through them. The melee type have an invulnerable save and a power maul, plus can re-roll hammer of wrath wounds. The Ogryns are seriously tough, and like combined infantry, can use similar sources to ridiculously boost their offensive abilities. If you’re taking the Melee Bullgryns, you would be mad not to stick a Priest in with them.

Fast Attack
Now we’re on to Fast Attack, and once again, the lack of new models is disturbingly telling. There are a lot of nerfs in this section. Some of them necessary, a lot of it is lack of new model syndrome. This brings me on to Rough Riders. They’re still here, contrary to what some expected, but as I sort of anticipated, it’s a larger fuck you to Guard players than if they’d removed them. How bad are they? Well, they cost the same as they did, and most of the options have increased (including an extra point for more squad members). Mogul Kamir, the only real buffer, is completely gone. The hunting lance still boosts initiative, and is still a power weapon, but they remain a one trick pony that is very easy to eliminate. They didn’t even jump up in toughness like they should have done. Once again, you suck for buying finecast and metal.

Sentinels and Armoured Sentinels are next, and again, a similar story. Nothing remarkable, and they’re more or less the same. Armoured Sentinels have dropped in points (but the eagle eyed vets will see this is largely because they’ve lost the previously inclusive extra armour upgrade, which covers 10 of the 15 point reduction). Mercifully, there are again some cost decreases, especially given the fact these guys are basically moving, armoured heavy weapon teams (and teams are cheaper and easier to buff). Nothing appalling like the Rough Riders, but you know the models aren’t new, but at least they’re plastic.

It’s a similar story with the Hellhound Squadron. If anything, it’s a bit worse. Points have been juggled around, so you may end up with your unit being more or less costly than it was in the previous book. For instance there are no Squadron upgrades, so Camo Netting is 15 points for each tank, rather than 20 for the lot. The Hellhound is 5 points cheaper, but the Devil Dog has jumped up 15. Whilst these are tougher than the average Chimera Class tank, it is still pretty scary to consider that the standard, unmodified Hellhound is nearly double the cost of the Wyvern, which can do its job much more effectively, if being a bit more fragile. Still, being Fast Tanks does mean that it can move at cruising speed and fire two weapons at BS, so at least there’s that. But again, they’re not new models.

Finally for Fast Attack, is the Valkyries and Vendettas. Similarly, we have points increases for both (although to be fair, they’re now fully fledged flyers rather than skimmers), and largely point increases for options. Plus, their Grav Chute Insertion rule has been seriously nerfed. It allows deep strike deployment for their embarked unit anywhere along the line of their movement, but the whole unit takes dangerous terrain if it scatters. A reasonable nerf, but Necrons can still do it without. Once again, the models aren’t new. [Although worth noting that you can stick an Augur Array for 25 points onto a vehicle, and any unit Deep Striking within 6” of this doesn’t scatter, so there is a sneaky way around this nerf]

Heavy Support
Okay, now we move on to Heavy Support. It is a mix of good and bad again. The bad, well a few things are gone, although not a lot that would be seriously missed, but the main news is that it’s business as usual. A few nice discounts on the obvious stuff, new things are, largely, obviously better, and everything else is as it was or a little worse. Russes are more or less as they are, but they’ve got a few discounts. Most of the fancy variants are a bit cheaper, and the Lumbering Behemoth rule gives way to the heavy vehicle rule, so Russes can only move 6” but none of their guns ever notice, which is arguably far better than previously. The main news is that these have a boost via the aforementioned Tank Commander (and Pask), but otherwise, options are a bit cheaper (but again, no Squadron discount on camo nets) and the other thing to report is that the Executioner Plasma Cannon (that okay, was a bit OP) has now got Gets Hot, meaning it can easily kill itself even more than if you stuck the Plasma Cannon sponsons on it as well (but at least they’re 10 points cheaper). In general, Russes are as solid as was expected. Expect lots of Pask Punishers.

The Hydra is more or less what was expected, and surprisingly for a new kit, a little disappointing, if anything. It’s a tiny bit cheaper, it’s lost the Jink Denial rule it had, it still doesn’t have interceptor (but the Hydra Autocannons still have Skyfire). In spite of firing at BS, it probably wouldn’t drop a flyer as effectively as Pask in an Executioner or Punisher (albeit for the price of getting that you do get 3 Hydras). If you are going to make use of Hydras, it’s bad news if your opponent doesn’t take any flyers. That will probably also explain why the Wyvern is so sodding good.

The Basilisk is exactly the same as it was, although the alternatives are gone. The Manticore is a tad more expensive, and the Deathstrike costs exactly the same. Although hilariously, the Deathstrike has had the real boosts: it shoots on a 4+ (always on a 6 even if it was –3[it’d be a dead tank, incidentally]), is harder to knock back from shooting and it uses the apocalyptic template, fixed at a 5” radius, rather than random. Mind you, the Manticore is better by nature of Barrage (hence the extra 10 points), but that’s it. These entries are no worse than before, which I suppose is good. What worries me is if they get new models next time…

Finally, we have the Wyvern, which I’ve mentioned earlier, which is why I am mentioning it last. I’m a veteran of GW. I’ve been around for 20 years, and whilst I know GW love to make new models better than old ones, I have never before been so surprised by how ludicrously good a new model is. It’s only major weakness, let’s say, compared to the Hellhound that it is hilariously cheaper than, is that it is open topped. For a mere 15 points, you can buy an enclosed compartment upgrade for it, rendering this weakness away, and it’ll still be 45 points cheaper than the Hellhound, which isn’t twin-linked (so it doesn’t re-roll wounds).  Sure, it has better strength, but it’s much less likely to inflict as many hits. The Hellhound also doesn’t roll to hit, but then, it only fires one of those templates, and the Wyvern fires 4 barrage shots that re-roll to hit, and to wound, so the bonus strength counts for less too. A single Wyvern can potentially annihilate any troop unit on a standard 4 by 4 board by the end of turn one. You have to get a Hellhound into position. The Hellhound costs 60 points more. Add 5 points to that, and that’s another Wyvern.

The only other things worth mentioning are new wargear items. There are, as usual, 6 unique items. A pretty good master crafted power sword, a mask that gives a 4+ inv, it will not die and causes fear, and 3 order/morale boosting items. One in particular that allows Inspired Tactics on any double but 1. Some new vehicle upgrades, one that gives Adamantium Will, and one that explodes when enemies charge the vehicle. These are pretty much the only things that don’t have models for them that are worth note, really. Enjoy the one Codex you have them for.

In Closing
Overall, the Codex is reasonably solid. But it is in many ways a seriously over-powered Codex, and there will be a lot, and I mean a lot, of new Guard players. Whilst largely a lot of veteran Guard Players wont be disappointed, seeing as most of the staples of the army are, surprisingly for GW, more or less as they were. But anyone who built an army around Al’Rahem (Tallarn) or Chenkov (Valhallan) have pretty much nothing to show for it. Space Marines have ways to distinguish their Chapters, but Guard has no such luck on that front (although that’s an older criticism: you suck for not buying Spess Mahreens!).

Guard (or Astra Militarum) were in dire need of a bit of nerfing. Whilst this has become a reality in places, the places where the nerf-hammer fell most heavily were on things guard players didn’t much bother with that also didn’t get new models (like Rough Riders and certain characters such as Harker). What was staple has been made more obvious, or at least discounted, which in the pattern of 6th Ed Codices was already anticipated. Russes are slow, but in most ways better, the orders system is more refined, but as a result significantly boosted. Guard are still a leaf-blower force, and given a turn to unleash ungodly amounts of fire, can, almost without effort, shoot most forces off the table.

If one looks over it, there are some interesting touches, and GW could have certainly gone more overboard on this book. But regardless, if it does anything at all, it asserts the typical GW hegemony of their miniatures, out of the box, and if you buy any, start with the new ones. GW doesn’t make very much effort to encourage conversions, or customisation with this book. Sure there are some options, even some really cool ones that players could use, but it’s tempered with the fact that rules have disappeared just because they couldn’t be bothered to put models for them out there, and are evidently more concerned that some other company could be, than whether their fans will buy GW’s kits to convert their own.

It’s a disturbing possibility for 7th Edition, and even worse for armies that thrive on conversions, such as Orks, but I’m expecting the newer rulesets to give increasingly less opportunities for companies that make add-on bits to GW’s miniatures. So rather than manning up and filling the void themselves, they’ll merely remove the options to compensate. I am genuinely astonished that veterans can still take shotguns, because I was betting against that (and dreading the possibility). It does at least show me that on occasion, I am wrong about the evil empire. Time will tell to what extent I am wrong about them. This latest instalment does have me absolutely DREADING the next Ork Codex release, but the signs aren’t awful, merely disturbing.

A passable effort. 3 stars.

Astra Militarum: A Review (Part 1)

If In The Case of Potential Law Suits, Replace Name With Bad Latin...

No doubt there will be many of these already, but it’s worth delving a bit more.  It is a pretty basic review, in which I will be looking at the changes from the previous book, and largely looking at the rules/army list changes. I couldn’t bring myself to read the fluff. I’m sure it’s somewhere between meh and dogshit, I just can’t be bothered to find out which. After all, it is impossible to check which of GW’s Rogues Gallery wrote it, so I would have to actually read the fluff, and that’s a bit like opening a kinder egg in the hope of finding a live, primed grenade in it.
This will be fairly in-depth, so if you want a one sentence summary of the new book, here it is: buy the new stuff, that’s where most of the effort went.

Immediate Impressions and Army Rules
In fact, this is a good place to start. This isn’t a new concept; a lot of GW Veterans will be familiar with it. It’s pretty simple: unless it’s core, or it’s had a new miniatures release, it bodes rather ill for that unit. Double nerf points if it’s “finecast”, or worse yet, has no model at all (some things are gone entirely: Bastonne, Chenkov, Al’Rahem, Marbo, Penal Legion, Mogul Kamir, Colossi, Griffons and Medusae –  this is likely because in most cases other companies have models for them). It isn’t the whole story, but the only pluses to take from the whole book are a decent amount of points discounts (although some of them border on cheese) and that most units largely remain unchanged, perhaps with the addition of the odd new interesting rule here and there (but that’s pushing it).

Whereas with the new things, they have a lot of huge benefits. Price drops, oodles of new abilities, and typically benefits that are actually useful. A lot of the old stuff still works (Infantry Platoons, Veteran Mech and Russes are better than ever), but it’s hard to avoid that some of the new things are noticeably better than they probably should be, especially for the price. Nothing says this better than the new Wyvern. 65 points each for a chimera class support tank (that can take up to 3 in a battery) that fire 4 twin-linked, mortar shots (strength 4 barrage) with ignore cover and shred (re-rolling wounds). For 65 point points. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So, with that in mind lets start from the top. Naturally, Guard have a Warlord Trait Chart, with some pretty scary abilities on it. D3 units outflanking, preferred enemy against one codex for the warlord’s unit, a larger command range, an extra order etc. The Tank Commander is restricted to one of the first 3, but that wont exactly break any Guard players’ hearts, as the first 3 are probably the best.

The Orders system is considerably improved now (although the cynic in me thinks this was largely because they could flog gamers a set of order cards). The main improvement is removing the confusion around which officers can take which orders, as there are 3 of the 9 orders that are exclusive to obvious “senior officers”, and the rest can be used by any commander, aside of Tank Commanders, who have 3 unique ones they can use. You still need to remember things, but its much more straightforward, especially if you bought the cards (fancy that!). Notable orders include split fire (very, very useful with combined Infanty Platoons), having a whole unit with precision shots (this is ridiculous), being able to shoot, and then run, and so on. This isn’t even mentioning the senior officer exclusives yet. Oh, and did I mention Front Rank Second Rank can be used on Tempestus Scions (i.e. Storm Troopers), who are armed with ap 3 lasguns? Well, it can. Yeah. And its an order that can be issued by any commander.

Let’s have a look at the various sections.

The company command squad is similar to what it was, although it works out a lot cheaper to get the regimental advisors, and the bodyguards are gone completely, save one, the character Nork Deddog, who we will get to later. The Astropath is now a psyker, with unique access to the Telepathy Discipline, and is always Lv.1. The Officer of the Fleet now has to pass a Leadership test each turn to use his ability, but can choose to boost the player’s own reserve rolls, or add a penalty to the opponent’s. Most of their options are considerably cheaper, and this is common for a lot of the options in this Codex.

The Tank Commander is a new HQ, who is ludicrously cheap (30 points, plus whatever Russ you put him in, and must be in a Russ Squadron with at least 1 more Russ, as if you weren’t taking two anyway), and comes with 3 unique orders. One should be called “drive me closer so I can hit them with my sword” because that’s basically what it is (aside of the sword hitting bit), the ability to fire at a different target from the rest of his unit, plus one that allows to shoot and then deploy smoke launchers. He can be upgraded to Pask, who is a rare non-new model that is actually improved with ridiculous new rules (although there is no Tank Commander model, but there is one for Pask. So answers on a postcard there.). Pask’s abilities vary depending on the tank, being twin-linked on most, or have rending with exterminators and punishers, and have a special blind(!) large blast for executioners.

Commissars and Lord Commissars are there, as usual, being reasonably priced, and easy to kit up. Ordinary Commissars aren’t technically HQs, and you can have one for every platoon and company command squad you have in the army, but they are restricted as to what units they can join. Lords are a HQ choice, and both confer stubborn onto their unit, and have a somewhat altered Summary Execution rule (on a D6 roll of a 1 or 2 your opponent picks who he executes) but instead of a re-roll, it grants an auto-pass instead. Commissars are now ridiculously good unit buffers, especially in Ogryn/Bullgryn Squads and combined infantry squads.

Priests, Primaris Psykers and Enginseers are still there, now called Regimental Specialists. They can no longer be a HQ when no others are taken (same for ordinary Commissars), and funnily enough, none of them have new plastic models, and are all finecast or metal. Must be a coincidence. In spite of lack of new models, they have all surprisingly got buffs. Priests are now like they are in the Adepta Soritas Codex, having special combat buffs (he can have Smash, pretty funny if a bit useless) if they pass a leadership test. Primaris Pskyers can be upgraded to level 2, and are reasonably priced, although they have lost nightshroud and chain lightning. They can take Divination too, rather than Telepathy (which the Astropath now has), which can be a bit scary. Enginseers are pretty much an auto-include for mech spam, being able to fix immobilised and weapon destroyed results, as well as giving power of the machine spirit to one tank a turn instead of shooting. Servitors are also cheaper too.

Lastly in HQ, we have Special Characters. I have to say that one area where the Dev Team have been busy doing everything possible to not do anything in particular, it’s this grouping. I’m not entirely heartbroken (I don’t care for SCs myself), but it’s certainly the case that there’s been a ritual slaughter of characters from the previous book. Al’Rahem, Chenkov, Bastonne, Mogul Kamir and Sly Marbo are all gone. The reason is obvious, and you will know it off by heart by the end of this review: you suck for buying metal and finecast models.

Still, there are a few that remain, plus one that they did bother to give a new model. The reason that Yarrick, Creed, Straken and Pask remain are likely mostly to avoid backlash. Removing Yarrick alone would create a storm of hate that even Head Office would actually notice, so, they get rules. Yarrick is still pretty nails. He’s had a points reduction, his power field is now a 4+ invul, Iron Will remains, and the other thing of note is that, like other Commissars, he can only be the Warlord if you have no other HQ choice.

Creed and Kell also remain, although you can’t get Kell now without having Creed First. Kell is pretty much retrofitted to protect Creed from shooting and melee, plus carries a battle standard, and units receiving orders from creed can use his leadership (8, pretty good). Creed is different, rather than better. He costs more, but buying Kell makes them cost the same as they used to. He has two warlord traits (rolled for), and can issue three orders. In all, not bad, but not a new model.

Finally, we have Straken and Deddog. Both are returning, but we have a case in point: Straken doesn’t have a new model, and Deddog does. Straken isn’t awful, actually, he’s pretty good, but Deddog is significantly better than he was. Straken for one thing, costs a lot more. He still has his counter-attack and furious charge bubble ability, but the range is halved. Plus he must issue and accept challenges, but he does now get smash(!), still has an improved statline, and monster hunter as well, for a laugh.

Deddog however, is cheaper by 25 points and twice as good. He loses Furious Charge, but gains Hammer of Wrath, his heroic sacrifice rule has had a bit of a boost (reliable amount of attacks, plus the possibility of a special attack), will automatically stand in the way of any issued challenges, cannot be killed by a Commissar’s summary execution (and even the hilarious rule of Deddog killing a Commissar for killing the officer he’s protecting is gone), and then there’s his thunderous headbutt attack. By sacrificing all his ordinary attacks, he can make one at +3 strength and AP 3 (making this usually the wonderful Instant Death inducing Strength 8). He’s 85 points. Yeah.

Troops and DTs
The Infantry Platoon is as solid as ever, and is more or less unchanged. There are a few discounts here and there, but largely it’s an unchanged formula, save for being able to take one more Special Weapons squad. The combined squad is still there, and is a very valid tactic this edition, considering the buffs you can throw onto it. In addition to front rank second rank, you can bury up to 6 heavy weapon teams (or a lot of specialists) in a mass of infantry, and plop the split fire order onto itself from its own platoon command that subsists in the same morass of men (or hilariously Precision Shots, or Front Rank Second Rank). Throw in a Commissar or Commissar Lord for Stubborn Ld 9 or 10, or add in a Preacher for fearless (and his other boosting powers), a Primaris Psyker with Divination, and you have a blob of death.

Veterans are pretty much the same beast and can, mercifully, still take shotguns. The main story for them is one of ungodly price drops. Their base cost, and most of their doctrines have reduced in cost by quite a bit. At the very least, taking veterans without forward sentries, and/or a Chimera or Taurox is very foolish. They’re a bit of a bargain, and remain the mech spam linchpin they have always been. The somewhat sad story is on the character upgrades front. Bastonne is gone entirely, and Harker has been nerfed to hell and back. Harker no longer makes the unit relentless, he no longer has feel no pain, he no longer gives them infiltrate, stealth and move through cover, oh and he’s exactly the same points cost as he used to be. How dare you buy metal models. Payback is now rending, and he at least does have relentless, but the chance of having placed rending shots isn’t worth all the stuff he’s lost. You can bet if they would have made a new model for him, this guy would have been a bringer of death. As he is, he’s 10 points cheaper than a Wyvern. GW expects you to take the hint.

As far as Dedicated Transports are concerned, there’s a lot of new things. The Chimera is as solid as always, and has actually jumped up in cost (wonder why). Plus there’s the addition of a new transport! The Taurox. Compared to the Chimera, it is at least cheaper, and comes in two flavours: normal Taurox, and Taurox Prime. The Prime is better, but does cost a fair bit more than the Chimera and only services the Militarum Tempestus Squads. Both Tauroxes re-roll dangerous terrain, although only the prime is fast (neither are tanks), and the prime has bigger guns and stuff, which are basically lighter versions of some of the stuff you get in heavy support. The normal Taurox’s one point over the Prime is having 4 fire points over the Prime’s two, but both are weak anyway, and most Guard Veterans will stick to the ubiquitous Chimera, because it still cuts it. Two models (both could be weapon teams) can fire out of its top hatch, it has a fancy lasgun array allowing embarked units to have some lasgun goodness that can split fire at each side. It also allows commanders to issue orders from it, where the Taurox doesn’t. The Taurox is also weaker.

Okay, this is it for Part 1 of the Review. Part 2 will be up shortly.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Grot's Life...

This is an old story I wrote for a 40k Ork writing competition way back. The Ork Speech is a bit awful, and there's lots of in-Ork references (Beakie means Space Marine BTW), but it's fun if you like 40k, gretchin and puns. Enjoy.

A Grot’s Life

“CLUNK! WAZZIB-GURGLE…  BLAP”. The disconcerting sounds were grimly familiar to the onlookers; well, those that dared to be onlookers.  The grot stared exasperatingly at Mek Garbrek; the hunched Ork scratched its head in puzzlement. “Not agen…” murmured Garbrek.  The strange construct had been making those noises for the past few days, and Garbrek had tried just about everything to figure out what was wrong with it.

‘It’ was a strange buggy, one that had a rather oversized gun on it.  Well, the gun wasn’t particularly the oversized bit; that would be the ‘powa generataee fing’.  The grot hadn’t seen anything like it: countless cogs, wires, turny bitz, readout dialz, stuff-exhausts, uvva wires, pistons, batteries and lotz of uvva gubbinz that had some unknown use to the eyes of a lowly rigga.  It was fairly huge, and intricate; most of these intricacies were far more noticeable when the hatch at the side was open, and it was.  In fact, Garbrek had already motioned to some of the riggas to enter the hatch.  He didn’t need to speak; the riggas knew the drill by now.

They approached with caution, brooding with the dread that clearly marked their faces.  They slowly plunged into the darkness of the hatch, and started fiddling with wurky bitz that only they could see.  “CLUNK…” the machine began again: “WAZZIB-GURGLE…  WURRRRR-zittttt…” 

It was then that the three grots came running out of the opening in the back, yelling one of the words no grot rigga ever wants to hear:  “WAZZAMAMMA!!!” they shrieked in unison, as if they were being chased by the biggest squig in the universe.

The explosion that followed was deafening. 

The fault, whatever it was, allowed the powa generataee fing to successfully deconstruct the entire machine in a matter of seconds into constituent debris that dispersed wildly in a storm of metal bitz and unpleasant flamey-lightening stuff.  Several scraps flew past the grot, making their own crashing noises behind him.  He sneaked a glance around at Garbrek, who hadn’t even flinched.

This fact supports a common theorem that distinguishes a good Ork Mek from the rest, that when their inventions malfunction and explode, they survive.  That’s pretty much it.  This also determines a good rigga.

The grot looked around to see what remained of the three fleeing grots, and all that presented itself was a scorched grot sticking out of one of the far walls with an unsurprisingly shocked expression on its face.  It was fairly clear that Fikkit wouldn’t be needing his share of the fungus slop tonight.

Garbrek looked around at the Grot: “Yoo!  Wassitnaym…”
“Sputnik.” the grot muttered.
“Yerh, Sputnik…” Garbrek counter-muttered.  “Git yazelf ta da Boss, tell im iz Bike az ‘ad sum…  err… komplicashunz…”

Sputnik nodded, and turned to exit the mekshop.  “BUT!” roared Garbrek, “Dunt tayk all day abowt it, ya uzelezz runt!”  Sputnik didn’t look back, he merely ran off as quickly as possible.

This was of course, an age-old Gretchin ploy.  His run out of the shop, which an experienced Grot would make in the correct direction of their errand, was a mere trick used to fool the Ork.  Gretchin ploys were numerous, and older than the Runtherders who assumed such things did not exist; or at least didn’t mention that they did, for no particularly explored reason.

“Sprokkit savez da day agen!” Sputnik sniggered to himself.  He ran around the nearest corner, and peeked back around it.  Gretchin have excellent eyesight, so they tend to put distance between them and the smarter Orks to avoid being seen (which is of course, another clever ploy).  He looked into the Mekshop and could clearly see Garbrek angrily pointing at his runts to collect the pieces of shrapnel so that he could start again.

Sputnik smiled to himself.  He knew he didn’t need to run his errand.  Unlike Garbrek, he had some sense.  Warboss Gorgrim was not deaf; he would have heard the explosion, and with Orks being Orks, observant to immediacies, he would have known minutes ago, and he would already be on his way.  Garbrek would have enough on his plate to even consider him.  It was time for a well-deserved break, the moment every grot waited for, and any grot with half his wits could create on a constant basis.

Building to a crescendo were the loud multitudes of stomping belonging to Boss Gorgrim and his band of Nobz.  He could see them now, heading down the wide roadway of the Town, heading to the turning he was standing at.  Sputnik already knew that the warboss and his attendants would be turning east of his position into the mekshop.  Gorgrim did not look very happy.  Sputnik smiled, the more outraged he was, the longer Sputnik had to loaf around.  If Gorgrim looked non-too-happy, his Nobz looked patently furious, although they always did.  They were rougher than a cave squig on a forced diet.  They always looked hunched as if about to begin a running headbutt, and they constantly snarled at anyone or anything that dared make eye contact.  The closer they got, the more that Sputnik (wisely) backed off into the shadows.

Sure enough, they turned east, and they had barely done that before Gorgrim roared:  “GAAARRRBREKKK!!” the mere sound of it made Garbrek drop his tools and look on in fear, as pretty much every other Ork nearby was trying not to do, as Gorgrim hated being stared at.  One Ork foolishly failed to look away, but with barely a gesture from Gorgrim, one of his Nobz’ choppas found itself imbedded in its skull, and the Ork dropped like a sack of squigs with no legs; if the Ork was dead, it aught to be relieved.  Well it was, of duty.

As much as Sputnik longed to hear Garbrek’s excuses, and enjoy watching him get pummelled, he had better ideas.  Sputnik trotted off to the Bloated Squig, meeting place of Grots, when the Orks weren’t looking…


Garbrek coughed and spluttered as he tried to shake off the aches and pains that had presented themselves like a falling Squiggoth.  “Dere, dere, Garbrek…” Boss Gorgrim muttered at him croakily: “Yoo wer lucky!  My Ladz cud ‘ave uz’d da uvva side uv de’r choppaz!”  The warboss appeared amused, this lightened Garbrek’s spirits, but he made a good effort to hide it, which wasn’t difficult; his imagination was pretty fertile with ideas about what would happen to him if the boss was still angry.  Garbrek was however curious as to whether the Boss would be relieved if he knew that Garbrek had turned his bike into a buggy before he blew it up.
“Sorree Boss” Garbrek whimpered “Itz jus’ not easee ta find gud runtz deze dayz!”
Gorgrim glared at him angrily: “Zo, yer runtz ar’ at fawlt eh?  Well yer dunt need em den, duz ya?  Fix it yerself!”  Gorgrim turned and looked at his Nobz: “Ladz, get all ‘iz runtz, an’ bring em ta me.  Growla wont be ‘ungry tunite…”


Sputnik wandered into the Bloated Squig.  The door was a hinged barrel that was filled with rotten old fungus brew.  The brew was so solid it had fused into the wall.  It had taken several grots weeks to pick axe to the wooden crate’s edge.  The doorkeeper as always wore a peg on its nose, and expected the password, which was Frig, a mild Gretchin curse word, usually used shortly before the grot suffered a lot of pain, death or both.

Sputnik glanced around.  The makeshift bar was a pretty impressive sight considering the Orks knew nothing about it.  The bar counter was made from smuggled bits and bobs; the bit that always stuck out most was the various remaining parts of the armour of Shabskul, which made up most of the front panel.  The Grots had acquired it easily, as no one wanted the flattened armour of the last warboss, especially as Gorgrim’s personal battlewagon’s deffrolla had probably placed it in such a state.  No Ork would want it anyway; it was technically still being used; the grot regulars had already grown used to the stench.

As all gretchin were obliged to do by custom, he stopped by the Sprokkit Idol, and nodded at it, before heading to the bar.  Sputnik was fond of their Idol, it was of course not of Sprokkit (although he’d never seen Sprokkit so he didn’t know if it was a good likeness), but it was a small, snot-sized statue.  It always perplexed him that Sprokkit, a legendarily smart grot, would have such a painfully bad expression on its face.  Of course, no snot ever looked that happy when it was dipped in quick setting mud.

Sputnik however was just like any other Grot in just about any Ork world since the Waaaghs of the Arch Arsonists and Ghazkhull.  In gretchin circles, Sprokkit was a legendary name.  It was the legendary name of a legendary grot, incidentally called Sprokkit.  Sprokkit is credited with the first and only verbal book (well, book of any kind) of the Gretchin.  It is simply entitled ‘Sprokkitz Ployz’, and concerns the various tricks of the trade that Gretchin know inherently.

Most Grots can recite the first 3 chapters; some can even stretch to the last one.  The ‘Ployz’ book does however have its own natural selection issues.  As it is verbally passed on from grot to grot, you can never be sure it’s accurate, or that the grot has told you it very well, meaning that some grots suffer for using the ‘Ploy’ incorrectly.  The most popular ploy in the book concerns the issue of ‘How ta get stuff from da big guyz’.  It is of course, unerringly simple.  Sprokkit suggests: ‘A sympul methud, ta fool da big guyz, iz ta tell ‘em yoo’r on a job fer annuva big guy.’  The application of the ‘Foolz Errand’ is so commonplace that Orks are so completely fooled into thinking that Grots are mostly busy doing important jobs, and not slacking off, which is clearly not true, or Sprokkit would not be such a huge ‘Best Teller’.

Sputnik contemplated Sprokkit’s strange status as object of interest to all Gretchin everywhere.  Every Grot in his town knew him intimately, yet none of them had met him.  He was surprisingly wise for a Grot, most Grots were smart, but not that smart.  Sputnik’s attention switched to the mild concern on the faces of other Grots around him.  Had he been standing there that long?  He quickly turned around, bore a face of mild perplexity and made his way to the bar.
“Fung Brew wid a stikk” muttered Sputnik “In a cleen glazz.”
“Fungus iz off” counter muttered the bargrot.
“What?  It’z Fungus, it can’t go off coz it iz alredee!” Sputnik snapped.
“Yeh, yoo smell it tho,” replied the bargrot “an’ yoo wunt drink it naytha”
“Wat you got, not…”
“Yerh, juz’ Squigade”
The bargrot shoved an Ork shoota glass (which is about a pint to a Grot) into a bubbling vat of greeny yellow liquid and dumped it on the bar next to Sputnik.
“Ya shud cut bak Sputz.  Yoo’r not seemin’ yerzelf deze dayz.” The barkeep seemed genuinely concerned.  “Yoo’z pawzin’ at dat Idol too much, Sprokkitz Law sez ya shud cut down!”

Of course, the 4th chapter of Sprokkitz Ployz was the bit every Grot was quick to not bother remembering, and that was because it underlined Sprokkitz Law.  Sprokkitz Law, as Sprokkit explains: “my law meanz dat yoo gitz shud onlee uze dez Ployz wen ya need to.  If ya uze ‘em too oftin, da big guyz mite notiz, an yoo mite even forgetz how ta tell da truff fer wunce.” 

Most loyal followers of Sprokkit were convinced that there was wisdom in what he said, and those Grots were usually the ones with a stronger sense of duty.  Sputnik tended to sniff at them; he felt they weren’t using Sprokkit’s wisdom for what it was for.  One day, he was convinced that it would save his life.

Sputnik stared at himself in the reflection on the top of the thinly slimy Squigade he held in his left hand.  Sputnik’s features were unnaturally sharp for a Grot, his nose in particular was oddly crooked and sharp, and his eyes were small and piercing.  He was however still quite young (even for a Rigga), although the trademark Rigga frown lines (known as ‘Riggin Rutz’ by most Grots), had started to present themselves, as well as the unnaturally pallid skin from working in cramped and dark conditions had begun to break out in small blotches on his skin.  Sputnik in particular disliked his goggle marks, an eternal reminder of how much time he tended to spend welding plates and rivets into place.

Sputnik had quite a stocky build, for a Grot. He retained the ability to flex a bit of muscle, built from heavy lifting and heavy slacking.  Sputnik was the kind of Grot who always managed to avoid total drudgery, thanks to Sprokkit, and as he casually dunked back his second repulsive Squigade, he contemplated on when he could be bothered to go back to work; ‘One more drink Sputnik’ he thought to himself.


Nabskul dived behind an old and rusty wheel in the alley of the Bloated Squig.  His little heart was beating heavily, and he was panting like a racing squig after a 10-lap race where it hadn’t stopped to eat one of the other competitors.  He had just ran for his life; he never thought Gorgrim’s Nobz could run that fast.
“Frig!” he cursed breathlessly.  It sounded as if he had swallowed a rippa squig as he said it.

The door in the barrel opened.

It was then that Nabskul came to his senses and remembered why he was there.  He fluttered through the door and it closed behind him.  He fell to his knees and clambered on all fours to the bar.  The bargrot and other Grots rubbed their eyes, as if there was something in the Squigade that was making this day seem too different.
“Sputnik!” Nabskul struggled out a cry.
“Wassup Nabskul,” replied Sputnik coldly, “Yoo nik’d Garbrek’s spottin’ goggulz agen?”
“Nuh!” Nabskul muttered, “Gorgrim’s Nobz arr afta uz!”
“Wat?” Sputnik yelled, dropping his Squigade onto the bar floor.
“We’z getting’ da blaym fer ‘iz bike blowin’ up, we’z all gunna be fed ta Growla!  We gotta get outta ‘ere!”
“Dey’ll not find uz ‘ere, stop panikkin!”
Nabskul looked around the bar.  The faces on the Grots, particular the bargrot, made it clear that Sputnik’s last sentence was not popular opinion.
“Sputnik,” the bargrot uttered coldly, “If ya dun’t leev in a few secundz, we’ll frow ya owt!”
“Huh?” replied Sputnik, “But if dey find uz…”
“If dey find ya ‘ere we all get ta tawk ta Growla!” the bargrot folded his arms.
Sputnik looked around for any sign of support, but he knew it would be selfish to doom the Bloated Squig.  He got up without saying a word, and dragged a hapless Nabskul with him.

“Wat we gunna do Sputnik?” once Nabskul had got his breath back.
“Well, accordin’ ta Sprokkit, da wun playze dey wunt look fer ya, iz da playze dey expekt ya ta be!” Sputnik claimed optimistically.
“But ‘ow we gunna get dere?”


Mek Garbrek had been working furiously, and was almost finished.  It was a masterpiece.  He had spent every second since Gorgrim left working on it; every idea, design, piece of unknown gubbinz fer a rainy day, and ounce of his own photosynthetic sweat had gone into it.  He turned the final nut a few notches tighter for luck.  He nodded to the Nob staring at him, who apparently had been there waiting to see if his runts returned, but he had a feeling that the Nob was simply there to make sure he didn’t do a runner.

He stood back and gaped silently at it.  Had the Orkiod Species known the phrase ‘Decked out with all the Bells ‘n Whistles’ it would have been on the tip of Garbrek’s tongue.  It was a masterpiece, glinting bright red, with Zzap Guns, Rokkit Launchas, Ejecta Seats (whatever those were), Deffkopta conversion capabilities, jet skis, airstrike missiles, bomms, cruise control, powered deff-rays, a Deffrolla, lots of Rivits, and even more stuff, some that even Garbrek hadn’t begun to consider what they were for.

Surely, surely, Gorgrim would be overjoyed and Garbrek would finally be his Big Mek…


“I can’t beleev we’r doin’ diz…” muttered Nabskul “Shurelee der’z a betta way…”
“Do yoo fink aneewun will ask wat we doin lik diz?” replied Sputnik confidently
“I dunt fink dey’ll cum neer ta ask noffin’!” snapped Nabskul
“Egzactlee.” Sputnik smiled, trying not to wince.
“Lukky yoo found da pegz…” brightened Nabskul, still tearful with the stench.

Sputnik smiled to himself, nobody would be looking for Riggas pushing the Dumpkart.  It was a lucky thing really, the last two Dumpkart pushaz had lost their job, which was common for the post, especially when you didn’t move and smelt worse than the kart.

The pair dragged the Kart towards Garbrek’s hut.  The Orks around surprisingly made themselves scarce.  There’s something about true stench that can even make a Goff break into tears, hence why they make the runts deal with it.  It was of course a hazardous job, as most gretchin jobs were, but an Ork could normally survive being bitten in half by a Squig hanging out in the dump pits.

“…but we iz goin da wrong way Sputz”
“Dunt worree, if anywun askz, jus’ say we’z pickin’ up sum uv Garbrek’z notez!”

The Mekshop was in sight, and good grief.  It appears that Orks CAN do the manual labour when sufficiently motivated.  Sputnik smothered a snigger.  It looked quite amazing, and this time it was still a bike, quite a big bike, but a bike nonetheless.  The two grots looked around cautiously, before leaving the Kart and sprinting for the Mekshop’s side entrance.

Peering through the doorway, Garbrek was all alone, standing around, gleaming with pride, next to the bike.  He was looking eagerly for the arrival of the boss.
Weur do we hidez?” whispered Nabskul.
Weur else?  In da Bike!
 Slowly at first, and then with a desperate rush, they jumped into a small crevice next to a big pedal thing, which Nabskul decided to sit on.

Sure enough, the boss arrived.

“Arh, good, Garbrek.  Diz iz jus’ da fing!” the Boss briefly grinned.
Garbrek nodded.  “If ya’ll purmit me boss, ya’ll zee dere’z a lot uv stuff…”
At the other side of the bike, the two Grots sat uneasily.
“We shud reallee move Sputz,” Nabskul muttered urgently; “Ee’ll be takin’ it un a test drayve or summit!”
Sputnik hesitated.  The nobz were standing around the bike, and getting out now might prove problematic.
“…an diz pedal un diz side letz ya go forwa’d da uvva makez ya go backwa’d.  An yer jus’ press diz button to start da engine, an den…  Waat??”

The Bike shot backwards.


Crashing straight through the back of the mekshop, the Bike flew at breakneck speeds into the distant desert.


The two grots hung on for grim death, trying not to look at the perplexed Ork faces they had left behind.

The roof of the mekshop buckled and collapsed.  Out of the roof stood a silent, but noticeable angry Warboss Gorgrim.



Sputnik slowly clambered to the top of the driver’s seat and looked perplexingly at all the many red buttons that lay before him.  There were more than he thought possible for a Bike; there were more than he thought possible for a Battlewagon in all honesty.

“Wat wun did da Mek say wuz da stop buttun?”
“Da red wun!” shouted Nabskul “Hang on, I’ll cum up.”
“No, wait dere ya git!  Umm, oh frig…”

The rumbling in the distance Sputnik saw a fairly unpleasant sight, a moving wall of Red, broken up with the occasional angry speck of green.  It was Gorgrim and as much of his speed freaking hoard that he could muster in a minutes notice, which was quite a lot as it turned out.

Gorgrim didn’t look too pleased.

“Umm, err…” Sputnik stuttered “D-DON’T M-M-MOVE NABZ!!”
“Why, yoo found da stop buttun?”  Nabskul shouted.
“Nut egsaktlee…”
“Chayng uv plan Nabz,” Sputnik roared, “We gotta keep movin’…”
“If we dunt we’r ded.”

Gorgrim was closing.  He was driving his kustomized Battlewagon like he was possessed by the angry Gork himself.  His Deffrolla was bigger than about ten of the Trukks that ran alongside his battlewagon.  Each spike was probably bigger than an Ork, and it was quite a surprise that you could see anything else.  It was quite clear that if they stopped or even slowed, Sputnik would find himself in want of a better place to be at the precise moment that the Deffrolla caught up.

It was at this point that Gorgrim yelled out in rage, and his pack of Bikers broke out of the din of vehicles and closed ground with disgusting precision and speed.  The dakka had already started to rumble out and mercilessly rush towards their position.

So Sputnik started pressing buttons.

Out of nowhere it seemed, the Buggy produced two large guns that started spinning and unloaded horrendously loud volleys of large bullets.


The bikes exploded left, right and centre, throwing Orks about like Snots in a Squig barrel; Orks that probably now wished they’d stayed behind and complained about engine trouble.
Gorgrim was no longer noticeable in the distinctly closer red blur of his battlewagon.  His face was red with rage, so that was understandable.  He was however grinning, because he, and every other freak that was nearby had pressed the red button on the strange stick to the left of the wheel that none of them ever bothered with.  They were now moving faster than one of Mork’s jokes that Gork never laughed at.

Sputnik looked up, screeching franticly as blurs became quicker and vastly growing blurs.  He frantically kept on mashing buttons.  Behind him, he was vaguely aware of the subtle whirring and humming that was going behind him.  Nabskul looked up and saw the flashing lights that were coming from the spinning pointing things that stuck out like a Scorpsquig’s nasty and oddly venomous tail.


A constant and strong ray of intense energy flashed and shot forward, followed by the launching of countless rokkits into the air which arched back to the ground and pulled up, all flowing in the direction of the red wall of vehicles.

Gorgrim had probably seen the flash, but a few seconds later it didn’t matter whether he had or not.  His battlewagon blew apart in a heap of shrapnel, sending his Deffrolla thundering to the right, rolling over all the Trukks and Battlewagons like it was a hot knife through ‘I can’t believe it’s not Beakie’.

The ray continued, disintegrating anything that got in the way, until Orktown became Orktowns.

Then the missiles arrived, blowing the remaining stuff to smithereens.  Sputnik breathed a sigh of relief.  When the smoke rose, all that lay was shrapnel and groaning Orks, and the distant sight of a Deffrolla, running along happily.  The Ork in the Bike ahead of it didn’t look happy, especially as his steering had locked.

“Okay Sputz, can wee stop now?”
“We’z gonna hit wid da Blakk Forest!  An’ not at Walkin speed!”

Less than a minute later, the Bike disappeared into the trees and then a thunderous explosion roared across the whole valley.


In the remnants of Orktown, Mek Garbrek stood shocked at the devastation.  The Zzap blast had missed him by less than a Squig’s foot and lit his cigar.  Two Orks ran into what remained of the Mekshop.
“Wat we gunna do Garbrek?” shouted the first Ork
“Da Bozz is gon, we need moar vehculz!” shouted the second.
“Dat’z Big Mek Garbrek!” he smiled.  “Why dunt ya start by payin me sumfink, startin maybee wid da Bozz’s old plaze…”


When Sputnik came to, he was lying in a bed.  The pain jolted through his system, and hit him like a metal Squig.  He looked to his left and there was Nabskul.
“Yoo’r finallee awayk!”
“Nabz, yoo’r still not ded!”
“Yeh, I wuz flung cleer.  Yoo’r lukkin betta now dat yer not blue…”
“Weur arr we?”
“Allow me ta ansa dat…” uttered a snot’s voice.  “I’m da Mayur uv Sproktown, yoo’r in da Blakk Forest!”
“Huh?” Sputnik and Nabskul replied in unison
“Lissen, arr any uv yoo two Sprokkit?”
“Nuh?” they both replied perplexedly.
“Aw.  He’z been gown a ‘undred yearz an he sed ‘ee wuz onlee poppin to da shopz…”


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Factionism: Wargaming Bread and Butter or Burnt Toast?

There isn't enough vomit in the world...

The intention is to hopefully avoid the next 3 or so articles descending into GW bashes, but I can't make any promises. It just so happens that the 3 things I'd like to talk about over the course of these few days (week, month or however long) are examples of how not to needlessly damage the appeal of a wargame, and GW just so happen to be a fantastic example of how this can go disastrously wrong. Especially since the really bad writers of the GW Dev Team got on board (Ward and Cruddace particularly), GW are hitting meme-tastic levels of awfulness.

This particular one has a few aspects, so it's worth discussing these before moving onto the examples. Wargames revolve (obviously) around conflict. Conflict on such a scale requires two or more factions who cannot at that point possibly resolve their issues through any other means, in order to sustain the concept. You could play one off battles, the Historical bunch sometimes do, but nothing beats a setting where a large amount of conflict, if not infinite, takes place. In such circumstances, it is a given that the factions involved will have their differences. Perhaps they fight in different ways, perhaps the nature of each is in flux. One thing is certain: most Wargames play up the differences for all they're worth.

To an extent, that is expected. Most people are glued to the allure of stereotypes, clichés, and abstractions. Often, general attitudes are attributed to factions, rather than particular details, which may be mentioned as fluff. This is pretty much the only sane way to do it, because adding in additional detail to something that largely needs to be visceral is often counter-productive. Thus most fantasy/sci-fi wargames have factions that inhibit a particular aspect of personality/ethos/attitude and usually particular preferences to wargear. This is usually a good thing, because people can enjoy the different experiences, and can feel the difference when playing different factions.

Done badly however, this concept can easily become more or less the point of the game. Whilst most players will want a particular faction to be "their" faction for playing the game, the motivations often revolve around sales of new miniatures, or emphasis on new gimmicks, encouraging trends or fads, and generally getting people to feel empowered or inadequate. This seems to be a potent business model if anything else, but is it?

I'd argue that it actually isn't.

In the short run, perhaps this encourages the well-known pack instincts, brutal indifference and arrogant pride of gamers, but it really just breeds a culture of insecurity. Games Workshop, for instance, consider themselves "sellers of miniatures" and try to underplay the importance of the horribly shit rules that accompany them as secondary, and this does show incredibly well. They seem to have no idea how to make an actual wargame these days. They bring out a core system, which they proceed to completely undermine with Codex releases. Encouraging shifting faction combinations, only acerbated by the blatant and overly emphasised inclusion of allies. 40k in particular is a case in point. How much thought went into the allies system? Well, Ward invariably made sure all of his Codexes were more or less allies of convenience. The rest he took from the WHFB allies system, which itself was likely largely nabbed from some Grand Tournament material.

Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy Battle have both gone from games with extreme faction isolation (even within groups that should really be fighting together) to a clunky, exploitable and largely pointless system of faction interbreeding, overcomplicated by the inconsistent, badly written, and completely imbalanced Codexes. With the new Rulebook, there was potential to standardise a large portion of the rules, and take things such as special rules, weapons, and alliances into a consistent and thoughtful framework. It would be generous of me to say that this was attempted. To be more accurate would be to say a small portion of this might have been realised, very likely by accident.

That is not to say that Warmachine and Hordes are much better for this, although they do try to address the differences in factions with much greater attention than GW even bothers with. Warmahordes are far more loyal to their core ruleset, and more consistent towards it, aside of the GW-like anti-upping, and faction difference that is equally inevitable. Some rules are standardised, and readily available, but many arent.

Faction difference is inevitable, but is it a problem? Well, it depends. On a how to mess this up example, the best one without doubt would be 40k. That game is a total mess, and was worse in 5th Edition. Given enough time 6th Edition will likely be just as bad, if not worse. It's turning into a mongolian clusterf*** of positively epic proportions.

As far as I'm concerned, if a wargame hasn't got a consistent core, or loses one because of emphasis upon faction difference, then you really have a problem. A core ruleset is far, far more important than making a faction feel more different than the next one. Within a core ruleset, this can even be done. Most rulesets, even offending ones in this case, manage to standardise some difference by including it in the core. It isn't just a matter of it being there so you can see it though, it gets right to the heart of the matter. If you need to change the way your game plays by making faction change massive, then your wargame is a waste of time.

Good faction writing is all about utilising the core ruleset to offer difference in a way that works. Sticking it closer to the core makes balance more likely, and regulates what can be done. Sure, anti-upping is reduced, but is that a bad thing? Besides, new ideas can be introduced, but they must work within the logic of the Core and not undermine the point of it. Necromunda, for instance has House Gangs, where difference is tracked through in-game mechanics. It's not perfect, but it shows the idea's potential. Whereas the real bugbear is the Outlanders gangs (Skavvies, Redemptionists, Spyrers, Ratskin Renegades, Pit Slaves and Enforcers), where factions start getting special rules. Most of these come with heavy downsides, which is more effort to balance than GW has bothered with since the late 90s.

Still, the true secret to making factions is to stick as rigidly as possible to a pre-determined set of guidelines. If factions are going to get special rules, all factions should. All benefits should be relative: it's hard for some benefits to not be more useful than others, but they should be of equal value in some way. If new equipment and rules are brought in, they should be considerate of all factions. Never, ever, update the core via the rules of a single, or more up to date factions. If your core needs updating mid-way, you're doing it wrong.

Above all else, difference shouldn't exist for the sake of it. Have logical reasons why they are worth including. Difference impacting rules is fine, but don't overdo it. Wearing woolly hats isn't enough to make your faction any better in cold conditions automatically, unless your faction is actually used to cold. Good factions will provide ying to another's yang, but make sure that other factions don't get advantages because some factions are over-specialised towards a specific enemy. Make sure all factions stand a fair and even chance against any faction.

Use the core ruleset wisely. Make sure rules set up a logic that you are always loyal to (that way rules issues are easier to resolve), and that is always consistent. Only include universal weapons and upgrades if they actually are universal to all factions (or at least parts of each combined means they are universal to all factions). Make sure that factions are not undermined by certain battle types, unless there is good reason for it. Encourage players to get the feel for factions. If some factions are more difficult to master than others, provide incentives or options that allow those factions tactical flexibility, even if they appear weaker.

Always remember that no faction is bigger than a setting. All factions are interesting if done well, and a good faction will sell itself. There is no need to oversell something that is obviously cool already when other factions deserve equal attention if not more because they are less obvious. Why do GW still, for instance, exert so much effort to push Space Marines, when they are so cool anyway that they sell themselves? The more they waste their time beating a dead horse, the less time can be spent on development that is actually useful. Not that I want to encourage the current Dev team to do much development to other factions. Other factions are actually still interesting, and it would be nice if they stayed that way.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Organisation, Organisation, Organisation: Venues and Gaming Clubs

This one is going to be brutally honest, because it needs to be. So, perhaps you are considering starting up, and running your own gaming club? My first suggestion would be to consider long and hard as to whether or not you actually should. Because if there is one thing any hobbyist learns, is when actually organising a group of any enthusiasts, the amount of problems that rise from doing so are enough to prematurely age a teenager into a grumpy sod in their 50s within weeks. Running a gaming group is one of the most stressful, thankless, and frustrating things you can possibly do, and I work in the care profession!

So why is it so fraught with peril? What are the pitfalls? How can one avoid them? The sad truth is that there’s very little you can do to avoid some of them. One thing I never begrudge GW staffers is the act of having to run campaigns and gaming nights, and having to keep gamers happy. That’s a tough enough task without the added baggage of having to also go to the effort of actually establishing a venue as something that people should bother to attend.

The best place to start with such a venture is to look at yourself. Can you do the job? Being in charge of a club requires certain values, which you really need in order to keep going at it. The primary one is patience. You may think you have patience, but do you truly have it? A few hours of being in a position of responsibility and stress will quickly determine if you have, and it will usually inform you that you don’t have any, or at least certainly not enough of it.

Managing people will be the main source of irritation. If you are easily stressed, upset, or in a particular position in your life that brings on stress (such as uni, tough patch at work, just had a new child, etc), then such an endeavour should ideally be avoided. Why? Because people are annoying, and Gamers are exceptionally annoying; they expect something to be done about gaming, but you can count on one hand the amount of people who will actually do anything other than maybe turn up when all the work is done, and expect a game. If that annoys you (and it will), then you need a contingency for it. You need to prepare yourself mentally for a thankless job, because it almost always is a thankless job.

Now, you can certainly benefit from a bit of an easy-going nature, but you will need drive as well. You need to effectively be a dictator, because you’ll have a large mix of the uselessly indifferent and a select group who fancy they can do it better. There will be tension. There will be exchanges of views, and you need the self-certainty to be able to plough through that process with firm ideas. You have to be prepared to fight your corner, be awkward, and to confront people, especially if you are charging admission/membership to pay for the venue. Because people wont pay if there aren’t sufficiently noisy authority figures. People will take facilities for granted. The only way to guarantee payment is to prevent entry without it. Never accept IOUs because you will be waiting far, far too long for them.

You also need to be ruthless, especially if your venue has strict rules about cleanliness and contraband (i.e. do they let you bring your own food, pop, alcohol etc). If you’re getting the venue at particularly low rates, or even for free, it’s usually a good idea to use your camera phone, and take before and after pictures each time the facility is used, at least until you determine that your hosts aren’t going to be awkward. As someone who has also been in a band, you have to be really careful, especially with jumping between multiple venues. Your hosts will be ruthless, and I have had cases of staff saying lights have been left on; tables have been left a mess, etc. It’ll come down to your word against them, so you either need evidence (hence the camera suggestion) or be prepared to find another venue.

It’s also worth trying to talk sense to, and indeed haggle with hosts. It sounds mad, but I have regularly got the impression that most host venues would be happier if you weren’t using their facilities. Rates charged could be unrealistic, they’ll be awkward about packing up (turning up early to remind you to pack up is a party favourite), and they’ll generally go out of their way to make you feel like you’re a burden. Do not accept it. Always be polite, clean, keep your ship in good order, but remind them that you pay a rate, that you’re using the room (i.e. it’s not going to waste), and you’d be happy to recommend their facilities to others (although be careful about this one, as it seems many hosts actually hate having work to do, and by work I mean sitting on their arses all day and at the end of it you give them money. What a chore it must be to be them!). Don’t be afraid to give your members a hard time if they’re letting the side down too. Many a gaming club that actually had cushy facilities has fallen on the wayside by a few bad eggs spoiling it.

Also, make sure, absolutely sure, that payment is given properly. Often individual staff can sink so low as to pocket your admission fee for themselves and say you didn’t pay. Make sure you give the money either to a trusted member of staff, the manager, or at least have plenty of witnesses. If you are all quite young, pay at the start or end of your session and make sure an adult relative or guardian is on hand to witness what is paid.

One way to keep the budget down is to set up a society if one of your members is at university. Obviously, this is temporary, and some universities might not allow the general public to join them. It does come with issues though. I did this, and in spite of my gaming “buddies” getting a free venue to game, they managed to muck it up for me, and whilst I had genuine stresses at uni, they succeeded in adding to them. I do often blame a little part of my transfer from Durham to Teesside (brought on from smegging up my first year of Anthropology) down to having to look after a bunch of gamers after GW turfed them out. There were about 30 of us. TWO of us looked for venues.

So what about other venues? Well, it pays to think outside the box. Community centres and sports facilities tend to be the obvious ones. I’ve had reasonably mixed results from those, but depending on your area they may be the only choice. Pubs are best avoided in my experience; pub staff can be the least reputable when it comes to fees. Also, don’t forget to check your local area. There are often other schemes that are looking for community based activities, and it’s also surprising how many existing gaming clubs can actually fall under the radar. Explore word of mouth; see what’s out there.

Obviously it depends on your area. It’s important to cultivate every possible relationship that can be useful. Find out if any of your group have friends or family in council positions, or in a position to offer advice on potential venues, or put in a good word for you with one of their own. I also know of groups that actually own their own facilities, and membership a year is steep per person, but you can go in wherever you like. There are lots of options, and potential out there, you just need to keep half an eye open for useful opportunities. Just remember that finding a venue isn’t even half the work!

So you have a bit of a taste there. The important thing to remember is that gamers are absolutely bloody useless, and in spite of this, some of the most expecting, exacting and whiny gits that the universe has ever spawned. So understand that when setting up clubs, you’re doing so on the back of a massive disadvantage, which is that most people take everything for granted, and will never appreciate the value of something you work so bloody horribly hard to provide for them. If you’re still happy to give the smelly gits a place to game after that realisation, then you’re the kind of worthy, almost saintly person who needs to do just that. Who knows, you might even enjoy it!

Not likely. But what else is there to do? Take up golf? Politics? Cross-stitch? Go into a GW? See, there are a few bonuses…

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Hobgit: The Simple Fallacy of Simplicity

Okay, so it's probably high time I kicked this blog into gear a bit. I have had some large distractions that to be fair, I am still wrestling with. But I am keen to make a go of this without having to resort to recycling previously written articles so early in my run. I'm going to aim for 4 articles a month. When in that month, I can't say, but after this one I have another in mind.


I would say if there's a subject that will recur particularly often in The Hobgit, it will be the subject of rules design. I write rules systems myself, and I say with some considerable arrogance (mostly I'd say it's confidence, but I know which accusation is more likely) that a large proportion of the rules writing for most of the big names in Wargaming is exceptionally lacklustre (with special mention to the Evil Empire Games Workshop, who manage a large helping of godawful). So I'm sure it will fuel many rants, and two have been swilling recently. This beith the first.

One thing that I tend to come across in RL, on internet forums, blogs and websites with tiresome regularity, is this insistence upon simplicity in rulesets. It is becoming a bit of an internet cliché, and rightly so. Now, much like the cliché, simplicity isn't bad in and of itself, but I have a lot of problems with the simple flat decision that simple is always best. It isn't just because most of the people who say it are the same kinds of idiots who think short posts are always better than long ones (as if all important information can fit on the back of a postage stamp, and thus is about the same size as their cranial capacity can handle in a week), but it does help a bit.

My main objection is simply one of logic. Why is it so obvious, or indeed correct that simplicity is always better than complexity? The question can even be simplified: why is simplicity better? The answer is very straightforward: it isn't. People just like to think it is, in the same way as shortening a post doesn't actually make it any better. It might be easier to read, but it says less. Can the same amount of information that is in 6 paragraphs or more always be conferred in one sentence? The answer obviously depends, and the same is true here.

The importance of logic and what works best in context is far more important than making sure something is as simple as possible. Making something simple doesn't mean it is consistent. For instance, I've seen a lot of discussion about how current Warhammer 40,000 is superior to Necromunda because 40k is "modern" and more "streamlined". Now, I could rant for pages on how this is complete rubbish. But the simpler point is to refer to the most important word I highlighted at the start of the paragraph: the contexts of 40k and Necromunda are different: 40k is a cyclejerk of bullshit, and Necromunda isn't. Or to put it in more technical terms: 40k thinks it is a skirmish game, when it's really a small scale wargame that tracks "units" and uses oversimplified abstracts to speed up gameplay.  Whereas Necromunda is a true skirmish game that tracks individuals, and uses additionally detailed rules to make games with a handful of models last longer and feel more intricate.

Necromunda is a better game, because it understands what it is, and is crafted to exploit what works, and not what makes money that month. Necromunda is "dying" because GW have made it a policy that they don't bother making good games work when they can peddle shit games that rely on shifting tension and offering easy wins for people with cash-stuffed wallets. Necromunda is not without its power-factions, but any experienced player knows that most SGs will take a powerful gang/warband/force and make or break it with the cruel will of unforgiving randomness. Whilst 40k is a little bit like that now, Necromunda is a game that rewards skills and tactics. 40k doesn't offer those things anywhere near as often as Necromunda does.

It isn't just about the issue of what works, but often you encounter arguments about how simpler rules are easier to understand and don't require degrees in mathematics or semiotics. People will refer to the target audience as children as justification for the "dumbing down" or removal of maths elements. The sad truth is that any good rule requires no special understanding, and the even sadder truth is that most kids are way way better at maths than you are and likely brighter than you are as well. They may lack your experience, or your abilities (or as I like to call it prolonged apathy lessons) in social settings, but most kids aren't dumb, and the ones that are, you don't see them wargaming. Face it people, we're all geeks, and most geeks like science or maths, and both are areas where you're better at it the more you use it. Kids are still at school or college, and even if they're done with it, it'll be fresh in their heads. Anyway, I've never encountered any mathematical concepts in any wargame that I would consider hard, and I'm rubbish at maths.

So, if we work on the premise that simplicity isn't always good, why isn't it? There are many reasons, but the one that concerns me most is it can potentially remove gamers from the logic behind the games they play. Simple rulesets have the highest potential to be consistent, but if they fail (looking at you, 40k!) lacking detailed explanations, or in-depth comparisons makes most of a ruleset dislodged from the core and arbitrary. 40k is a good example of this, because it will quickly use Codexes to undermine Core rules. They do it to such a blasé extent that already 40k fans are calling for additions to their Codexes that get around newly imposed restrictions by the new core. People want and expect ways to get into combat out of reserve, to charge more reliably, to avoid overwatch, easy counters to flyers, etc.

But 40k isn't really simple in the sense of a truly simple ruleset. A truly simple ruleset would be more something along the lines of Hordes of the Things, where virtually everything is a simplified abstract, and rules in entirety run  into about a mere dozen pages. I do think that simplicity is the way forward for most rules systems, but if the solution to any problem is one that some may consider complex, then so be it. Far rather one adds the thing that works, than simplify it on the assumption that the reader is a moron. Granted they often are, but that's partly because some wargaming rulesets are a self-fulfilling prophesy. By removing the gamer from an understanding of what the ruleset actually is, what logic it uses, and what point it serves, they begin to believe there isn't one (and if you are in a GW to be honest finding a point in anything is rather optimistic), and they may actually be right.

Does complexity always work? No, an extreme equally as worthless. By far the worst rulesets I have played have either been needlessly complex (Confrontation 3), laid out in such a way that understanding much of anything becomes a needless chore (Confrontation 3 again, Tomorrow's War and Force on Force) or just a completely stupid idea, blot on all humanity, and an entirely unintuitive system (so far it's just Inquisitor, but other GW games are getting there). But simple rulesets are just as rife with problems. Simple rulesets don't guarantee balance, or indeed savvy (look at War of the Ring for instance).

So can one typify what works? Usually, but it isn't always easy to arrive at. Perhaps Wargaming companies have a necessary cross to bear, given production deadlines and whatnot. The trouble is many profess to be moving towards refining a ruleset, when really they are just changing it for the sake of re-sale and to maintain control over what the game actually is. There is no money in good rulesets, it seems, at least not going by most of the big hitters out there. If time is necessary for refinement, and I'm sure there aren't many gamers who aren't willing to accept that, I am yet to understand why any wargaming company doesn't just update rulesets with appropriate tweaks. I'm not going to pay for another GW ruleset, but I'd be willing to pay if I felt the intention was to hone in on what makes the ruleset actually work. Warhammer Fantasy is the only one that might be heading in that direction, but sadly they let Ward write a big chunk of it, and that was a massive mistake, which could have been rectified by replacing Ward with a writer of any form.

The simple fallacy of wargaming is that radical change is needed. The sad truth is that gamers are very, very easy to please. Fanboys, the currency GW has single-handedly lived off like a fecking parasite for the past 7 or so years will like it anyway. The trick is satisfying an audience with taste, but it seems we are a dying breed. The breed of people who still give a smeg. But nevertheless, it is a complete disservice to assume there is only one way to do things, and that's the simple way. The truth is simpler, there's only the right way. Do something different to the leading company and chances are you're on a better track to a decent ruleset than they are. The ability to stand upright and work a keyboard without making a fist shape is your starter for ten...

I may have implied that the Hobgit wasn't just ranting. If that was the case it was unfortunate.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

There and Back Again: A Hobgit’s Tale

To celebrate my new Blog, I figured I’d start by launching a new series of articles: The Hobgit. These articles are about a 20something git, and his relationship with the hobby. I hope it will offer much advice, important lessons, and useful ideas. At the very least, I hope it provides amusing reading. This is a new article format for me, as I’m planning to restrict each article to a set word length of 1000 words. There will also be a mix of articles, as well as Top X lists, most likely various miniatures from different systems. Obviously by “the hobby”, I mean wargaming, and all its attached baggage…

Wargaming isn’t exactly the worst hobby in the world.  It has its bonuses: it’s slightly better than meeting strangers in pubs; it can fool you into thinking you’re being creative, even if you haven’t got a creative bone in your body; it offers an opportunity to realise how utterly impossible it is to take losing well; and it shows you the value of money, although not necessarily value for money. Wargaming also teaches you valuable lessons in life: such as you’ll never have enough money; your socks stink from all the standing around; you’re more boring than you imagined but at least you know people more boring than you are; and pointless, useless information about something made up (or that is embedded in history) is definitely more interesting and indeed more worth falling out over than that [insert important thing] you should be doing.

My relationship with the hobby could be described as tumultuous. It has been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. There have been countless ups, downs, falling outs, nerdrages, system swaps, threats to quit, and rolls of dice. Certain parts of the hobby can feel like an actual job, one that you pay someone else for the pleasure of getting stressed out about it. When I started, I actually only wanted some miniatures so that I could make a board game. However, I quickly got sucked into the wider world of wargaming, and I’ve been stuck in that maelstrom ever since.

For the large part of my gaming life, I have mostly played Warhammer 40,000 by Games Workshop. However, in later years I have moved away from it, and indeed GW, due to, in a large part, the replacement of the writing talent that worked for them with a bunch of semi-literate morons with the writing capacity of egotistical fan-fiction writers; stuck in literary ruts created by overuse of marty stu’s, clichés, and an attitude to balance akin to an elephant on a unicycle. As I have always prided myself upon being honest (and pride is definitely the important word there), I have lived my views on my sleeves, and so much of the crappy writing (which as a writer myself makes my skin boil) has increasingly affected my enjoyment of the hobby.

My overt (some would say constant) criticism of GW hasn’t exactly done me many favours. Whilst I have trouble with the idea of putting down my critic hat, I certainly have learned that some people find my critical attitude damages my credibility. I find it rather silly, but I cannot deny that the barrage of criticism makes me look like a total hater. Arguing contrary using logic doesn’t really seem to shift this. Trying to convince people that moaning about something means you care deeply about it and thus want it to improve is more fraught with danger than going on CMON and making an argument that using inks is for pussies.

I suppose the wider problem is that I’ve always had a hard time striking a balance. It’s tough when the good things about the hobby are so easy to take for granted. Why would I use up valuable discussion time talking about something that everybody already agrees with? Why discuss the reasons why we are all there in the first place? Besides, there are larger concerns, such as spending money on a luxury to such a blind, and impulsive extent, that it removes any impetus for improvement on the part of those who supply it. Doth the cynic protest too much? Perhaps. But the worry is that too many people are satisfied when the cynic protests too little.

How to influence people into action, however, is not through moaning. If there’s one thing that is important, is that it is more worthy to show what you know, than what you think. Experience, action, and knowledge are far better motivators. If you’re going to knock at a foundation, you need to show you know how to build one yourself. But ultimately, it’s worth giving up on trying to prove a point. If you’re motivated by the need to show others what for, rather than doing it for your own sake, then the likelihood is you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.

It’s a hard act to break out of, being a cynic. In fact, personal change is a difficult thing in general. But recently I have been trying to do just that. Besides, I didn’t get to where I was without picking up a lot of advice and learning hard lessons. That’s more worth sharing than how much of a total prick Matt Ward is, even though he is a total prick. I’ve actually realised that I’ve been piecing my hobby back together. For a few years, I had lost it, lost what it was, what I loved about it. I had made myself numb to its charms. I can’t say my outlook has changed overly, but I’m certainly enjoying it again.

The biggest problem with any outlook is the knowing. When you know how something ticks, it kind of loses some of the magic. But it makes you so much better at helping others, that it’s usually a good idea to lose a bit of that self-centredness and make yourself useful. Hopefully through the course of this series, I can do just that.