Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Ludicrosity Threshold

I saw The Last Jedi the other day, and overall I enjoyed it. Saying so obviously puts one in one trench or the other of a rather pointless argument at the moment, but as far as I'm concerned you can't tell someone else whether or not they liked something.

Anyway, that and a few other things I've read and watched recently got me thinking about suspension of disbelief and how people seem to have radically different thresholds for it, a phenomena I'm now christening the Ludicrosity Threshold. Now, The Last Jedi- and I'm treading carefully here to avoid the dreaded spoilers- takes some serious liberties with the laws of physics. Most notable is the implication that a spaceship needs to apply constant thrust to keep moving, which is a direct violation of Newton's First law, as Mass Effect memorably reminded us.

It annoyed me at the time a little, and I know I'm not the only one. Those fans who like to maintain wikis and make lore videos always find it especially irritating when things like this happen. The thing is, though, that it's not like Star Wars and physics have ever really got on all that well. From faster-than-light travel to slower-than light lasers (and swords made of lasers) to sounds in space and levitating space wizards, Star Wars has always been very much 'soft' sci-fi as opposed to the 'hard' sci-fi of something like The Expanse. The ships have always flown (and even that word is loaded) as if they were atmospheric or even naval craft rather than spaceships, and usually it doesn't bother us, but in this case, for me, it did. For some reason, my personal Ludicrosity Threshold was exceeded.

It might be that I just don't like Rian Johnson, at least with regard to the Threshold. I wrote a post some time ago about stupid time travel rules, and his movie "Looper" which like TLJ he wrote and directed comes in for heavy fire for its blatantly illogical approach to the subject. Meanwhile I'm a huge Dr Who fan and yet that show is constantly having to make all sorts of excuses for bizarre rules to stop everyone's favourite last son of Gallifrey (at least until Christmas) from just nipping back into the TARDIS for another go when things take upon themselves the aspect of the avocado.*

If this makes me some sort of realism hypocrite, then at least I'm in good company. I've lost count of the number of critics who line up to decry a sci-fi movie like "Johnny Mnemonic" or "Equilibrium" as 'hokum' and yet praise something like Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" the IMDB synopsis of which is:

"While on a trip to Paris with his fiancée's family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s everyday at midnight."

Now I'm sorry, but if The Keanu can't have a data-vault in his head because it's 'hokum', then Owen Wilson doesn't get to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salvador Dali. I still can't play the Dinner Party Game because I refuse to just say "I'd invite Albert Einstein" without specifying at what point in his personal timeline I'd pluck him from or how I'd stop him running off before the main course to attempt to memorise every physics article on the Internet. Do I have to neuralyse him afterwards?

The Ludicrosity Threshold becomes particularly interesting when applied as an argument for or against an element even being in a game or story. I talked some time ago about armour for fantasy adventurers and how people object to 'boobie armour' on grounds of realism and practicality but seem fine with oversized shoulder-pads that would crush the head of the wearer if he shrugged, and there's several other examples of that disconnect in that piece as well.

Any excuse to get Sonya into a post

Some people can't stand third-person perspectives because they let a player see things behind and to the side of them that they couldn't actually see. Others find the fact that in first-person you can't see things that should be clearly noticeable by peripheral vision every bit as jarring. For one person, any story in which magic plays a part is automatically devoid of merit and can have nothing interesting to say about anything. For another, setting fictional spy stories in the real world might seem stupid because they couldn't possibly happen in 'our' world for all sorts of complicated political and technical reasons. Hell, some people won't even read fiction at all for this very reason.

So what's the takeaway from all of this? For me, it's simply that the Ludicrosity Threshold- the suspension of disbelief, if you prefer, shouldn't be considered some sort of slam-dunk argument. It's a deeply subjective measure which can be great fun to debate- I'm sure more than one student got a great physics paper out of the swimming pool scene in "Passengers"- but just because one person gets 'taken out' of something doesn't mean everyone will. Much more important is to keep track of which rules you follow, and which you break, and at least stay consistent to that. A Babylon 5 Starfury might well fly according to proper physics, but if it turns up in Star Wars it needs to leave Newton at the door because that's just how they rolled a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I like that ending, so the ending it shall be. A Merry Christmas to any who've read all this way down, and if you're still hungry for more and your Ludicrosity Threshold hasn't been exceeded, there's still a festive Orky Short you might enjoy..

*Overly complicated way of saying 'go pear-shaped'.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Fails of the Nephilim

For some reason, the Nephilim Jetfighter is a model Games Workshop don't seem to like writing rules for. In every edition of 40k since it's been available, the rules for the Nephilim have been of the sort where you read them and go "wait... what?" (See also: The Missile Lock Debacle) 8th Edition, however, seems to be a new height of sheer oddness for the poor things.

When you first look at the Nephilim, it seems to be a fairly decent Flyer. It packs either a twin Lascannon or the Avenger mega-bolter, twin Heavy Bolters and two Blacksword Missile Launchers, giving it plenty of firepower, and has access  to the usual Ravenwing rules and defensive rules for a fast flyer. So far, so good. However, since it's weapons are Heavy and it can't not move since it can't Hover, it relies on the Strafing Run rule to keep its effective BS at 3+.

Strafing Run.

Now let's look at that again in case this isn't jumping out at you- i.e. in case you either wrote the Codex, or play-tested it. The Nephilim is a Jet Fighter, which as we all know from Death From The Skies is an air superiority flyer. The GW Webstore says:

"The Nephilim Jetfighter is as an interceptor that establishes air superiority of over the battlefield, allowing troops to concentrate on ground targets with little concern for aerial assaut."

Because this whole thing annoys me, I'm going to be all Internet Debater for a moment and point out that they misspelled 'assault' up there. (Edit: Ye Gods, the more I read that quote the worse it gets. Who proof-read that?) Yeah, I know, cheap shot. Anyway, as we can see, and the Codex backs this up to by calling them "Sleek air-to-air interceptors" (P.47), the Nephilim is supposed to be for engaging flyers. Even its weapons are geared to this, with the Blackswords giving up a point of Strength to most other Flyer missiles and gaining AP instead, making them a little better against light Flyers.

And it has Strafing Run.

In case you aren't seeing the implications still (why hello Mr or Ms Codex Author, glad you could make it) this means with its Heavy weapons, the Nephilim can never hit an enemy Flyer on better than a 4+. If the Flyer is Airborne and therefore has the Hard To Hit rule, that drops to 5+. So we have an air superiority Flyer that can't hit other flyers with even the accuracy of the average Imperial Navy stick-jockey. Worse, the Dark Talon, which is already a better choice for most ground attack roles due to its Hurricane Bolters being Rapid Fire and therefore hitting on 2+ as well as having a more powerful big gun in its Rift Cannon, is actually better at hitting Flyers with those Bolters than the Nephilim. I'm not a spreadsheet guy, but I'd be willing to bet that the Hurricanes on the Dark Talon will match or even better the Nephilims entire arsenal against a Flyer through weight of shots and superior accuracy. And the Dark Talon, boys and girls, is cheaper and can Hover.

So, how do we fix the Nephilim, and does it need 'fixing'? You can probably guess from every word that has preceded this that I think the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes. You could make the case that the Nephilim as it is is a decent ground attack Flyer, and it sort-of-is, but the Dark Talon simply does that job better and cheaper. Fixing it is pretty simple:

The Nephilim should have Interceptor (+1 To Hit vs models with FLY) rather than Strafing Run.

Now there is a definite downside to this fix, in that the Nephilim would then become a less effective, or if you prefer even less effective, ground-attack Flyer. However, since ground units generally don't have a similar rule to Hard To Hit the Nephilim would at least still usually hit them on 4+, which isn't terrible for a unit engaging something that isn't its preferred target.

I've reached out to GW via Facebook and email over this, because it's patently obvious to me that something is wrong here. I'll post an update if I get a reply!

Friday, 15 December 2017

An early Christmas present

(Image Source)
It may be almost a week early, but I decided to revisit some characters for a festive 40k short. So, if you please, find The Ork Mass Miracle in the bar on the right or right at the link there. Merry Christmas!

Not that this is definitely the last post before Christmas, but still.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Characters, or The Importance of Not Being Seen

As anyone who's read, or read some coverage of, Chapter Approved will know, the CHARACTER keyword came in for a tweak. Now, a CHARACTER can only be targeted if they're the closest model, regardless of whether any other models can be seen or not. So, for example, a unit of Scouts hiding out of LOS 10" away stop you shooting a Lieutenant 24" away out in the open. This, along with a few other recent developments, seems more than a little odd. Let's take a look in more detail.

Who wants to be a hero?
Firstly, what is the CHARACTER rule trying to represent and achieve? Most obviously, it allows characters to operate in support of their troops without immediately getting shot. Since 8th Edition doesn't allow characters to join units any more, this protection is necessary so Psykers, Commissars and Techpriests don't get picked off with Lascannons. The in-game explanation is that whilst we, as players with our bird's eye view of the battlefield, know how important that Guard Officer is, it's less obvious to an Ork Loota trying to pick him out amongst the press of Guardsmen.

Look at me! No, don't! I'm so confused!
Now, we immediately come across a bit of a disconnect here. Not to put too fine a point on it, 40k characters don't tend to exactly try to hide how important they are. The whole point of a model like an Ancient is that they inspire their brothers with an enormous flag, and even the dimmest Ork can probably figure out that the Humie with a six-foot banner is an important target. (We could look back to Vietnam, where US officers learned quickly that displaying any rank insignia got them shot.)

Things get a lot worse, though, when you consider Characters who also happen to be vehicles.
Nope, nothing important here. Just a plain 'old Dreadnought
The idea that a model still gets CHARACTER protection if it also has the VEHICLE keyword is very odd. Obviously they still have to have less than 10 wounds, but two obvious examples are the Librarian Dreadnought and the Ravenwing Talonmaster. The Talonmaster is a particularly nasty one since his Land Speeder puts out a lot of firepower and his abilities naturally mean he wants to be amongst other models. The Librarian Dreadnought at least has to get somewhat close to contribute more than a plain old Librarian can.

Why the LOS change?
The exact reason why the rules regarding models that are out of LOS but still closer than a Character changed is tricky to figure out. The best explanation is the ancient art of the Rhino Snipe, where a player could position a couple of his own models, usually Rhinos or other cheap, bulky models, so that a firer could only see the exact target he was intended to shoot.  The reasons for doing this varied from Edition to Edition- some only allow models in LOS to be killed, others only allowed units to fire at the nearest enemy unit full stop- but it was a well known dodge and until Chapter Approved worked in 8th Ed.

He's only a spectator
Then, of course, we also have the fact that models in melee still count as closer models, even though they can't be shot. A Commissar standing behind a blob of Guardsmen who are in melee is safe from enemy fire, even though the enemy can't shoot the Guardsmen either. Again, this feels like having one's cake and eating it.

Trying to make sense of it all
Now, one of these issues is reasonably simple to 'fix', assuming we agree a fix is needed. For the vehicle Characters, we could say that:

"If a model has both the CHARACTER and VEHICLE keywords, it may only be targeted with shooting attacks if it is the closest model to the firing unit with the VEHICLE keyword."

This would mean that enemies would still not suddenly know, for example, that a Talonmaster was a super-important Land Speeder, but could at least choose to shoot it instead of a single Dark Angels Scout who happened to be closer. If we remove the Wound total requirement, it also allows Tank Commanders to receive some benefit from the CHARACTER keyword by not being the closest tank, which would be an interesting tweak.

Now you see him, now you don't
The LOS and melee things are trickier. We could start by tweaking the CHARACTER rule as follows:

"A model with less than 10 wounds and the CHARACTER keyword can only be targeted with shooting attacks if they are the closest eligible target to the firing model." 

This removes the protection from models that are out of LOS, and models that are locked in melee, since these aren't eligible targets. Models with an indirect fire rule would still have to shoot targets that were out of LOS (eg Artillery models) but at least they still get to fire at something. However, the Rhino Snipe is still a thing, so we would also need to say:

"For the purposes of this rule, friendly models are not considered to block Line Of Sight. If a model is closer than the CHARACTER and the firer's LOS is only blocked by friendly models, the CHARACTER may not be targeted."

Now the wording on this is fiddly, and it goes to illustrate how tricky rules writing is- believe me, before you talk about how 'vague' the rules of any game are, try writing a set of rules that can't possibly be misinterpreted or misunderstood. It really isn't easy. The idea, though, is to prevent players Rhino Sniping by basically ignoring those Rhinos when deciding if the Character is the closest visible target. In game terms, we might imagine that your squad was about to fire on the enemy infantry when the Rhino got in the way, and now they're waiting for it to move. Of course you would still have the odd strange situation, but overall it reduces some of the sillier protections Characters get without making them hopelessly vulnerable. Let's put our three rules in order, adding the 'eligible target' wording to our vehicle rule:

"A model with less than 10 wounds and the CHARACTER keyword can only be targeted with shooting attacks if they are the closest eligible target to the firing model." 

For the purposes of this rule, friendly models are not considered to block Line Of Sight. If a model is closer than the CHARACTER and the firer's LOS is only blocked by friendly models, the CHARACTER may not be targeted."

"If a model has both the CHARACTER and VEHICLE keywords, it may only be targeted with shooting attacks if it is the closest eligible target to the firing unit with the VEHICLE keyword."

Now, I think that this makes Characters make a little more sense, but I'm interested to hear other opinions on it.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Chapter Disapproval

Now that gamers other than those in that little elite circle that always seems to get things early are finally getting their hands on Chapter Approved, I think it's fair to say that there's a little head-scratching going on. Let's have a look at some of the points of contention I've seen so far.

Since the release of the initial Indexes, Conscripts have been a popular choice for Guard commanders looking to fill a lot of the board with cheap chaff who are too scared of their own officers to run away, not to mention unleashing great torrents of inaccurate las-fire. The release of the Astra Militarum Codex saw one nerf, with the Conscripts being reduced in terms of maximum squad size and only understanding orders on a 4+. Not long after, the ability of Commissars to keep them in line got massively reduced in a FAQ, to the extent that in the event of heavy casualties they can even cause more Conscripts to flee. Now I'm not a competitive tournament player, but to me at this point Conscripts seemed to be fairly reasonable- they were still cheap chaff and there were still ways (Valhallans, Stratagems etc) to stop them breaking, but they were no longer the frustrating mass of immovability that they were at the start of 8th Edition. I thought the Commissar nerf was a bit much (and had made my own suggestions  on the matter). Then came Chapter Approved, and the sound of many a snapped drill-cane reverberated across the land.

For some reason, the team behind Chapter Approved decided to make Conscripts have the same points value per model as normal Guardsmen. Now, we might expect that two models both in the Troops section of the same army list and having the same points value would be roughly equivalent in usefulness- that is, that the Conscripts would have some abilities Guardsmen lack, and vice-versa. So let's take a look.
Conscript: LD 4, WS/BS 5+, no upgrades, can only receive Orders on 4+. Squad size 20-30.
Guardsman: LD 6 (7 from Sergeant), WS/BS 4+, access to heavy and special weapon, full access to Orders. Squad size locked at 10.
As we can see, the common Guardsman has several advantages over the Conscript. The only advantage the Conscript has is that the maximum size for the squad is larger. At first glance, there seems to be no reason to take Conscripts at all, but let's look a bit harder.

The Guard have several abilities that benefit a larger squad. Orders, obviously, become more efficient, particularly those that grant re-rolls or extra shots, and this effect is magnified if the Laurels of Command are in use to allow a double order. Aura abilities, like Harker's, or Leadership bubbles, are easier to apply to more models if the squads are bigger, and psychic buffs like Nightshroud or Stratagems like Take Cover work better on such squads, especially in Matched Play where the Rule of One means they can't be repeated. Possibly the strongest argument is the Tallarn Ambush Stratagem, which is limited to three units but with Conscripts could still be 90 men. And of course, Conscripts do allow more men per Troops slot.

Unfortunately, at least for the Conscript owner, many of these benefits are either negated or made irrelevant by other abilities and Stratagems. Most notably, the Combined Squads Stratagem lets the Guard player pay 1CP at the end of the movement phase to merge two Infantry Squads into one, and whilst this does cost a point unless that point is refunded by Grand Strategist the fact remains that having more Troops choices usually means having more CP in the first place. Being able to affect more models with one Order is only true if the Conscripts can pass the 4+ test, and even then the inferior profile of the models reduces the impact of the Order almost as much as the extra numbers magnify it. And of course, that Ld 4 means that heavy casualties can potentially cause a very large number of models to flee. Finally, the Send In The Next Wave stratagem, which looks on the surface to be an excellent reason to use large blobs of Conscripts, has now been clarified to cost Reinforcement Points, making it somewhere in the region of next to useless to worse than useless in Matched Play.

My gut feeling on this- and time will tell- is that this latest alteration to Conscripts was not made taking into account the other changes made to Commissars in the recent FAQ. If it were still easily possible to keep them on the table with a Commissar then the points change might just barely be defensible, but as it is I fear GW have gone well over the top.

The Puzzling Case of Renegades
Hold on to your hats, though, because there's a Faction that took it in the shorts every bit as badly- and even more puzzlingly- than the Guard. Yes, I'm talking about Renegades and Heretics, a poorly thought out army list that GW took advantage of Chapter Approved to make... worse. The most discussed example of this is the Malefic Lord more than doubling in points cost. The justification is that they were being used as Smite batteries, which would be a more convincing argument if Primaris Psykers didn't do it just as well and cost a little over half as many points now. Yes, the Malefic Lord has a 4++ and gets quite nasty if it survives a Perils but a much simpler fix would have been to make it lose its powers after a Peril, just as it used to in the previous (Imperial Armour 13) version of the rules. But that's not the worst of it.

Renegade Militia squads are one of the core Troops choices for a Renegades list. On paper, they look much like a Guard squad, but with 6+ armour, 5+ WS/BS, a Leadership of D6+2 rolled when they first have to test and no access to Orders, Regimental Doctrines or Stratagems other than the core rulebook ones. For this, they cost the same points per model as Guard squads do. They do at least enjoy the privilege of being able to go up to a squad size of 20. Chapter Approved makes two changes- firstly, it clarifies that the points of the squad don't reduce if two models combine into a Weapons Team, which I don't think I've ever seen anyone try to claim, but there you go. Secondly, like Guard, it splits the points cost of Melta and Plasma weapons into two brackets, a lower one for BS 4+ models and a higher one for 'other models'. If you spotted the face-palm worthy error there you're apparently smarter than GW's play-testers and proof-readers. Yes, Renegade Militia, with their 5+ BS, now have to pay as much for those weapons as BS 3+ Disciples and better yet, no BS 4+ model in the army even has access to them.

The other change- to the Renegade Command Squad- was to update the number of models allowed to 4-14, which was already the case but was wrong in the summary in FW Index:AM. Yay.

Just as the suggestion that Saint Celestine was getting more expensive outraged Sisters of Battle players who weren't abusing her in 'Soup' armies (this proved to be untrue, since if run 'properly' with the Geminae her points are unchanged) the fact that one of the worst supported army lists in 8th Edition got not only nerfed by having its one good unit almost tripled in points, but also nerfed by someone who clearly hadn't bothered to take two minutes to actually read the unit roster, has gone down like arsenic in baby-food. Let's bear in mind that in order to field them with the official Forge World models, you're spending £16.50 per squad of ten just for the arms or the same on a separate pack of torsos- if you want to make Renegades with both, you're looking at £33 and they still won't have legs. That no-one thought it might be an idea to make Renegades actually playable and yet they still wasted everyone's time putting them in Chapter Approved beggars belief. At this point, I doubt anyone on the planet is playing Renegade Guard as anything other than Loyalists with questionable ideas as to what 'Loyal' means, or Cultists.

Closing the Book.
We could go on looking at some of the other puzzling things in the book, like the Wych Cult Warlord Trait that is directly counteracted by a Succubus' own wargear, or the Sisters of Battle Relic that can be given to only one model in the entire army list who has little means to actually use it, but this post is long enough for now. Some of these issues are clearly just silly mistakes but once again we as the customers are being asked to pay £20 for a book with mistakes that leap from the page at first sight.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

No Soup for you!

I actually mean sort of the opposite of that, but come on, it sits up to be hit.

One of the things that have been really grinding the gears of the sort of people who get excited about that sort of thing is the power in 8th Edition of 'Soup' armies- armies sharing only a very generic keyword like CHAOS or IMPERIUM which use this to cherry-pick the very best multiple sub-factions have to offer. One obvious example is using Astra Militarum to add The Command Point Battery of Doom or simply a very cheap Battalion, but you can get much more extreme and mix and match even within a Detachment.

Now, the advent of the new Codexes should, in theory, help to mitigate this problem a bit. After all, since mixing sub-factions in a Detachment means you generally don't get to use your Chapter Trait or Regimental Trait, why would you do it? However, rather than make Soup less prevalent, I have a horrible feeling that it's instead going to lead to Soups within the sub-factions themselves.

For example, my Eldar, which I've had for something like 20 years now, are Biel-Tan. For my collection, that works out pretty well since I have quite a lot of Aspect Warriors and I've never liked Jetbikes all that much, mostly due to them being a bit fiddly to transport. I also have a couple of units of Wraithguard along with other Wraith models, plenty of Guardians, some Rangers, etc. Now here's the thing- when building lists for my Eldar I keep thinking I don't have enough Command Points, so I was considering picking up some more Rangers to help make a small Battalion and give me enough Snipers to achieve something. Of course Rangers get nothing for being Biel-Tan, so a Battalion of them with a couple of cheap Warlocks might as well be Alaitoc to help keep them alive- and the problem here is that barring a few minor synergy losses, there's literally no reason not to do it. Since Rangers don't even generally wear Craftworld colours I wouldn't even need to repaint my existing ones.

Those two Wraithguard units and my Wraithlord? Why should I ever take them as Biel-Tan when I gain literally no benefit from doing so? They could go in my Battalion and be Alaitoc for the -1 To Hit, or the Rangers could go Iyanden or Ulthwe. Maybe if I decide I want Jetbikes then the Wraithblades could go Saim-Hann with them for the charge bonuses.

You could make similar arguments for most other Factions that have a Codex. I fully expect the Ork book, when it appears, to make it a no-brainer to take your Bikers as Evil Sunz and your Looters as Deff Skullz. I even saw a very telling comment about Chapter Approved that Shadow Spectres were now good for Alaitoc (due to stacking hit penalties for opponents) and over-costed for everyone else. And this, I think, shows us the heart of the problem. The various Traits that the Codexes add very rarely benefit all the units that faction has access to- they suggest not just a play-style, but an army composition. There will be some models in people's armies right now from previous editions which now feel like they aren't meeting their full potential because they're from the wrong Chapter or Craftworld. Then, of course, there's the fact that adding more sub-factions opens up more Stratagems, some of which can then be used on units not from that sub-faction.

Now in 'reality', those units would exist because Biel-Tann, say, still need extra warriors occasionally and have to press Wraithguard into service rather than just asking Iyanden to lend them some. The Ultramarines have bikers because the Codex says they should, even though they could just get the White Scars to do it. But the problem is that the Faction rules only give minor benefits for all your models having the same sub-faction, and most of those are in the form of aura abilities that aren't all that relevant to specialists that probably won't be operating all that close to the main force.

An obvious 'fix' would be to limit the number of Detachments available at a given points/ power level, so say only 2 in 1000 points/ 50 Power, three for 1500/75 and so on in Matched Play and tournaments.. That would seem to make sub-faction abuse harder and at least require some decisions to be made when fielding Soups. It might even make decisions about what units to take based on what slots they fill a bit more challenging, rather than the current method where so long as you have enough cheap HQs you can probably take anything. An alternative, a carrot as opposed to a stick, as it were, would be to award a Command Point bonus to armies using only a single Chapter, Chaos Legion or Regiment to reflect the improved tactical cohesion such a force would enjoy, though such a bonus would have to be tied to the points/power value of the game rather than the number of Detachments or it would only make the CP advantage of low-point-per-model Factions greater.

Perhaps we could even combine these ideas, by reducing the Command Points of an army by 1 for every Detachment added that has any Faction Keyword not in common with the army Warlord. As soon as I write that I see that the exact wording would be tricky to avoid unintended consequences (for example SPIRIT HOST or SCHOLA PSYKANA)  but I think the basic idea- of making armies more efficient the more they stick to a single Faction- is sound. It could perhaps be added to the rule granting Traits and Attributes so you would take the penalty for each Detachment not sharing a CRAFTWORLD, REGIMENT, CHAPTER or whatever with your Warlord's detachment.

Of course for many players, none of this is a major issue, and it remains to be seen if the competitive scene will continue to (d)evolve in such a way that we're even talking about this a few months from now, but since the new reactive GW is trying to pay much closer attention to it, even those of us who just like points values need to take notice.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Difficult(y) Question

Picture related if your brain works like mine does
So, recent events have once again brought the concept of 'difficulty' to my mind, and I think I've finally nailed down my thoughts about it. We Shall See.

I'm a big fan of the Dark Souls games, or more broadly, the 'souls genre' which also includes Demon's Souls and Bloodborne. A complaint that is often levelled against the series is that it's 'too hard' or should include a lower difficulty setting for those who can't handle it. If this call is resisted, people often bring up the fact that no other form of entertainment prevents you from getting to the next bit until you've mastered the current bit- to paraphrase Dara O'Brien, if you want to finish reading Lord of the Rings you don't have to personally defeat the Balrog.

The thing is, though, that if you think about it this 'fact' isn't actually a fact at all. The thing stopping most people from finishing 'War and Peace', for example, is the (approximate) 1,225 pages of 'War and Peace' you have to read to do it. A few years ago, inspired by the Dynasty Warriors series of games, I read 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms', one of the seminal works of Chinese literature* that underpins a lot of their modern culture. I finished it, and enjoyed it for the most part, but it was hard going in places and I nearly gave up. There are plenty of other literary examples, like James Joyce's 'Ulysses' (written in an almost impenetrable stream-of-consciousness) or Georges Perec's 'A Void' (an originally French novel written entirely without the use of the letter 'e') which many people find it very hard to get to the end of without page-flipping there. We might think of, say, Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling as 'easy' authors and Tolstoy or Mervyn Peake as 'hard' ones.

Music is just the same. As I was writing this I had the Mastodon album 'Blood Mountain' on, which I still find too damn weird to actually listen to without doing something else at the same time. Most people who get into any genre of music other than the blandest pop or lounge crooning start with the easy stuff and then graduate to the more complicated and challenging artists- maybe Andew W.K, Halestorm or Linkin Park got you into rock and metal, and then you moved on to Nine Inch Nails or Slipknot. Back in the days when record shops were still a big thing, most stores had a section marked 'Easy Listening' for a reason.

Now, here's what all this has in common. The perceived 'difficulty' of this material is an intrinsic and vital part of what makes it good. Not- and this is important to recognise- necessarily better than the 'easy' stuff, but critical to how it does what it does. If the word-play and wit of a Jane Austen novel isn't capturing you by page 20 (sorry Jane, this includes me though I loved you in Saint's Row) then there's no point skipping to page 200, it's just going to get worse. If the Undead Burgh keeps killing you and you aren't enjoying the process of figuring out what you did wrong and trying again, then making that bit easier is just going to push the moment you get frustrated and give up on the game a little further away- possibly meaning you miss out on the chance to return it.

A game, be it playground, sporting, card, tabletop or console, is a series of linked challenges each of which leads to the next, just as a book is a linked series of words and a song a linked series of notes. For some, those transitions will feel natural and right, to others they'll be jarring, dissonant and uncomfortable. That's fine, and implies no fault on the part of either party, but just like most readers will accept that certain books just weren't written for them and most people understand that a lot of music is really, really aimed at someone else, so it is with games. The thing presenting the challenge doesn't have to change- the consumer has the option to try to rise to the challenge, or move on to something less tricky. Both options are fine.

*I read it in English, of course. I was interested, but not that interested.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Astra Militarum Command Point Battery.. of DOOM!

I played a game of 40k tonight. I started that game with 9 Command Points, and ended with 6. At a rough estimate, I spent 15.

You might think this is due to some sort of cunning trickery or use of obscure or arcane rules, but in fact the effect can be achieved  by taking less than 150 points of AM models. In my case, I was playing my Sisters of Battle, but supplemented the list with a Battalion of my Praetorian Imperial Guard. What makes this so deadly is the simple combination of an Artefact and a Warlord Trait.

My, what a big beak you have...
The Artefact is Kurov's Aquila. It can be taken by any Officer, and gives you a simple ability- every time your opponent uses a Stratagem, you gain a Command Point on the roll of 5+. On its own, this is good, if not exceptional, and should see you gain about 1/3 of your opponents CP total over the course of a game. However, when combined with a particular Warlord Trait things really start to take off..

As cunning as a cunning fox who was recently appointed Chair of Cunning at Cambridge University..
The second half of this blindingly-obvious combo is the Grand Strategist Warlord Trait. This ability comes in two parts- firstly, it allows a single re-roll in the game of a single hit, wound or save roll. Useful, especially if you're playing Matched Play and using the Rule of One, limiting you to one Command Re-roll per phase, but hardly incredible. The second part of the ability, however, is jaw-droppingly potent. If you are Battle-Forged and have your Warlord in play,  then whenever you spend Command Points on a Stratagem each point is refunded on a roll of 5+. This effectively increases your pool of CP by approximately 1/3, and of course for every Command Point you gain through the use of the Aquila there's another 1/3 change it'll get refunded when spent.

Have swagger stick, will travel
What makes this combination so exceptionally powerful is a whole host of factors working in concert. Firstly, since the Aquila only needs to go off once to refund the cost of taking an additional Artefact, it makes it practically an auto-include. Even if you prefer the Laurels of Command or one of the weapons, there's simply no reason not to pay that single Command Point to also take the Aquila assuming you have more than one Officer of some sort. Secondly, as the various Codexes come out more and more exciting Stratagems keep appearing and players will understandably want to use them. The more Command Points the enemy has, however, the happier the proud owner of a AMCPBOD (check the title) will be. The fact that 8th Edition is so horde friendly is another huge bonus- if you take a simple Battalion of three Infantry Squads, a Company Commander and a second HQ of choice you gain a massive strategic bonus, thirty cheap bodies to sit on objectives and three units capable of putting out almost 40 shots each under ideal conditions, all for less than the cost of some Space Marine characters.

Just add salt
The AMCPBOD is incredibly flexible. It's obviously extremely effective when used in a pure AM list, but any Imperial army will benefit hugely from it, especially factions like the Sororitas who don't have their own Codex yet. I've gone on about this before, but to me it seems particularly odd that an army like Marines should suddenly gain a huge amount of tactical flexibility if supported by thirty Guardsmen and commanded by an Officer with fewer years of service under his belt than some of the Scouts. I'll be pretty surprised if we don't see this combination used in quite a few highly placed tournament armies over the next few months.

Friday, 13 October 2017


With the way 40k has been developing recently I've had a few thoughts on various topics. I didn't think any of them was quite post-worthy on their own, so here's a few of them all lumped together.

Are the Guard too good?
Now this isn't exactly a balance question- we all know the Guard are a strong army in this edition and that's fine, though I'd like to see Renegades get.. well, something. No, the thing that's been bothering me is that considering that they're meant to be your average Joe Footslogger, Guard seem to be a bit too skillful. Yes, they've got those bog-standard stats, but look at the Tallarns, for example- whereas the Black Legion suffer penalties to Advance and fire their Bolters, the Tallarns can do the same with their Lasguns at no penalty. Both still end up needing 4+ to hit, of course, but one army is a bunch of standard soldiers whereas the other are veterans of over a thousand years of warfare.

Likewise, whilst the Ultramarines can disengage from combat and fire at a -1 penalty, any Guard squad can pull the same feat at no penalty just because a guy in a hat shouts at them. With a Commissar, Guard have more resistance to losses from Morale than a squad of 20 Noise Marines with a Dark Apostle standing next to them. It just feels a little.. off to me.

I have a cunning plan...
Compounding the issue is the truly mental amount of Command Points available to Guard armies. Whilst most armies can do the same with Cultists, Scouts etc, most of the Guard's tricks work best with the basic Infantry Squad and require some from of Officer, meaning there's no 'tax' element. When you consider that with Artefacts and Warlord Traits Guard can also gain a CP on a 5+ whenever an enemy uses a Stratagem and get their own back on a 5+ when used, on top of often having starting CP in the double figures, it adds up to an army not known for its subtlety having more access to tricks, traps and treachery than Eldar or any form of Astartes. Perhaps this will change as 8th develops, but right now the Guard feel like a more tactically flexible army than the elite forces that are supposed to run rings around them. As Codexes add more uses for Command Points we're increasingly in the position where smaller elite armies, starved of CP, start to look.. average. Perhaps the Spearhead detachment needs to give more CP to compensate?

Big problem, big solution?
With the appearance  of the new Primaris super-heavy, and the talk recently about how horde armies dominate the meta, I thought I'd talk a bit about how the two interact. For all their large Wound pool and firepower, I doubt most horde armies will be unduly bothered by vehicles like the Baneblade- powerful though they might be, weight of fire will bring them down and that's what hordes (especially the Guard, let's be honest) excel at. The calculus becomes very different when we look at the Astartes super-heavies like the Relic Fellblade, for example. The Fellblade, as well as impressive firepower, is T9 with a 2+ save. Whilst both of these are only a point better than their Guard brethren, they make a huge difference in terms of resilience. A lascannon, for example, needs 4+ to damage the thing and even then it gets a 5+ save, assuming the controlling player hasn't taken any other steps to protect it. Worse, if the thing decides to assault it can continue to fire at full effect whilst locked in combat, despite the enemy not being allowed to shoot back, and with 9 WS 5+ S9 ap -2 Attacks doing D3 damage each it'd be mad not to. (This one is my Most Unfavourite Stupid Rule in 8th edition)

I'm not sure if such vehicles are necessarily a hard counter to horde armies since I've not tried it, but certainly if backed up by some Vindicares to pick off critical Characters it seems that with their near-complete immunity to light weapon fire they'd be very effective. Certainly they beat the heck out of most non-FW vehicles- the Fellblade is more than a match for two Land Raiders despite costing less points, for example. Should the new Primaris tank be as tough and follow the recent tradition of having more guns than it knows what to do with, I think it might be a strong contender.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Everybody's Special...

With the new Imperia- sorry, Astra Militarum Codex bearing down on us I thought I'd take a moment to talk about special characters. One of the points of contention that's particularly major with the Guard is that with 40k's timeline having moved on over a century most of the special characters from the previous Codex should be, well, dead. In fact in the case of Kell he's most definitely deceased, whereas Creed is currently stuck in a Necron Pokeball as far as anyone knows. Yarrick was already older than Methuselah* in the last book and by now he must be pushing 200 at least.

I don't yet have the book in my paws yet, so whether it's written to suggest these characters are still active or whether they're presented purely for 'historical' games is something I don't know. We've seen some characters, notably Eldrad, apparently die in the story only to come back later as if nothing had happened, after all. The idea of characters being included for historical reasons throws up some interesting questions. Some, like Captain Tycho, keep turning up despite being dead for some time, and in the case of Tycho we even have profiles for him pre- and post-Black Rage. Others, like Sergeant Namaan of the Dark Angels, died in the story and promptly vanished from the Codex (whilst the Ultramarines promptly got a veteran Scout Sergeant because of course they did).

Often this comes down to models. We never got models for characters like Namaan, Lady Malys (in fact about half the old Dark Eldar specials) or Iyanna Arienal, and so many of them disappeared from later Codexes. Even Vect suffered this fate when the Raider and Ravager kits were updated and his conversion parts were no longer compatible. Why some of these models were never made is a question only GW can answer- I know Malys in particular inspired many conversions and seems reflected in the Yvraine model.

EDIT: Namaan was apparently such a ninja that I didn't notice he did once have a model! Image from Coolminiornot.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
One of the arguments often made of Special Characters is that whilst they're named, they in fact represent archetypes. Maybe your Dark Angels Successor Chapter doesn't have Belial in it, but it has a Master of the Deathwing with a different name who otherwise follows all Belial's rules. We do run into an issue though when a character's rules are tied into their history. For example- and again I've not seen him in the book yet so this might be covered- you can apparently use Creed and still use the 'Vengeance for Cadia' stratagem, which feels odd since if Creed is running about, Cadia doesn't need avenging yet. Of course we could think of it as a 'Cadia Stands!' stratagem but it illustrates the point that things can start to get more than a little screwy as far as the timeline goes. Of course you could also use Creed in a combined Imperial force with Primaris Marines, which is even more obviously messed up. Whoever this guy who's just like Creed with a bodyguard just like Kell is, he seems to have more tricks than his predecessor despite no-one having ever heard of him.

Of course in this age of Doctrines and Chapter Traits, we also have to be careful not to cross the streams, as it were. If you decide to play a heavily Psychic chapter and add Tigurius, then that chapter is Ultramarines Successors, full stop. No adding Ezekiel how ever much you might like him, unless you want to gimp your Trait completely with a mixed Detachment or have some sort of Inner Circle detachment which has totally different rules.

Roll your own
Now you could argue, and you would be right, that I'm getting worked up about nothing. In truth I'm not that bothered and I prefer GW's permissive approach over most other methods. But this does touch on something else I've noticed in both GW games, and games as a whole recently. It used to be that creating your own characters was a big part of gaming. You could build your custom Chapter Master, your Autarch, your Chaos Lord etc. In contrast, the newer Codexes and models seem to be taking those options away. A Primaris or Death Guard character, for example, is really limited in their weapon options and even Captains and Chaos Lords have lost options like Jump Packs and Bikes in the recent Codexes. Of course these are present in the Indexes for now, but going forward it seems that customising your own characters is being encouraged less and less.

We see the same thing in RPGs. Play any computer or console RPG and you can bet that if it deigns to let you create your own character, it won't be as interesting as the ones you meet. Maybe you won't even talk. That cool-looking outfit? Not for you, sonny, even if you kill the guy wearing it and loot his armour. I just got done playing Divinty: Original Sin 2, and in that whilst you certainly can create your own original character you get more story, voice-acting and personality if you choose one of the pre-made ones. You can customise them heavily, of course, but the name and the history aren't yours. It's the same for most high-profile games, with the noble exception of the Souls series. Play The Witcher, and you'd better damn well like Geralt because he's The Witcher and that's that.

Most modern tabletop games are the same. Warmachine, for example, is very particular about who the heroes are and you sure as hell don't get to make any choices beyond which one you pick. (For that matter, in some events you don't even get much choice about what colour you paint them)

For someone like me, who likes to name his characters, build custom models for them, and tell their stories, this is deeply worrying. I used to play a lot of pen and paper roleplaying games before that fire burned out for me and I still gravitate to games where if the characters don't appeal, I can roll my own. With some 40k characters not even having the option to choose which sort of Power Weapon they have, and mono-pose kits increasingly becoming the norm, I do wonder where things are going.

*on research possibly not, since Methuselah apparently lived to the age of 969. Older than Methuselah was at some point is more accurate but less fun.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Hellforged Contemptor wants your lunchmoney

I've been pretty vocal in the past on the subject of Forge World's work on their Indexes for 8th Edition, but despite that (and thanks, in part, to a fairly prompt FAQ/ Errata) there's some fun stuff in the Chaos index. The one that stood out most to me was the Hellforged Contemptor dreadnought. As is usual for me, rather than get the official Forge World model (and to be honest I'm not even sure which model that would be at the moment) I built my own. You can read more about the modelling side of things over on my DA account.

Here, though, I'm going to talk a little about what the HFC can do, and why I like running one, because I can. There are two things which primarily distinguish the HFC from the loyalist Contemptor- the Hellforged rules, and the weapon loadout. Of these, the thing that jumps out first is the combination of the Hellfire Reactor and the Machina Malifica.

Devil in You
The Hellfire Reactor is similar at first glance to the Atomantic Shielding of a standard Contemptor, giving a 5++ save, but the difference is that the HFC also gains a 4++ in close combat. It also explodes a little more dramatically in that Psykers caught in the explosion lose D6 rather than D3 wounds. The improved save in melee combines with the Machina Malifica, which allows the Dreadnought to gain a wound back on a 5+ if it kills an enemy in combat. Since this ability can heal multiple points a turn, it's possible for the thing to regain four or even more wounds in a single phase in this manner. The downside (clarified by the FAQ) is that the HFC cannot be repaired by other means. Obviously, though, this is a machine that wants to get stuck in.

Gunning up
The HFC has access to the usual range of Forge World Chaos weapons (as well as the Havok Launcher after the FAQ) like the Butcher Cannon which with its -2 modifier to the Leadership of the target might well see use with some Morale manipulating strategies, and with a BS of 2+ base it's certainly a reliable platform for them, but there's no 'mortis' dual-gun option and we're already looking to get stuck in, so we'll be concentrating on the options which can be built into the melee weapons. The stand-out weapon here is the Soulburner, an Assault D3 weapon with a 24" range that does a Mortal Wound for each hit scored. These things are brutal- they perhaps don't have the raw damage output of heavier weapons but they can quite easily scour heavily-armoured troops out of cover and are very handy against the natural enemy of the assault walker, Storm Shield Terminators. Since they're Assault and can be fired on the Advance by a model with a 9" move and a 2+ BS, they're also quite easy to bring to bear.

I'd like to play a game..
The final piece of the HFC puzzle is the choice of melee weapons. The stock Hellforged Deathclaw, with x2 Strength (effective 14) -3 Save, and 3 Damage, is already a very nasty piece of cutlery but for maximum terror look no further than the Chainclaw upgrade. This thing is -4 Save and a horrifying 4 Damage per wounding hit, which is utterly savage. I did miss a trick by upgrading both weapons on my model, which technically isn't necessary since the +1 Attack bonus simply requires two melee weapons. (UPDATE: As of Chapter Approved, this is no longer the case- you get a big discount for taking a pair so it's actually cheaper.) In any case, the five Attacks this leaves the HFC with (six if it's a World Eater and charges, since the FAQ added the HELBRUTE keyword) can potentially put 20 (or 24) Wounds on a target, almost enough to destroy a Fellblade in one round. Even seriously damaged, the WS of the model only degrades to 4+ and it keeps all of its Attacks, so it can never be counted out. When combined with the 4++ save, a HFC in melee is capable of weathering a lot of damage and even possibly getting healthier- I've had mine take out a fully healthy Trygon in one round whilst on 1 wound, and receive the charge of Marneus Calgar and kill him.

There are other worlds than these
Of course the Khornate route is just one approach to the HFC. I'm a purist, so I don't take Sorcerers with my World Eaters, but the model would obviously benefit from Warptime and any of the Mark-specific defensive buff spells, as well as Dark Fury. Running one as a Renegade Chapter model allows it to advance and charge, which combined with the Soulburners is particularly appealing. Going Alpha Legion for the -1 to hit at 12" or above, especially combined with defensive buffs, is a great way to assure that the thing will survive, because believe me it doesn't take long for one of these things to become a fire magnet. However it's fielded, the Hellforged Contemptor is going to make an impact, one way or another.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Commissar-Conscript Conundrum

With the recent BOLS article on the winning list from NOVA we're once again seeing that 40k seems to have a bit of an issue with blob units pared with morale-boosting abilities. Whilst some might say that Orks, with Nobz and Mob Rule, and Chaos, with Dark Apostles, are too good at keeping large units in the fight and immune to morale (I would tend to disagree) the outright leader in the field are Conscripts paired with a Commissar. For a low cost, this combination allows a 40-strong blob to soak up a ludicrous number of casualties and still only lose one model to Morale. As with most things in 40k, this isn't necessarily a problem on its own, but if you start seeing multiple units of Conscripts, all being buffed with Orders and all being basically impossible to get rid of, it starts to look like an issue.

Have Hat, will Inspire
So, let's firstly look at how a Commissar works, and what he's meant to be doing. The Commissar, or his HQ equivalents, all have a 6" bubble of Leadership (8 for basic, 9 for Lord/ Yarrick). They also have another 6" bubble within which ASTRA MILITARUM units only lose one model if they fail a Morale check. This, let's remember, represents the Commissar shooting a member of the unit, making it clear to the rest that they'll get the same if they run.

The first issue I'd raise here  is that the range of both bubbles is the same, which makes the Morale buff almost irrelevant in the Conscript case. Since 6" is half the effective range of a Bolt Pistol and a Commissar is a BS 3+ model, it seems a bit of a stretch to have him able to pick off a fleeing trooper (who we can reasonably assume is trying to avoid him) at that range. So fix number one that I would suggest is this:

Fix #1: Reduce the range of Summary Execution to 3".
Make the removed model the one nearest to the Commissar.

This also leads nicely into the next point. We know that a model with a Bolt Pistol can usually only fire it once per turn. The Commissar is already 'firing' out of his own turn but this presumably exists in the same temporal bubble that Overwatching units use, so we'll let him skate on that. But there's certainly no reason to assume he could, er, 'encourage' multiple units at once- there has to be a limit on how many is reasonable. So fix number two would be this:

Fix #2: Limit Summary Execution to only affect one unit per player turn.

With these two tweaks, we still maintain the ability of a Commissar to do his job without allowing him to hold an entire army in place single-handed. We still have the issue of Conscript units being almost impossible to remove, since 40k now has far less attacks that hit all members of a unit or all models in an area. For the third tweak, then, we need to reduce the effect the Commissar has on big units without removing his signature ability. I would suggest the following third fix:

Fix #3: Summary Execution reduces the number of models lost to Morale by the Leadership of the Commissar, to a minimum of 1 model.

I think this one is pretty elegant. For a standard-sized squad, it leaves the ability basically unchanged- even a base LD 8 Commissar will prevent a standard Guard Squad losing more than 1 man to Morale, just as the God Emperor intended. But for a 40-strong blob that should lose 15 men to a single test, the Commissar would reduce that loss to 7- still a lot of guys, but a fair level of mitigation.

I wouldn't necessarily advocate applying all three of these fixes- #3 might be enough on its own if the biggest issue is perceived to be that Conscripts hang around for too long, rather that the ability of Commissars  to hold multiple units. I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of other players on the matter.

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.