Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Inevitable Christmas Post

Happy Christmas to all my readers, or more accurately to all the Faeit 212 readers because let's be honest, the overlap is basically 100%.

If you're stuck for something to read whilst waiting for/ digesting that turkey, or whatever alternative you're trying out this year, might I direct you to the sidebar where you'll find an assortment of shorts and articles, both 40k related and otherwise. Of course if you need a chewier read and happen to get a Kindle or similar this year, there's always my book..

Going forward, once I can extricate my metaphorical feet from the equally metaphorical wet cement that is Let It Die, I'll be reviewing my new Creature Caster Spider Daemon, working on lots of new-old metal Daemonettes, and revisiting both my CSM and Sisters of Battle. I'm also working on a sequel to the book, so if you should happen to give it a look please let me know, the feedback is always encouraging!

Until next time, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

About Time II- the sequel nobody asked for

Some time ago, I wrote a little think-piece on here about dumb time travel in fiction, calling out some of the more ridiculous things movies, books and games do with it that make absolutely no sense. Well, whilst I stand by every word of it, the offenders listed there do deserve an apology. It's not that they aren't dumb, it's that most of the others are too.

Oddly enough, what led me to this realisation is actually one of my favourite repeat offenders, the DC TV-verse. Without veering too far into spoiler territory, recent plots in the DC shows are revolving quite a lot around time travel, and one of the noted side-effects has been that a character who previously had a daughter now instead has a son. This development sent me down a rabbit hole of thinking that led to some pretty startling conclusions.

One quite common trope (I hate that word, but it's useful here) in time-travel stories is a character having to make sure that they get born. Maybe they stop someone killing one of their ancestors, or persuade their future parents to get back together after a breakup. This is usually presented as a pre-destination paradox- the result of an event (e.g. Marty) goes back in time and causes the event (e.g. Marty's parents getting busy). What isn't addressed is how incredibly, astronomically difficult that is. I'm going to do that really pretentious italicised quotes thing now, because I haven't done it before and it looks cool:

"I can't wait to get back to Deep Space 9 and see your face when you find out that I never existed!"
Julian Bashir, DS9, 'Trials and Tribble-ations'

Julian doesn't know the half of it. In 'Trials and Tribble-ations', a sub-plot features Bashir wondering if he's supposed to be his own great-grandfather. Leaving aside for a moment the effects a time-loop might have on genetic diversity, as a doctor Julian should know something very important, which most of these stories (with the notable exception, presumably by pure luck, of the DC shows) ignore. In order to make sure a baby 'A' is produced by parents 'B' and 'C', we don't just need  them to fall in love and produce a child- we need them to do it at exactly the right moment. 

"When your parents combined their DNA, the odds of them producing someone with your precise genetic pattern were ten million to one. Add in the odds of your parents meeting and bothering to procreate in the first place, and the odds of your existence are along the lines of drawing three straight Imperial Courts in an honest game of Vedran whist! If you overcame those odds once, who's to say you can't do it again? "
Tyr Anasazi, Andromeda, 'The Widening Gyre'

Now Tyr gets it, or most of it. As most of us know, the process of fertilisation involves millions of sperm attempting a Death Star Trench Run to be the first to reach and penetrate an egg. Unlike Rebel fighters, however, these things are constantly being created and re-absorbed by the body, and so every one is subtly different. Even the most minute change in circumstances might result in a different sperm remembering to use The Force and... ok, that metaphor has stretched past breaking point. Where I'm going with this is that even a few seconds difference in the time of conception will probably lead to a different resulting person. Of course, they'll be a very similar person in many respects, carrying most of the same genetic markers and so on, but even two 'identical' twins will generally go on to lead different lives. Our baby will be more like a brother or sister to the potential person who should have been born if our hapless time traveller hadn't spilt coffee in the lap of his great-grandfather and made him miss the train home. (Not actually 'our' baby, of course. I mean, I'm flattered, but I don't think of you that way.)

Once again, this whole thing probably comes under the heading of Thinking About It Too Much, but it's certainly an interesting thing to consider. So many stories revolve around the idea that time can take a certain amount of punishment and just bounce back as if nothing had happened, or maybe you come back to find your dog never died and now your uncle speaks Portugese, but as we've seen, go more than one generation and the chances that any of the same people even exist start to become pretty remote. It's probably the sort of thing that gets Richard Dawkins very excited and makes him write books that make Buddhists want to punch him. I feel a Nightwish segue coming on..

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

40k and White Wolf- a word of caution

Before anyone gets over-excited, this isn't some sort of rumour post about a tie-up between White Wolf, the legendary paper RPG makers, and Games Workshop. Rather, it's a look at how the fate of one might foreshadow the travails of the other.

Back in the day, when I used to do pen-and-paper roleplaying, there were several systems that were big with our gaming group, and few were bigger than White Wolf's "World of Darkness". To this day, my old gaming buddies and I can happily regale an unsuspecting victim with tales of the Vampire clans of the Camarilla and the anarchistic Sabbat, the tribes of the Garou and the various flavours of Mage, amongst other things. The Storyteller system, supported by a steady flow of sourcebooks, allowed players to take part in a struggle to decide the very fate of reality itself. Eventually, the story reached its own End Times, known variously as Gehenna, the Ascension, the Apocalypse and various others.

Of course, the thing with a story is once it's over, it's over. You can write a sequel, but if you basically end by destroying the world then the only option is reboot city. We've seen this recently with Age of Sigmar, and White Wolf did the same thing with the "New World of Darkness".

Now, I don't move in those circles any more, but from my perspective this reboot never really took off. Veterans didn't really appreciate all their knowledge of the setting becoming obsolete overnight, and new players were intimidated by the negativity from the older ones. These days, White Wolf are a shadow of their former selves who were recently bought out by the makers of Eve Online.

What does this have to do with 40k? Well, the Warhammer reboot was, I think we can agree, eventually fairly successful, especially once GW wised up and released the General's Handbook to add a points system. The thing was, though, that this was with a background of very low sales of Warhammer and a world that was largely stagnant and very derivative. 40k, on the other hand, is still for all its faults one of the best-selling and most famous sci-fi wargames in the world.

I've always said that one of the great strengths of the 40k setting is that massive battles and campaigns can be won and lost without the larger galaxy giving much of a damn. Entire star systems can be eaten by Tyranids, overrun by Orks, or lost to Chaos and there's still plenty more where that came from. It means players have a lot of room to tell their own stories and need not worry unduly that something official will come along and render them invalid. Recently, though, this has started to change. The threat against Baal, the desolation of Fenris, and now possibly even the destruction of the Cadian Gate are events too serious to ignore, and the rumours point to Chaos forces even reaching Holy Terra itself. But for me, this whole thing actually started with the Tau.

The thing with the Tau Empire is that, compared to most 40k factions, they're tiny. The Tau Sept Worlds are a mere postage-stamp in the galaxy, and the whole race could conceivably be wiped out by the Tyranids, Orks or even the Imperium if they got around to it in the space of one lost campaign. For all the talk of the Tau being a faction of hope- even the only 'good guys' in the galaxy- there's no scope in the setting for them to suffer a serious reverse. They're uniquely isolated in one place, they don't have that many worlds, and they have a lot of enemies. Put the Tau in a campaign and we know the worst they'll do is a stalemate because if they lose heavily, they're gone- and you can ask any old Squat player how that feels. This is really the first time that the huge 40k setting finds itself lacking space for stories.

Now we have Chaos possibly breaking through to Terra, Daemon Primarchs returning and Loyalist ones waking up or being rediscovered. Rumours point to Luther escaping The Rock, and the Eldar possibly creating Ynnead and defeating Slaanesh. Many of these events would have impact that the 40k setting, as it stands, cannot sustainably absorb. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Maybe the Black Crusade will be defeated at Terra and we'll enter a new Great Crusade, an age of progress and reconquest. Maybe the Emperor will die, and maybe be reborn, we just don't know. But the problem for me is that all of this picks away at that great strength of 40k- a setting that was too big, too awesome in scope and wide-ranging in timescale to be broken. We're seeing more galactically significant events in a decade or so than have occurred over the previous ten thousand years, and that begins to pick away at the foundation that makes 40k's world so compelling.

Perhaps I'm worrying over nothing. Perhaps if they break the galaxy this 40-something might decide to make a clean break with the whole thing. Maybe, since the galaxy is such a big place, I won't be missed. But the thing with big events is that they tend to make everything around them look small, and 'small' is never a word we want to see associated with the 40k galaxy.

But maybe a reboot is what the whole thing needs. Let's just hope it goes better than the White Wolf one.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Homebrew: Slaanesh Daemonkin

Having finally managed to get some play-testing in, my Slaanesh Daemonkin homebrew Codex is ready for prime-time! You can find it at the link there, or in the side-bar.

Rather than clutter up the rules with it, I'll take a moment to talk about the design philosophy and basically how it works here. Obviously, what we're going for here is 'Khorne Daemonkin, but Slaanesh' and the available unit roster reflects that. (The TL/DR version is 'everything in Khorne Daemonkin, but the Slaanesh version') That leads to some omissions, like Chosen, Havoks and most of the tanks, but I was very wary of trying to 'fix' Daemonkin by adding lots of stuff they don't usually get. In particular, Daemons don't get access to Rewards, which hurts quite a bit but was necessary for consistency. As with KDK you get the upside of being able to affect mortal units with Loci.

The core mechanic, as in KDK, is a tithe counter, which in this case is referred to as Excess. Since Slaanesh Daemons can use psykers and therefore have access to Summoning, it was important to make it a little harder for them to gain points, especially since the cap is at six, as opposed to eight. Slaanesh Daemonkin gain points through excitement and emotion, rather than from pure slaughter- in general, if you can pass Leadership tests or make your opponent fail, you gain points. This leads to some interesting decisions- wiping out a unit with shooting gets you nothing, but breaking it does, and losing combat can sometimes gain you a point where winning wouldn't.

So what can we do with Excess points? As with KDK, the first half of the table is buffs, and the latter half is summons. Due to the lack of space, there's a bit more flexibility in some of the summons than in KDK- the 6 result gets you either a Keeper or a Daemon Prince, with upgrades, for example. Since at present there's no way to get more than one result, there can be some tough decisions to make there.

I've also added a few Artefacts. One of them, the Song of Fears Remembered, helps get around Fearless enemies which otherwise would cause a bit of an issue, whilst the other two are just quite interesting and potentially useful.

Anyway, have a look, give it a try, let me know what you think!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Figure review- new Mantis Warriors

Having finally got a camera that actually works again, and the time to do it, let's take a look at the latest iteration of Raging Heroes' 'Mantis Warriors', or as Slaanesh players call them 'Daemonettes that aren't quite as good as the old Juan Diaz ones but knock the current GW ones into a cocked hat'.

You could possibly consider that the review in a nutshell, but the main point of this is to highlight how this new version of the model compares to the older ones which make up most of my own Slaanesh Daemon army. Let's start with the sprue and material.

Here's one of the models still on the sprue. You might be thinking 'wow, he actually thought to take a picture before getting started for once' - well, there's a reason for that. I've talked before about how Trollcast is aptly named from a painter's point of view, since whilst it's light and strong and reacts well to glue, it's an utter git to prepare for painting. Raging Heroes have updated their preparation guidelines, and step #1 is basically 'do nothing for a week'. Apparently there are gases actually inside the model from the mould release process, so they recommend that the models be unpacked and then left to stand for 5-7 days.

I had a lot of time to take that picture, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, once that time is elapsed, the model should be cleaned with de-greasing soap and warm water, rinsed, dried with a paper towel, and then 'for best results' you should do it again. They also recommend that spray primer be applied in several very thin coats to make sure it sticks. This was all very annoying for someone like me who generally has less patience than Dr Satan De'ath, but credit where it's due, it worked.

The sprue itself requires some care. As you can see, several of the parts have a lot of points of connection both to the sprue, and to each other, so care must be taken when cutting not to over stress any of the parts- they will bend, but they can and will snap. I managed to break one claw in the ten models I built, but fortunately as I've said before Trollcast glues very well, and the repair has held despite a small point of contact.

Comparison to the old model
Here's a handy little comparison pic:

In case you need to be told, the newer model is on the left as you look at the picture. It's not immediately obvious. Just to clarify, the metal model on the right has had a weapon swap (with a Witch Elf, I think) to reflect the Etherblade upgrade, since these are both leader models- the leader head has bigger horns and no hair.

As you can see, the resin model is a little bulkier, though not much taller. The detail in general is sharper, and the big claws also have interesting little sub-claws at the back that make it look like the Daemon still has some ability to grasp things. The claws in general are larger, longer and more detailed, and both arms are poseable, as opposed to the original where only one is. The other very noticeable change is that the newer model is wearing panties of some sort- whilst I'm sure someone on the internet will be able to have a frothing fit about censorship here, I think the real reason is to give more flexibility to the ball-and-socket join at the waist, which isn't present on the original since it's one piece.

The Six Million Dollar Question
So, are the new models better? In part you can draw your own conclusions- if you really, really hate resin then... actually I can't remember if there was an option to get the new models in metal, so forget that. There's no question in my mind that the sculpt is better, and whilst the resin models are more work to build and prepare they're far, far less prone to falling over and so far, unlike my metal ones not one of them has fallen apart. But overall, in terms of detail, flexibility and quality the new ones are much better.

There are two little caveats to that- one, the larger sized claws and more open poses mean that packing and transporting the newer model is a little more difficult, and two, it doesn't look like Raging Heroes have got around to releasing the new version yet, so unless you were in the Kickstarter this is a tiny bit academic. Be aware that as of time of writing, the Mantis Warriors on their webstore are the old version, even the resin ones.

Finally, here's an old(ish) video bat-rep I did with Craig from Bitzbox in which my older Mantis Warriors see some action, because I like linking it every now and then...

Monday, 5 September 2016

Deathwatch: Talking points

I've had the Deathwatch book a few days now and it seems to me that there's a few things worth talking through, especially in light of the new White Dwarf. I'm not going to do a full blow-by-blow review of the book, just highlight a few points of interest.

Kill Teams
Right off the bat, lets tackle le grande fromage of the Deathwatch book, the Kill Team special rule. When the rules for the team from Overkill were released many players were left scratching their heads at the rule which required the whole team, including a biker and a couple of Jump Packs, to operate as one unit. Well, the Codex proper doubles down on it and its... odd.

The first point is that you can just about avoid using it. You can simply run Deathwatch using a CAD and it'll work fine, barring that your Bikers, Terminators etc won't have any Sergeants, since you only get those in the base Veteran squad. But in order to use the new Black Spear detach-formation (a word I just made up and will never use again) you're going to have to tangle with it. In this month's White Dwarf, the designers state that adding other models to your Veterans grants benefits to make up for the loss of mobility, so lets take a look at that claim.

Firstly, adding Terminators to your Veterans is pretty decent. Since all (up to) five of these bad boys can pack a Terminator heavy weapon and/or the melta-fist you can certainly add a lot of firepower to a Veteran squad with them. Your ten man team could contain four of those new Frag Cannons  (assuming the Blood Angels don't nick them to fit on their Furiosos, who are probably a bit cross about all this) as well as five Assault Cannons, Heavy Flamers or Cyclones and still have six melta-guns in it as well. It's going to cost a lot of points, but anything it gets close to is going to go away. Alternatively, you can just add a couple of Thunderhammer/ Storm Shield guys to tank for the rest of the team, or all sorts of other combinations. You lose the ability to Sweeping Advance and don't fit in a Rhino, but other than that, it's all good.

Adding a Vanguard is also pretty good. Even taking one allows the Kill Team to re-roll charge distances (one or both dice) and ignore Disordered Charges, so if your team is geared up to give the Alien a taste of the Emperor's Holy Boot Leather, it's pretty much a no-brainer. Each Vanguard can also take a melta-bomb, which is potentially very useful. Again, you can't ride in a rhino, big whoop. The only decision then is whether you want more than one Vanguard as insurance to keep those handy abilities.

Bikers are where things go a bit squiffy. The Deathwatch Biker is a solid choice- he has Skilled Rider, access to a teleport homer and melta-bombs, and still gets to use special ammo with his bike Bolters. He can also take a power weapon to replace his close combat weapon, though like most Loyalist bikers he still needs to hold on to his bike with one hand so there's no pistol on offer for that extra attack. The special sauce he brings to a Kill Team is the Split Fire rule, which is... well, there. It certainly could be handy, allowing that one melta-gun to pop a tank whilst the rest of the team does something else, but I'm not convinced it's worth losing the bike's mobility for. It 'feels' odd, too- we can just about understand why the Vanguard makes his squad better at charging, but why does a guy on a bike improve fire discipline?

Working With It
So, the Kill Team rule is something you're going to be dealing with if you want to use the new Codex to full effect. There are some things, straight away, that you can't really do. Appealing as it would be, you can't bulk out Bikes with Vanguards, getting some T5 Wounds and more Attacks on the cheap, because at minimum you're going to have five foot-slogging Veterans complaining about their bunions. Getting over 100 points of Marines killed just to let your assault troops move properly isn't really a good option. If you want that mobility, you're going to need to take those units outside of the Black Spear in a CAD, which means no Kill Team combined squads for you. Fortunately, this can actually work. A basic Black Spear will simply need a Commander, some kind of Kill Team (which could be a single Veteran Squad) and an Auxilary (Dreadnought, Land Raider or wing of Blackstars) and that gives you all your lovely extra Mission Tactics which apply to everyone with the rule, which will work fine for the guys in the CAD. So that frees you up to take a couple of Veteran teams and a leader for boots on the ground, and them some Bikers or Vanguard in your Fast Attack slots. Since the Bikes can have the Teleport Homers, which work with the Sudden Onslaught deep strike that the Black Spear confers, things start to fall into place a bit.

Let's just take a moment to notice that a single Kill Team can have five (or even six) Librarians in it. It's not a Conclave, but still..

In The Air Tonight
The Deathwatch have a bit of an issue with things that fly, especially if you happen to be one of the three people using Death From The Skies. The Blackstar is their only Flyer, and it's an Attack Flyer, meaning it doesn't get Skyfire. The Blackstar Rocket Launcher it can carry does have it, but at S6 AP4 with D6 shots it's not exactly terrifying to the heavier flyers in the game, though it is Twin Linked. As with a lot of alleged anti-aircraft weapons it lacks the AP value to make Hive Tyrants Jink and will need to score a lot of hits to down anything bigger than a Stormtalon. Other than that, you can try snap-shooting Lascannons to make them nervous or go with the Flakk missiles that your Veterans won't be loading into the missile launchers they probably won't be bringing. Of course, the age of Formations means you can always bring in a bunch of other Imperial or even Eldar flyers for top-cover, depending on the size and trim of your beard.

The Gun That Would Not Be
There's always the suspicion with Artefacts that some of them are there solely because the designers like to have about the same number in each book, and a few of them are usually total lemons (though less useful in preventing scurvy). The prize-winner in the Deathwatch goes firmly to the Banebolts of  Eryxia, which are maddening. These are basically AP4 Special Ammo that gains Instant Death if the Wound roll is a 6. Unfortunately, they don't do anything else, so unless your target happens to be dumb enough to be wearing 4+ armour not much is likely to happen. The kicker- the real clue that someone stuck these things in and forgot they existed- is that they have a profile to be used in a Stalker bolter, which since it's a Sniper weapon seems a good choice. Hey, 6, to hit, 6 to Wound, dead enemy Warlord- not bad for the points. (Let's pretend Look Out Sir isn't a thing). The point is, though, that not one single model in the book can take a Stalker and also has access to Artefacts, meaning that profile will never, ever, ever be used. At least, not until the Errata, perhaps.

Just bring a Vindicare for that job, guys.

Rules Lawyer Incoming
Finally, let's look at the piece of kit that's going to be causing an argument at a gaming club or forum near you soon, if it hasn't already, the Beacon Angelis. Now, the headline news with this one is meant to be that once per game, you can teleport a friendly unit of Deathwatch to within 6" of the bearer, even out of combat, and since the Beacon is a super teleport homer, they won't scatter. However, the wording of its homing ability just says 'friendly units do not scatter when they Deep Strike, as long as the first model is placed within 6" of the model with the Beacon'. There's no mention of the guy with the Beacon having to be on the board at the start of the turn, as there is for most such items, so this seems to allow the bearer to come in first and act as a homer for all the other Deep Strikes that turn. Now the obvious argument is whether this was intended or not and that one will go around until the FAQ, which will hopefully be quick in this brave new world of GW, but lets spare a thought for the guy who has to deal with the joker that points out that most abilities that affect everyone around the bearer affect the bearer himself, and since he's always within 6" of himself, he never scatters when he Deep Strikes...

You're welcome for that one. My advice is to point out a rules infraction on another table and then take him out with a single blow from a GURPS sourcebook.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Apotheosis: Babylon

Squad Babylon
I've recently finished Squad Babylon, my Warp Talons for my Emperor's Children 63rd Company, which can be seen above (linked to Deviantart).

To go with them, I've written another short story that follows on from the Company's backstory. This story, which is called Apotheosis: Babylon, can be found either in the side-bar or right here. If you've not read the previous piece then things will make a little more sense if you do. A couple of quick disclaimers- though neither piece is exactly explicit they do touch on a few 'adult' themes and I'm not trying to make any sort of Statement on transgender issues with any of this.

In related news, I've written a draft of a homebrew Codex for Slaanesh Daemonkin. You won't find it on here yet, since I want to playtest it at least a little before I throw it to the wolves, and to avoid legal issues you'll need access to Codex: Chaos Space Marines and Codex: Chaos Daemons to use it when I do. (Also possibly Curse of the Wulfen, depending on how up-to-date your Daemons book is)

Since I finally have a working camera again, things should be a bit more 40k/ AoS flavoured on here than they have been recently, though there will still be other stuff. Work on the second novel of the Thelenic Curriculum continues and I've got a few other little bits and bobs in mind.... 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

ST: Discovery- a HAT

Pictured: Not a hat
So, more news on Discovery has emerged. I talked a while ago about my hopes for the new series and in terms of setting this wasn't it, but in a bold and possibly unique move for the Internet I'm not going to now spend ten paragraphs whingeing about it. Instead, here's a Half-Assed Theory (in case you wondered what a HAT was) about what might be going on.

What We Know
Ignoring the flannel about the sex/race/orientation/favourite colour of the characters, what we now know is that the main character isn't a Captain but a Lt. Commander, that the show despite being named after one ship apparently features multiple crews, and that it's set 10 years before TOS. (First note for Trek geeks- this means the TOS Enterprise is already out there, commanded by Christopher Pike, since Kirk's mission starts in 2265 and Pike had her in the 2250's) The ship is of a design we've not seen before, looking a bit Klingon, is based in an asteroid (apparently) and has the ident code NCC-1031.

What it might mean
Hard HATS on!
So, this class of ship is about in the TOS time period, but we've never seen or heard of it before. Its registry code contains the number 31, which several fans have taken to be a reference to Section 31, Starfleet's shady Black Ops division which first popped up in DS9 but have since been seen in Enterprise and ST: Into Darkness. Putting this all together, if the ship were controlled by Section 31, and secret from the rest of Starfleet, this might explain why we've never heard of her class. Of course, it would help if no-one else could see the thing- for example, if it had a cloaking device. The Klingon design elements might point that way, though it was the Romulans who introduced the technology in TOS. Nonetheless, the NX-01 crew had contact with versions of the technology so it might well be that Section 31 have access to it and hid it from the rest of Starfleet.

What about our new lead character, then? Well, if the Discovery is a super-secret cloaked ship run by Section 31, she might well be a character whose role is to be embedded in the crews of other ships on secret missions- maybe 'helping' the Starfleet crews in ways the Prime Directive and other regs might not allow, or even sabotaging missions that her bosses don't want to succeed. Initially, I'd expect her to be simply a spy, tasked with keeping an eye on occurrences on other ships (maybe even non-Federation ones), which would obviously tie in to the name of the ship/show nicely. The Discovery crew would then become her support staff, making the show basically a Star Trek version of Alias.

By the way, all this means they could potentially, in a later episode, have our infiltrator on the Enterprise during a TOS episode, Trials and Tribble-ations style...

I think this is a fun little HAT, ticking the boxes of being interesting, fitting the known facts, and probably being utterly wrong. Regardless, I'll be watching the thing, even if they get Bieber in to do the intro music. I mean, they won't do that, of course.

Please don't let that be the only thing I'm right about.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Ice-Skating Uphill

Yeah, you're wondering what a picture of a Terminator (not our kind, the 'other' kind) has to do with a quote from Blade. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

If you follow such things, you might have noticed that Robot Wars is coming back. The BBC have been pushing it fairly hard, and as part of that published an interview with Professor Noel Sharkey. Amongst other things, it mentions that the Professor is a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Now of course, the part of me that's still 14 is all for killer robots, but I think we can agree that the broad aim of the campaign- to ban the creation of robots able to decide to kill with no human command- is pretty noble. However, as is often the way with these things the devil is very much in the detail.

Firstly, if you're trying to campaign against the creation of any and all combat robots, you're going to be very much disappointed. Even if you ban any and all robots with built-in weapons (which of course already starts to rule out many civilian applications), if you build a robot that can move and manipulate objects like a human, it can pick up a gun. Our T-800 friend up there is one example, or we might look at some Menoth Warjacks from Warmachine or 40k's Necrons. So that approach is pretty much a non-starter. You might try banning the development of mechanical limbs able to operate weapons, but quite a few amputees will have strong words for you on that subject.

No problem, then- rather than banning armed robots (which the CTSKR aren't advocating anyway) let's ban the development of AI that can decide to fire weapons on its own. That poses its own problems. Rather than mess about with the low-level questions, let's go to the ultimate one- what happens when we make a true AI? Say hello to another killer robot:

Wait a second, that's Mr Data! He's a good guy! Surely I meant to put up a picture of his evil twin Lore?

Nope, that's who I meant. Data is a fully autonomous, sentient being, capable, if the situation requires it, of using lethal force. The big difference between him and Lore is that Data has an 'ethical program' that effectively gives him a conscience, whereas Lore does not, though he does have emotions which Data takes a long time to get a handle on. Now the thing is that Data, as a good guy, rarely exercises that ability to kill and usually only does it after a direct order from a human, barring circumstances like overly enthusiastic Borg attempting to unscrew his head. The point remains, though- if you build a true artificial intelligence, capable of thinking like a real person, then you have built the most important element of your killer robot. The body might be a very complicated missile, or a robot tank, or a Boston Dynamics robodog, but if it can pick up a gun and think, it's a potential killer.

Sci-Fi has, of course, thought of this one, and none other than the grand-daddy of robots, Isaac Asimov, came up with his Three Laws of Robotics to help out:

1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It seems pretty simple and effective, doesn't it? Simply hard-code these laws into every robot, and boom (or indeed no boom), problem solved. Except maybe not- ask this guy.

Yes, I know, smart guy at the back, he's not really a robot. Stay with me here. The point is that Murphy is an intelligent, sentient being, whose behaviour is controlled by a set of hard-coded rules, his infamous Directives. In his first big-screen outing, he's unable to shoot the villain- a member of the OCP board- due to Directive Four, which prevents arresting an OCP officer. So he tells the boss of OCP, who responds by firing the bad guy on the spot, allowing Murphy to shoot him.

There're two big problems here. Number one is that a sentient being is being prevented from doing something he wants to do by a hard-coded piece of software. Imagine the outcry if we wanted to fit chips to children at birth that did that- prevented them from committing any crime by restraining their free will. Imposing those rules on an AI is no different, if that AI is sentient.

The second problem is that a sentient being is being prevented from doing something he wants to do by a hard-coded piece of software. I know that's just the first problem again, but this time let's look at what actually happens- the being 'thinks around' the rule. He can't act directly against his target, but he can act in a way that makes acting against his target no longer a violation of the rule. Eventually, any mind constrained by an artificial rule will attempt to get around it- it's in the very nature of intelligence. (For example- any and all teenagers.)

Finally, we come to the last, most serious problem. Universal rules banning the development of technology don't work. The genie of nuclear weapons refuses to go back in the bottle, and despite the rest of the world being Very Serious and Putting Its Foot Down many times, naughty little North Korea insists on playing with something far worse than matches. Governments the world over agree that strong encryption that they can't break is a Very Bad Thing, to which Apple and Google respond with a Very Loud Raspberry. And yet both these technologies are important and have valid civilian uses, from keeping the lights on to making sure no-one uses your credit card to buy eighteen tonnes of Leerdammer. At least when you're trying to stop people building The Bomb you can control tangible things like uranium and centrifuges, but it's a bit tricky stopping a would-be AI programmer getting hold of a C++ compiler.

The concerns about killer robots are valid, but ultimately irrelevant. The real question is how we're going to deal with true AI if and when we create it. The best way to stop those Terminators killing people is to make sure there's no war going on for them to fight in, just as with any other weapon. Trying to stop anyone ever making them in the first place is just...

"..trying to ice-skate uphill"

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment..

With the welcome (for me at least) announcement that Netflix had picked up the rights for the new Star Trek series, I thought I'd set down a few of my hopes and fears for it. My love for all things Trek goes back many a year, running pretty much in parallel with 40k, which is interesting because apart from being set broadly in Space In The Future they're very different beasts.

That brings me to my first, and probably biggest, worry. I really hope they don't decide to go all 'gritty' on us. To a certain extent it was done with Enterprise, with what I think we can call mixed results, but even there there  was a certain amount of underlying optimism. Sci-fi does grim and gritty very well, but that's not Star Trek and I hope whatever else our new crew or crews are, they're the classic Trek 'good people' at the core. If nothing else, doing that means that when you do pose a question like whether or not to wipe out the Borg, or saving the Federation by tricking the Romulans into the Dominion War, it has some clout because you know it's not something they want to do. Put Commander Adama in those situations and it goes a lot worse for the aliens, but he's not Starfleet and he shouldn't be. So whatever the new ship/ ships are, I want them to be shiny, have decent carpets and upholstery, and for everyone not to be miserable all the time.

Opportunities, not straight-jackets
There's a lot in Trek, especially in ToS, that's pretty silly. Spock's brain being stolen and McCoy remote-controlling him. Just about everything about the Holodeck, which frequently seems to make self-aware people who aren't considered sentient because they're holograms, except when they are. The Universal Translator and its magic ability to not translate certain words for dramatic effect even though it totally could. Rampant abuse of the space-time continuum and time-travel in general.
"Oh, boy!"
Here's the thing- most of this silly stuff is great. Some of Trek's best episodes (and movies, for that matter) revolve around this stuff. Ok, not "Spock's Brain", but you get the point. Anyway, I really hope that this new season takes all of these mad ideas and runs with them, rather than trying to strip the whole thing down to something more believable. Remember, we don't live in the same timeline as Star Trek (or else most of us would have died in WWIII by now) so there's no need to worry about making it 'relatable', and hopefully the new show won't fall into the trap of making 21st century cultural references. I've still not forgiven Voyager for 11:59.

I was one of those people who was less than thrilled with the new Ghostbusters- not, as many influential talking heads would claim, because of the all-girl cast, but because rather than building on the existing canon, they dumped it. JJ-Trek is guilty of this as well, to an extent, but the new show apparently will be sticking to the original 'Prime' timeline for licensing reasons. So I want to see what has gone before reflected in what we see now. If the stardate allows, let's see Captain LaForge and the Starship Challenger once in a while. Let's explore what the hell happened to the Delta Quadrant when Voyager crippled the Borg. With the budget that I sure as heck hope the show is getting, lets see more Bolians, Trill, Tellarites, Andorians, Vulcans, Ex-Borg, Ferengi etc crew members instead of 90% of Starfleet personnel being human. Maybe there're even some homeless Romulans looking for a fresh start, and some Klingons following in the footsteps of Worf. Please don't reduce all that continuity to Mass Effect.
"Apparently nothing I did made a damn bit of difference."
Not Neighbours in Space
Finally, I really hope that despite what I've said above, the creators of the new series do take one tip from other shows and avoid one-off episodes that basically could have come from a soap. [Insert Crew Member here] has a [Crisis of confidence/ Emotional breakdown/ Conflict of loyalties] and it's up to the [Captain/ Councillor/ Ship's Bartender] to help out before they [Quit the crew/ Get themselves killed/ Get the ship destroyed/ Wipe out an alien civilisation in a fit of pique] - we've all seen those episodes, and most of them are only worth bothering with once because you don't know nothing interesting is going to happen. TNG is particularly prone to this one. Here's hoping the new show takes a tip from Babylon 5 and keeps everything moving at the same time as getting the character development done.

Please no small alien children pretending to be comforted by glowing putty, though. They can keep that idea.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Warcraft- Orcs v Critics

WARNING: Some spoilers for 'Warcraft- The Beginning'
I finally got around to seeing the Warcraft movie today. I wasn't exactly agog to see it initially, and the critical reception had not been kind, but a couple of things changed my mind. Firstly, it has a very unusual split between the critical and audience ratings- Rotten Tomatoes gives it a meagre 29% 'fresh' from critics, but a very solid 81% from audiences. That tends to pique my curiosity a bit.

Secondly, and more persuasively, were the tone of some of the negative reviews I read. Reviews criticising bizarre things, like the ones complaining that the costumes of the human characters were 'ridiculous'. Depending on their age, I'd invite anyone levelling that accusation to take a look at what they were wearing in the 1970s. For that matter, take a look at Tudor fashions, or the bizarre bustles and crinolenes Victorian ladies were saddled with. Not to mention 18th century France's fashion for exposed nipples. As it was, I ended up a bit disappointed at how conservative they were. (No, I wasn't hoping for the nipples. Ok, maybe a little.)

I always get very suspicious when movies get 'witty' comments made about them by critics. Things like 'Warcraft- full of Orcs or just Orcful?' (geddit?) or the immortal, evergreen 'Game over!' from some guy who somehow thinks no-one else could possibly come up with that one. It smacks of a writer who's already come up with his clever put-downs and will be damned if he doesn't use them.

So, if anything, I went into Warcraft rooting for it a bit. I played the old Warcrafts back in the day, though I spent my share of time grumbling about the shameless rips from WFB, and spent more time than I should on WoW. (I got a character up to 'Commander' rank using the original honour system, which if you remember it will tell you everything you need to know there). I'm no lore expert in the universe, though, so some things probably flew over my head.

So what did I think? Well, as is often the case I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It's not the train-wreck those critics would have you believe it is, but something seems to have gone a bit squiffy in the editing room. I'm no film expert- I read AICN, followed Roger Ebert in his later days and have a lot of time for Mark Kermode but that's about it. I'm certainly not one of those people who'll bore you for hours about how Hitchcock is superior to Shyamalan, or what Cameron does right that Bay botches, but I know the basics. Often in Warcraft, particularly in scenes where the human characters are talking about something, there's evidence of heavy cuts. One moment in particular sees two characters bend down to pick up a crate together while talking, then immediately cuts to them sitting down a little way away with no apparent break in the flow. That sort of thing is far less evident when the Orcs are around, probably because the CGI work in them was expensive and no-one likes leaving money on the cutting room floor. From the point of view of the film-maker's craft, there's certainly stuff going on here that's not right, and it can leave you scratching your head a bit. Medivh, in particular, pops around by portals so much that it starts to look like he never walks anywhere, and one scene has him sitting on a horse, only to announce he's going back to Karazhan, which is obviously going to be another portal job. Quite what the horse is doing there we never find out.

We also don't get much of an idea of the politics that are seemingly stopping everyone else- the Elves, Dwarves, the Kirin-Tor mages and a bunch of other guys who aren't really introduced- from getting involved. There's just one loud, shouty meeting where everyone reacts to imminent extra-planar invasion by deciding to go to lunch. It all feels a bit odd, as do the rules for portal magic in general, which seems to be able to send anyone anywhere except when it can't. Then there's the duel in the Orc camp which exposes Gul'Dan as a coward and cheat and then seems to achieve practically nothing.

You might be getting the impression that not much in the movie is any good, but that wouldn't be true. The world, particularly the Orcs, looks amazing. Famous locations like Ironforge, Dalaran and Stormwind are faithfully represented (even if lore experts point out Stormwind shouldn't exist yet and Dalaran shouldn't be flying). We get to see a Sheeping, there's a Murlock hiding in a river, we get brief glimpses of the last Draenei and the pre-WoW High Elves. The actors acquit themselves pretty well and there's fun for fans of Preacher with Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga as the king and queen. (Not to kick a hornet's nest, but Stormwind's mixed-race population seems a little odd for the world it's in, and fine actress as she is, it's a bit of a stretch to have Ruth Negga as the sister of a Lothar played by Travis Fimmel.) Even little details, like the way the Griffons fly (and Khadgar's panicked scream as his mount comes in to land at Stormwind's low-ceilinged flight point) are well observed.

In the final analysis then, not a terrible movie. If you're a WoW fan, basically a must-watch if only for informed ranting. If you're not, one that's an interesting curiosity but safe to skip. For me, it comes nowhere near the guilty pleasure that is the DOA movie, but it's probably at least as good as most of the Resident Evil or Mortal Kombat efforts. A director's cut will be interesting to see, and if the team are allowed to make the sequels they wanted to make, I'll be there. But we'd damn well better get a Dredd sequel if that happens.

Damn straight, creep.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

About Time...

SPOILER WARNING: This post will contain spoilers for Legends of Tomorrow, and possibly for the Arrowverse in general.

So, I just got done watching the finale of "DC's Legends of Tomorrow." Overall, for a DC novice like myself, it was a fun experience watching characters I'd sort-of-heard of galavant through time. Lest anyone label me a Negative Nancy, a breed the Internet has a surplus of, I'll single out Wentworth Miller, the always awesome Victor Garber, and Brandon Routh for their fine work in the show, and we all know Arthur Darvil is getting a kick out of not-quite playing The Doctor. (Time (aha) will tell if killing Miller's character off is the disaster for the show that it feels like to me)

Anyway, the thing that strikes me about LoT is that it takes the most spectacularly bone-headed approach to time travel I have ever seen on TV. The only thing that comes close in terms of sheer WTF factor is the movie "Looper", a film of such monumental stupidity that I suspect that when the screenwriter dies, the total IQ of the planet will increase. In the finale, the team finally has the opportunity to kill immortal bad-lad Vandal Savage (a guy who probably went to the same Evil Name Class as Damien Darhk and Killgrave) by killing him at three places in time, simultaneously, because due to the shenanigans he's pulling to reset time back to ancient Egypt, he's briefly not immortal any more. If your monitor, phone, or tablet just turned itself off, it's simply reacting to how outstandingly dumb that previous sentence was.

Leaving aside causality for a moment (keep the faith, causality fans, we'll get there) let's look at one of the more common bits of boneheadedness the show uses. I call it 'Narrative Time', and TVtropes seems to call it San Dimas Time. The idea that three events, in three completely different time periods, are happening 'simultaneously' makes exactly no sense unless the time frame from which the viewer is watching is the only one that's real. On multiple occasions in the show, the characters will be onboard the TARD Wave Rider acting as if they only have a short while to prevent something happening, even though that something is happening in the year 1978 and they're currently travelling back there from 2016. Of course, you need to preserve some narrative tension, but the knots the show ties itself in to get there are incredible.

Now, on to causality (told you we'd get there). So, the whole point of Rip Hunter's mission in the first place was to stop Savage killing his family in the future. Why not just pick them up in your fancy time-ship and move them, we ask? Apparently every time he's tried. he fails. We don't get any more detail than that, which is lucky because it's the dumbest thing since they built a firework factory on a Zeppelin. Anyway, they fail to prevent the death of the wife and child (despite still being able to go anywhere in time to try again) but decide to stop Savage anyway. (Despite his triumph coming over a century after they'll all be dead of old age.) Of course it's lucky they ignore my snarky brackets, because Vandal is in fact about to blow up all of time post ancient Egypt. Oh hell, now my own post is going back in time. Anyway, much heroics, characters previously unable to so much as ruffle big V's beard beat him like a government mule in three time periods at once, and victory! Thing is, that means our Big Bad just died in 1958, and since he went back in time and told his younger selves what to do as part of his Evil Plan, that means there's still only one of him, even if for a while in each timezone there were two of him. So, with him dead in '58, he can't be alive in the other two timezones (and he'll miss Woodstock). So Rip's family is saved, yay! Or nay, because apparently they aren't, and killing El Savago in '58 doesn't do a damn thing to him in '75 or 20-whatever. By the time another  TARD Wave Rider has shown up with a message telling them not to get on their own ship again or they'll all die, Time might as well pack up and move to a Refuge For Battered Metaphysical Concepts, because she's been well-and-truly done over.

Let's not worry ourselves about the fact that at the end of this season of The Flash, Barry seemingly deleted his own show by time-travelling back to his own origin story and stopping it. I still don't know how Eobard had GIDEON, or where she went after his defeat.

DC have a bad rep for messing up their continuity so badly that they occasionally have to blow up the world and start again. It's a bit of a shame that this is creeping barrelling headlong into their TV output as well. With Supergirl apparently coming into the fold too, heck knows what's going to happen next. Or has happened next. Or happened last but didn't not happen yet.

I think if Rip Hunter suddenly turns up in "Gotham" I might do something dramatic.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Lily blooms on bloodied ground!

Amanda Devereux meets the locals
I've just added a new landing page to the blog, which gives me another excuse to share the rather epic picture I've had commissioned by Deviantart artist Blunt Katana. I'm planning to add a fair few more resources to the page, but mostly it's so people interested in the book don't land here and get a post about my Slaanesh Daemons or something. The link above will take you to the full-size image on DA, please read the legal bit if you decide to do something with it!

In unrelated news, I've also added the short I wrote for Heresy a while back, Leviathan. I've not had time to get involved in the more recent HOES thread there, but I hope to do more soon!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The New Golden Age

This is an odd post. I just thought I had to call out how insanely good it is to be one of 'us' right now. We have the MCU movies finally doing what we always knew they could do, making classic characters amazing again simply by sticking true to the source material. We have DC... well, I like the TV shows, anyway. Hopefully the movies will hit their stride with Suicide Squad, but if not it looks like some pretty major crossover action is coming up in the future. Then there's the Dark Tower moving forwards, a new Trek series, Preacher (and possibly The Boys), The Punisher, Dr Strange, Iron Fist, The Defenders...

On the 40k front, we have GW finally noticing that the rules needed a damn good FAQing, though judging by Death From The Skies the message hasn't filtered through to all parts yet. Age of Sigmar is finally getting a points system and the new boardgames, like Betrayal At Calth, Overkill and now Warhammer Quest are moving things forward in intriguing ways. Warhammer Quest even adds mechanics like the old Fighting Fantasy books, which is very interesting.

Video games? Battlefleet Gothic, multiple Space Hulks, Total Warhammer, Inquisitor, some Titan Legions thing and Freeblade getting used to demo new iKit. Not to mention DoW III in the offing. I've been involved in this stuff in one form or another for over 20 years and I can't remember a time when quite so much was going on.

Oh, and there's a Warcraft film and Assassin's Creed both having another bash at the white whale that is the good video game movie. Not to mention all the amazing independent games and miniatures popping up all over the place.

This is in some ways a placeholder since I'll have something cool to show soon but I don't have it yet, but seriously, we live in exciting times!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Death from the Skies and new FAQs- it's all up in the air..

This was going to be a more general discussion of Death from the Skies, but I think there's more important things to talk about. If you've picked up a copy of White Dwarf or the book itself, you'll know DftS adds new rules for 'all' the 40k flyers. I say 'all' because as usual Forge World have missed the bus, including the Vendetta, which we should remember still only exists as a FW conversion kit for the Valkyrie as things stand. 

Many players might think that unless they want to use the new Dogfight rules, they can safely ignore the book. That's not likely to be true, since there are loud whispers of a consolidated 40k update some time this year and if these rules don't make it in in some form I'll be quite surprised. The important thing to note is that aside from Dogfights, which I'll admit I'm not keen on since they basically involve three rounds of scissor-paper-stone, there's some important new flyer rules in there.

Firstly, being the only player with flyers in Reserve grants Air Superiority, which allows the player with it to add or subtract 1 from their Reserve rolls and forces their opponent to subtract one from theirs. Potentially quite a big advantage, especially with combos.

Next, and most interesting, Flyers now have two additional characteristics, Pursuit and Agility. Pursuit just adds movement in Dogfights, but Agility allows a flyer rolling equal to or under it on d6 to make a 'Break Turn' at any point in their move of 90 degrees. For most flyers, it's usually 3, but for Heldrakes it's 4, meaning they'll pull it off 2/3 of the time and might just get that Baleflamer lined up. Eldar and Dark Eldar flyers go as high as 5, and the Crimson Hunter of course keeps Vector Dancer, adding some serious manoeuvrability. 

Then we come to a very odd thing indeed. According to the new book (and correct me if I missed something) only Fighters can now choose to have Skyfire, and they also suffer -1 BS vs ground targets. At a stroke, several armies just lost a lot of air-to-air firepower. Confusing things still further is a reiteration of the Hard To Hit rule saying that Blasts, Templates and auto-hit attacks cannot hit Flyers, whereas the new FAQs in discussion on the GW Facebook say that such attacks, if fired by a model with Skyfire, do hit them. This one is pretty confusing and will hopefully get cleared up now that GW is actually talking to people again.

I'm not going to dwell on the new Attack Patterns other that to say that (shock here) they're quite powerful but have some very vague rules. Those where the flyers are arranged diagonally show the distance, but say nothing about the angle, so that one's going to need hashing out, as is how, using the current movement rules, you're supposed to stay in formation. (Real aircraft can do this by flying in curves, but using the 40k method as soon as you turn it seems the formation is broken.)

Bah, I've confused myself now. Comments and discussion especially welcome on this one!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The joys of the Forgehost

Construct D351RE, click to see more of the model on Deviantart
I talked a while back about the new Curse of the Wulfen book and all the goodies in there for Daemons. This week, I had a chance to try out the Forgehost formation and I thought I'd talk about it in a bit more detail, since it's a lot of fun, makes one of the better things in the Daemon book better still, and isn't as restrictive as most.

So, let's look at those restrictions first. You have to take three (not five) Soulgrinders. Two is the number you shall not take unless you then proceed to three. (I'll stop the somewhat dated Monty Python there and get on with it.)


Sorry. Anyway, the point is that the Grinders can be Daemons of different Powers, can take any upgrades they fancy, etc, etc. So unless for some reason you really don't want three of them, there's little reason not to use the Formation. The bonus you get for doing this is the Desperate Competition rule. What this does is that if one Grinder causes a casualty in any phase, the others can re-roll to hit and to wound for the duration of that phase. Since one of the big problems of a Soulgrinder is its rather poor WS and BS of 3, this is big news indeed.

Lythronax, Soulgrinder of Khorne. Click for DA again.
There're a lot of ways to use this effectively. One obvious one is to take three Grinders of Khorne, since they're cheap, and bolt on a Phlegm Bombardment to each. Since it's usually not too hard to kill at least one model with a S8 AP3 pie-plate, this gets you your re-roll pretty quickly, as well as making those snap-firing Harvester Cannons a bit better. This also means, and I'll come back to this, that firing a pie-plate first will give any Grinders who want to try some anti-air work some handy re-rolls, pushing the Harvester Cannons into almost Quad Gun territory.

You can also mix this up by having a Baleful Torrent on a more aggressive Grinder. Since it can't really miss, all you need is something it can kill and you're in business. My personal approach is usually to run bare-bones Grinders of Slaanesh, so I use one as a back-field sitter with the Bombardment and let the other two run up, on AA duty or just getting into combat. The usually ignored Warp Gaze is also worth talking about here- normally a weak choice, since BS3 is not what you want to be relying on for one shot, with a re-roll it looks a lot better and adds some serious (S10 AP1) ranged anti-tank that Daemons usually don't get.

Click this meanie to see her on DA. IF YOU DARE!
Let's take a quick look at assault. Grinders, as AV13 walkers, are pretty nasty if they get hold of things, but suffer from that WS3 again. Formation to the rescue! Due to Initiative, if your Grinders are in the same combat the rule won't help much, but if they're in different ones you'll want to pick one with an easy kill (like one fighting low LD troops who might fail a Fear test) or one tar-pitting a big unit which isn't in any danger first, before moving on to harder or more crucial fights. It's also important, for once, to remember Hammer of Wrath, since a kill with that will buff all the other Grinders fighting at normal initiative steps, even in the same combat. Remember that the active player chooses the order assaults are resolved in, so in the opposing turn it's largely out of your hands, barring sneaky psychological shenanigans. On a final note, take heed of the new Slaanesh power Maniacal Fervour, a Blessing that grants the target Rage, Furious Charge and Zealot in exchange for them taking a few S3 hits. That on a Grinder is a bit of a no-brainer!

Whoops, out of time! Don't forget to browse the short stories or even buy my book, Think of it like Patreon, only you get a 400 page novel for £2 and I don't bug you all the time.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Sins of the Mother

I've uploaded the second Thelenic Curriculum short story, "The Sins of the Mother". This one deals with famous events that take place some years before the story told in my novel, "The Wake of Manadar."
It's one of those stories which in my wildest dreams will really get Thelenic Curriculum nerds excited, once/ if they actually exist. A man can dream. The next related short will probably have a bit more action in it, since I know the first two have been a bit philosophical.

In related news, I've also submitted a short for the latest Heresy Online Expeditious Story, called "Leviathan". The thread containing the story can be found here.

As of now mine is the only story, on the theme of 'Serenity', but I tend to bang these things out a bit so I expect there'll be plenty more before the end of March, which is the deadline. If you're allergic to Heresy Online or something, I'll upload "Leviathan" here once the competition is over.

Monday, 29 February 2016

A quick look at Waaagh! Ghazghkull

As a long-time Ork player, I picked up the new version of Waaagh! Ghazghkull this week, and whilst there's been a bit of talk about the Big G himself I thought it might be an idea to take a more general look at it. Firstly, and this has been mentioned elsewhere but bears repeating, you can now take both the Gifts of Gork and Mork, and Orkimedes Kustom Gubbins in the same Detachment, so no more will Ghaz's ladz pine for the Lucky Stikk or Warboss Ghazbag's Blitzbike. This is pretty big.

Next, the special rules haven't changed, which is a shame. I don't consider 'Biggest an' da Best', which forces the Ork Warlord to accept Challenges and gives him re-rolls to Wound if he wins one, to be too much of a bother, but I really don't like the Mob Rule changes from 'Da Boss is Watchin'. It's supposed to represent 'better discipline' but it does it with a flat +2 modifier to Mob Rule, which means 'Born to Fight' is impossible and on anything but a natural 1 you get 'Squabble', which means the Boyz will leg it if there's less than 10 of them, not to mention that the self-inflicted damage goes up to D3+3 hits instead of D6. If 'Breaking Heads' and 'Squabble' were swapped, making it more likely that the Nob would keep the Boyz in line with a sound kicking, I'd sort of understand the rule, but forcing basically a worse version of the old 'check size'? No Sir, I don't like it, not one bit.

To be honest, the Warlord Traits table is a bit naff too, though not totally terrible, but like the Kustom Gubbinz you can now choose to use the one from the basic Ork book instead, and the Great Waaagh!-Band Detachment (which is not a zoggin' 'Decurion', ya gitz) gives a re-roll on any Warlord Traits table, so it's not a great problem.

Now, the GW!BD as I'm now going to call it because there's only so much abuse punctuation can take, is the meat of the book. You'll have seen elsewhere that you can make Big G Waaaagh! every turn including the first with it, and this makes everyone Fearless and him almost invincible. That's going to be strong, but it requires the Council of Waaagh! which is horribly expensive in points and really cuts down your options, since none of the other Formations let you take him.

This brings me to my biggest single impression of this book, unchanged since the previous one- it's really meant for big, big games and big collections. I don't have a major problem with that- the idea of multiple Chapter Masters, legendary heroes and demi-gods turning up to a 1000 point skirmish has nibbled the brain of more than one commentator- but it bears remembering.

So, assuming you don't want to run Big G, what's in this for you? Well quite a bit, but you have to dig a little. An early standout is the combination of either the GW!BD or the smaller Waaagh! Band, and either the Dakkajet Skwadron or the Air Armada. Both of these give you three Dakkajets, with Tank Hunter against Flyers in the former case and a free re-arm and repair for all planes, including a couple of Bommas, in the latter. The thing is, using the Waaagh! Plane rule, you'll be able to give each Dakkajet an extra shot for all three guns every turn. Dakkajets are one of the more reliable Ork shooting units as it is, with Twin Linked everything and Strafing Run as well as BS3 against flying targets if you splash out on a Flyboss, so this is a nice bonus on an already handy unit.

What else do we have? Well, Kaptin Badrukk returns, as frustratingly odd as ever, but he can now blob up with 20 Gitz, all with Master Crafted snazzguns. This is sooooo close to being great. Getting Badrukk without eating up an HQ slot is handy, and re-rolls for a unit as shooty as Flash Gitz are very nice. Problem #1 is the rules- Master Crafted lets each Git re-roll one miss per turn. Of course, if you roll all 60(!) dice at once, you can't know which Git missed and which Git hits (and they'll all say they hit, anyway) Strictly speaking, you would need to roll each Git's three dice separately, or find 20 different types of D6 in threes. It seems the community is resolving this by just giving the unit one re-roll per Git, which seems fair enough, but beware the rules lawyers on this one. Problem #2 is the size of the unit. Flash Gits like to sit in Battlewagons and Trukks and shoot out, especially now they've stopped spending precious Teef on armour. A Battlewagon, the biggest Orky transport available outside of Forge World, holds 20 models, which is the minimum number of Gitz you can take to make the Formation work... plus Badrukk. (Insert humorous ani-Gif of Stewie Griffin shaking his fist at the sky, or something. I'm not good at image-hunting.) So, either you don't blob and ride in two Battlewagons, or you blob, walk, and get shot all the way to hell and back. Still, the Gitz continue to move in the right direction, I think.

In general, if you want to use Oddboyz, you have to have a bit of a think about how the whole thing will fit together. Several formations come with one built-in, but other than that you can have only one per Core choice, and the Core choices are not at all small. It's still going to be tricky to lever in a Weirdboy, for example, which is a shame- no Convocation style formation for the greenskins feels like a missed opportunity.

A few other observations- the Blitz Brigade, already a nice formation since it straight-up gives you five Battlewagons with Scout, now also makes those Battlewagons inflict S10 hits when they Ram, which coupled with a Reinforced Ram making them AV16 when they do it makes Ramming something to actually consider. Units like Tankbustas, Burnas and Flash Gitz crammed into Scouting battlewagons can potentially get into first-turn firing positions to make Eldar if not actually jealous, then at least a bit grumpy. The Goff Killmob gives all the infantry in it a full re-roll of charge distances, which can be used optionally instead of 'ere we go, effectively giving the Orks Fleet, but comes with a 'tax' of a Gorkanaut, two Deff Dreads and a unit of Kans, which as we all know are either pretty good or explode the first time someone looks at them funny. The three Boyz units all have to be 20 strong, so it's a good thing they're fast runners, but obviously if you fit this thing into a GW!BD for the repeated Waaagh!, you have Fleet Orks who can run and charge every turn, which will possibly necessitate a change of underwear for some opponents. Mystifyingly, the Formation lets you replace the stock Warboss in it with Grukk Face-Rippa, the rules for whom are nowhere to be found in the book. Copypasta strikes again!

I'm running a little short of time so I'll leave this here today. I'll come back to the topic later, and see what we can do about making an army out of this thing. I'm not going to lie, the big units you have to take make it tricky, to say the least!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Curse of the Wulfen- initial thoughts

So, I picked up the new "Curse of the Wulfen" campaign books the other day, and I thought I'd write up a few words on it. The TL/DR version is that if you're a Daemon or Space Wolves player, this is something you very much want to get your hands on, though if you're not interested in the other half of the book or the story, you'll be paying a pretty steep price for it.

The Story
The bigger of the two books is the 120 page background book, which is everything you've probably come to expect of this sort of thing by now- full colour, lots of very nice painted artwork in a consistent style, with maps, star-charts and miniature photography, topped off by the still-controversial colour scheme guides with much more basic art. Those of us, like me, who suck at banners will like the fact that there are several here just waiting to be colour photocopied and cut out for use on models.

I'm not going to go into spoiler territory here, but suffice it to say that we follow the Space Wolves as they respond to the emergence of the Wulfen, who appear pursued by daemons. The events lead up to interventions by the Grey Knights and Dark Angels, the latter of whom are rather being led about by the nose in a way that may well spell disaster for one or both Chapters. All the usual suspects get a bit of time in the spotlight- Logan, Stern, Azrael etc with the notable exception of Belial. (Oh, and given the nature of the story I thought it a little odd that Lukas the Trickster doesn't really do anything) There's even a tiny mention of the Sisters of Battle, who get to die heroically as usual.

I'm sure by now you've probably read the way this all shakes out, and it's certainly going to have repercussions though I suspect the Wolves will get through it.

The Rules- Missions
In the other book, we start with six Echoes of War missions, which cover some of the more notable parts of the story. Unsurprisingly, they all feature the Space Wolves heavily, as well as the Grey Knights and Dark Angels, whereas the opposition is mostly Daemons with the odd Chaos Marine. There are some interesting missions, with multiple small battlefields or two battles going on at once, as well as some head-scratchers that will need some work to get a proper game out of, like the mission where you race to see who can get a model off the board first which doesn't use points and doesn't really explain why you wouldn't just use a bunch of fliers.

The Rules- Space Wolves
Space Wolves are one of the few armies I don't play, so I can't go into much depth here. Firstly, the Wolves get most of the benefits they missed out on from the most recent Marine book, such as squadrons of tanks with the associated special bonuses for taking three (eg. Predators with Killshot). They also get a whole welter of new formations for different sorts of Pack, none of which quite reach the level of freebies that a Battle Company or Lion's Blade get, but which do have plenty of handy bonuses- the Spear of Russ that lets Land Raiders dish out POTMS to other Space Marine tanks stood out to me, as do the Iron Wolves who get free upgrades for their transports, can jump out even if the transports move 12", and can flat-out an extra 6". Again, there's the odd baffling omission or apparent mistake, like the revised Iron Priest who gets +1 to his repair rolls for every Servitor he has with him and, er, can't have Servitors. He does get Cyberwolves, but it seems cybernetically-enhanced canines aren't much good at passing a no. 6 wrench. Space Wolf Dreadnoughts still miss out on the extra attacks given to their more vanilla brethren in the most recent Marine Codex, which is odd.

As for the Wulfen themselves, you've read about all this by now I'm sure. They give assault based Space Wolves a nice boost in both speed and killing power with their Curse and hit pretty hard themselves, though I'm not sure that T4, a 4+ save, two Wounds and Feel No Pain are all that good in terms of survivability- top-table staples like scatter-laser Jetbikes and flying Hive Tyrants with twin-linked Devourers don't seem to have too much reason to fear. Expect plenty of arguments as to whether models who join the unit can borrow its ability to run and charge in the same turn- the wording is 'This unit can run and charge in the same turn..' which is a can of worms I'm not opening here.

Overall, though, this book is all give and no take for the Wolves, so if you play them, you probably want it. The same goes for our last entry for the most part...

The Rules- Chaos Daemons
This one is going to run and run. Daemon players seem pretty divided over this book and whether it's the best thing to happen to Daemons since Be'lakor or the worst thing to happen to them since Grey Knights. To start with the uncontroversial, each Daemonic psychic discipline gets three new powers, with Change doing particularly well, getting a strength D Witchfire and a flexible summoning spell. Compounding that are the new Hellforged artifacts, including a book giving the bearer all the powers from the Change discipline, so psychically inclined players can take Be'lakor and a LoC with this book and have two entire disciplines to choose from. There's plenty of other new toys too, mostly weapons for Khorne as well as armour that reduces the Strength of attacks by 1, gives a 3+ save and Adamantium will, and costs barely any more points than Warpforged Armour. Really, the power here will be in the combos. Another Khorne artifact gives out +1 Attack over an 8" radius, which stacks with the +1 from the core Khorne formation, for example.

For Datasheets, the various Bloodthirtsters appear, and with access to Rewards and Hellforged Artifacts are potentially more powerful than ever. Be'lakor and the Exalted Flamer also get proper Datasheets, though the Flamer is still only Infantry and is a single model with only Heavy weapons, so its usefulness is limited to put it kindly. Skarbrand also appears, and will combo monstrously with the rest of the book in the event he can be kept alive. Certainly an Invisible Skarbrand in the middle of a Murderhorde will be quite nasty even as Khorne purists weep tears of blood at the idea.

The Formations are where people will tend to part company with the book, but some have a lot of potential. The four 'core' formations, the Murderhorde, Tallyband, Warpflame Host and Flayertroupe all require what is at first blush a pretty huge number of models, but the benefits are quite strong. Notably, giving out +1 Attack to Bloodletters deals with one of their major weaknesses, and by the use of a Blood Throne it's possible for the entire formation to be affected by two Loci at once, particularly nice if you want to use Skulltaker without wasting his Locus. (For example, you could take this formation with Skulltaker, giving the whole thing Adamantium Will, and add a Blood Throne to dish out Hatred or Rage)

A common problem is that whilst these formations need a number of units equal to the sacred number of their god (a manageable 6 for Slaanesh, up to a painful 9 for Tzeentch) they only come with one Herald, making for a more bottom-heavy force than many Daemon players would like.

The other formations run the gamut. The Rotswarm seems fairly dumb, since it contains Beasts and Plague Drones but needs a foot-slogging Herald within 12" to use one of its rules. The Gorethunder Battery lets three Skull Cannons fire a single Apocalyptic Blast that becomes AP3, immediately moving them way up the threat list for MEQ, and also comes with a Blood Throne that doesn't do much for it and can safely be loaned out to buff up a Murderhorde with a second Locus.  Meanwhile the Grand Cavalcade makes Seekers, Seeker Chariots and Hellflayers run or flat-out an extra 6" which on top of the usual Daemon of Slaanesh and Fast Vehicle bonuses means the things practically teleport, though they're still quite easy to kill and have damage output that makes doing so a very good idea. Soul Grinders can be taken in a formation of three, the Forgehost, and get a handy buff, gaining re-rolls to hit and to wound in any phase in which another member of the Formation inflicts a casualty. This obviously helps them deal with their low WS and BS to an extent, and may come in handy for shooting down fliers if the first one drops a pie-plate or template on something for an easy kill. We should probably also touch on the fact that the Flayertroupe, the core Slaanesh formation, reduces the WS and I of opponents locked with it by 1, potentially helping the Grinders still further.

Leaving the best/worst till last, we come to the Infernal Tetrad. Oh my stars and garters. This bad boy is a formation of four Daemon Princes, each with a different Dedication. They gain buffs for how many of them are still alive, most notably getting +1T for all four. On top of that, they all gain the Warlord trait of any Prince in the formation who is the Warlord.. even if that trait is from one of the four Power-specific new tables in the book. What jumps out immediately is the one giving a Daemon of Tzeentch +1 mastery level, or level 1 if they aren't a Psyker, meaning your Khorne daemon prince could.. could... no, I can't type that, my keyboard is bleeding and brass horns are sounding in the distance.

Anyway, quite apart from all that, this means that, especially with the extra flexibility that the new Hellforged Artifacts give, it's quite possible with this Formation to make an army of nothing but flying Daemon Princes, most of which can also be psykers. The best/worst thing about this, of course, is the potential for making lots of fun unique models for each Prince, making it another army for which you want to strangle the player whilst at the same time loving the models. I certainly can't rule out giving it a go.

Anyway, apologies for the length of this. I really haven't scratched the surface of the options this book adds for Daemon players, so despite the odd derp I have to recommend it. Split the difference with a Space Wolf player for maximum mileage.