Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Wheel of Fortune- keeping it random

Random Allocation, and similar rules, are the sort of thing that can really blindside you when playing 40k. The Wrath of Magnus. for example, has a Warpstorm result where you have to pick a random model with the Daemon rule, which might well be a single model from an army of 100 or more eligible candidates. Let's have a look at how to handle it.

Random Allocation

To look first at Random Allocation itself, where we simply have to pick a random model in a unit to take a Wound, we find the 40k rulebook is not much help, simply telling us to pick the model 'at random'. So how can we do this?

Firstly, we can just let a dice sort it out. This seems simple, and sometimes is, but has its problems. In the ideal case where a unit is exactly six strong and standing in a line, the humble D6 rides to our rescue. If there are more or less than six models, though, it might help to have a bag of old-school RPG dice- D4, D10s, D12s or even D20s. Even then, you probably won't have the exact right dice, but most gamers will handle this by rolling, say, a D10 for a 9-man squad and just re-rolling a 10. There are a couple of pitfalls to beware of, though. Firstly, and this is what we might call rookie mistake #1, never roll multiple dice at once for this- say by rolling 2D6 to pick between models in a unit of 12. If I have to explain why, you've probably not been doing this very long but suffice it to say that whichever model got assigned '7' will be getting pretty nervous.

Hint #2- he's in the middle of this.
The other, potentially more subtle problem is that models rarely line up nicely in the middle of a game. In a mass of models it can be hard to assign a number to each model, and harder still to remain consistent without causing arguments, such as when that d10 comes up 6 and you're sure that 6 was the meltagun guy, but the other player swears blind that 6 was the bolter chap standing next to him.

My preferred method with Random Allocation is to do just that- simply reach into the squad without looking too hard and grabbing the first model to hand. This has the advantage of speed, but obviously is too open to abuse to be used in tournaments or other situations where player trust might be a little lacking. Some rules, like Mob Rule, imply a 'fluffy' source for the damage, such as allocating wounds from Breaking 'Eads to the nearest Boyz to the Nob, or removing the runtiest Ladz in a Squabble, but again these can hardly be used in a tournament.

The Chop

So, here's an alternative method, which comes to us from the world of computer programming. Basically, the Chop relies on splitting a set of data in two, and then picking the most desirable of the two remaining sets. So for example, to randomly pick a model in a squad you draw a line through the middle and flip a coin, or roll a D6 (1-3 left, 4-6 right). You then halve the selected models again, and roll again. Obviously this will often mean one 'half' is one model bigger than the other, but overall this should even out. Eventually you end up with a single lucky (or unlucky) winner, and since both players can clearly see what's going on, it's less likely that confusion will result.

The Chop principle can also be used in other random situations. For example, if we have to pick a single random model on the table, we can simply split the table down the middle and roll to pick one half or the other. Then we split that half, and roll again. This will start to zero in on a single location pretty fast, even in an Apocalypse game, and of course once a zone holds only a few models we can easily use a more traditional method to make the final selection- the Chop's principle advantage is how fast it handles large amounts of data, rather than in efficiency at the end.

We can even use the Chop on other random events, like Weapon Destroyed results, by zoning the tank's hull into port and starboard or fore and aft, though usually this can be handled with a single roll.

There are probably other ways of randomly selecting, but these are my thoughts on the matter. Let me know your preferred method in the comments, if you feel the urge...

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Logan, and what the critics miss...

First off, whilst I'm not going far into spoiler territory here, this will work better if you've seen 'Logan'. Enter at your own risk....

Many critics are calling 'Logan' the best X-men movie ever, some even call it the best superhero movie ever- which in critical circles is admittedly like awarding the prize for 'Tallest Midget' or 'Most comfortable Thai Prison' but praise is praise. I'm not going to tell them they're wrong on that, since it's a subjective opinion and anyway, Logan is damn good. You're probably going to have more fun with 'Deadpool', but that's not always the end goal. My own mini-review is simply to say yes, it's damn good, it's certainly moving, and frankly it's refreshing to see Logan's savagery accurately represented for once. It makes you appreciate what the more clean-cut X-men were dealing with all those years.

That last thought brings me on to my topic, something which has irked me about reviews of... well let's call them 'superhero movies' for now. I like to live by the maxim 'a person is about as big as the things that make them angry' so I've got no further than irked, or on occasion miffed, but still, miffed I am.

Many of the critics came out of 'Logan' expressing surprise at how much they were moved by it. In part, of course, this is due to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart being two of the best actors in the X series, but I think there's more to it than that. You see, we've grown up with these characters- we've seen a young, optimistic Xavier found his X-men, seen Logan struggle with his past, lost loves and old sins. We've seen them defeat terrible threats, mourn loss, and even re-write the future, and now, finally, we see the inevitable end of their path. 'Logan' isn't just a strong story in it's own right, it's a pretty hard full stop at the end of a longer story. Not every chapter of that story was exactly stellar, but all of it informs our feelings for the characters.

So why am I irked? Well, read a review of any of the MCU movies, once the critics had got over the initial shock of the first Iron Man being as good as it was, and some hack will eventually come out with the complaint that 'it would be a better movie if it wasn't busy setting up the next one'. To call this complaint dumb is to describe the Mariana Trench as 'sort of low, and a bit damp'. Movies are still catching up with TV in this respect, but we've come far beyond the days where a story was simply contained within one film. Game of Thrones 'Red Wedding' works because of what comes before it- sure, you could make a decent short film out of a similar idea, but it would lack the punch. Babylon 5 spent two whole seasons carefully building to the events of its third and fourth and the result was a show still held up in high regard some twenty years later, even with sets made of cardboard and polystyrene and effects by an Amiga.

Personally, I found 'Captain America: Civil War' a very tough film to re-watch because for all of the entertaining action, the emotional conflict is pretty painful. All the talk of 'Team Stark' or 'Team Cap' misses the point completely because ultimately these people are on the same side- and we know this because of the ten or so films before. When Steve and Tony are split apart again just as they seemed to be reconciling, it's a gut-punch with twenty hours of windup behind it, and that's what makes it hurt.

It's fair to say that the X-movies have struggled to match the core MCU in terms of consistency, but it's hard to argue that with 'Logan' they didn't stick the landing. This sort of long-form storytelling is tough, and right now many others are trying to emulate it with varying degrees of success. The bottom line is that in this new age, the story doesn't necessarily end when the credits roll- there's often another 'after' that follows the Happily Ever one and it might not be so happy after all.