Sunday, 20 August 2017

Putting the Nurgle back in Nurgle

With the recent teasers for the Death Guard things seem to be finally looking up for the minions of the Plague God. The Chaos Index version of the Death Guard's rules are deeply frustrating for those of us who happen to be existing DG players, with the Legion losing access to all manner of units, like Bikers, Obliterators and Terminators. It's not that the new stuff is exactly bad, but when you have a unit of ten Nurgle Havoks specifically made because the Traitor Legions book made them Relentless, suddenly finding you're not allowed to use them at all is not good news.
Now there is, of course, a work-around of sorts- you can still take the Mark of Nurgle and dedicate your bunch of rotters to a different Legion. The irony is that at least in isolation, this usually makes Plague Marines better than their Death Guard brethren! The biggest issue with doing that is that other than allowing you to make them look really disgusting and have people believe you did it on purpose, there's not all that much benefit to the Mark itself. Still, there are a couple of ways it can work out fairly well.

Patient Alpha
The approach I've taken with my own warband, the Dereliction of Duty, is to run them as Alpha Legion. I imagine it as being a warband that releases a tailored genetic plague into planetary populaces that turns the citizens into brainwashed zombies, and over time the use of such methods has brought the Warband to Nurgle's attention. From a mechanics point of view, this works really well. The Alpha Legion 'Hidden in Plain Sight' trait gives the enemy -1 To Hit at over 12" range which in this case we can think of as being due to the classic cloud of flies. It's a strong trait, and one which has the effect of making the Warband more durable under fire, which is the sort of thing you want as Nurgle. The 'Forward Operatives' stratagem can be thought of as piles of rotting corpses turning out to not be as dead as the enemy thought.

The Alpha Legion trait of course also stacks very well with Miasma of Pestilence, giving enemies a total of -2 to hit at over 12" or -1 if they're closer. This is really evil because of how re-rolls work- since they're applied before modifiers, a BS 3+ unit with a re-roll to hit can't re-roll a 3 (because it's a hit at that point) but then has it reduced to a 1. May the Dark Gods have mercy on any fool to Overcharge under such circumstances. This is really nasty on a unit of Obliterators, especially since you can teleport them in with a Terminator Sorcerer for a perfect firing position.

We should also take a quick look at Grandfather's Blessings, the Nurgle stratagem. Returning D3 wounds or a single slain model to a Nurgle unit for 2CP isn't exactly amazing, but if that model is an Obliterator in a unit that's already proving very hard to shift it can be a really nasty trick, especially if you have CP to burn because you brought a Battalion of Cultists (and if not, why not?)

For the Warlord, you could certainly use 'I Am Alpharius' and have your actual Warlord as a small Daemonic tick that flies from one host to another Tamurkhan-style, but my personal pick is 'Unholy Fortitude' because that's about as Nurgle as it gets.

Night Nurse
The other very solid Legion Trait for Nurgle warbands is Night Lords. 'Terror Tactics' knocks the LD of units within 6" down by 1 per unit, to a maximum of -3. As far as I understand it, the -3 'cap' is only for reductions from this trait, so you can increase it further with the -1 from an Icon of Despair and the -1 from Raptors. Neither of these two stack, making the theoretical maximum penalty -5. You could also, of course, go with the 'Lord of Terror' Warlord trait to make any Morale tests even more punishing.

This is one of those approaches that is either going to make your opponent weep with terror or laugh contemptuously. Against a Guard army (if you can assassinate the Commissars), Orks or similar, it's potentially extremely effective, whist MSU armies with high LD will barely notice a lot of the time- though if all the cards fall right, even LD 9 units become LD 4 and potentially risk Morale failures from a single casualty. It's particularly nice against models like Noise Marines or Loyalists near an Ancient who trigger attacks when they die, or Apothecaries who can heal slain models, since Morale losses don't count for either of these abilities.

Using this army effectively really hinges on getting rid of any Morale-boosting enemy leaders quickly. A flying Daemon Prince with Smite and Infernal Gaze is a handy tool for this- often said characters will be standing between several units so if you can get a Smite+ charge combo on them then you'll probably be well-placed to spread Nurgle's gifts. If the character is actually in the middle of a unit then it's a case of psychic sniping with Gaze or Gift of Chaos. Of course you could even try taking Renegade and Heretic allies to get Marauder snipers, but given the attendant costs and their unreliability it's not a gambit I'd recommend. Deep-Striking Terminators or Obliterators could also be employed to try to clear a path to the target character through brute force and firepower, or even just gank one standing right at the back of a formation, though most players only make that mistake once.

Since you're going to be much closer than the Alpha Legion approach, it's worth remembering the 'In Midnight Clad' stratagem, which is another one which stacks with Miasma, but more importantly can be popped when a unit is targeted, greatly discouraging Overcharging. Since basic CSM squads really don't work well as Night Lords because they need to get close to make the Trait work, that's another reason to take the Cultists to rack up some cheap CP. Did I mention I really like taking Cultist Battalions?

I'm hopeful that most of this stuff will turn out to be a short-term measure, acute rather than chronic, if you will. The Death Guard Codex will surely have more units in it, some form of Terminators, maybe a Havok analogue, hopefully some sort of Plague Bikers which will allow us older Nurgle players to come back to the fold. But for now, at least, with a little imagination the forces of the Plaguelord are in rude health... er.. viable.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Delving the Dark Hereticus

The new Chaos Space Marines book gives Chaos players a lot to chew on (and argue about because this is 40k we're dealing with here). I thought that before I got back to work on the sequel to my novel (subtle plug there) I'd have a look at the expanded Dark Hereticus Discipline and deal with what seems to me to be a rather sizeable elephant in the room. I'm going to give each power a 'score' out of 10 just for the sake of trying to rank them.

Infernal Gaze 
So this is the Smite you cast when you've already cast Smite. It's not hard to get off at a casting value of 5, is more precise in that you can target anything visible within 18", but since you have to roll 4+ on three dice to do any damage it might not do anything at all. 5/10

Death Hex
The first new spell to have a bit of 'oooh' factor, Death Hex strips Invulnerable saves from a target within 12". That's good, especially if faced by Hammernators or some git with the Armour Indomitus, but it has a casting value of 8, making it tricky to cast when you need it. Given that most offensive powers do Mortal Wounds anyway, it's perhaps not as good as it appears. 7/10

Gift of Chaos
Hello Nurse! This one is a bit situational, since you have to beat the target's Toughness on 1D6 so it's not one to bring out against Death Guard, but it does D3+3 Mortal Wounds if you can land it for an achievable 6 WC with the bonus of turning a CHARACTER killed by it into a Spawn. A wrinkle here is that it specifically targets a single model, so it would appear that the damage done does not spread to other members of the unit despite being Mortal Wounds. The range is also a bit short at 6", but even so a power that can practically one-shot a lot of characters is worthy of consideration. 8/10

Unchanged from the Index and still one of the most useful powers in the game. +1 To Hit for all rolls until your next Psychic Phase is huge, especially on a unit like Terminators who can both shoot and fight well. Barring other modifiers you can safely Overcharge plasma weapons and you'll be hitting on 2+. A Warp Charge cost of 7 is not too hard to make and the range is a massive 18". 10/10

Diabolic Strength
+2 S, +1 A on a model with a 12" range for WC 6. It's not bad, on something like a Daemon Prince it might even mean the difference between wrecking a Baneblade ot scrabbling at its hull like a puppy trying to get out of the house, but lacklustre overall compared to some of the other tricks. 6/10, mostly because Chaos have quite a few big, angry things to cast it on. (On a Double-Taloned Daemon Prince of Slaanesh with the Elixir, you're looking at 9 Attacks at Strength 10, -2 AP, 2 Damage, enough to cripple a Knight)

Make a unit within 3" move again for a measly 6 WC. The peanut butter to Prescience's jelly, or the fish-fingers to its custard, whatever floats your boat. This power has so many uses, from getting first turn charges to getting deep-strikers into melta range that I could (and sort of did) write a whole post just about it. Only the short range lets it down a tiny bit, meaning the caster might end up exposed after the target moves. 9/10

Tzeentch: Weaver of Fates
+1 to Invulnerable saves with a nice 18" range and a lowish cost of 6. Since it gives models with no Invulnerable a 5++, this is a very good and versatile power, equally good for making a horde of Cultists take longer to thin out or making Rubricae harder to shift. A common theme with all three Mark-specific powers is that they work on everything with the mark, even Vehicles, so 5++ Land Raiders or 4++ Daemon Engines are possible. 8/10

Nurgle: Miasma of Pestilence
-1 To Hit against a Marked unit within 18" for everything. Great, bordering on dirty. Stacks with the Alpha Legion trait or the Night Lords 'In Midnight Clad' stratagem, making firing Plasma on overcharge borderline suicidal (remember you re-roll before modifiers, so a BS 3+ model firing on Overcharge could roll a 3, not be allowed a re-roll because it 'hit', then take the -2 from the modifiers and die.) 9/10

Slaanesh: Delightful Agonies
Very similar to other two, with the same range and WC cost, but this time giving a 5+ FNP. How this makes sense on a tank I'm not sure, but it apparently does. This one is always useful, varying in how it compares to the other two Mark buffs based on what the attack is and how good a save the target already has. 8/10

The Elephant in the Room
So here it is- the Hereticus Discipline is really good- really, really good. The big problem comes when trying to pick the powers, because with Sorcerers only getting two + Smite and Daemon Princes only getting one taking anything other than Warptime and Prescience is very hard to justify. It feels a bit like the situation with the old Tyranid codex where a book full of perfectly decent options just felt like it was Winged Hive Tyrants And Some Rubbish because they were just so good. The Mark-Specific buffs are good and worth taking, especially Miasma, but I can guarantee from experience that if you do, you'll miss whichever of the Big Two you don't take terribly. There is, however, a helpful little solution to this problem tucked into the book.

Getting Familiar
For measly 1CP, the 'Chaos Familiar' Stratagem is easy to overlook, especially since the old version of the Familiar, which gave casting re-rolls, is gone and sorely missed. But this little lad has a very useful trick, allowing a Psyker to swap one of his powers for any other power from the Hereticus discipline. Being able to ditch Miasma for Warptime at a critical moment, or suddenly pulling Death Hex, Gift of Chaos or Diabolic Strength out of your back pocket at the right moment is a real potential game-winner. An interesting question, which is one of those things that feels sort of obviously right and yet maybe unintentional at the same time is that there's nothing to say you can't use this Stratagem to get rid of Smite. You certainly couldn't use it again to get it back, since it's not a Hereticus power, and Smite is still a very handy tool, but the option to do this seems to be there.

With their new Codex, Chaos Space Marines got distinctly tricksy. (Lets take a moment to ponder what shenanigans the Aeldari are going to be pulling once they get a new book) Dark Hereticus is such a good Discipline that even the most devout Khorne worshipper might consider working a Sorcerer or two into their Warband somewhere. It remains to be seen whether inventive strategies using some of the lesser powers will develop, but even if they don't, there's plenty of scope for this powerful Discipline to wreak havok.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The humble Chaos Cultist, and his part in your enemy's ruin

Or 'her part'. Sorry ladies!
With the new Chaos Codex bearing down on us there's been a lot of discussion about the usefulness of morale-affecting abilities, in particular the Word Bearers ability to re-roll failed tests. Combined with a Dark Apostle, they can have Leadership 9 Cultist units. The reaction from players has been distinctly mixed, from 'Ew, Cultists?' (Pro-tip: If you don't want to use masses of Cultists, maybe don't play the Legion that practically invented the Imperial Cult) to odd mathematical gymnastics that claim that the re-roll doesn't do anything particularly useful.

It's a little ironic that when a Legion finally manages to get ATSKNF after years of complaining that they don't have it, suddenly apparently nobody wants it. But I digress.

Now we all know that if you're playing an MSU force, Morale is very much less of an issue in 8th Edition. If there's only five of you and you're LD 7, by the time you take enough damage to be in danger of failing a Morale test you're practically all dead anyway. But what I think people aren't giving due consideration to is the fact that in 8th Edition in particular, Cultists are really, really useful. They're one of the cheapest ways any Faction can fill the three Troop slots needed to fill out a Battalion, and whilst nobody is going to accuse them of being the most deadly troops in the galaxy with the various buffs and re-rolls available to Chaos they can be surprisingly effective.

It's worth re-stating how useful filling Troops slots with Cultists can be. For one thing they get the Despoilers of the Galaxy rule, the new version of Objective Secured with all the utility that entails, but most importantly the Battalion (or even Brigade, if you really want to push it) detachment is in reach, giving you +3 or more Command Points. These were very useful just with the Indexes, but with a full Codex they become significantly more important. The thing which is increasingly becoming clear is that most of the benefits that used to come with Formations now come as Stratagems, so a healthy pool of CP greatly increases the flexibility of your army. World Eaters, for example, have the very powerful Fury of Khorne to allow a unit to fight again- potentially for the third time if it's a unit of Berserkers- but it costs a full 3 points. Not only will filling out a Battalion get you the points to use it, but it means you can have a few units of cheap autogun-toting idiots holding the objective so all those Berserkers can get on with running at the enemy with chain-axes.

Even the mighty Land Raider can gain a decent benefit from Cultists. Though the tank has got a lot more powerful in 8th, (particularly the Chaos variety since it gained POTMS)  its Achilles Heel is getting assaulted by quick, cheap units like suicidal Rhinos and Trukks which stop it shooting. Well, Cultists not only give you a cheap bubble-wrap option but you can even load a smaller unit of them into the thing and take them with you. Even if you misjudge it and still get charged, you can hop the Cultists out, retreat the tank, and charge the Cultists in, at least preventing the Rhino from doing it again next turn.

Lets finish by really looking at just how nasty we can make some Cultists. We need to remember that, chaff unit though they are, Cultists still get the HERETIC ASTARTES, <MARK OF CHAOS> and <LEGION> keywords, so as well as that Morale re-roll we started talking about we can get always-strikes-first Cultists, Cultists with additional attacks, and more. It's probably easiest to make them into an assault horde, with a Dark Apostle keeping them in the fight and dishing out melee Hit re-rolls with Dark Zealotry and an Exalted Champion giving them re-rolls to Wound. On a 20 strong unit that cost 5 Power, that's some force multiplication. If there's a Sorcerer about, Prescience will give them +1 To Hit into the bargain. And whilst Chaos doesn't have Commissars to boost the staying power of Cultists to Conscript-like levels of irritating, the Word Bearers have a potentially even more infuriating trick, with Tide of Traitors (for a measly 2CP)  allowing them to remove that one survivor stuck in melee with an enemy unit (who maybe only stuck around because of that Ld 9 and morale re-roll) and replace him, along with his full twenty-strong unit, on your opponent's board edge in rapid-fire range of his tender bits.

Of course, you don't have to take Cultists. There's plenty of perfectly good army builds that don't need them. But there are plenty of really dirty jobs to do on the 40k battlefield, and like Grots and Conscripts, Cultists are one of the best units to saddle with doing them.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Plasma and modifiers- the Halo Paradigm

The Halo Paradigm, besides being a fantastic name for a band, is also the phrase I use for something that comes to mind when looking at the way 8th Edition handles Plasma weapons. One of the things that irritated me about Plasma since the earliest days of the Gets Hot rule was the way that twin-linking the weapon caused you to be less likely to overheat. So because you were firing more shots, you were less likely to get hot? Odd.

Now, some people don't like the fact that in 8th Edition, modifiers to hit alter how likely plasma weapons are to overheat. For example, use Presience to get +1 to hit, and barring other modifiers you can Overcharge to your hearts content. Conversely, negative modifiers, such as the recently-revealed Night Lords stratagem, make Overcharging much more dangerous.

I actually think this is a very sensible rule, and to illustrate why we need only look at the Chief there. I'll admit at this point that unless my memory plays tricks on me the last Halo I played was Halo 3, so this may not be true of the later games, but Covenant plasma weapons in Halo, much like 40k ones, can overheat with continuous fire. This doesn't (as far as I remember) cause actual damage to the firer, but it does stop the gun firing for a while and makes the player wave it about trying to cool it down.

Here's the thing- if presented with two targets, one of which is just standing there waiting to be shot and the other of which is dodging about like a demented flea (or a caffeine-powered 14-year-old), which one do you think is most likely to cause your gun to overheat as you shoot at it? Faced with an elusive target, the reaction of all but the most ninja-skilled player is to fire more shots in the attempt to hit it, which obviously increases the chance of an overheat.

Now, whether 40k plasma weapons overheat in the same manner, building up heat with sustained fire, or whether even a single shot on Overcharge runs the risk of overheat is largely unknown. We have to remember that with most 40k weapons, a single shot actually represents a burst of fire- the average Space Marine doesn't get through a five turn game and only fire ten rounds. Whichever way the overheating works, though, it's reasonable to assume that a firer who is distracted or challenged by the sort of situations that incur a To Hit penalty would be more vulnerable to overheating, either because they fail to notice the warning signs whilst concentrating on their aim or because they simply fire one shot too many and run out of luck. This also makes abilities that let the firer re-roll due to the presence of an officer even more evocative, as we can imagine them warning a trooper to hold fire for a moment.

So overall, this is an 8th Edition wrinkle that I very much like. Now all we need to do is get GW to realise that a Land Raider being wrecked because a pintle-mounted combi-plasma overheats is plain daft...

8th Edition- An unexpected benefit

This is one of those things that should have been immediately obvious to me, but didn't really strike me until I happened to glance at the model above on the shelf just now. This is Violator, a converted Land Raider that I use with my Emperor's Children 63rd Company army. As you can see, it's pretty extensively converted to mount Sonic weapons amongst other things. (More information on the model can be found here on my Deviantart page.)

Of course, it's well known that one of the things Emperor's Children players won't shut up about is wanting to stick Sonic weapons on everything. It doesn't feel like an unreasonable idea that units like Terminators or vehicles like the Land Raider or Predator might be altered by the Legion to use their signature weapon, but for whatever reason it's not something GW has shown any real interest in doing. The advent of 8th Edition, however, gives us a bit of a 'back door' approach to the issue.

Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the Power system allows 'homebrew' units with unusual weapon fits since the much less accurate scale absorbs such fairly minor changes quite easily. So for example if we simply say Violator is a standard Chaos Land Raider that has replaced the twin Lascannons with twin Blastmasters and the twin Heavy Bolter with a Sonic Blaster and a Doomsiren, that's unlikely to cause the Power of  the tank to be massively out of whack, especially if we forbid it from taking a Havok Launcher or Combi-Weapon. The really nice thing, though, is that we can even use the weapon charts in the back of the Codex/ Index to come up with an exact Matched Play points value for the tank, something that hasn't been available to model builders since the old Rogue Trader days. (I'm not going to do it here, since we all know how GW feels about people posting their points values)

Let's look at another example, Honour of Skalathrax. (DA link)

As with Violator, I usually run this tank as a stock Chaos Land Raider, but we could easily class the two long-barrelled Autocannons held by the door gunners as Hades Autocannons, which a quick look at the points tells us actually work out a little cheaper than the twin Lascannons would. The single front Heavy Bolter gunner poses a little more of a problem since its usually a twin one, but we could simply count it as a twin and assume that the Berserker gunner is particularly enthusiastic. Alternatively we could keep it as a single weapon, add up the points, and divide by 20 to see if the Power of the tank should be a point lower.

It's not hard to see how we could take this idea further and make our Sonic Terminators, for example, but there are potential pitfalls. If a weapon is the default for a particular unit, and that unit is the only one in the army to have access to it, then the points value tends to be listed as 0- an example in the Chaos army list is the Demolisher Cannon which is only ever found on a Vindicator. Obviously if we were going to make a Demolisher-armed Land Raider model we couldn't get away with that. We could use the points value for a Demolisher from the Astra Militarum list, but even this is not an ideal solution since they pay less points for ranged weapons due to their typically lower BS. (See the points cost of a Lascannon in both lists, for example)

This does also illustrate that even points values are limited in their usefulness as a balancing factor once you start tinkering with units. For example, we might decide to make a Renegade Chapter and use vehicles like Land Speeders and Land Raider Crusaders alongside our Chaos infantry and change the relevant Keywords to make them fit in better, but doing something like this also effects which buffs (and debuffs) work on them, potentially altering the balance of the units in odd ways. To take a more extreme and obvious example, if we decided to make a heavily armoured Ork Prophet and use him as a Terminator Chaplain but with Ork keywords (a model which part of me now really wants to build) his Litanies of Hate would then start buffing 30-strong Boyz Mobz which would throw all sorts of things out of whack.

 Of course one of the beauties of 40k in general is that even something like that isn't out of the question so long as both players are happy with it. Whatever crazy army list or scenario someone wants to play is absolutely fine so long as everyone involved in the game agrees it is, even if the CEO of Games Workshop turns up and tells you you're doing it wrong. But hopefully this piece will inspire someone to maybe let a couple of counts-as conversions be what they were always meant to be at last.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

In Print

Any excuse to use this again!

As you might know if you ever look on this blog, I'm writing a series of novels, the first of which, The Wake of Manadar, is now available in print like a proper grown-up book as well as the new-fangled eBook version. You can find it, should you be so inclined, at the link in this text or by clicking the ad in the top right of the blog. It's not incredibly cheap, but it's a fat book that should pass more than one evening and double as an emergency defensive weapon in a pinch.

This has been quite a long, often frustrating, journey so far and it's one that's hopefully still beginning. I'm well underway on the second book and believe me I'll be making some noise about it when it's done!

A few observations- firstly, whilst I remain unconvinced that it's worth spending the frankly quite mad amounts of money I've seen quoted for an editor when self-publishing (£4000?) it's certainly well worth commissioning an artist to do your cover. I originally knocked up a better-than-terrible one myself but eventually commissioned the very talented Sean Harrington, whose rates are very reasonable and who didn't get wrapped up in minutiae over rights. Not using an editor does mean, however, that you're going to have to proof-read your work a lot- and I mean a lot. One author I talked to recently recommended having a text-to-speech tool read the book back to you, which is something I'm going to have to try.

Anyway, I'd like to thank everyone who's supported me so far and anyone who buys the thing, and should you happen to run into me carrying a copy I'll be happy to sign it.. once my signature recovers from those infernal 'touch-sensitive' pads every delivery driver seems to carry these days. I'm working on it!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Finding new battlefields

This isn't an especially 40k-related post despite the title, but it touches on it a bit.

Recently it has been announced that the creators of Game of Thrones are working on a new series called 'Confederate' which is set in an alternate reality where slavery is still legal. They say it details the events leading up to a Third American Civil War, in an America where the southern states successfully ceded from the Union. The BBC has a piece on the reaction to this announcement and the almost inevitable backlash.

Now here's the first thing, and it's the thing that most directly relates to 40k too if you like- just because a writer or other creator chooses to set their story in a particular world doesn't mean that they think that world is a good place to be. We've all read the occasional obnoxious chin-stroking think-piece by a hack journalist desperate for some clicks who suddenly comes to the universe-shattering conclusion that the Imperium is a Fascist dictatorship and therefore assumes that anyone who plays 40k must be a KKK member or jackbooted wannabe blackshirt. The point of a setting is that it's just that- a setting, a stage, a place you can tell your story, and often the worse things are in that setting, the more story hooks are lying around.

The converse is also true- there are some stories where a world that is obviously meant to be 'better' than ours comes under threat. When the writers of Star Trek have the Borg turn up and assimilate an entire Federation planet, or the Cylons wipe the Twelve Colonies out of existence, the writers aren't saying this is a great thing to have happened- they're saying it's an interesting story. Big, crucial, difference. All but the most trivial (or very, very weird) stories need some form of conflict or crisis to drive the narrative, and that means that something good will be threatened, or something bad will need to be challenged.

There's a second, more insidious argument being deployed by the critics of 'Confederate' though, and it's the one which, as an aspiring writer, I find most chilling. Several people (check that BBC article for examples, I'm not linking them) have complained that 'two white guys' can't tell a story about slavery because they aren't black. Well excuse the hell out of me, but as a white male I'm going to write stories about who and whatever I damn well please. In fact, there's a cute little Catch-22 waiting for us here- for some time now, people have been complaining that there aren't enough strong female characters in big Hollywood movies, or enough black characters, or enough of whatever particular group you'd care to mention. But by the previous rule- that you have to be member of a particular group before you're qualified to write stories about it- that means all those white male screenwriters or novelists aren't allowed to write those stories. And of course if you're a white woman, you can't write about black women. If you're a black man, you can't write about black women. And so on and so on. "Only a Ginger..."

Of course I'm applying reductio ad absurdum here. After all, if we applied this 'rule' that strictly no one person could ever write a book at all unless it was set in a very odd society indeed. (and of course such a book would immediately be open to flak for 'lack of diversity') But the simple fact is that this argument is absurd. My own novel, The Wake of Manadar, features plenty of strong female characters and I was fully aware when writing it that I wasn't female, which is why I got women to read it and call me out on anything that wasn't quite right. I'm sure most other authors do the same thing, even if it's just checking with their partner or their editor. The idea that a major TV series on HBO might get all the way into full production without plenty of input and feedback from all manner of diverse people is patently daft. And yet, in the increasingly angry, judgmental, holier-than-thou world we seem to be living in, some people see fit to criticize a creative work based solely on the premise and the race of the people behind it.

There's a word for that. It begins with an 'R'.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Open War!

Firstly a quick apology for the lack of recent posts. Our family business recently took a direct hit from lightning and it blew up all sorts of kit, including our Internet, so things have been a little chaotic recently. Mostly sorted now though.

Anyway, though there have been various interesting looking things appearing recently, like the slug-like Nurgle Plaguecrawler and all those scary-looking new Primaris Marines, the thing I've been most taken with is the new Open War cards. I think these are one of the most interesting things to happen to 40k since Maelstrom Missions, and yes, I am counting 8th Ed in general in there.

Simply put, the Open War cards increase the number of potential 40k scenarios to 1,728. That's not a typo, and it assumes two armies of equal Power. Not only that- and this is something I really appreciate as someone who lugs his armies around on buses- it means that all you need to play rules-wise is the core game rules and the Open War deck.

Where do I get that big number from? Well, there are 12 Objective cards, which tell you what you're trying to do to win, 12 Deployment cards which define the deployment setup (no shocks so far, I know) and 12 Twist cards that alter the game, sometimes quite dramatically. So that gives us 12x 12x 12 potential scenarios. Some of these can be pretty major- several of the Deployments have points or even entire borders where the two players deployment zones touch, meaning you could start the game with armies 3" apart, for example. One army could be surrounded in the middle of the table, or split between up to four zones.

The Twists take this further and really shake things up. There's one that forces a more 7th Edition style of deployment, where one player sets up first and gets the first turn if they aren't seized on, and others that cause troops to heal, speed up or slow Movement, impair shooting, etc. Combine that with objectives that can range from Power-based Kill Points to sudden death victories for controlling several Objectives at once, and it becomes a real challenge to successfully play to the scenario.

I've not talked about the Ruse and Sudden Death cards yet, because since they only come into play with unbalanced forces I think they're less likely to be used, but they're still quite interesting. A player who has less Power then their opponent gets a Ruse, and these are usually fairly minor, like a redeployment, a bonus to certain actions, or ignoring Morale. Sudden Death cards are much juicier, and take effect if one player has half or less their opponent's Power. Building on an idea from Age of Sigmar, they introduce a secret win condition for the underdog player which will win them the game immediately if they achieve it. Since they vary from killing the most powerful enemy unit to driving the enemy out of a specific board zone, in such a game the player with the more powerful force is going to be pretty nervous to say the least, and the underdog will have some interesting options as far as bluff and double bluff goes.

"Oh please don't go over there and take my Objective, B'rer Fox" [Wins next turn on Drive Them Out card]
It's fair to say that Open War probably won't find a home in competitive tournaments- certain combinations can make things very tough on one player or the other. For example, I played a couple of games with them at the weekend and in the first my Tyranid-playing opponent was unfortunate that we drew the Kingslayer objective card, which means you have to destroy more Power than your opponent and Warlords count double. Since his Warlord was the Power 15 Swarmlord who was on his own due to the point level and I was playing Dark Eldar with splinter and Dark Lances, he was some 30 Power down very quickly and would have been nowhere near parity even if he'd killed my Power 7 Lelith. Overall, though, I think the fact that they force you to deal with situations outside of the norm makes the cards interesting and a good tactical challenge.

Are they perfect? No, and I think the most obvious silly thing is the card backs. For example:

As you can see, the backs of the various types of card are clearly different, but not all that different. Each type of card has a moody greeny-grey grim-dark face on it, it's just a slightly different moody greeny-grey grim-dark face. Since the cards are printed in full colour, I'd have liked to have seen each type of card with a different coloured back to make sorting them into their respective piles nice and simple. But that's a minor gripe, and one which shouldn't dissuade you from trying them out. I certainly plan to get plenty of mileage out of mine.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Rise of the Chaos Terminator

One of the nice things about 8th Edition is that units that previously got left on the shelf are getting a  bit more tabletop time. Of those, possibly one of the best examples is Chaos Terminators, though if you were a bit of a meta-hound in the latter days of 7th Edition you might need to do a bit of work to fully reap the bounty.

Late in 7th Ed, the Traitor's Hate and Traitor Legions supplements added the Terminator Annihilation Force formation- several squads of Chaos Terminators led by a Terminator character who could shoot immediately after Deep Striking as well as getting bonuses vs a marked target. It was a fun formation, if very expensive, and to maximise its effectiveness I made my three squads of Terminators all with combi-weapons.

Fast-forward to 8th Ed and whoa mama. With the advent of combi-weapons that now fire more than once, the humble Chaos Terminator has become a serious force for destruction, to the extent that I'm considering adding another unit with combi-flamers to the three units I already have, two with plasmas and one with meltas. It's not just the fact that you can Deep Strike units who are all effectively armed with special weapons without error, however, it's the support you can give them.

Chaos Sorcerers in Terminator armour are the special sauce that makes their fellow Terminators so nasty, due to the way they nicely deal with two of the major problems the Terminators would otherwise face. Firstly, we all know that a problem with deep-striking meltas is the 9" distance limit preventing you getting that re-roll on the damage. Admittedly five meltaguns should do plenty of damage anyway, but the Sorcerer has the perfect tool for the job in Warptime, which allows the target to make an extra move. Not only does that get us into melta (or indeed, flamer) range, but it can also be used to improve the chances of an Assault straight out of Deep Strike, allowing the Terminators to make full use of all those extra weapon options they have.

Plasma Terminators, on the other hand, live in mortal fear of killing themselves with their own guns if they decide to Overcharge them. Since you no longer get to use their save against a Get Hot, most players will be very wary of doing it with such expensive troops except in the most dire of situations. To the rescue again comes our Sorcerer, this time with Prescience, which gives a unit a flat +1 to hit. As per the designers commentary, that means that not only do the Terminators now hit on a 2+, they can't overheat. Zounds. You can also keep a friendly Daemon Prince nearby to let them re-roll 1s to hit, and since re-rolls are applied before modifiers, that stacks with Prescience, but some might consider this overkill.

Now I should point out that so far I've only played 8th Ed with Power, so obviously the fact that my Terminators are tricked out to the max has been nothing but an advantage. With points values, the cost per-unit probably makes things less efficient, but this is still a beautiful set of synergies that screams to be tried out. Here's an example of a 75 power setup:

Vanguard Detachment: Sorcerer in Terminator armour, 3 units of Chaos Terminators

Battalion Detachment: Daemon Prince, Dark Apostle, 3 units of Cultists.

This list is by no means totally optimised- you'd probably do better with a second Sorcerer rather than the Prince and it only actually uses 74 Power- but it still generates 7 Command Points and satisfies the Tactical Reserves rule. I tried it out in our FLGS introductory 8th Ed tournament (which was Matched Play with Power) and it was pretty decent, going 3-0.

The best part of all this, though, is that Chaos Terminators now have access to a set of dirty tricks which the Loyalists don't, which is nice to see. We can expect some Primaris Terminators to redress the balance any time now, I'm guessing!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Proof is in the Reading

Just a short post tonight, and if you can read this I assume my iffy Internet connection is holding up. You might have picked up that the four Forge World indexes are now out and in the hands of many gamers, including me. Unfortunately they are, to steal the words of Richard Garfield, buggier than a first-year FORTRAN class.

Now, I'm not talking buggy as in the odd minor misprint here or there, the sort of thing that will always tend to slip through the net. I'm talking massive, huge, stupid mistakes that should have been obvious to anyone. Mistakes like completely missing unit entries (e.g. the Medusa), nonsensical rules (Renegade transport flyers than can't transport Renegades) inconsistent rules (the Death Korps Memento Mori which has different rules for two models on the same page) missing options (Contemptor Mortis cyclone launchers, Fire Raptor autocannons) and missing rules for options (the Heavy Armour on the Land Raider Proteus). The warlord and Enforcers for Renegades don't even have the Character rule, for crying out loud.

Now this annoys me on two levels. Firstly, as the poor sap consumer who's just dropped £60 plus postage on four books which, at best, are going to have to have pages of errata and corrections stuffed into them. But more than that, it offends me personally.
You might have noticed I wrote a novel some time ago. Part of the reason for this blog is to help publicise it, and the link is right up there as the only ad on the entire thing. It took me something like two years to write, and it's over 160,000 words long. And I proof-read the whole thing, end to end, personally. It took me bloody ages. In preparation for a paperback release (which is coming soon) I've recently done it again, and I still noticed a few tiny mistakes. But I bothered to do it. My entire royalty take for those two years plus change of work is so far somewhere in the region of £20. So when I see a bunch of people who are supposed to be professionals make such a spectacularly half-baked job of checking their work that most gamers spot multiple errors on reading the things once and then having the brass balls to charge £15 a pop for the things, you bet I get cross.

So, as an aspiring writer, 25-year 40k veteran, and long-suffering consumer, I say to Forge World: Pull your fingers out. Check your work. Get someone else who doesn't already know what you mean to check it again. Then get someone else to check it. Then release the digital version so people can get a decent look at it. And then, and only then, can you commit that work to paper.

I will never- and I repeat, never, pre-order a Forge World book again, and I encourage anyone thinking of buying one of the FW Indexes to give it at least a month for them to fix the errors before even considering it.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Death Guard- Dead good or DOA?

So, with 8th Edition and the all-important Indexes finally in the grubby little paws/ tendrils/ digital manipulators/ tentacles of gamers all over the planet (except possibly North Korea, but I bet Kim the Young'un has got a set and is frantically painting his Primaris Marines as I type this) I thought it about time to have a look at the all new, if not exactly fresh, Death Guard. Hopefully without too many run-on-sentences. No promises.

With the Death Guard, GW seem at first blush to have if not dropped the ball, then at least fumbled it drawing a sharp intake of breath from the spectators. It doesn't help that the Traitor Legions book so recently finally gave the Legions some flavour and power, and it can feel like the Indexes have cruelly snatched it away again. We should remember, however, that even Loyalist Marines have lost Chapter Tactics and the poor little lambs suddenly have to take Morale tests like everyone else, so all supplicants are in some respects of equal height to this headsman.

Even allowing for that, though, the Death Guard are in a uniquely bad position. I'm not sure if the timing of their release was as GW intended, but at time of writing the 'true' Death Guard have a very limited roster of units, and worse, many models people thought were Death Guard a month or so ago now aren't. If, like me, you got excited by Relentless Death Guard Havoks or are one of the approximately 2/3 of all Chaos players to have Nurgle Obliterators, right now your nose is probably a little out of joint. Of course, since those units can still have the Mark of Nurgle and are still HERETIC ASTARTES you can still field them in the same Detachment, they just can't have the DEATH GUARD keyword for their <LEGION>.

Dammit, can't use these either!
Legionnaires' Disease

The <LEGION> keyword is a bit of an odd beast. Functionally, it works like most other secondary faction keywords, like <CHAPTER> or <ORDER>- in order to receive various buffs, your unit needs to be from the same <LEGION> as the buff-giver. The oddity is, though, that unlike Marine Chapters and Sororitas Orders, we know who all the Legions are, so it feels strange to insert your own or use the name of a known Nurgle warband like The Purge. On the other hand, Huron Blackheart uses the RED CORSAIRS keyword which seems to work as a <LEGION> so what's in a word, eh?

The bottom line, though is that for the moment at least, if you want to use things like Chaos Terminators, Havoks, Obliterators, Dark Apostles or Warpsmiths, to name but a few, you're going to need to put something else in that <LEGION> space. This hurts the synergies of the army, though it doesn't give any penalties beyond that. (As a side note, the new army composition system doesn't seem to care if the Factions of your detachments don't match. As far as I can see, you can play a Slaanesh Daemons Patrol with an Aeldari Battalion and no-one bats an eyelid.)

No rules for you!

Down with the Sickness

Enough of this wittering. Let's take a look at what the Death Guard do get, and see if it makes up at all for what they lose out on.

Typhus looks pretty solid. He's very tough, with T5, 2+/ 4++ and, like all Death Guard, Disgustingly Resilient meaning it'll take a lot to strip all 6 of his Wounds. Notably, his Manreaper is a bit of a super-weapon, with S7, -3 AP, 3 Damage and a re-roll of 1s to wound, without any of the penalties usually associated with Power Fists or Daemon Weapons. His Destroyer Hive now works a lot better than it used to, and of course as a Pistol can be shot even when he's locked in combat. He buffs Poxwalkers, gives Death Guard units a deadly aura, and is a decent Psyker into the bargain. One annoyance is that his Cataphractii Armour slows him down for the 4++, despite many other characters getting that for no penalty and an Imperial Cataphractii Captain getting a 3++

Without going to the Points section, this looks like a first-class derp on GW's part. For the same Power, this guy does exactly the same as Typhus, only worse. His profile and saves are the same, his weapon is identical but for only being S6, he has no Destroyer Hive, doesn't buff Poxwalkers and isn't a psyker. On top of that, unless I'm spectacularly misreading the points system, in Matched Play he costs, er, more than Typhus. Unless you really, really want to spread Nurgle's Gift across a wide area, this poor chap looks set for shelf time. Hopefully GW will either give him his own rules or make him considerably cheaper when the Death Guard get their own book.

This fellow seems fine. He's as powerful as a stock Sorcerer as far as casting goes, is a point of Power cheaper, and causes Mortal Wounds to the enemy as a side-effect of casting. He's a bit less flexible, and slower, but like the rest of the Death Guard he's nice and tough. The Contagion Discipline is decently powerful, though given the slow speed of the Death Guard you might want a normal Sorcerer to get Warptime to move units about a bit faster.

I like these lads a lot, though they make me mourn my Poxwalker Hive Dark Apostle all the harder. For a pittance of Power, you get a nice solid blob of rot-brained morons who are immune to Morale and reinforce themselves by eating the enemy. Though they're only T3 and have that notorious 7+ save, Disgustingly Resilient makes them tougher than most chaff. Their Diseased Horde ability makes them vaguely competent in melee if there's more than 10 of them, which is 10 less than most similar abilities for units like Boyz, Daemonettes or Grots require. It's a little odd that 20 is the maximum unit size, but that's probably just to fit in with the new starter set. So long as you don't expect them to do much other than get in the enemy's way, eat Overwatch, and be generally annoying they compare well with Cultists, who are still available to Death Guard.

The signature Nurgle unit is in an odd place at the moment. Since Defensive Grenades are no longer a thing, their old trick of stuffing up units that needed Charge bonuses like Rage, Furious Charge, etc. no longer works, though on the plus side they no longer need to worry about Initiative. They retain their access to two Special Weapons, though Disgustingly Resilient is no help if a Plasma weapon blows up on them, sadly. Oddly, and probably to accommodate an older model, the Plague Champion can take a Plasma Gun/ Power Fist combo, which is nice since as previously lamented most Champions can't take a bolter or combi-weapon along with a special close combat weapon now. Another strange thing is the Blight Launcher, which seems to be some sort of poisonous Krak Grenade launcher but doesn't seem to have a model at the moment, suggesting a new kit is coming. Overall these guys are still pretty decent, if possibly not as impressive as they felt in 7th Ed, and you're going to be seeing them in Death Guard armies pretty much by default.

Not having had a chance to play Death Guard yet (there's only one weekend in a week, people) I find the Bloat Drone tricky to appraise. Its Power Rating puts it squarely in Dreadnought territory, but with only 3 Attacks it's not all that destructive in melee and will certainly struggle against other walkers. However, with T7, 10 Wounds, 3+/5++ and Disgustingly Resilient it's certainly quite tough, and with its two Plaguespitters will be putting out 2D6 automatic hits when shooting. Since it can Fly, that means it can Overwatch an assault unit and should it survive, back out of the fight and shoot them again, which coupled with a fast-for-Death-Guard speed of 10" makes it look like a handy unit. I'd have liked Nurgle units to be immune to damage from its Putrid Explosion, but hey.

This.. thing.. is just plain weird. He feels like somewhere where all the ideas they had left over got put. The Blightbringer has a plasma pistol (why the Death Guard, lords of decay, seem addicted to the most high-maintenance weapon in 40k I don't know) a Cursed Bell for close combat that's pretty mediocre, and the usual mix of low speed and decent durability. However, he just might be an essential unit due to his support abilities (and hello Age of Sigmar, nice to see you visiting us again.) Not only does he make Death Guard a little faster when they Advance within 7", but he has a Leadership debuff with the same area- 1 for most units, 2 for Psykers. This is ok on it's own, but when combined with an Icon of Despair, which Plague Marines can take, might mean -2 or even -3 Leadership penalties for enemy units. That puts many units into territory where even a single casualty might well mean failed Morale tests, which against units with several Wounds and decent defences is very big news indeed. This fellow is the chocolate-covered salted pretzel of the Death Guard- it makes no sense, but it sort of works.

Post Mortem

So, that's yer Death Guard. Do the new units make up for the losses? Nope, at least not yet for me. If the full version of their Codex doesn't give me some way to use my Havoks, Apostle, Obliterators and Terminators without having to mess around with other Legions, I'm going to be a grumpy bunny. Does that mean I'll be dropping them? Hell no. What is here is pretty decent, with the very noteable exception of the Typhus vs Lord mess, and so long as GW get the lead out and fill out the army sooner rather than later I'm sure they'll be viable. But that's just my overly-long and yet insufficiently detailed take. I'd be interested to hear what I've missed!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Trying 8th: First Impressions

So, I finally got to try out 8th Edition! And it was.. well, a little frustrating. But we'll get to that.

Since I've also been playing Shadow War a bit, I decided to lug my Orks down to my FLGS and see if I could get a test game in. We ended up playing a 79 Power game (we were going to go with 75, but my first try at a list hit 75 dead  but wasn't practical for the Detachments, so we just added in the Weirdboy and moved up to 79). I ended up playing against Tau. I was using:

Kaptin Badrukk (with one Ammo Runt)
A Weirdboy
2 units of 20 Slugga/ Choppa Boyz led by Nobz with Power Klaws
1 unit of 20 Shoota Boyz with 2 big shootas, led by a Nob with Power Klaw
A Gorkanaut
10 Flash Gitz
A Battlewagon with 2 Big Shootas, 2 Rokkits, and a Killkannon
This used a Battalion detachment, IIRC, giving me 6 Command Points.

The opposing Tau were (to the best of my memory, yes kids it's another blogger who doesn't take notes)
Commander with two Fusion guns and a missile pod
Crisis Bodyguard team with 6 Flamers
Stealth team with 2 burst cannon and a fusion gun
3 Broadsides with heavy rail rifles and smart missiles
2 units of ten Fire Warriors
2 units of ten Kroot
Cadre Fireblade
2 units of Pathfinders with a mix of rail rifles and ion rifles in addition to Markerlights
This was also a Battalion detachment

Now firstly I should point out that we were still very much learning the rules, the store copies of both the rules and the Indexes were getting passed about all over the place and the terrain was more than a little improvised, so I'm not taking how things went as being all that representative, but it certainly brought up a few issues. I got the first turn, and identified the infiltrating Stealth team as a danger, so I moved up the Battlewagon full of flash gitz and Badrukk to deal with them. In hindsight this turned out to be the first of many mistakes borne of my unfamiliarity with the new rules, but as I said this was a learning process. Anyway, despite unloading 30 shots with the Gitz' Snazzguns, hitting on 4+ and re-rolling 1s due to Badrukk, plus Badrukk's own gun which is now basically a plasma caliver I was only able to take two out. This was due in no small part to the fact that the Stealth team not only forces -1 to hit against them, but also got +1 to their saves for being in cover. I even added the Battlewagon's firepower but to no effect.

I'm not going to do a tedious blow-by-blow of the entire thing, but suffice it to say that in the following Tau turn this happened:

Using the homing beacon carried by the Stealth team, the Crisis bodyguards dropped within flamer range of my supporting Boyz. Units with lots of flamers are going to pose real problems for armies like Orks and Daemons in 8th, because not only can they kill models which are out of their immediate range but they can then Overwatch repeatedly so long as they manage to stay out of combat. On the following Ork turn, the surviving Boyz (about 13) along with a couple of Flash Gitz and Badrukk were left with the problem of trying to assault the Crisis team through 6D6 automatic hits- not a new problem, but one made worse by the fact that using the two Gitz to ablate the Overwatch was no longer a viable tactic. (In the end the Boyz made it with about 6 of their number left, allowing the others to get in.) Overall I'm not a big fan of multiple Overwatch at all- it removes a tough decision people used to have to make and I don't think it makes much sense narratively- how is the unit supposed to be firing all its weapons at multiple charging units at once? It's not like they're standing there politely waiting their turn to charge.

In a big positive for Orks, though, the new Weirdboy is much improved. I took Da Jump as his power, and teleported the Shoota Boyz up into the corner of the board, ready to distract and hopefully charge the Tau flank. It didn't work for the shootas (despite their 'ere we go reroll) but on the subsequent turn the red sluggas tried it on the opposite flank with more success, and finally accounted for two Broadsides and a Fire Warrior squad on their own.

I was also quite impressed with the Gorkanaut. Though the Deffstorm mega-shoota still seems to continue the tradition of being less effective than the Big Shootas, being able to split its fire and charge something it didn't shoot, coupled with improved durability, makes it a lot more effective. In this game it blew great chunks out of the Tau, slaughtering an entire squad of Kroot in one turn and inflicting heavy casualties on several other squads before its rampage was brought to an end. With the way the Transport rules now work I think I'll definitely be using its ability to carry six models in future, with Burnas looking like a likely candidate.

The Battlewagon, on the other hand.. well, I think in this game I mishandled it due to still thinking in 7th Ed terms. With its toughness of 7 in the open-topped configuration and gaining little benefit from it for delivering assault troops, my Battlewagon in this game should have been trying to stay out of trouble and keeping the Gitz inside in 24" range of their target, rather than closing. Due to the Battlewagon's basic save being 4+, Tau small arms which mostly damage it on 5+ were a very serious threat to it, which coupled with the fact that Markerlight hits now persist for the entire turn spelt doom for the thing in short order, and subsequently for the Gitz inside.

Speaking of the Gitz, another big error I made with them was putting a KillKannon on their ride. This reduces the carrying capacity of the Battlewagon to 12, which meant that with Badrukk in there too I could only take one Ammo Runt since Runts now take up transport slots and have a profile. I really could have benefited from more re-rolls to hit and the KillKannon was somewhat useless anyway, I still think, however, that Flash Gitz and Lootas using the Battlewagon's Mobile Fortress rule to fire on the move looks like a solid combo, I just used it poorly here.

I was more than a little shocked at how poor Boyz were in assault, though we should remember that Battlesuits are an edge case. With the Klaw Nobz hitting on 4+, not gaining a bonus attack for charging, and only inflicting -3 save (meaning a 2+ save Broadside still gets a 5+) and then only inflicting D3 damage (on a 6 wound model) it took three rounds of combat for 17 Boyz and a Nob to kill one suit. Things were even worse against the Crisis team, which lost a grand total of one model to the charge of 7 Boyz and a Klaw Nob, two Flash Gitz, and Badrukk, before simply using their Fly rule to leave combat and shoot them again. With the new Morale rules there was no chance of them breaking due to losing combat whilst I was forced to burn two Command Points to stop my Orks fleeing due to the damage they'd taken from the Overwatch. At the moment, the 7th Ed version of Mob Rule feels much better to me given how easily Boyz mobs can take ten or more casualties in a turn.

In general- and this is I'm sure in part due to this being a tough match-up for Orks- my models felt very fragile. Since Ork Boyz can no longer get 'eavy armour (as far as I could see) and cover is now a bonus to your save, it was extremely rare for them to get any save at all against Tau shooting, even without markerlights. Meanwhile the Tau models would often have 3+ or 2+ saves against most Ork weapons outside of melee. It's telling that many of the Ork lists I'm seeing pop up at the moment are Kan Walls. Certainly at the moment- and I speak as someone who plays amongst others Daemons, Orks and Khorne Daemonkin and regards themself as a bit of an assault specialist- Assault based armies feel like they're going to be weaker than ever, especially those using Infantry. But I'm speaking without trying things like charging vehicles into melee first to stop Overwatch or using Kustom Force Fields, which with their bubble of 5++ look like they may be essential again, and for most of this game my dice were disgusting, so it's still early days yet!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

8th Edition SoB: Deny Denied

I thought I'd take a moment to point out something about the new Sisters of Battle list that's been bugging me, now that their Faction Focus has been done and it's not been mentioned.

Shield of Faith has always been one of those rules which was never quite as good as it was made out to be. We've all (those of us who play Sisters, anyway) got at least one tale of that time we made a clutch 6++ against a melta hit, but for the most part it tended to have little impact. In 8th Edition, however, with Celestine buffing it to a 5+ and Seraphim still getting their re-roll, it's become rather more impressive. However, there's an elephant in the room here, and that's psychic defence.

Shield of Faith used to have two layers of defence against psychic attacks. Firstly, Sisters were immune to the effects of Force weapons. That rule (which would presumably have taken the shape of Force weapons only doing Sisters 1 wound) is nowhere to be seen, but it's unlikely to be greatly missed. The other layer was Adamantium Will, allowing Sisters to Deny The Witch on a 5+. To be honest, this also worked pretty poorly unless you also brought some Witches of your own to give you some Warp Charge, but it was something. So what does the new version do?

A unit with Shield of Faith can now attempt to Deny The Witch as if it were a Psyker (wohoo!)... on 1D6 (awwww.) In case you might be labouring under the idea that this is in any way useful, bear in mind that you have to beat- not equal- the casting roll used to cast the power you wish to Deny, the casting test is made on 2D6, and many powers require a score of 6 or more to cast anyway. And no, unless my poor addled memory is playing tricks on me, a roll of 6 doesn't automatically succeed.

That, as far as psychic attacks are concerned, isn't a 'Shield of Faith'- it's barely a Chainmail Bikini of Faith. Now, it's important to remember that at the moment, psychics aren't as powerful as they were, so this may not be a serious problem, and I still think that Sisters are gaining more than they're losing in 8th Edition (I can see SoB armies with Celestine and a few Simulacrums being feared for the number of extra actions they'll be getting, for one thing) but it's a shame that GW still can't seem to figure out how to give them any psychic defence that actually works.

Could it be fixed? I think so. Other than the obvious (and probably OP for the points) option of  making the Deny a 2D6 roll, one possibility would be for multiple Sisters units to grant a bonus, so a unit might get +1 to the Deny roll for every unit with the Shield Of Faith rule within 12" of it, for example. Of course I've yet to try my Sisters in 8th, so it may be that there are more powers I can deny than I thought. We shall see.

On a related note, here's a wrinkle in the rules for one of the possible ways of dealing with the problem, the Sisters of Silence:

[In thoughmark] "I don't know what's coming, but it's probably heresy"
In a move that will have Thousand Sons Sorcerers polishing up their Doombo- er, Smites, in front of the mirror, the Null Maiden Rhino in the new Index has been stripped of the Psychic Abomination rule. Since the rule also doesn't work when a unit with it is embarked in a Transport, this means that SoS squads in their Rhinos are no safer from Witchfires and all the rest of it than anyone else is. How much impact this is going to have on the usefulness of the Sisters remains to be seen, but it's certainly not a buff.

Time will tell.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

The long-awaited 8th Edition post

I've been deliberately holding off writing anything about the new edition until I'd actually seen the  new rules for myself, but with copies of the books and box set now at FLGS across the land, including my local, I finally think it's time to make a few comments.

Overall, I like the look of the new rules. The addition of the 'keyword' system as seen in AoS (arguably pioneered by Magic: TG) is very welcome and makes things seem a lot more elegant. There are some interesting wrinkles to the new rules, too, such as Airborne models (i.e. Flyers) being vulnerable to assault by units with the FLY keyword. Yes, finally Stormboyz can re-enact the beginning of the Space Marine videogame and attack those Valkyries. (Those Space Marines still aren't allowed to hitch a ride, though)

Actually the Space Marines in Valkyries thing does bring us to one of the things in the new Indexes that I thought odd- not only are transports still not able to transport models from other Factions, they can't even generally accept models from the same Faction if they're from a different sub-faction. For example if for some reason some of your Sisters of Battle are from a different Order to the others, they aren't allowed in the Rhinos. The Inquisition get the wonderful 'By The Authority of the Inquisition' rule which lets them ignore this restriction, but they then don't get any transports of their own, which is annoying.

The indexes in general are frustrating like this. One moment you find something really fun which inspires you, like the new Acts of Faith or the way Noise Marines make one last attack before they die, and then you run into an inexplicable restriction that seems to have eluded the playtesters completely. A notorious example is that both SoB and CSM now find that they can't equip their squad leaders with a bolter/ combi-weapon and a special close combat weapon. In the case of the Sisters, the Superiors can only replace their boltgun with a special CC weapon and their pistol with.. well, another pistol, which means the one leading this squad is out of luck:

..which is a little embarrassing since that's the squad currently for sale on the GW webstore.

With CSM, it's aggravating since the wording for the Champion's weapon options is almost exactly the same as it is for Marine Sergeants, just with a minor difference (the CSM version says 'alternatively take one of..' whereas the Marine one just says 'one of') which means you can't do it. CSM in general seem to have suffered in the Indexes, with the Thousand Sons and Death Guard ironically hardest hit- there's currently no Psychic Discipline for the Sons (meaning the Sorcerers have gone from a potential repertoire of some 30 spells to about four) and whilst the Death Guard have a Discipline, they've lost access to a huge chunk of the CSM list, like Obliterators, Multilators and Terminators. You can still take those models with the Mark of Nurgle, but it basically does nothing (no +1 T for you) and means they'll have the wrong Legion keyword. Obviously the Death Guard have new toys incoming but possessors of current DG armies with lots of lovingly converted models they suddenly can't use are coming down with a nasty case of Bloody Annoyance which GW is going to have to work pretty hard to cure.

Overall, the Indexes to me feel somewhat slapdash. As a writer myself, I understand how hard proof-reading can be, but if these books were play-tested the testers clearly weren't paying attention, because the things I mention here jumped out on me in a few hours of looking casually through the books. Another howlingly bad example is the entry for a Traitor Knight, which comes stock in the Gallant configuration (fist+ reaper chainsword) with a single Stubber. There are options to replace the Stubber with a Melta, but no options for more Stubbers, meaning that as soon as you try to add the Rapid-Fire Battlecannon with its additional Stubber, or the gatling with its Heavy Flamer, you can't do it. Derp.

Fortunately, the points system comes to our rescue a little here. Since GW have taken the approach of pointing up models separately to their weapons, we can still add those missing options and pay the appropriate points (or ignore the problem completely if using Power Levels) so long as everyone is cool with it.

I'll mention a few other things that jumped out at me. Orks seem to have done well out of the Indexes, with Mek Guns seemingly getting even better (!) and the Battlewagon having a nice combination of rules allowing Lootas to fire out of it on the move without penalty, not to mention the Combi-weapon changes making Meganobz with Kombi-Skorchas pretty terrifying. The aversion to options is a bit jarring here, though, with most Characters having an entirely different entry just to ride a Warbike and the Nob with a Waaagh! banner now being a separate option to the Biker Nobz, meaning there's no way he can keep up with them since apparently he's not allowed a bike.

It's odd in general that some models seem to have had a lot of thought and attention lavished on them- the Ork 'Nauts and the Chaos Land Raider both got the sort of rules they've been crying out for for years- whilst others have been handled very poorly. The Slaanesh 'lawnmower' chariots, which used to dish out bucketloads of dice in Impact hits on the charge, have now been reduced to the terrible rule from AoS where they inflict a single Mortal Wound on a model with 1" on a 6 (or 5+ for the Exalted Chariot) which as anyone who's tried them in Fantasy will tell you is dire. (On the plus side, they at least don't die after taking a single Wound in assault any more). Particularly odd is the way that the Exalted chariot degrades when damaged when the basic one doesn't, and the fact the Hellflayer gets to make attacks with its blades whereas the Seeker Chariots, which have just as many if not more blades, don't, The Soul Grinder has also been horribly treated, losing both Warp Gaze and its Torrent weapon in favour of a compulsory Phlegm Bombardment that you can't even leave off to save points.

I don't want to come over too negative. Overall, 8th Ed is looking like a much better, cleaner, and faster version of the rules and I'm really, really looking forward to playing it. The Indexes certainly will create issues, and a lot will hinge on both how GW handle them, and the tone they take whilst doing it. Hopefully, they'll proceed sensibly.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Dark Souls: Mr Smough's Embarrassing Problem

I've been working my way through the models in the Dark Souls board game, and as we can see Mr Smough here has a.. problem. We shall call it Hammer Droopitis.

Put it in the Big Book! Actually don't. Also (c) Disney because I don't need that sort of heat.
 It seems that the plastic poor Mr Smough is made of isn't quite capable of dealing with the weight of the massive hammer head, because an initial treatment with hot water only fixed the problem for a couple of days before The Droop returned. So stronger measures were required.

Sadly Mr Smough's 'partner', Mr Ornstein, was not supportive.
The first thing I did was to apply the hot water again and get the hammer shaft as straight as I could again. Once this had cooled and dried, I cut the hammer head off with a razor-saw as cleanly as possible:
Most of that flock is stuck to the mat, but I'll admit surgical hygiene left a bit to be desired 
The next step was to drill a hole as deep into both the hammer head and the shaft as possible. Into this I then pushed a suitable pin, for which I chose an old broken steel bit for the same drill since it wouldn't bend.

There's a hole in the head and a pin down the shaft and he's still standing. What intestinal fortitude!
Finally, after dry-fitting the whole thing and leaving it for a day or so to make sure The Droop had been banished, I glued the whole thing together again. Whilst due to the way Mr Smough is posed there's still a little curve, it seems quite a bit straighter and he seems much happier.

Is he smiling under there? I'm going to assume so.
To be fair to Steamforged, the Dark Souls models are meant to be good board game pieces as opposed to proper miniatures, so the somewhat soft material is understandable and makes them easier to transport. Just don't expect me to do this with those bendy arrows on the Silver Knights...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Lets talk about armour..

Once again, as the latest Raging Heroes TGG models filter through into general release, the ongoing debate about armour, especially that worn (or indeed, not worn) by female models has popped up. There's actually quite a lot to chew on here, not all of it related to gender, so this may ramble about a little. Buckle up! (This post is a little long, and quite image-heavy)

Let's start with the one that irritates me most and is conveniently most easily dealt with. Take a look at this:


Now let's be honest, that would be pretty dumb, and there's certainly no shortage of outfits on female characters in comics and to a lesser extent games that would probably only stay attached by magic or the most advanced sticky-tape known to science. Let's take a look at another nice example before we get to the boring talky bit.

This one's a particularly good illustration of why 'bikini armour' annoys people. At its worst, it's presented as having the protective qualities of field plate whilst having the coverage of O2 in the Outer Hebrides, which is clearly daft. Games, be they tabletop or virtual, where the same suit of armour looks like an entire ironmonger's on one gender, and three bits of tinfoil held together by twine on the other, are certainly asking to be ridiculed and deserve every last bit of it. Heck, I've even been a bit guilty of that one myself in the past, using some of the older, bulkier Witch Elves as Chaos Warriors of Khorne in my Valkia army. WFB/ AoS gives you a bit of an out in the form of Chaos Armour that has grown into the body and gone under the skin, but still, a 3+ save for a bikini is a bit cheeky (potentially in more ways than one.)

The thing is, though, there seems to be the prevailing idea that this.. supposed to be the same thing as this...

..which is pretty odd, when you remember that Sonja was inspired by the writings of the same person who gave us this guy:

Now we can go round and round as to whether being basically naked as a male barbarian and being every bit as naked as a female warrior is the same thing or not, but one thing I think we can probably agree on is that neither is exactly 'armoured'. The thing is that there's a pretty simple reason for this- both characters are basically adventurers, not soldiers. Both of them have plenty of battlefield experience, sure, but you can bet that if they see a battle coming they usually take time out to grab any armour that's available, as you might remember from the end of the classic 'Conan The Barbarian' movie. Once the battle is done, however, they usually discard or sell the armour and move on, and by happy random chance that Sonja pic gives us one of the reasons why that is- she's wading through a river. Now you can actually do quite a lot by way of running, jumping and even doing cartwheels in battlefield plate armour, as seen in many Youtube videos like this one...

..but one thing you won't be doing is swimming. An old friend of mine still tells the story of when his veteran Runequest character, resplendent in enchanted runic plate-mail and tower-shield, decided an entire raiding party of over 100 Orcs was a tad rich for his blood and attempted to elude them by swimming a river. Needless to say this ended poorly for him. Of course you could always take your armour off before trying something like that, or carry it about in a sack and only put it on when danger threatened, but with the really solid stuff you'd want on the front-line of a battlefield that's not really an option, and of course if you're a thief like Conan sneaking into the Tower of the Elephant to make off with the valuables, you're planning to be carrying a heavy sack out, not carrying one in on the off chance you run into a guard.

Of course the other thing with battlefield armour, especially in fantastical settings like 40k or AoS, is that its protective value only takes you so far. As any Dark Souls player will tell you, the ability to take a few sword blows without dying is very handy, but should that same armour lead to the dreaded Fat Roll when you try to dodge the jaws of an irate dragon all you've done is give the thing some intestinal discomfort when nature eventually takes its course. In 40k, sure that power armour is very nice, but if the enemy are pointing Grav weapons and plasma guns at you you'll be envying those Wyches as they Fleet their way into cover.

Games in general, and video games are particularly bad for this, are not fond of reflecting the negative effects of armour. Most games that let you swim let you do so in full plate with no penalty and wear helmets with no effect on your hearing or vision. The visibilty thing is particularly interesting- I've talked to people who actually wear medieval helmets who don't think it's a major issue, but then there's this quote from an interview with Nicola Adams on winning her first pro boxing match:

"I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it," Adams told BT Sport. "You can see a lot more without the headguard. I loved it. I'm here to stay."

Now that's very interesting, given that the headgear worn by Olympic boxers is completely open in the front and is designed mostly to protect the forehead and temples. I've never yet seen a game in which the effect of a helm on the wearer's peripheral vision is represented, though of course any game in which you see from a first-person view does limit it anyway. (There's a related discussion there on why third-person is in some ways a more 'realistic' viewpoint but that's for another time)

On a related note, it always amuses me in RPGs when people ask for a 'hide helmet' option (and I'm one of them, much of the time) and others say something along the lines of "you can't have the protection and not accept the consequences" in a game where characters can drink healing potions apparently straight through a full-face helmet without even stopping to open the visor.

So, I think we've covered why characters might wear little or no armour in games. How much skin that armour reveals is a matter of personal taste but if you're going to have barbarians in loincloths it stands to reason that their sisters-in-arms aren't going to be wearing a smock. Let's take a quick look at another common argument, the dreaded 'boobie armour'. 

Quite a few people have an issue with the look of Sisters of Battle, and the fact that, like most (but not all) armoured female miniatures, they have breasts on the armour:

To look at this firstly from a 40k perspective, the most common complaint is that this forms a Shot Trap, where a bullet or blast hitting the curved piece would deflect into a more vulnerable area. I've never been hugely convinced by this argument.

After all, if we look at this example, the shot would seem to be likely to be deflected right into the middle of the chest, where we would expect the protection to be thickest, or up towards the gorget and shoulder guards, or off to the side, or down to the legs, none of which have any big gaps. Interestingly, if we look at Astartes armour..

..we can see plenty of places where a shot can deflect off a curve into another part of the armour, most notably the curved chest plate which seems to want to guide a bullet under those chunky shoulder pads, or the inviting hollow at the gut. I was going to say at this point that the bottom line is that Power Armour will almost always have some shot traps and the breasts just move it a bit, but then I read this very interesting piece, where in the comments it's explained that in fact, the concept of a shot trap in modern tank armour is basically obsolete, since at the velocities the projectiles now travel at they either shatter on impact, lodge in place, or go straight through. Since power armour is basically tank armour on an infantryman (being made of Ceramite and providing a save against Autocannons, which are the closest thing in 40k to modern tank cannons) it seems we don't need to worry after all. As for how armour shape would effect weapons like Shuriken, las-blasts etc. your guess is as good as mine, but it seems to work better than Stormtrooper armour does. The bottom line seems to be that for good protection, everything needs to be covered in armour and both Astartes and SoB armour seem to have that, er, covered.

Of course everyone really, really should be wearing their helmets but the Emperor protects, and all that. (At least SoB hair looks like it would fit in the helmets, unlike the Sons of Russ...) 

So what about fantasy? What about this sort of thing?

Now, let's draw a very important distinction firstly, in that we're not talking about something like this:

That has obvious gaps all over the place and a blade sliding off it would go straight into something squishy. Interestingly that image comes from this article which raises a few relevant points and also illustrates that I don't have an editor and Kotaku does. No, what we're talking about here is whether an otherwise fine set of plate is compromised by boobie curves, which is a commonly made argument. In that Kotaku piece, the armour-smith says the design 'seems to guide a thrust straight to the heart' and we can certainly see that this is true. If you look at that other video so, so far above though, we see a sword-strike on a breastplate and it just bounces off- it doesn't deflect, it simply rebounds from the armour. If the armour is strong enough to resist a full-blooded impact from the attacking weapon, then it being 'guided' to centre body mass like this doesn't matter- in fact, you could reinforce that central area to compensate. Real plate armour, like this...

..was rarely defeated by the weapon puncturing the metal, but by it entering a join, which is why there are so many overlapping plates. The idea that a thrusting weapon like a Rapier or Estoc would be able to go straight through the breastplate simply because a 'trap' prevented it sliding off seems fanciful.

Now of course 'boobie armour' is not in any way historical. In the era when plate armour was common, women on the battlefield as warriors were basically unheard of, and one of the rare examples we do know of seems to have worn fairly standard armour:

Good old Joan of Arc there, who was also the inspiration for Bretonnia's Repanse de Lyonesse (and wears basically this armour on that model) Also, between the armour and the person it's protecting would usually be leather and/or a cloth gambeson, to absorb the impact of blows (and prevent chafing, especially if you had mail in there too), so whilst some adjustments might be needed for the comfort of the bustier lady (as seen with modern police stab-vests) you wouldn't necessarily actually need breasts on the armour. However, armour certainly was made to show off the... virility of the wearer:

That's Henry VIII's armour, on display in the Tower of London, and as we can see Henry Jr was provided with generous accommodations. It's certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that were a warrior queen to take to the battlefield in armour, it might have been similarly exaggerated, even if the breasts on the armour actually didn't have their fleshly counterparts in them at all.

What I'd like to find, and so far Youtube is coming up blank on this, is a proper test of such 'feminised' plate armour versus various weapons, compared to the performance of the more historically accurate stuff. The expense of making this sort of thing only to then wreck it is obviously a factor- I talked to a lady a year or so a ago who was having a suit made, and so far she had an arm and a gauntlet after a years saving.

So here's my bottom line, at least for now- ultimately everyone has their boundary for what's 'ridiculous'. You might find SoB armour silly but have no problem with an Astartes with shoulder pads so big they'd crush his head if he shrugged, and that's fine. But it really comes down far more to your personal taste than to some slam-dunk of 'practicality'.