Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reflecting on Running Tokens and similar...

As the new edition of Warhammer 40,000 looks likely to be imminent with the withdrawal of the 6th edition rulebook, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on some of the lesser used aspects of that and earlier editions.

In particular, I wanted to bring up the subject of the "running" tokens (pictured). I bought a set of these (along with objective markers) for use in games, but in all honesty, they haven't seen the light of day, or much play. 

Reflecting on this, I think the reason is obvious enough: its simple to remember which units have run in a game. Its very rare that myself or an opponent forgets between us which have run or not. Hence this is one purchase that I don't really use. 

That said, the objective markers from this set, and those from 6th edition (you know - the ones that are essentially die) are ones that frequently get used -- in the absence of modelled objective markers (like the dying space marines sold by Games Workshop, or the ammo crate dumps created by many players). Hence when the new edition comes out, I will be looking very closely at what accessories it comes along with and thinking carefully about purchases. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Technology in Warhammer 40,000. 6: Standard Template Constucts

The last part in this series of Technology in Warhammer 40,000 from Rogue Trader is about Standard Template Constructs.

 In essence, imagine you are a colonist flung to the far reaches of the Universe on a planet that has some resources (whatever they might be: trees, iron ore, etc.). What do you do to survive and thrive on your new planet? Either you already have the knowledge, or you ask somebody or something that does. The Standard Template Construct (STCs) machine is one such "something".

In Rogue Trader it is described as a vast repository of knowledge. A kind of idiot-proof wikipedia computer in many ways. Given a set of circumstances and raw materials, this STC device would return to the colonist a way of building shelters, cars, and so forth. Everything they might need to survive.  I actually see the STCs as something a little more akin to a giant 3-D printing machine. Given sufficient raw materials it is capable of pumping out a vehicle at the other end. The question of how much human intervention is required is debatable to my mind.

Despite those considerations the STCs are in Warhammer 40,000 canon one of the great enabling devices for the human conquest of the galaxy. Although they have largely decayed over time, become quirky, or simply curated poorly, they have lost many of the possibilities they once offered. That said, a number of their core aspects has been preserved (think of Rhino chassis -- they're all the same on predators, whirlwinds, rhinos, etc., simply because STCs pumped them out as the easiest to maintain). Rogue Trader even offers the opinion that the entire Ork empire would not have been possible without human plundered STCs!

No wonder the adepts of Mars seek these decaying artefacts out. They're a vast repository of lost knowledge from a former age...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Technology in Warhammer 40,000. 5: Skinplants

Tattoos appear as common ornamentation across many world of the Imperium in Warhammer 40,000. They're not limited to the Hive City "scum" population either: the higher residents use them as a means of identification, great houses have their sigils, and navigators families are likewise marked out.

But there is more to it than that. What would happen if technology was miniaturised further, such that small circuitry were implanted in the skin (i.e. "Skinplants" as per the title of today's post)?

In Warhammer 40,000 skin plants are common, but highly sophisticated. Without moving parts, they are limited in their use however. The most common use would be to have a part of the body glow when exposed to sunlight. But a better use would be a "palm light" or "thieves light". Essentially, the character opens up his or her palm and casts a small beam of light ahead of themselves. Its not very powerful, but has its uses.

Electoos are the second type of skin plant discussed in Rogue Trader. These are a bit more sophisticated than mere ornamentation or "make it glow" skin plants. In essence these are miniature circuits. Therefore they would have uses the same as a modern credit card. But there's more uses. They range from identification and clearance levels (for entering secure buildings), tracking individuals (with or without their consent) and the carrying of secret messages (even the splitting of secret messages between 3 individuals such that only when combined the message reveals itself). This is getting in to the realm of science fiction, but is nonetheless plausible still.

Finally electrografts push this idea to its logical extreme. Need to learn a foreign language and you're not psychic? How about having an electrograft implanted right on to the surface of the brain! No need to spend hideous hours revising notes or practising. All the information you need to speak the native language of Nurth (or elsewhere…) is right there for you to use. Or perhaps you just want a different personality implanted for immortality reasons on a new fit body.  Its a little "Total Recall" in essence and certainly firmly in the planes of science fiction right now. Rogue Trader curiously states that these things will eventually cause the degeneration of the host's mind including personality disorders and outright breakdown. The interesting aspect is that these electrografts can also be reprogrammed. You learnt the language of Nurth? How about Chogoris and Colchis today?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Technology in Warhammer 40,000. 4: Control Systems

As might be expected, the control systems in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe contains a blend of systems ranging from the advanced to the familiar.

Rogue Trader describe 4 readily available controls systems, the first category of which is "archaic" -- at least in relative terms. However, this is the obvious one: levers, buttons, visual display units and analogue computers.

Then it gets interesting. The next one is "Pure Crystal Technology". These are described as stacks of atomic chains, presumably some kind of quantum computation (my interpretation there). Visually, they are large black slabs, recessed in to desks, or floating on a suspensor web on the command deck of a starship. They could be activated by voice, touch, or coded transmission. Either way, its pretty much a graphic user interface for the operator to control heaps of systems with.

The next one is "Holographic". This is exactly what it sounds like. A projection device encloses the user and wraps around like a three dimensional video screen. With a flick of a hand, the user activates engines or diverts power from life control systems across vast distances.

The final one is "Mind Impulse". This is exactly what it says on the tin as well, but correspondingly rare. The most common type of this is a dreadnought command system where the remains of a marine is hooked up to a control system where his thoughts activate whatever system (legs, guns, etc.) they wish to do so. The mechanicum use this regularly: with implants hooked up to their minds they could open and close bulk heads at will in their foundries. Or, rarer still: a headband that detects the so-called brain waves of the user and acts accordingly. Considerable training required!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Technology in Warhammer 40,000. 3: Motors and Actuators

Today in this series on technology in Warhammer 40k we take a brief look at Motors and Actuators - the things that do the driving of machines in essence.

First up is hydraulics. This is exactly as you might imagine it to be and based in our current technology level. The only difference is that Rogue Trader quotes "hydroplastic" pressure to power components. Fine by me. They're going to be used extensively in vehicles and robots.

Secondly there is "Electically motivated fibre bundles". This is the piece of kit that makes power armour move! In essence it is a fibre (or a bundle of them) that contract under the application of an electrical current. Hence they're the machine equivalent of muscles. And in the far flung future, they're rather efficient and miniaturized compared to today's level of technology. Conversely, Rogue Trader notes that these systems are rarer than hydraulics. Which presumably explains why the former ti used more extensively. Perhaps they're just more expensive to produce and use rarer commodities during manufacture.

Third (and finally) are gravitic reactors. These are the things that Eldar and some Warhammer 30k vehicles use extensively. BUT! They're not actually anything to do with gravity. They're actually powered by magnetic fields according to Rogue Trader. At least in the sense of they use a planet's magnetic field to counteract the attractive force of gravitation and give a vehicle some lift off the surface of the planet. This is neat! But in today's world the power consumption and the strength of the magnetic field would have to be rather large to accomplish this. (Levitating frogs aside). Rogue Trader also note the technology for the comes from Terra and is in short supply and will one day run out. I don't agree with this given the vast resources of the Imperium (and beyond), so I think this is simply a reflection of the time it was written more than anything else.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Technology in Warhammer 40,000. 2: Power Generation

Continuing this short series on technology in Warhammer 40k from Rogue Trader, today we look at power generation.

The most obvious example is the first one, and one that Rogue Trader terms "conventional". This is the one that we're all familiar with. Burning fossil fuels to turn turbines to create electricity. And nuclear fission as well. But the word "conventional" does not terminate here for Rogue Trader. It also includes more "modern" (I use the term relatively) wind power, wave power, solar / photoelectric power, and even dung burning on some backward worlds.

The second one is also easy to guess at: Plasma. Given that plasma seems to be everywhere in Warhammer 40k (even weaponised!) its not hard to see why it is a source of power to this fictional era. The only problem with it is the immense magnetic fields (and indeed coils) that need to be generated to contain it. At the time of writing, its hardly efficient. And moreover, I'm not sure how plasma is a power source. Do they grab some by skimming stars and store it for later (to turn turbines and generate electricity)? Or something else. I think Rogue Trader is missing something here: plasma is not a source of power generation in and of itself (that's like saying electricity is a form of power generation - it isn't - it is the product). So I'm left wondering how it is actually generated. Rogue Trader is not specific on this point.

The last one is "crystal batteries". Yes - you read that correctly. But it is completely plausible. The underlying concept is that the crystals "decay" in to a more stable state and release energy doing so. This is just thermodynamics at play: a more energetic state of matter going down in to its lower (ground state?) configuration. It is then re-charged by exposure to sunlight (for instance) to get it back to its higher energy state. Plausible, but no efficient real world analogue at the moment. Great science fiction stuff based on sound thermodynamic principles!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Technology in Warhammer 40,000. 1: Transmission Systems

Rogue Trader edition Warhammer 40,000 is at pains to not describe any technology in too much detail. This is largely because in the grim dark of the far flung future, problems are solved through brute force rather than application of knowledge. Technology has almost a religious following (particularly by the adepts of Mars who guard what little understanding there is left) -- space marines believe that if the polish and take care of their armour, it will "reward" them with saving their lives, whereas the machine spirit inside it will purposely leak fuels (etc.) if it is not regularly attended to.

In this (short) series of articles on Warpstone Flux, I'm going to summarise a few of the different technologies presented in the original Rogue Trader source book and add a few thoughts of my own (you know I'm a professional scientist, right?).

Let's start with the picture, taken from page 271 of the book. What is interesting about this picture of the pair of space marines is the archaic armour and weapons. Note in particular the watch faces that are embedded in to the chainswords. If you're looking for an original conversion concept, then watches in chainswords would certainly take you a long way down that road! Apart from that, the grandeur of the far future's grim dark is clearly on display here with the vast starships and buildings of a planet in action.

But on to today's prime focus: transmission systems. Or to put it another way: how to get energy from one place to another. In today's world this is largely accomplished through electricity and the wires that transmit is. These are fairly standard, but in 40k, they are probably the technological equivalent of using stone circles to tell the time. That said, Rogue Trader certainly says the many human (and xenos I would assume as well) cultures still employ them.

Beyond this everyday example, there is the "stacks" -- atomic chains that can efficiently transmit electricity. To me, this sounds like a superconductor in everything but name, but it is described as the ultimate in miniaturisation but rather delicate too.

Photon lines are the natural extension of fibre optics, designed (and described) to take a heap of information down their lines.

Hydroplastics are an odd one to me, transmitting power through pressure (presumably compression and rarefaction). This one is a bit of a mystery to me, but in principle I can see how it works.

Phased crystals are described as transmitting signals, but requiring power to do so. Odd, but not entirely unplausible given sufficient technological evolution.

Sucrosol is described as based on sucrose (the sugar) and able to transmit in a "wet ware" kind of fashion.

And then there are good old fashions radio waves. Enough said!

Next time: Generation Systems!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Horus Heresy Review: Legion Destroyer Squad

Shunned by many legions, but embraced wholly by others (Death Guard in particular, but also the Alpha Legion, etc.), the Destroyer Squads make use of dread weapons from the pre-unification Terran wars: rad grenades, missiles, phospex bombs, bio-alchem munitions and so forth.

The rad grenade weaponry is interesting: it lowers the toughness of the opposition on the first round of melee, making for an easier kill. Thus, although destroyer squads are competing for an elites slot against terminators, veteran tactical squads, apothecaries (and everyone else), they're actually a rather interesting option! This is doubly so against other legion armies, even if they haven't got a suite of AP3 or better weapons to utilise. And the models produced by Forge World look cool as well(!)

Here are a few builds that entertained me.

10 Destroyer space marines, 2 rad missile launchers with suspensor webs, rhino with havoc launcher (350 points). 
This build is one that lays down suppressing fire with the rad missiles (and hopefully takes out infantry along the way) whilst using the rhino to speed it in to close combat range. The havoc launcher on the rhino simply adds extra suppression fire in the hopes of forcing a rout / morale check to back field units.

5 Destroyer space marines, jump packs, melta bombs, 1 hand flamer, sergeant with power weapon (275 points)
A jump infantry squad to threaten vehicles and counter any incoming squads wanting to kill them. The optimal way to take these guys down are with incoming fire power. Hence as long as they're on the move and sensibly using cover, these guys can really lay down a lot of pressure to the widest variety of enemy units possible.

5 Destroyer space marines, 1 rad missile launcher, sergeant with power fist (190 points)
A cheap, all round, multi purpose squad. Use to sit on objectives / deny objectives, engage enemy infantry and power fist / krak grenade some light transport vehicles on the odd occasion. Add a rhino for extra flexibility.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Veiled Alliance

All magic must be powered from somewhere in Dark Sun. Generally, it comes from the life force of vegetation, but occasionally also sentient beings made of flesh as well (this is the case with dragon magic - they drain humans of their vitae in order to power their supernatural effects). But most mortals can only drain fuel for their powers from plants. These people are split in to two types: defilers and preservers. The former are those mages who don't care or are not skilled enough to know the any different about how to fuel their magic. They turn to waste and black dust all plant life in a radius surrounding them to power their spells. The greater the spell, the more damage to the surrounding flora it does. The damage is also quite permanent as it robs the soils of their natural microbes and nutrients to sustain future plant life as well. In a nut shell, this is why Athasian society actively hate magic users: they have turned the world to dust.  But the populous does not readily perceive the difference between these defilers and the latter class of spell slingers: preservers. Preservers only take what they need and do so in a gentle manner so as not to kill off plant life surrounding them. They're much more careful about what they do. And it is the preservers who have gathered together in a secret society (societies as it happens) that this expansion book is dedicated to: the Veiled Alliance.

Veiled Alliance covers the ground on how the secret society of preservers is organised and acts across the different city states of Athas. As such, it gives many valuable detailed about the populous of the city states themselves and their general states. Realistically, the book is in fact much more about the city states rather than the Veiled Alliance. As such, it is a great (almost essential) expansion for player groups who want to wander about the cities and desire a little more background than what is offered within the Campaign Setting. It also offers notes about the Alliance within smaller communities scattered through the desert as a final add-on.

Beyond that, the expansion book reveals how each group of the Veiled Alliance operates within each city - their causes (ranging from bringing the sorcerer-monarch down / fighting the corrupt system that feeds them, to just down right surviving), how they recruit and initiate members (brains testing or otherwise), the leadership (benevolent, or a planted spy from the sorcerer-king?), the location and layout of their HQs (if appropriate), and some adventure hooks. 

Overall, three out of five stars from me. Its a great book for the campaign setting - no doubt about that - and hence is probably a little mis-named; although it certainly does do a very solid job of describing the Veiled Alliance cells. Get it for the background on the city states, not for the antics and cloak and dagger methods of the preservers' secret society.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rad Missiles (Horus Heresy)

Today, just a short note about the potential of rad missiles before reviewing destroyer squads in Warpstone Flux' Horus Heresy Reviews.

Rad missiles are available to destroyer squads as an exclusive type of weapon (alongside rad grenades - but I'll probably talk about them separately as well). With a missile launcher plus suspension web devoid of krak or frag, these are highly specialist options.

What makes them so great? There are 2 aspects for me that makes them good. Firstly fleshbane. With no need to roll against toughness, these are deadly to any infantry personnel. This, coupled with AP3 and a blast radius creates a highly effective anti-space marine armament.

The effect of rad phage should not be under-estimated either. A reduction of one toughness point for the remainder of the entire game is a substantial negative for the unit that suffers it -- a follow up assault by a destroyer squad employing rad grenades as well should be able to decimate such a unit (with some good die rolls!).

The only real question is whether the armament will reap its points back during a game. On that, I'm not decided yet and would welcome further thoughts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Games Workshop Durham

On my travels again recently and I was in the beautiful city of Durham in the north of England. If you've never been to Durham before, go and visit - its a totally awesome part of the world that I know and love. With sunny spring weather(!), I located the city Games Workshop on North Road, conveniently opposite the bus station and near to the railway station. In terms of accessibility, that is an awesome location, but it is not the city centre (that would be up the hill toward the square).

With few university students (Durham Uni is probably only behind Oxford and Cambridge within the UK… depending on what ranking you use) in town due to the Easter holidays, the local Games Workshop had only a few younger children inside. What took my interest in the clientele was the fact there were also three mature gamers -- even older than me -- in the store when I visited: perusing tyranids and the Black Library selection that they had. In addition to these stocks, the store also had Horus Heresy (both Betrayal and Massacre) available for sale (which is in contrast to when I left Australia). The store is not very wide as can be seen by the picture, but it is deep: allowing for several quality gaming tables and space to play around them.

The staff were also really genuinely nice. I was sorry to not actually recall their names now I've sat down to type this review out as I wanted to complement them on their service and work ethic. I didn't feel pressured in to buying (which can sometimes happen in GW) and they were very friendly with allowing me to look at their models and explaining a painting tip or two. Hats off to you gentlemen: I thought you were great. And I did end up buying something…

Monday, April 14, 2014

Horus Heresy Review: Legion Command Squad

So, you picked a Legion Praetor and need some disciplined legion marines to accompany him - the command squad is where it is at and they won't be a distinct HQ choice. Otherwise, they will fill a slot.

As with most of the Horus Heresy units and HQ choices, there is a wide array of equipment to select between. At a base level, the command squad is two chosen marines, plus one standard bearer. The standard bearer carries the Legion Standard and therefore all units within 6" (plus this unit itself) become fearless. This can be a huge boon to those detachments who are more combat orientated.

Here's some builds to consider:

Legion command squad, 5 strong, power weapons, volkite chargers on the chosen (230 points)
A foot slogging command squad for the footslogging commander.

Legion command squad, terminator armour of your choice, 1 reaper auto cannon, 1 power fist (165 points)
A great bang for the points unit. The reaper auto cannon cannot be overlooked as a great option and the power fist is simply there to complement what the Praetor has and to add some extra flexibility and threat level to the squad. Team up with a terminator armour clad commander.

Legion command squad, 5 strong, jump packs, melta bombs, charnabal sabres (265 points)
Team up with a jump pack commander. The charnabal sabres are a cheaper alternative to the power weapons and could be very useful, but you're relying on the commander to do the principle damage here. Change in to power weapons for a better threat if you're not skimping on points.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Horus Heresy Review: Legion Centurion and Consuls

When you're not paying for a rite of war via a Legion Praetor, then the Centurion, or one of the consuls, the lesser character (but still powerful) of the Centurion is the way that you're going to go in the absence of a named HQ.

At half the base cost as a praetor, the centurion is a nice option for players not wanting a points sink in to an HQ. Equally, the vast array of upgrades and possible consul options can make the points cost rapidly climb upward.

I'll go through some builds for each consul type in turn with a few notes thrown in. Overall, the choice of consul upgrade is a matter for what type of army you're going to construct. Will it be a close combat one, a hail of fire type, or something else altogether? Choose accordingly!

Legion Centurion, terminator armour of your choice, combi-weapon, power fist (97 points)
A simple option to attach to a terminator squad, no more, no less.

Legion Centurion, jump pack, power weapon, melta bombs, artificer armour (100 points)
This one is to accompany an assault style squad, but note its more expensive than a terminator! Add a refractor field to taste.

Chaplain, artificer armour, refractor field (105 points)
Give a squad fearless and hatred. As with the centurion options, think about throwing in a jump pack or equipping as a terminator if that is the way you want your detachment to function.

Master of Signal, artificer armour, refractor field (105 points)
This is a very tactical guy, with the ability to call down a bombardment style attack on one of the game turns, as well as granting +1 BS to a nearby unit, plus the ability to have deep strikers come down next to him with ease and draw line of sight for barrage weapons. Place within a large support or heavy support squad or one that is going to unleash Fury of the Legion and you should be pleased.

Legion champion -- equip as you would a Legion centurion, and gain the benefit of increased WS and one of the weapons being master crafted. A simple upgrade option for the champion type really.

Vigilator (95 points)
This is the scout commander with a nasty sabotage skill up his sleeve. A couple of these could prove really rather useful!

Librarian Level 3 (135 points)
This is the base cost for a level 3 psyker and the only way a legion can play psyker power (assuming you don't have other characters along for the ride). Choose a single psychic discipline and be happy that you've violated the Nikea accords (or not, if you're playing a pre- Nikea council army). Equip to taste with terminator armour and enjoy your force weapon! NB: cannot be a compulsory HQ!

Forge Lord with conversion beamer (120 points)
This is the tech marine commander.  I've kept this one simple with just a conversion beamer as an upgrade. But clearly, one could mess about with a lot of different options here as they can select from anything a centurion can as well as anything a tech marine can!

Primus Medicae (85 points)
The apothecary commander, with an odd rule to gain extra victory points (presumably from salvage of gene seed in a narrative sense). Equip to taste.

Siege Breaker, 3 phosphex bombs (125 points)
Add tank hunter and wrecker to any attached unit - job done for a heavy weapon marine. Add further equipment to taste, subtract of the phosphor bombs if you think you're not going to utilise them. Plenty of neat options to think about here.

Moritat (85 points)
A lone killer. The chain fire attack rule means he might just carry on firing his weapons for a very long time - but he needs to get in position to do so. I'd suggest equipping with a jump pack and some serious pistol power (gunslinger style) -- but beware of the plasma pistol - it might just kill him in the turn that chain fire is unleashed. Take things like artificer armour and refractor fields to help him out.
POST-FAQ Update: double plasma pistols are no longer favoured here as a roll of 1 or 2 can cause an overheat and cease the chain fire. Hence this guy is not what he used to be.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Horus Heresy Review: Legion Praetor

The Legion Praetor is one of the mightiest warriors in any legion and therefore comes with an excellent array of options, as well as the ability to grant the entire force a "rite of war".

These rites of war enable the force to be highly themed: ranging from a decent of angel's type drop (think: hit and run on every thing) to an orbital assault (teleportation for terminators) and an armoured spearhead (impose a tank shock penalty to opponents). But there are costs for this: usually not being able to take any kind of fortification and some other set-backs. Each legion has their own individual rite of war as well, hence Legion Praetors are a popular HQ choice for any HH army list.

At a base level, they come with artificer armour a bolt pistol and a close combat weapon plus the usual grenades. With 3 wounds and a good WS and BS, these guys can really be the lynch pin of an army, so its probably wise to deck them out with some of the options. Think of him as the 30k equivalent of a 40k chapter master and you'll get the equipment right almost by default. Below, I give a selection of possibilities for Legion Praetors and how then might be run.

1 Legion Praetor. (100 points).
The "naked" praetor. Why take this option? Simple: you want to take a rite of war but want to save points to use elsewhere in the army. Place him inside a large squad and sit said squad on an objective all the game. There's little else to it.

Legion Praetor, paragon blade, archaeotech pistol (145 points)
This one is purely to match the model sold by Forge World - no other real reason, but it gives a nice example of a slightly more base-level commander than the "naked" version above.

Legion Praetor, terminator armour, paragon blade, digital lasers, volkite charger (177 points)
This one also matches the miniature available from Forge World, but is a really really good option in terms of points to effectiveness ratio. Seriously: this guy is much better than a footslogging non-terminator equivalent (below) from his points alone.

Legion Praetor, bolt gun, iron halo, paragon blade, digital lasers (167 points)
Place within a footslogging squad and go and conquer! But note the points of this guy versus the terminator equivalent. Sure you don't want a terminator instead?

Legion Praetor, jump pack, iron halo, paragon blade, digital lasers, archaeotech pistol (205 points)
Now this is an expensive build, but really nice when placed inside a jump infantry squad. Even better when they deep strike successfully. Certainly worth taking if you're opting for the Angel's wrath style of army.

Legion Praetor, legion jet bike with heavy bolters, melta bombs, iron halo, thunder hammer (200 points)
This one is purely for laughs and exceptional in that I wouldn't expect to attach a squad to it in normal circumstances (but perhaps could be persuaded to opt for more jet bike hunters to accompany him). He's a solo kind of commander, there to wreck some havoc and die in the early turns. How did he make it to the rank of Praetor again with this attitude?  But note its actually cheaper than my jump pack equipped Praetor above, so there's some possibilities that its not so insane after all.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Dune Trader

Dune Trader is a background expansion for the original Dark Sun campaign setting. It is a glorious delve in to the trading houses of Athas, both the city-based, right to the Elven tribes that wander the desert. In that regard, it is mostly as good as Slave Tribes is.

For each of the major trading houses (which is roughly one per city-state), the book gives a solid overview of their assets, current socio-political situation and outlook, rivalries, and what the ordinary person on the streets might know about them. This makes this source book a good one: lots of fresh information about a vital part of the economy. 

The minor houses and the elven tribes makes for interesting reading, and is part of the book that could be transplanted to other realms and settings with modest ease. For example, House Ianto (a minor house) is portrayed as a house that has fallen on hard times due to the slaves revolting in Tyr and the iron ore no longer flowing. They're trying to rebuild their trade based on silks and own a fort to the South of Tyr to help them do so. 

Other positives about the book include the introduction of the trader class (now not really too relevant in the current dungeons and dragons iterations - but good for the time of publication and for 2nd edition) and the trader campaign in general: i.e. the PCs as Dune Traders and how they might get crodlu and kank beasts pulling their wares across the desert and what sorts of adventures might be possible (especially if they're playing on behalf of one of the big houses). 

On the negative side, I really didn't like the fact that they presented mechanics for bartering. Seriously: this can be totally role-played. Why are we rolling die for this? (well, okay, I guess there might be reasons for this, but I think more fun could be had with a direct negotiation for a critical deal. And in Athas, all deals will probably be critical to the success of a trading House). The Elven tribes won't be that transplantable to other settings due to their uniqueness (and there's only 2 of them described), but I suppose that substituting a different race wouldn't hurt in any transcription to a different plane. Overall, the book is nice and provides plenty of hooks for the small-scale trading adventurer(s), but I didn't really care for the mechanics or the detailed statistics of some of the characters. That's not to say the rules are bad - simply that I wouldn't automatically use them. So 4 out of 5 stars from me for this expansion book.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

GW Site Down - incoming changes!?!

The maintenance rituals are underway,
The prayers of function have been heard,
It's coming ...
...and your patience will be rewarded.

These are the only words that will now greet you on the front page of Games Workshop's website along with a picture of a new space marine sprue. The long awaited/rumoured change appears to be underway right now! [Forge World's site is still up and running for the record.]

EDIT (13:04 BST): Just got an email from GW with the title: "Our webstore will be back soon, and it will come bearing gifts" the content of which stated the same things as the website and bears the same sprue.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Two new, somewhat addictive, free simple online games

Don't say that I didn't warn you. Do not try them out if you have a deadline coming up of any description!

Game 1. Its called 2048.
And the idea is that you slot the tiles in a grid up, down, left and right in order to create a bigger number. Smash two number "2"s together to get a 4. Smash two "4"s to get an 8. And so forth. The game ends if you manage to get 2048.  The complication: at the end of every move you make a new number 2 or 4 gets added to the grid. In the same way as Tetris, you can run out of room to manoeuvre and this results in the game being ended. You can even create your own version of the game here.

Game 2. This one is Super Planet Crash! (pictured).
The goal is to load up a planetary system with as many heavy weight planets as possible without causing any of them to be gravitationally sling shotted beyond 2 Astronomical Units from their parent star, for a time period of 500 years. I've been trying to recreate the Isstvann system and failing. I think Isstvann is an unstable system to be quite honest with you. The system uses real physics and you'll soon get a feeling for what is physically viable and what is not. Plus its a great teaching resource for any science teacher out there (I know there might be a few lurking on my blog!).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What is the origin of Konrad Curze' name?

A puzzle for you.

The people of Nostramo gave the name "Night Haunter" to Konrad Curze for the vigilante crimes he committed against the most sinful population of the planet. Konrad adopted this name as his own after time.

But: where did the name Konrad Curze come from in the first place?

Let me explain why I'm puzzled. Many (nearly all?) of the other primarchs in the Warhammer 40k background were named by their adoptive families. Mortarion was the "son of death" - a giant necromancer like being that brought him up gave him said name. Vulkan was taken in and raised by the blacksmith, N'ben. And so forth.

On the surface, Konrad's upbringing was probably closest to Corax. But there was one significant difference: Corax was tutored and loved by his comrades. Konrad on the other hand never had an adoptive family. He never had a roof over his head to hide in other than that he made for himself. He only learnt language by listening to those around him and decrypting newspapers and television like broadcasts for himself.

So my question is this: who first gave the name Konrad Curze to Konrad Curze? Where did it come from? Is this what the Emperor gave him as a name? Or someone else? Or what he simply invented for himself?  A puzzle!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Slave Tribes

Slave Tribes is a fluff / background extension of the base Dark Sun campaign setting. The name of the publication gives away its purpose: a treatment of the slave tribes of Athas. As such, it can be used to give more variation and background to cross-desert adventures such as Arcane Shadows and Road to Urik. But it only concentrates on one type of slave tribe: those that have escaped the city states and fled in to the deserts (rather than some kind of city based tribe - which might be a neat idea). As such, the title of the publication might be better as "Tribes of ex-slaves" to be fair.

The subject of slavery is in our own world one that still needs discussion. The prose of the expansion here though deals with it in a relatively mature manner, both through the eyes of a former slave and by painting a picture of the roleplaying nature of Athas as an economy that is wholly dependent upon it for its advancement. But it does this by not glamorising it: more by painting it as an undesirable but everyday (and accepted) fact of life of Athas.

The book then proceeds to delve in to the background of some of the more "famous" slave tribes such as The Free (see Arcane Shadows), and Salt View: a tribe that both raids passing caravans for survival and puts on theatre productions to earn some coin. An exposition on the life inside such tribes is presented which is useful for pulling a "you are all escaped slaves who have met in the desert" routine.

Included toward the end is a nice chart to randomly create slave tribes that may be met by the PCs during their adventures in the Athasian wastes. This includes such pieces as how they might react when they see a PC drain plant life energy to fuel their spells (preserver or defiler magic), what kinds of slaves they used to be, and how they manage to keep themselves alive through a plethora of means - which makes the level of detail here rather nice to behold.

Letting it down is the interior artwork which is no where near as good as Brom's cover pieces in my opinion, as well as some of the more strange tribes that don't gel well with my own thoughts about how desperate former slaves in the desert might eke out a sorcerer-king free existence.

I want to finish with a good point though. Most of this book is background material and is largely (majority!) free of statistics from 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons. Hence transporting it to modern editions of any roleplaying game is not a biggie, and using the information contained within it to other realms is suggested (modulo you may have to think about some Dark Sun specific issues like defilers and their history vs. the ecology of the planet). Overall, 4 out of 5 stars from me. Certainly one to pick up if you're a Dark Sun fan or just wanting to introduce a concept of a group of former slaves gathering together in the wilderness for their own mutual survival in other settings.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


This is about as close as an April 1st "odd" post as I'm going to do.

These are tentacles.  Five of them. On circular bases. For no other reason than they're tentacles.  I'm glad we got that out of the way.

I picked them up at a LFGS about 6 months ago since they were on sale for a very very cheap price (like under a dollar / pound) and I figured I could use them for *something*. I think they're originally from ADnD or Ral Partha, but couldn't attest to that. They came pre-painted too -- nothing to do with my brushes and inks.

The only real question I have is this: what am I going to do with these tentacles now?!?!  I bought them on impulse because they were cheap as anything, and singularly I'm stumped about what to do with them next! Perhaps a game board or scenery piece needs them…?  Suggestions most welcome! :)

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