Saturday, 11 April 2020

The high, high price of free

With everything that's going on recently, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about one of the less obvious pressures that I'm seeing at the moment. Many public-spirited entities, be they broadcasters, famous authors, musicians or whatever, have taken it upon themselves to offer their work for free to entertain everyone in these trying times. Now of course, that's great, and I'm sure all of us have taken advantage of that largesse in one way or another.

But there's another side to this, and it's a side that I, as what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as an 'independent author' find myself banging up against. Whatever sort of field you create in, one of the simplest ways to get that much-needed initial attention is to give people a taste of it for free. Maybe its the new cafe giving away free samples of coffee or little bits of their very nice cake. Maybe its a band letting people download some of all of their first album for nothing, in the hope of attracting people to their tour. Maybe (and we're getting warmer) its an author making a book free, or offering short stories and other content for nothing in order to attract readers to their work.

Now this boils down to simple competition and market forces, ultimately. A new author (band/ cafe/ etc) is an unknown quantity at first, and people only have so much time and money. Even if something looks interesting, you need to make it cheaper than the established stuff to have even a hope of getting anyone's attention, unless you can afford a massive advertising campaign starring Idris Elba or something. That's why the free giveaway is such a powerful tool- except when it isn't.

Right now, for example, someone could buy the ebook version of my first novel for £1.99, or the equivalent amount in their local currency. That's not much for something that took two years to write. Alternatively, they can go to the BBC Sounds app and have David Attenborough read books to them for nothing. Recently the Internet Archive began 'lending' people free copies of books they'd digitised
and not limiting themselves by the number of copies of those books that they actually had. Leaving aside whether or not the authors of those books actually see any payment for this (and as I understand it, they don't), try to imagine how infuriating it is for a new author to see people choosing to read the market leader in their field for free from such a service, rather than giving their own work the time of day.

I must admit, until I started (trying) to write books professionally, I didn't really understand why so many newspapers, radio stations and TV channels seemed to hate the BBC. But it must be incredibly frustrating to be trying to compete with a publicly-funded broadcaster that does literally what you do, but without adverts and for free. It puts my problems in perspective, for one thing.

That said, I'm certainly not one of those angry free-marketeers (ironic term is ironic) who'd rather the BBC and similar organisations be shut down to allow the private sector to breathe. After all, I get more benefit out of it than annoyance, as do most people. But what I would ask is that maybe the next time an established artist gives away a freebie, you try and take the time to look a little deeper and see if there's a struggling up-and-comer desperately trying to attract attention in their shadow. There probably is, and they just might need your help.

They might even be pretty good. Stranger things have happened!

Sunday, 15 March 2020


Yes, it's a post about That Which Shall Not Be Named. I'm trying not to take chances here.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but I am in the deep doo-doo. All my working life I've worked at the family business, which is a small holiday park. In recent years, following the death of my father, it's been tough to keep the place going but we were just about managing. Part of that involves keeping an eye on my mother, who is getting on a bit. She lives, with me, in the family home which is the main base of operations for the business.

Now in the UK, within the next few weeks, people over 70 will be advised to isolate themselves. In our case, isolating my mother without also isolating me right in with her is going to be basically impossible. On top of that, our home office, including all the computers, files, accounts, the damn safe etc. is right in here with us. On top of that, my extended family who live next door have two members, my sister and her son, who are both very high risk for infections, and they'll probably be isolating too.

We've got a plan to keep going, but it's going to be touch-and-go. Basically, it's not at all unlikely that by the time this whole thing is over, I'm not going to have a job, a business or any income to speak of. I'm not going to rant and rave here about the UK Government response or the level of support they're giving us, because it's still very much early days, I don't know how things will shake out and I do know that the people advising the Government know a hell of a lot more about these things than I do.


I'm not going to sugar-coat this- I'm bloody terrified. I have literally no idea what my life is going to look like in a few months. I truly envy those of us in our community who can just view the lockdowns and quarantines as a chance to catch up on some painting or reading. For me, those things are going to be about all I have to try to keep me calm- and believe me, right now, I am most definitely not calm. Even when my father died, in an accident that played out right in front of me, we at least had some idea what we were doing next. This time, there's no map and only the loosest of plans.

I'm truly hoping that I'll look back on this post in a few months time and laugh about how worried I was. But right now, for all of my vaunted imagination, I can't picture that scenario.

Now there is one thing you, the reader, could do for me which would very slightly help. As you will probably be able to see from the side-bar, I'm an aspiring author. It's fair to say my books haven't exactly set the world on fire so far, and I've been trying to save for a proper publicity campaign. Obviously any thought of that has gone out of the window for the time being. Over on the main site for my books, I've been building up some artwork ready to commission some pros, but other than that I can't see myself being able to afford, or mentally focus on, anything else of the sort right now.

Hopefully more like this to come, if I can draw without having a mild panic attack!

So simply put, it'd help an enormous amount if a few people who've been kind enough to read this far would pick up a copy of the first book, read it, and review it, either on Amazon or on sites like Goodreads. All three books are free through Kindle Unlimited, if you're a member of that. I make basically nothing on book sales, but a few more reviews (especially of the third book, if anyone makes it that far) would mean a huge amount for me and would provide a real morale boost.

Regardless, I greatly appreciate anyone who's read this, and know that if you have the misfortune to be caught up in the current crisis, my thoughts are with you. Let's hope that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel we now find ourselves in.

Sunday, 1 March 2020


I've been beavering away on my Sisters of Battle for the last few weeks, and as a Valorous Heart player let me first say that the recent Marine nerfs tweaks have cheered me up considerably.*

Since I've almost finished replacing all my old metal Sisters with plastic ones, I thought it was about time to talk about the options available for kit-bashing them. At first glance, the new kits seem a tricky prospect for conversions. Other than the angle of the heads, each Sister is largely mono-pose, and even with the heads you have to be a bit careful with some of those with longer hair, since that can make certain positions not fit correctly. On top of that, their robes and sleeves, which were long rumoured to have delayed the plastic Sisters in development, cause some issues with arm swaps.

On the other hand, there are several very good reasons why you would want to convert them. Most notably, several of the models in the base kit are very distinctive, such as the Sister pulling a grenade with her teeth (an alt-build of the squad's Heavy Bolter), the sister pointing with a slung bolter (an alt of the Heavy Flamer) and my pet hate, the Simulacrum Sister's alt build. This model has her bolter slung at her back, so the alt build if you don't want the Simulacrum has her holding her helmet under one arm and levelling a bolt pistol. It looks cool, but I can't think of any situation where you'd want to be using a pistol rather than a bolter whilst the enemy was far enough away that you'd be happy tucking your helmet under your arm.

The real issue, though, odd tactical choices aside, is that these very individual models can look deeply odd if repeated several times throughout the army. For example, let's take a look at this model from the Celestians that are pictured at the top there:

Yes, this is a crop from the other picture. Yes, I'm lazy.

She has a bionic right arm and also a partially bionic head, which I've chosen to paint to suggest her right eye is also artificial. The thing is that the bionic arm is the only way to build that particular Sister, and these are the only two bionic parts (other than a few eyes) in the kit, which starts to look more than a little bizarre if replicated across five or so squads. So let's look at a few of the other Celestians to see some of the tricks we can use to make the models a bit more diverse.

The Sister Superior is a particular problem because she's stuck in a very distinct pose. By default, all the Superiors are brandishing a melee weapon or Chaplet in the left hand, and holding a ranged weapon low in the right. To make the Celestian Superior stand out a bit, I added the backpack icon from the Retributor Superior and made a variant combi-weapon. By slightly cutting down the plasma part of the gun, and the bolter part of the Condemnor Bolter we can make this version with a drum magazine. I also used a different backpack from the squad- you can interchange all of the backpacks that have the same shape hole, with the ones that have a smaller square hole being designed for specific bodies where they have to fit slightly differently to accommodate the robes. 

Silly pet-hate bit: You may notice the bolt pistol on her left hip is not the one designed for the Superior, which sets butt-backwards, but is instead the basic Sister one, which on this model sits butt-forwards. Since the pistol is meant to be used with her sword, so in her right hand, the stock build would be almost impossible to draw so I make this change on all my Superiors.

As an aside, if you're planning a Sisters army and have any intention of using Retributors, I strongly suggest starting with two boxes of them. This gives you four of each weapon, allowing you to build two squads with a unified load-out or, possibly more usefully, to make one Retributor squad and then use the other Superior and heavy weapons in your Sisters squads, allowing for more variety and conversions. The Retributor Superior is especially helpful, as we'll see, because she holds her melee and ranged weapons in the opposite hands.

This Celestian, who I've nicknamed Sister Harriet for reasons that will be clear to anyone who's recently watched Amazon's Nazi-hunting series 'Hunters', is a favourite of mine. She's using the Simulacrum Sister's bolt pistol in her left hand, and the Sister Superior's bolter in the right. The upper arms are taken from the arms which would usually hold heavy weapons, which is an extremely useful trick.

One of the more surprising things about the kits is that the heavy weapon arms will fit on almost any body. You need to check that the backpack hole is compatible and you may need to slightly shave a few parts, but as we can see from this advancing Celestian it otherwise works pretty well. It's also worth pointing out that the gun here is from the Retributors and I actually used the Retributor body for the bionic Sister we looked at first. Let's look at one more Celestian before I move on to a few other models:

This Sister is a nice example of a very simple conversion that uses a couple of odd parts. She has her Celestian helm tucked under her arm (taken from the Simulacrum Sister) but rather than shooting with the other arm she's using the slung bolter from the Heavy Flamer's alt build. This gives her a nice 'at rest' look, though it does also give her two Chaplets, so I painted the extra one differently to suggest it's a keepsake from another Order.

Moving on, here we have a bit of a 'greatest hits' from some of my other squads. To talk about a few of them quite quickly, up the top there we have a model with the scoped bolter which is a simple body-swap to get that distinctive gun on a different model**, and 'Sister Bond', replicating the famous pose but with a grenade in her off-hand because she's more badass than some Mi6 agent. These two were built at the same time, which is usually good practice with arm-swaps, and Sister Bond's bolter arm is once again using a heavy weapon arm as the base. At the bottom left the Sister Superior is using weapons from the Retributor Superior which makes her pose significantly different. The chainsword strapped to her hip is taken from one of the plastic Horus Heresy boxes.

The model at the top-right, which now I look at it is in terrible focus, is the simplest possible 'fix' for the Simulacrum sister. Rather than the arm with the helmet, she's using the grenade-throwing arm, which is a far more sensible thing to be getting up to with the enemy in pistol range. At the top left, which I'll not show in close-up for the same reason, is a Superior made using the Heavy Flamer's alt-build. I kept the pointing finger since it made sense, but added the slung bolter from the Retributor Superior and the chainsword from the normal Sister Superior, once again attached to a spare heavy weapon arm.

This model is again nothing more than an arm-swap, but I think it came out particularly well. She's using the other grenade arm which she's pulling with her teeth, which actually lines up fine with most bodies, though you have to remove the alignment peg from the head. Once again I used the slung bolter, but this time since the model's Chaplet is on her belt I was able to snip it off cleanly, which is why the one on her bolter is painted in the standard scheme.

Finally for this piece, my most extensive conversion for the Sisters so far is this Palatine. Old-school Sisters players will remember Palatines as a rank between Canonesses and Sisters Superior, which for some reason GW seem to have forgotten about. With my Sisters, I consider any Canoness who isn't the Warlord to be a Palatine instead. This model, built to be a Palatine with a Blessed Blade, is another conversion from the Simulacrum Sister, but with forearms taken from a Sister of Silence. To this I also added another backpack icon from the Retributor Superior, and a couple of spare purity seals which also come with the Retributor kit.*** To disguise the pet rock on her base, I added some statue rubble made by cruelly dismembering the cherub attached to the Simulacrum reliquary.

I've really only scratched the surface here, and I plan on doing a follow-up about building my warlord Canoness for whom I have some interesting plans, but that's about all the time I have for now. Hopefully it'll be of some help to anyone just starting out on plastic Sisters.

PS: Paint that bloody reliquary on the Simulcarum Sister in the first picture before you assemble it. Trust me on this.

* If you don't know why, consider this exchange: "So these Sisters ignore AP -2 or lower." "Oh that's OK, my entire army is AP -3."

** Because of the short red hair, she's nicknamed 'Sister Bees' after an old friend of mine, @VoiceOfKosh

***I'm beginning to think I should try to get some sort of affiliate link for that kit, but seriously, it's really useful!

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The Abstraction Distraction

Wow, first post of 2020! It's not so much that there's been nothing to talk about, more that I've felt others were more qualified to do so. Today, though, I thought I'd ramble a bit about the concept of Abstraction, and how I feel it's being applied in 40k at the moment.

Firstly, let's define what we mean by 'Abstraction'. Put simply, this is the fact that what we see going on on the gaming table is at best a very rough approximation of what would actually be happening. For example, the Flyer rules rely very heavily on abstracts- the Flyer isn't really staying still in the spot where the model is, it's actually flying rather higher than the flying base suggests (except when it isn't, for LOS purposes..) and it's apparently manoeuvring more than it seems to be given that it ignores any concerns of arc of fire, so a Dakkajet can shoot something behind it with its wing-mounted guns, for example.

In more general terms, we're also using a turn-based system to reflect something that certainly isn't turn-based in real-time, which is another layer of abstraction. Now obviously, this leads to a lot of odd situations, like the fact that two opposing models separated by a piece of LOS-blocking terrain who want to move to shoot each other will have who shoots first determined by who's turn it is, so your hyper-swift Eversor Assassin will still stand there slack-jawed whilst a platoon of Guardsmen amble around a corner, form a firing line.. wait for it, second section.. and First Rank Fire him back to Pluto.* Here, the designer is banking on that abstraction evening out over the course of a game. Even the alternating-activations system many people would dearly love 40k to adopt still falls prey to this problem, though the alternation tries to compensate for it faster.

What this boils down to, though, is another reason why the current Character rules don't make a lot of sense.** The reasoning behind the Character rules comes in two parts- the actual reason for them, and the in-universe explanation for them. The actual reason for the Character rules is so that we can use our Warboss/ Captain/ Daemon Prince in a game of 40k without the enemy army taking the sensible measure of levelling four Lascannons at the big angry guy from the other side of the table and blowing him all the way back to.. Pluto.*** To achieve this, we have the rule that Characters must be the closest target to the shooting model, which is explained as the fog-of-war preventing them from picking out the enemy commander specifically. The issue, however, is that this abstraction breaks down completely as soon as you play the game.

We'll leave aside for the moment the fact that it seems very odd that only the most dedicated Sniper models can tell the difference between a Chaos Cultist and a Daemon Prince of Khorne at a distance of ten meters, and instead look at what players do about the Character rule. Of course the simplest approach is simply to shoot the beejeezus out of anything closer to you than the Character you want to get rid of, and in this case the rules work fairly well, with the notable exception of enemy units out of LOS or locked in melee who are closer than the Character. But there's another option, especially in more competitive games, which is to use movement tricks to get the would-be assassin**** into a position where the Character they wish to kill is the closest target. A classic example is to use a Flyer to buzz the Character and 'stop' right next to them before unloading into them. Advanced players will of course try to counter this by 'bubble-wrapping' the Character, either making it so they're surrounded by friendly models or preventing the Flyer from fitting its base in a suitable position. (Of course, the latter measure is once again relying on an abstract rule- you can't place your Flyer on the table in a given position so it can't 'fly' there, even though that makes no sense in 'reality'.)

Here's the problem, or at least one of the problems, with that scenario. We've established that the Flyboy in my Dakkajet can't tell Roboute Guilliman from a Tactical Marine at anything beyond point-blank range, which is why I, as Supreme Warlord, can't tell him to shoot the Blue Meanie. And yet I can order him to fly on a precise course straight up to the Pimp-Handed Primarch and then give him the benefit of Maximum Dakka.***** How? What's the explanation for my units knowing exactly where to stand, sometimes to an accuracy of a fraction of an inch, in order to shoot a target which the rules preventing me shooting said target assume they don't know is important? (I re-read that about four times and I think it makes.. about as much sense as any of this does.)

I mean to be fair, they're both blue.

Once you step back from thinking of the game as simply an interaction of rules, and start thinking about it as an attempt to depict something happening, more of this sort of thing rapidly piles up. Artillery currently doesn't need spotters, so we can fire indirectly at units out of LOS with it without penalty, but we can't fire Overwatch at a unit that starts its Charge move out of LOS. But the unit being charged clearly knows the enemy is there, so why can't it wait until they show themselves? For that matter, how is it possible to Charge a unit armed with Flamers from outside the range of the Flamers to avoid their Overwatch fire, when the charging unit is clearly going to have to get closer to them? Does the charging unit teleport? On the flip-side, how does one unit manage to fire Overwatch multiple times in one turn? (Due to failed charges or the Overwatch wiping a charging unit out) Does the rate of fire of their weapons suddenly increase, or do we assume they usually spend the enemy Assault phase firing at nothing?******

Now you could say, with a certain level of justification, that since we're playing a game rather than attempting to accurately simulate the Battle of Waterloo none of this stuff matters very much. After all, I'm pretty sure that medieval queens weren't known for rampaging around killing the subjects of rival kings before finally pinning them in a corner and shouting 'Checkmate' at them*******, and yet Chess is a game still played and enjoyed by millions. The difference, though, is that most games aren't tied so closely to a narrative. After all, one of the types of 40k is literally called 'Narrative Play' and we have a wealth of fiction that tries, with varying degrees of success, to reflect what happens on the tabletop. For me, at least, the fact that we can control our troops' actions so precisely, right down to deciding exactly how many swings of Gorechild Kharn is going to favour each of the three separate squads he's enthusiastically butchering with, and yet are prevented from doing other things because of the 'fog-of-war', is bizarre.********

What I find particularly strange is that many of the odder abstractions have been added to the game comparatively recently. I still consider the older Character rules, where Characters were attached to squads and could also benefit from Look Out Sir rolls, to work a lot better than the current mess. We used to have arcs of fire on vehicle weapons and Flyers that didn't somehow cease to exist if they flew off the board and I find it hard to believe that either rule was that hard to fathom. For that matter, Overwatch was once per turn, originally. It seems the rationale for a lot of these changes is 'simplicity', and indeed attached Characters with different profiles to their unit threw up more than a few issues, but I think the repeated tweaks and tinkerings with the 8th Edition version illustrate that the newer version is no better, and makes less sense.
What? No, this time you can't shoot me because the tactical guy is standing behind you. Honest!

Inevitably at this point the question arises as to what I would do to 'fix' things, assuming it's agreed that fixes even need to be made. It's a non-trivial question, certainly. For Characters, I'd allow them to be attached to squads, with shooting wounds never allocated to them until all the models in the unit other than the Character were slain, until the squad was destroyed at which point the wound pool empties and the Character becomes a valid target. (This method avoids worries about mixed Toughness values which used to plague prior editions.) I'd also allow Characters to palm off shooting hits onto squads within 6" on a 2+, making them hard to take out but always in at least some danger. In melee, I'd just make them fair game as they are now. Whilst I'm at it I'd limit Overwatch to once per turn, per unit, and have a unit that Overwatched miss its following Shooting phase, but remove the LOS and range restrictions because the enemy is running towards you, duh. (And into that bargain I'd have units that failed a charge still move the rolled distance towards the enemy, rather than the odd situation now where they.... I can't even explain exactly what a unit that fails a charge is supposed to be doing.)

Then again, if I had my way I'd bring back armour facings, weapon arcs, and templates, and I can hear the tournament players throwing tape measures at me from here.

So there we are- not that I expect a mass of comments but I'll ask the question- do these abstractions bother you, or do you not care? Would you tweak the Character rule still further, and if so, how?

*Or wherever they're based. Pluto sounds about right.

**Yes, this again.

***Apparently Pluto is popular this time of year.

****Not an actual Assassin, since most of those don't care about the Character rule for one reason or another

*****Which will probably do him about two wounds, but it's the principle of the thing.

******If they're Orks, this is entirely feasible.

*******This would make history lessons far more interesting, though.

********I don't use Grammarly, but I think the installation of it that I don't use on a server somewhere in the far corners of the internet just had a seizure and died anyway.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Xmas 2019, the revenge

So another year draws to a close, its end hurtling towards us with the inevitability of Tactical Marines going mail-order only. It's certainly been an.. interesting one, with 40k flip-flopping around from being at times quite awesome (such as the long-awaited and mostly excellent Sisters of Battle release) and at others being thunderously wrong headed. (Certain supplements. You know which.)

For me personally it's been a year of slowly grinding forwards, with my writing career still not so much sitting on the tarmac as being carefully reassembled from bits somewhere near Kitty Hawk. On the gaming side I've been gradually learning how to play Age of Sigmar, mostly due to having a lot of Daemons lying around, though the resurrection of my ancient WFB Chaos army as Slaves To Darkness might just happen at some point. Frankly I still find the game a bit weird and seem to keep winning as Hedonites mostly by just shoving pink things in people's faces until they don't like it.*

Ain't no party like a WFB Slaanesh party..

Anyway, I've written a new short story to celebrate the festive season. It's called Foundation Day, and ties into the overall story of the Thelenic Curriculum without providing any spoilers for the books, mostly because it's set some twenty years before them. If you read it and like it, please consider checking out the other shorts either on this page or on the new site at, or even buying the books on Kindle. We're talking a 400+ page novel for less than the price of a Starbucks latte here, people!

If that's not for you and you'd rather stay within the comfortable realm of 40k** then may I direct you to my 40k short, The Ork-Mass Miracle. It's a cheerful tale of Orks trying to find their way through a foggy warzone and one plucky Grot who... well, you'll see. This one was written for last Christmas but if you've not read it and find yourself with a spare half hour over the festive period, in my humble opinion you could do worse.***

Anyway, shameless self-promotion aside it just remains to wish all my readers and anyone else who's blundered in here a very Merry Christmas! See you on the other side....

*And then doing it even more, of course.

**I'd suggest that's an.. innovative use of the word 'comfortable' but hey, you do you.

***After all, some channel's going to be showing The Sound of Music again.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Sisters of Battle- the Canoness Cock-up

I've had a chance to try out the new Sisters of Battle rules now (the new models are still on my painting table) and for the most part I love them. However, there's a glaring issue in the army set that really needs to be talked about a bit more because I think it shines a light on one of the recent GW trends that is distinctly negative.

The picture above is the mono-build Canoness model included in the army box.  Now the first, and relatively minor, issue here is that she's not the Canoness shown on the back of the box- that model has an icon of the Ecclesiarchy and a Condemnor Boltgun and is, as I understand it, the as yet unreleased multi-option kit. The good old 'box contents may vary from those shown' disclaimer is doing some heavy lifting here, but that's about it. As an aside, I'd be interested to hear in the comments if anyone actually got the other Canoness. Given that the instructions in the box specifically refer to the model pictured above, I think that's a little unlikely.

However, that's only a side-show to the real, and more serious, issue with the model. You see, gentle reader, that Canoness is illegally equipped. She has a Power Sword (or possibly a Blessed Blade), a Rod of Office, and a Plasma Pistol which you could be forgiven for not seeing because it's tucked in behind her right leg (on the left as we look at the picture). All of those weapons are valid options for the model- but not in that combination. I couldn't find a picture of the Canoness' rules and I'd rather not risk the wrath of GW's lawyers by taking one myself, but the default equipment for the Canoness is a bolt pistol and chainsword as well as the inevitable frag and krak grenades. Her options, which I'll reproduce verbatim here, are as follows:

  • This model can be equipped with 1 boltgun and 1 power sword instead of 1 bolt pistol and 1 chainsword. If this model is equipped with 1 boltgun and 1 power sword it additionally has a rod of office.
  • This model can be equipped with one of the following instead of 1 bolt pistol: 1 condemnor boltgun; 1 weapon from the Pistols list.
  • This model can be equipped with one of the following instead of 1 chainsword: 1 power sword, 1 blessed blade.
  • If this model is equipped with 1 chainsword, it can have a brazier of holy fire or a null rod.
The Plasma Pistol is available from the Pistols list along with the Inferno Pistol and Hand Flamer.

So as we can see, in order to get the Rod of Office (a very useful little item that boosts the Canoness' re-roll to a 9" radius) we need to take the first option of a boltgun and power sword. Unfortunately, so doing locks us out of any of the other options and there's absolutely no wriggle room. Therefore, although we can easily work out the points value of the Canoness as equipped in the box, there is no currently legal way to field her. It's doubly baffling given that it seems it would have been much simpler and more flexible to just allow the bolt pistol and chainsword to be replaced with one weapon option each, then add the choice of the null rod, rod of office, or brazier as the 'special' option.

Firstly, this lead in to an odd issue in the new Sororitas Codex in general, which is a lack of previously available options for no discernible reason. The Eviscerator, for example, is completely gone outside of the Repentia version. Missionaries have barely any options at all outside of replacing their autogun and laspistol with a shotgun and bolt pistol. Sisters Superior can no longer get Storm Bolters and the Canoness, as we've seen, loses access to any sort of longarm other than a bolter or Condemnor Bolter. Several of these changes actively invalidate existing models, including the legendary Plasma Preacher and Redemptor Kyrinov who was re-released as Made To Order to coincide with the set coming out!
Now I get that the idea here is to sell the wonderful new Sororitas models, but here's the thing- it's entirely unnecessary. Existing Sisters of Battle players have been clamouring for plastic models for years, not because they needed loads of new options but because the old solid metal models were heavy, chipped all over the place as soon as you touched them, and were extremely expensive. We were already going to buy the new stuff like it was limited-edition oxygen, we didn't need our existing models made unplayable.

Unfortunately this seems to be part of a wider trend at GW of limiting and reducing the options for character models and squad Champions, from stripping Marine (and particularly Chaos Marine) characters of mobility options like bikes and Jump Packs to restricting almost all newly-released characters to a very limited suite of equipment indeed. I consider this to be an extremely retrograde step for GW to take- ask almost any veteran 40k modeller what their first conversion or kitbash was and it's very likely that it was to add a desired weapon option to a model for which an official kit wasn't available. Removing the incentive for such simple, entry-level conversions weakens the hobby as a whole.

Still, the worst thing about all this from my point of view is that once again, it shows that GW have released a high-profile product that contradicts itself within its own contents- and in this case, in a particularly obvious and egregious way. Given the great strides they've made in recent years, it's unfortunate to see.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

New Sisters- the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (initial thoughts)

As I write this it's a little under a week before The Great Unwashed (that's me, and probably the majority of you lot) get their grubby little mitts on the new Sisters of Battle set- and more importantly for the purposes of this piece, the Codex that comes with it. I'm not going to go into detail about all the various cool stuff in there since I don't have the book yet and will almost certainly get things wrong. If you really want to know all there is to know right now, or more accurately in about an hour's time, Guerrilla Miniature Games did a very detailed breakdown video that I'll link here:

...and welcome back. With all that out of the way, I'd like to talk about the good stuff, the bad stuff and the plain ugly stuff that's in the new book as I see it so far. Fortunately, I think the first bit will be the biggest.

The Good (now with extra mild rules-lawyering in italics)
Firstly, I think the way that GW have changed the core mechanics of the book is absolutely great. I mean really, really great. To paraphrase if you've not learned how the new Sisters work yet and didn't make it through that GMG video, which I appreciate is long, the new Act of Faith system revolves around Miracle Dice. You gain at least one per Battle Round (and usually more than one), roll it when you get it, and then keep it. The dice can then be used for most of the more common rolls in the game instead of (and, importantly, before) rolling the dice for it. So for example, to take one of my favourites right now, say a Knight Valiant takes violent offence at your Exorcist (as well it should, and we'll get to that) and blats it with its 10+d3 damage kebab-skewer of doom. All that stands between your organ (stop that sniggering at the back, Wilson) and annihilation is its 6++ save. However, if you have a 6 in your Miracle dice pool, you can spend it on the save to survive.

There are multiple reasons why this mechanic is really cool. It allows Sisters to do things that should be staggeringly unlikely with complete confidence- exactly what warriors motivated by absolute faith should be doing. Other examples might include landing a hit with a vehicle that is so damaged or affected by other modifiers that it needs a 6, auto-passing a critical Morale check with a 1, nailing a critical Advance to grab an objective, and more besides. What's possibly even more interesting, though, is the threat of a Miracle. For example, players will often throw lone Characters or transports into combat with a shooting unit to stop it firing next turn and/or murder it utterly. However, if that unit is packing a meltagun or multi-melta and there's a 6 sitting in the Sisters' Miracle pool, such an assault suddenly looks a hell of a lot more dangerous to attempt. I'd expect Sisters players to comment at appropriate times about all the things they could possibly do with an Act of Faith for the sheer deterrent value of it. Knowing that a D6 damage roll might get spiked to a 6 is very intimidating.

Things get even meaner when we look at the new, improved Exorcist, which is one of the most improved units in the book and a great showcase for advanced Miracle Dice use. The main change for the Exorcist is that its missiles are now Heavy 3d3 rather than Heavy D6, so the old average of 3 is now the minimum, the old maximum is the new average, and the new maximum is a terrifying 9. Each of these S8, Ap-3 missiles does D6 damage into the bargain. Now, as well as being very scary, this throws up an interesting situation and a possible head-scratcher of a rules question. Let's say I have several Miracle dice in my pool, and for the sake of argument that I have all the numbers 1-6 available. I get several wounding hits on a multi-wound model and it fails some saves- for the sake of this illustration lets say I get three wounding hits through and the target model has 8 wounds left.

Here's the interesting bit- the Damage rolls, which most players would usually roll together, actually take place one at a time. So I can roll the first 2D6 and see how much damage I inflict, then use whatever value is necessary from my Miracle dice pool on the last D6 roll to ensure that the target dies. In our example, if I utterly flub my first two rolls and score 2 damage, I can still get the kill by making the last roll a 6, whereas if I roll an average 7 I get to keep my dice since even a 1 on the last roll will secure the kill.

Now, the reason why I say there's a potential rules issue here is that strictly speaking, each attack should be resolved separately from start to finish, so each should roll to hit, then to wound, then to save, and then for damage before the next is resolved. If we're doing things this way, then I can't be sure which hit is the last one to score damage so I'm more likely to 'waste' a high number by using it as soon as it'll secure the kill. This is a very fringe rules question but I fully expect it to come up in the tournament scene. 

There's still a lot more good stuff in the book even after Acts of Faith. The Sacred Rites, of which you can pick one or roll two (unless you roll a double) are very versatile, and of particular note is the one that adds 3 to the Sister's 1d6 Deny The Witch roll, making it suddenly far more capable of defending them. Whatever your army is trying to do, there's a Rite that will help at least a bit. There are also a ton of very useful and versatile Stratagems in there, including several that work with Miracle dice- a couple of standouts being Moment of Grace, which lets you burn Miracle dice to gain +1 per dice to a roll you've failed, and Miraculous Intervention which resurrects a Character at the end of the phase with wounds equal to the number of Miracle dice burned. These both build into the feel of the book, which is that an opponent can never be truly certain what's going to happen- even the most heavily outmatched Character might survive, the most incredibly improbable charge ever might be made, etc etc- and whether or not these things happen is under the control of the Sisters player.
Flags of our Sisters

Finally, for reasons of brevity rather than because I've run out of stuff to talk about, there are the Order Traits. All of them are useful to varying degrees, but I'm personally particularly pleased that the Order of the Valorous Heart, who previously got merely a miserly 6+ wound-ignore save, now ignore AP -1 on shooting attacks, or AP -2 when under the effects of an Imagifier's 6" bubble. Anyone who's recently put infantry on a table against Marines knows why this is extremely welcome!

The Bad
So of course it's not all good news. The most glaring issue I have with the book is the fact that Dominions no longer confer their Vanguard pre-battle move to a transport they're embarked in. One one level this is understandable since it could be abused (eg by loading a Rhino with five Dominions and five Retributors with Heavy Flamers) but on the other it makes the ability far less likely to get used. There's also a very significant nerf to Shield of Faith in that the various auras that boost it now cannot affect vehicles, meaning the days of the  4++ Exorcist are over. Being able to do this was very, very powerful so whilst the loss is saddening, I think its understandable- and there are still ways to use Acts of Faith to mitigate at least some of the incoming damage.

There's also the fact that the <ORDER> keyword, which is neeeded to make a lot of abilities work, isn't universal through the Codex. Most importantly, the Hospitalier and Dialogus don't get it, meaning that Celestians (who need the <ORDER> keyword for their Bodyguard ability) can't protect them effectively from snipers. Given that both models are quite squishy and have some really useful abilities, they're going to spend a lot of time trying to hide behind things to at least force Eliminators to fire the less powerful version of their murder-bullets.

Help! Help! I'm being repressed!

The Ugly
Ok, tin hats on, because here comes the proper grousing. The most notable and infuriating omission from the new book is once again the bloody Repressor. With its extra durability and ability to have passengers fire out of it*, the Repressor is/was a really useful tool in the Sisters armoury but has only ever been a Forge World model. The Exorcist started out the same way (though with a tube-shaped twin launcher rather than a massive organ**) but eventually made it to the mainstream, but the Repressor seems to have failed to do the same. It's always possible Forge World will update its rules- and as it stands, I think the model is still playable- but with Legends on the horizon its days seem distinctly numbered.

But that's not the most gear-grinding thing about the new Sisters range for me. Oh, not at all. No, that's reserved for this damn thing:

That, kids, is a Heavy Bolter. It's stuck to the hull of the new Immolator model (and the new Exorcist) like some sort of nasty little pimple. Let's not beat about the bush here***- this gun is on the model for the express and sole reason of making people's existing models obsolete. No, GW apologist at the back, it's not a massive buff to the tank to add a mediocre compulsory gun to it. I hate that this thing is there, and I hate that my much-loved older models are now going to have to have janky pintle-mounts or sponsons added to them to make them Codex-compliant.

There are a couple of other annoyances in this category, like the fact that any HQ sister other than a Canoness is still MIA (they're called Palatines, GW, they used to be in there!) and that the Canoness herself has lost a lot of options and still can't take a damn jump pack- I guess the Geminae were the only two Canonesses in the galaxy to have one****

Damn you, Cruddace!

The Other Bit
Yeah, so sorry for the minor bout of Nerd Rage there. I'd just like to end on a positive note, because believe me I am incredibly excited to try out the new Codex. I'd also like to extend my thanks to the good folks at Wyldstorm Games for securing me my copy of the new set. Hopefully my poor ravaged body will survive carrying all those old metal Sisters around until the rest of the new plastics hit..

*not to mention hilarious and occasionally-effective dozer-blade assaults.

**I warned you once, Wilson.

***Though said bush is almost certainly on fire, so maybe we should.

****Saying that, given their profiles maybe having one also makes you incompetent. That, or being repeatedly resurrected.