Monday, March 31, 2014

I am Alpharius

I am Alpharius.

I'm not really.  Or am I double bluffing?  He's everywhere!

Well, I managed to get a good look at the special rules for the Alpha legion recently (I'm sure you can too if you scry the web hard enough) from the third book of the Horus Heresy Forge World series: "Extermination".

The rules for the Alpha Legion are just wonderful to behold to say the least.  And having read them, I think I have finally made my mind up about which 30k legion to collect and paint … I was thinking Death Guard (already got a big existing 40k collection), Raven Guard (something new entirely) or Sons of Horus (got some 40k Black Legion and old minis painted in their livery). But when I saw the Alpha Legion there, it was a winner.

Let me explain my reasons.

Firstly, there's the fact that the Alpha Legion has (mysteriously!) got hold of Corvus mark armour contained within the book. Why is this important? Because it makes collecting an Alpha Legion army much cheaper (think: plastic regular space marines versus forge world parts!).

Secondly, the Alpha Legion may take (using their unique rite of war: the Coils of the Hydra and the special rule "The Rewards of Treason") a unit from any other legion. This means that I *can* include a unit of grave warden Death Guard if I so choose. This is absolutely brilliant and means that I don't really lose anything by going with Alpha Legion. I can add to my Death Guard along the way as well(!)

But the thing that simply blew me away was all the fancy rules that the Alpha Legion is able to field. The fluidity of command means they may choose what special rule they like (tank hunters, infiltrate, etc) for each unit with the Alpha Legion Astartes rule that they like. This is awesome! They also have some nifty specialist units (Lernaean terminators, Headhunter squads) and some really interesting characters available (Dynat, Exodus, and Alpharius himself … or is it Omegon? Could be!) and a Saboteur Consul -- they're going to be awesome for just coming on the board and whacking an enemy tank with a penetrating hit … just because its the Alpha Legion. And the sudden appearance of Alpharius himself anywhere is just priceless. Preferred Enemy: everything is too cool to ignore for me as well (coupled with the replacement of reserves: Alpharius is going to annoy a lot of other players, I'm certain!).

I can't wait to see the model for some of these characters -- particularly Alpharius. Well, I think I'll hold off any purchases for a while to see what models come out of Forge World in the coming months. But in the mean time, I think I ought to consider what units might go in to a 1500 to 2000 points army for the Alpha Legion. Your thoughts are welcome as always.

Hydra Dominatus brothers.

Friday, March 28, 2014

BAO Tournament: First round, Dark Eldar vs. Grey Knights and Tau

Hi all, Eldrad Vect here, it's been a while and I've had a busy year so far but I'm back and blogging about our gaming groups latest tournament campaign thing. Its based off the Bay Area Open rules pack with a funky points handicap system that grants extra points to list comped weak by the other players. I'll be blogging my games from the campaign with some 'narrative forging' to give comprehensive battle reports on the carnage caused by my Dark Heart Kabal. I shall also be posting the standings for each round of the tournament too.

"It was cold, colder than usual upon the planet, Kazarai Dodechius. Mist hung in the morning air and thin rimes of frost clung to the Paladin's Terminator Armour as they marched behind their Grand Master. Faint rays of light began to creep along the horizon and the only sound that could be heard was the thump of boots and quite hum of Tau battlesuits. "Are you sure their were Daemons here Fireblade?" questioned the Grand Master, but before the Tau leader could respond great beams of darklight tore through the trees.
"Worse than Deamons," responded the Fireblade "denizens of the Dark City"...

Ok, the army lists.

Dark Eldar 1850 pts (with extra 50 pts)
HQ
Lelith Hesperax   175 pts
Baroness Katteryna (Baron Sathonyx)   105 pts
TROOPS
10x Wyches with Raider   250 pts
12x Hellions  237 pts
10x Kabalite Warriors with Raider  190 pts
7x Kabalite Warriors  63 pts
ELITES
4x Grotesques with Raider   260 pts
5x Hekatrix Bloodbrides with Venom   150 pts
HEAVY SUPPORT
1x Ravager  130 pts
1x Cronos Parasite Engine  110 pts
1x Voidraven Bomber   230 pts
 TOTAL: 1900 Points

Grey Knights with Tau Allies 1850 pts
HQ
Grand Master Draigo   270 pts 
Tau Fireblade 84 pts
TROOPS
10x Paladins    735 pts
5x Terminators   235 pts
12x Fire Warriors  142 pts
ELITES
1x Dreadnought  135 pts
HEAVY SUPPORT
3x Broadside Battlesuits   243 pts
TOTAL: 1849 Points

First Round, Deployment: Dawn of War, Missions: Emperor's Will and Crusade (three objectives for Crusade placed within three inches of the centre line).

Deployment Phase:
The Grey Knights had the advantage of setting up first, having already been on the planet and prepared for combat. Only one squad benefited from Draigo's Grand Strategy special rule and scouted forwards. The Dark Heart Kabal deployed as far away from the big guns of the Dreadnought and Broadsides could reach and the benefits of Night Fighting as well as the Dark Eldar vehicles Night Shields meant that in the position they were in nothing could touch them. Fire Warriors deployed entrenched is ruins whilst Terminators and Paladins deployed out in the open with all the hubris of the Grey Knights they were. Kabalites and Hellions cowered behind tall ruins. the only adventurous deployment by my Dark Eldar came with the Bloodbrides and their Venom deploying behind a large piece of terrain and thus out of sight from the Broadsides.
I do apologise for the terrible quality of the pic, but I have since then upgraded my phone with a better camera... I'm on the left and my opponent on the right, when I make references to placement of things it'll be from my perspective on the left. Emperor's Will objectives are where the Fire Warriors are and at the big piece of terrain at the top of the board where my vehicles are.
Turn 1:
Grey Knights turn.
The Grey Knights strode up the field with little regard for the enemy, the Paladins moved on an angle matching the trees and the Terminators moved into the craters with an amazing move through cover roll of 6 and then a run roll of 6 too, aiming to hold the right Crusade objective. Everyone else stayed more or less in the same spot. In the shooting phase the Broadsides took aim at the Cronos, being the only thing in range, but due to some ridiculous cover save rolls the Cronos only took a single wound.

Dark Eldar turn.
Engines screeched as the Raiders moved and with the aid of Enhanced Aethersails they covered most of the board in a single move, entering the enemy deployment zone and planning to creep up the flanks. The Cronos rolled and abysmal 4 when moving through cover and a 2 when it attempted to run. The Ravager opened fire on the Paladins but poor luck on the Ravagers part and divine intervention of the dice gods on the part of the Grey Knights meant that only a single wound was taken. The Venom had similar luck as it only managed to kill a single Shield Drone from the Broadside squad. Also the Hellions and Baroness took and held the left Crusade objective which resulted in an early lead for the Dark Eldar.

End of Turn 1. Once again, sorry it's really blurry, but the basic shapes and positions are still there...
Turn 2:
Grey Knights turn.
This was a good turn for the Knights, the Paladins moved behind cover to avoid being a target for the Ravager and the Terminators continued to march towards the objective. As you'd expect all the Tau and the Psyfleman Dread stood still the get off there maximum shooting potential. The Fire Warriors and Dreadnought torn through the Cronos with a torrent of firepower, after the terrible shooting of the Dread it was the Fire Warriors who delivered the death blow to the foul creature. The Broadsides claimed their first victim of the game by blowing up the Wych squad's Raider, luckily the resultant explosion only killed a handful of Wyches. But the most horrifying thing this turn was the Paladins and Terminators decimation of the Bloodbrides and their Venom, wiping them from the board with a hail of bolts.

Dark Eldar turn.
After the considerable losses inflicted by some great shooting from the Grey Knights and Tau, the Dark Eldar had to do something considerably epic, hence the action taken by Lelith Hesperax's personally Raider which was to penetrate the opponent's back line as fast as possible and that is just what she and her squad did. With brilliant positioning, the Ravager traced a clear line of sight to the Paladins whilst being completely hidden from the Broadsides and Dreadnought, it managed to inflict 2 wounds killing the Paladin it had failed to last turn. The remaining Wyches moved inconspicuously toward the central-most objective through cover. The Kabalite Raider followed slowly behind Lelith's laying down firepower as the Splinter Cannon wielding Kabalite slew a Fire Warrior at range. The Voidraven failed to come on this turn as well adding even more desperation to the Dark Eldar efforts.

End of Turn 2. This pic is a little clearer and boy did Lelith's raider move far...
 Turn 3:
Grey Knights turn.
Frantic, the Fire Warriors, Dreadnought and Broadsides turned all their guns on Lelith's raider. As the Paladins and Terminators continued, undeterred, up the field towards the Dark Eldar deployment zone and to get greater cover from the horrendous guns of the Ravager. The Broadsides made short work of the Raider, blowing it up and injuring one Grotesque in the resultant explosion. But it wasn't over yet for the Grotesques as the Fire Warriors and Dreadnought unloaded into them. Thanks to the Fireblade's Special Rule Volley Fire, the Fire Warrior let off an ungodly 30 shots into the Grotesque, but because of there incredible resilience only two Grotesques were slain. The Dreadnought however was not as lucky, failing three of it's to hit rolls, even with the re-rolls for Twin-Linked and the one shot that did hit home was saved by the Abberation's Feel No Pain.

I can see where this is going...

Dark Eldar Turn.
After surviving Tau firepower, Lelith and her Grotesques were keen to spill blood. The Kabalite Raider continued to creep up the flanks and the Wyches speed towards the central objective under the cover of large rocks. This was a most devastating turn for the Grey Knights as the Voidraven Bomber came in from reserve. It flew over the Paladins, dropping it's Void Mine in it's wake, vanquishing three Paladins in its blast. Not only did it slaughter Paladins, but it abolished the Broadsides with a flurry of incredibly accurate Implosion Missiles leaving only a single Broadside and a Drone standing. The bloodbath wasn't over yet, the Kabalite Raider fired its Dark Lance and with a lucky shot blew it up, that wasn't all however the blast radius of the explosion hit all but one member of the Fire Warrior squad and slew some drones and Fire Warriors. Lelith threw a Plasma Grenade into the unprotected Tau killing five of them and the Liquifer Gun wielded by a Grotesque rolled an AP of 3 with resulted in a further four Fire Warriors destroyed. Not content with crippling Lelith and her squad moved in for the kill, assaulting the remaining drones and Fireblade. Lelith ravaged the Fireblade in a challenge as did the Grotesques as they smashed drones, by the end of the turn nothing was left of them.
Lelith and Fireblade locked in a brutal (and rather one-sided) Melee.
End of Turn 3... 

Turn 4, 5 and 6.
Grey Knights turns.
Predominantly, for the next three turns the Paladins pretty much U-turned to try and get to the enemies at the other end of the board, this left them pretty much useless for a few rounds doing nothing but locking the Voidraven's velocity with Psycannon shots they also in Turn 6 finally destroyed the Ravager which had been foolishly moved too close to the Paladins. Only the Grey Knights themselves were still standing at the end. Draigo also called Lelith out for single combat which was more for fun than actual strategic advantage since I was holding two of the Crusade objectives and at the end of turn 6, both Emperor's Will ones. This combat last two rounds until of course Draigo Instant Deathed my poor Lelith Hesperax.
Lelith and Draigo's epic combat...


Dark Eldar turns.
Purely moving towards objectives and futilely trying to kill Grey Knights. The Kabalite managed to bring Draigo to one wound in a single round of shooting after he had slain Lelith and the Voidraven and Grotesque crushed the remaining Broadside and co. in turn 4. Probably the most exciting thing that happened was the objective the Hellions had been holding since Turn 1, which was also sabotaged, blew up and killed a Hellion.

Overview
All up it was a really fun game that could have really gone either way at many points of the game. I could have been a bit more brazen with the Bloodbride but lesson for next time. and my Cronos' placement was horrible too. Also my Voidraven actually did something for once, not scattering a single missile blast template and it was really effective against the Paladins, most definitely the Unit of the Match, at least on my side that is.

Tournament Standings after Round 1 (still need to find out the names of each army):
1st: Dark Heart Kabal (Dark Eldar)
2nd: Reavers (Ultramarine CT)
3rd: Tyranid
4th: Salamanders
Joint 5th: Blood Ravens (Raven Guard CT), Necrons, Grey Knights and Orks.

End of Turn 4

End of Turn 5

End of Turn 6

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dynamic Assault Marine


This is a Dark Angels assault marine. But what I want to talk about in today's post is dynamism: or making your assault marines look even better.

One of the defining features of assault marines is their bent knees. In an army that has a large number of marines with locked legs firing bolters in a pseudo-static pose, the built in dynamism of the assault marines sprue gives the modeller an unrivalled opportunity to modify and build around the movement inherent in such poses.

This assault marine has been built on top of a battle scarred rhino door (a left over from a predator build). This was done in several parts. The first was to battle damage the rhino door and glue it on to the circular base at an angle. This was tough to do, but one thing that can help is to etch a groove in to the circular base by scoring with a modelling knife in a straight line. This helps position the edge of the door and the glue largely does the rest. The key (and I mean it!) is to let the door dry on the circular base before doing anything else.

I dry-fitted the legs of the assault marine in advance to be sure that the pose would be good. Gluing them on to the door of the rhino was done without the torso or the assault pack in place on the hips (i.e. just the legs!). Whilst that was happening, I built the torso and attached the flight pack. Both were allowed to dry before connecting the torso to the legs at the waist. The final bits were the arms, shoulder pads, accessories and the helmet. The helmet in particular is important to get right. In any dynamic pose, it is critical that the marine is looking in the right direction - in this case along the direction that he's pointing with his power fist.

And for more inspiration, here's an old Wargames Gallery picture from yesteryear.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Order of Primarch Rediscovery

A while ago on the First Expedition Forums, the Black Library released the "official" rediscovery order of the Primarchs. I'm reproducing it here for reference:

1) Horus Lupercal
2) Leman Russ
3) DELETED FROM IMPERIAL RECORDS
4) Ferrus Manus
5) Fulgrim
6) Vulkan
7) Rogal Dorn
8) Roboute Guilliman
9) Magnus
10) Sanguinius
11) Lion El'Johnson
12) Perturabo
13) Mortarion
14) Lorgar Aurelian
15) Jaghatai Khan
16) Konrad Curze
17) Angron
18) Corvus Corax
19) DELETED FROM IMPERIAL RECORDS
20) Alpharius

Hence the only primarchs whose discovery order is the same as their legion number are:
Rogal Dorn and Alpharius

I kind of like this order, but there are clear conflicts, of cousre. But as the OP on the forums stated, there's a wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing at play rather than any canon error…..!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Horus!

I think I'm too super excited about the Horus model being released by Forge World! Seriously, I think that the sculpt is absolutely gorgeous!

But the price tag -- GBP60 -- is really rather up there - but equally so is much of Forge World's kit.

In the interview that Simon Egan gives about the sculpting process there is also a really interesting. In it, he gives almost a throw away line about the thing he's learnt - including embossed plate armour for a future project. So: who else in the 30k series has amazingly embossed plate armour… hmmmmm…!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Everything bleeds, Lorgar (Review: Aurelian)

In the Black Library book, Aurelian, we learn of Lorgar's journey and (very willing) fall to chaos as the only true deities worthy of his worship. 

Told as a tale that flicks back and forth between the past and present, Lorgar has a candid exchange with Magnus. In doing so, he informs Magnus of all the preceding events that lead him up to the position that he is currently in. This includes a tour with Ingethel of various future realities - some are going to turn out to be true, but others are not (Argel Tal's death for instance). Lorgar is tested by the gods, including Khorne who sends his champion to take his skull as part of the test.

The pacing of the novella is good and includes many action scenes surrounding Lorgar and how his whole demeanour and attitude has changed in the present - so much so that even Horus has become somewhat wary of him.

On the negative side, I didn't care much for how Khorne was reported to break the "pact" - there were no consequences for this ultimately, so how come Khorne broke it and Slaanesh, Tzeentch and Nurgle thought that that was all okay? Could the others have teamed up and said "Oi, Khorne! I really respect your rage, but leave Lorgar alone - he's like totally critical to all our plans so don't stuff it all up!".

The audio book of Aurelian contains voice acting by the reader. Most of it is good, but the one character that really irritated me was Fateweaver. His audio characterisation and lines might as well have been right out of Dungeons and Dragons at its worst. He lies, or does he? He tells the truth now. But never again.  Or does he? At least Angron's advice that everything bleeds can be well heeded, even if Angron's characterisation of distilled rage was somewhat weak (perhaps he had a clear head day for once?).

Overall, I'd happily give Aurelian 3 stars out of 5 - a very enjoyable novella if one ignores some of the lines and allows the action and deep backstory to wash over!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Dragon's Crown

This is not a regular adventure - this is an epic. Its an entire campaign rolled in to one release. Its extent is grand: featuring treks across the entire known world and unexplored regions therein. It is the strongest departure from the story arc in the books that accompanied the release of the Dark Sun setting, and whilst technically the climax of the Freedom, Road to Urik, Arcane Shadows and Asticlian Gambit story arc, it most certainly can be played as a stand-alone adventure.

The major premise of the adventure is that The Order (who you've not heard of before, but if you had the prescience of running this adventure might have placed clues in the previous ones yourself) - the folks who are at the peak of psionic power on Athas - have decided that no one but them should wield psionic powers. Accordingly, they have created the psionatrix: a device that dampens psionic activity throughout the land making it tougher to use and limit the power levels of users in general.

Clearly, this does not go un-noticed. If they played Arcane Shadows, then Korgunard will contact them to investigate (why he can't do this himself being an uber spell caster and psionic master himself is dubious in extremis). They figure out that Hamanu, the Sorcerer-King of
Urik, could be behind it. But he isn't. And he says go to an old fortress and have a look there. So off to the Silt Sea and the Road of Fire to explore. Cutting a long story short, the PCs will eventually figure out what is going on (as well as being stalked by members of The Order, who are actually split by factional lines) and head to the Dragon's Crown mountains to attempt to destroy the psionatrix (which is where it is located).

On the plus side, the scope of this adventure is magnificent - no less than 7 playable "parts" which will require plenty of sessions to resolve fully. The possibility for role-play is very high (including driving Thri-Kreen crazy due to the psionatrix field) as well as interaction with characters from previous adventures. Thankfully Korgunard doesn't feature too heavily in the latter parts (immmm - he perishes! oops - spoilers!). And the whole "you're captured and turned in to slaves" meme is largely missing … except for encounters with Hamanu…

As with the other adventures within this arc, planning is essential to a full enjoyment of the adventure. Having little hooks in previous adventures and cues to characters within this one would be great. Also, the GM should feel free to ignore some of the more "you must end up here" kind of nudges - having the scope of an adventure this large is excellent and many tangents are possible and should be followed. But the GM must be prepared to go down these sidelines and not get narrow vision to plough through the plot no matter what.

Overall, this is very close to 5 stars, but given the railroading at various points and the turned-in-to-slaves meme repetition, I can only give it 4. Large scale action, high stakes outcomes, important NPCs doing things, and a GM ready and willing to give it a good whirl adds up to an excellent conclusion to the story arc begun in Freedom. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cratered Martian Gaming Table

My last post reviewing the out of production GW publication "How to make wargames terrain" reminded me about my (now well used and well travelled) cratered gaming table. I created in many moons ago - readers can trace the story via these links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I realised that I hadn't updated this chain in a while.  The board has been complete for a very long time now and has seen a lot of play (e.g.: a, b, c, d).

But over time, the board has suffered a bit of damage. The picture below shows a recent picture, if you look closely you can see the wear and tear on it.

The wear is mostly one thing: chips out of the plaster that I used to create it. This can be seen wherever you see any "white" poking through from the red surface. Several knocks during transportation and scratches from children and miniatures can't really be helped. But what I could have done in the first place is include paint in the plaster itself to render it red. Sadly I didn't do that and instead it was white and painted over. I will have to do some (minor) touch up painting work to rectify it, but had I have used red paint mixed in with the plaster, this could have been avoided. Lesson learnt!

The other aspect is that the board is slightly warped(!) Check out the outline of the picture - it is raised by about 1 cm above the carpet on which I pictured it at the bottom end (as viewed). I'm not entirely sure how correct this one: probably weigh it down with lots of old codexes and leave it applied for a while? Suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: How to make Wargames Terrain

"How to make Wargames Terrain" is now an old, out of print publication from Games Workshop. That said, if you can get hold of it, it is an absolutely terrific resource for beginning and moderate experience terrain builders. I got mine through a GW raffle many years ago, and it has been a source of inspiration and an excellent reference manual ever since.

The second image (below) gives a short table of contents of the book and gives a great feeling for what is included in the book. It starts off by suggesting the types of project that one might undertake, ranging from complete epic board building through to something a bit more modular or limited in scope (singular buildings, fences, etc.).

The first section of creating a gaming board is a solid opener - with many ideas for the beginner to think about and possibly attempt. Do you want a modular Cities of Death board, or something like the rolling hills of the Rhovanion? How many subsections will be in your board - and how will you store it!?

The section on hills is straight forward and easy enough for the beginner to tackle a few projects. But as we progress in, some of the innovations get more complex. The woodlands do require some effort (from personal experience of building trees) and the alien trees will certainly require more time than basic ones.

I have personally always found water features hard to pull off in a convincing manner - there's something about flowing water that always trips me up in its execution to model. But the book demonstrates a number of ways to do this, as well as the more basic routine of how to create lakes / ponds / rivers, etc. Roads are death with too in a comprehensive manner, and this is followed up with many ideas for obstacles - plenty there for the beginner as well as more experienced terrain modeller.

The buildings section progresses on and showcases a number of great looking buildings, but many of them also look tough to execute. The book is rounded off with basing, and terrain boards. The terrain boards are inspiring, but the very last section then goes and posts a good number of pictures that just whet my appetite to try to build something even more complex and themed: big boards with all the kind of terrain that go with them … if only I had the time in real life!  As more of an appendix, the book terminates with a tour of the regular materials (styrene, flock) and less regular materials (brush bristles, sponges) that might be used.

Overall, this is a fantastic addition to a serious modellers library who are starting out, or have a bit more experience under their belt and are looking to expand their repertoire.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Asticlian Gambit

Assuming that the PCs finished Arcane Shadows, then this adventure picks up from that point. Beyond that, however, it goes downhill. Fundamentally, its a plotline without too much reasoning and lacking in the motivation department for the PCs.

Take the opening for example. If the PCs are in Tyr, then they're given an assignment to guard a trade caravan. If they're not, then they're in the open desert and witness an attack on a trade caravan. Being the good guys the PCs are assumed to either (a) happily take on the job with no questions asked; or (b) jump in to the melee they're witnessing without a thought for their own safety to protect the trade caravan that they've no vested interest in.  Hence, right from the start, this adventure lacks a certain amount of motivation. Regardless, the bunch of marauders attacks them for either guarding the caravan, or being bystanders. In every scenario, the head of the marauders will ALWAYS survive (sigh) as he will help them in the Hunt a little later (and is a member of the Asticles clan for which the adventure is tenuously named). After having a necklace given to them, they're tasked with taking it to the city-state of Gulg.

Sadly, it gets worse. After entering Gulg, the PCs will be made in to slaves / prisoners / lackeys by any one of a miasma of means.  I refer the honourable reader to my previous statements about why this shouldn't happen. This results in the PCs being stripped of their kits and forced in to the Red Moon Hunt. The clue is in the name really: there's a Hunt happening. And the PCs are on the wrong end of it. So off they run with a little head start to get away from their hunters. 

A short time later, they bump in to some templars of Nibenay. And of course, they take them back to the city-state they serve. In chains preferably, because the PCs just love being captured / enslaved / etc so much in this chain of adventures. Its a running theme.

Nibenay himself tasks them with getting the necklace back and destroying it. So off the PCs teleport back to Gulg's dungeons to do just what was asked / post hypnotically suggested / magicked they should do.  They succeed, and witness a show down between the sorcerer-monarchs of Gulg and Nibenay before Nibenay teleports them out.  The two endings are broadly: (i) the PCs annoy both sorcerer-monarchs; or (ii) the PCs only annoy Gulg's and make a sort-of kind-of abusive ally of Nibenay.

One star out of five.  I've ran it a few times, but only as a heavily modified script.  I could not bring myself to run "as is" to be honest.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Non-Existant Independent Retailers

Whenever I visit somewhere new or move house, I like to scope out the friendly local gaming stores (FLGSs) and far flung Games Workshop shops. To do this, I often use Games Workshop's own list of independent retailers (as per their web site).

Sadly, I now know for a fact that this is not a list that is either up to date or wholly reliable. I tried to visit two FLGSs this weekend and was disappointed by both. The first one simply did not exist. A double check on google maps revealed that the store was in a state of being "permanently closed". Indeed, whichever shop it used to occupy was now something else entirely! The second one was a department store. But in a smaller department store, certain sections do not appear to exist either. So after wandering the store aimlessly flipping between children's and hardware sections, it became apparent that they did not, in fact, sell any Games Workshop or roleplaying games beyond connect-4. It seems that (from reading on the internet) only a small sub-set of their stores retail hobby products, presumably as an experiment (ongoing). Sadly, the Games Workshop website appears to list every single store of theirs as a retailer when they're not.

So in essence, this blog entry is not a whinge (although I can see how it might be interpreted as such). Its merely a warning. Details are not up to date in a small, limited number of cases.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Crimson Slaughter

Apart from sounding like a great name for a Khorne Champion, the Crimson Slaughter are the talk of the town for being the second codex expansion for the Chaos Space Marine codex. Although the codex is looking weak at the edges apart from a couple of star units (heldrakes!) due to the creep in power levels (I'm looking at you Knights with D class weapons!) and more recent codex releases, the Crimson Slaughter expansion doesn't seem (based on the rumours and lo downs from those with the release already) to do terribly much to address it.

Having chaos possessed marines as troops is both cute and fluffy: to be certain! But unless they're backed up with a method to get in to melee range, and a few good variant rules, I'm not sure how much of an impact (apart from making a gorgeous looking army with a fully themed and painted set of marines) they're going to have to be honest.

The replacement of the possessed ability chart seems nice enough. A 3+ invulnerable save is excellent in the current meta, but them being treated as beasts instead of infantry will probably do precious little. Rending and wounding on a 3+ isn't too shabby and could glance a rhino transport to smithereens in extremis, but again, we're faced with the problem of actually getting them in to range.

The alleged relics (crusader, 2+ armour save and IWND) for 40 points isn't too bad, but depends on the exact set up the Chaos Lord has; and indeed: its battle field role.  Access to divination for 25 points seems okay, but again, what is the power level of the librarian/chaos sorcerer in question and is it still randomly determined powers?  So many questions!  Can't wait to see what the codex expansion actually brings with it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Arcane Shadows

In brief, its a delivery / escort mission. I don't hold it in high regard and would only give it 2 out of 5 stars at most. Probably less on bad days!!!

Now for the more thorough appraisal.  Arcane Shadows is the third in the series of initial Dark Sun adventures that technically can follow on from Freedom and Road to Urik. There are two significant aspects that differentiate this adventure from the previous ones. Firstly a new author. And secondly: a complete departure from the plot line of the Prism Pentad book series that was released alongside the campaign setting.

Assuming that the players somehow survived the battles on the Road to Urik adventure, they have wound up in the City State of Urik in all probability. And that's about where things go awry for me.

By either being captured(*) or by ingratiating themselves with the Veiled Alliance (a secret underground group of preserver, or good, magic users that don't destroy the environment by casting spells), they come to witness a grand spell to turn a preserver, Korgunard, in to an Avangion (the high level, epic good equivalent of a dragon). The Urik templar who captured them (or he just bursts in otherwise) interrupts the transformation spell and following a strike from a magic weapon, Korgunard ultimately gets put in to a stasis-like coma to save his life. The Urik templar makes good on his escape and the remaining members of the Veiled Alliance want the PCs to transport the comatose Korgunard to a location near Tyr.

And therein is the next problem: why would the PCs be wanting to help? The Veiled Alliance is illegal and made up of those nasty spell casters (even if they're preservers) and they're putting themselves at extreme risk to transport Korgunard to his destination.

Putting that aside, the adventure then follows their trials as they make their way across the desert. Along the way, an ex-slave tribe known as The Free comes to aid them, there's the usual variety of fights to win - including another attempt to capture them by raiders(*) and other random encounters. The DM just better hope that they have a compass, because getting lost in the desert whilst hauling a comatose epic wizard isn't a great situation to be in overall.  The culmination of the mission requires the players to help Korgunard complete the spell, whilst fending off the original Templar from Urik and his minions (I hope the PCs didn't slay the templar earlier...).

Overall, I rate this adventure worse than Freedom. Sure, there are some nice points (introductions to the Veiled Alliance, and slave tribes in the desert) that could be expanded upon, but that's about it. The sheer lack of motivation for the players coupled with high danger levels make this one not so good - just my opinion.  To improve it, perhaps have someone like Malignor (from future adventures) take the place of the Urik templar and set him up to be an uber villain in the long term. Have one of the PCs possess existing links to the Veiled Alliance. Better encounters in the desert that build on the events of Road to Urik wouldn't hurt either - were there deserters that got away for instance? They could crop up here very snugly.  The lack of consequences and choice is also an issue: whatever happens, the ending seemingly can't be avoided (nor can other set pieces). There's even lines like if the PCs are not captured at point X, they can be captured here instead.  Whatever the GM/DM is going to do, it's probably going to take a fair bit of work to increase the interest and enjoyment level of this adventure from the way it is published if its run as part of a longer campaign.

(*) If you didn't give the PCs a reason to become slaves in Freedom, by now they're likely to be at their wits end by the number of times they've been captured and turned in to slaves.  This is a MAJOR problem with this series of adventures. Find another way at all costs DM's!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Road to Urik

If the ironically named "Freedom" has little player choice, then the nominal following Dark Sun adventure, Road to Urik, has a splendid scope to forge a player chosen path with different consequences for every decision made.

The plot in the previous adventure resulted in the Sorcerer-King's death. This lead to a power vacuum that his high templar, Tithian stepped in to. But in turn, his hand was pretty much forced: he released every slave in Tyr (the city where all the action is happening).  The only thing is, other Sorcerer-Monarchs sense weakness in this turn of events. Tyr's nearest neighbour city-state, Urik, decides to send an army to invade (it wants control of the iron mines - and who wouldn't: metal is scarce on the planet of Athas). The adventure, Road to Urik, is thus all about how the players respond to this invasion threat.

In the first part of the plot, the PCs - heroes from the previous adventure - must help assemble an army to take on Urik's might. Since the usual methods of press-ganging citizens in to slavery to fight battles is out, they have to resort to other means. Why is a senator only making a low contribution to the building army? How can a dispute between merchant houses and newly freed masons be resolved to ensure supplies? Can the PCs stop the gladiators from deciding to march early to sate their bloodlust and build an even larger (but less trained as the gladiators!) army? All of these options present excellent opportunities for the group to make choices that have strong consequences later.  Too small an army (only consisting of the gladiators) simply won't stand a chance. How do they help the common cause?

The second part of the plot features the PCs given command of a small set of troopers and put in charge of a little bit of scouting. How will they control their charges? How do they prevent desertion, and how do they deal with re-captured deserters? What kind of patrols will they run, and will they be able to fight off a raid from desert nasties? The third and final part results in their scouting being discovered and a large fight ensues that they probably won't win...

For me, the main positive aspect of this is the consequences of the choices that the PCs make -- I guess I could make a similar statement about any game ultimately: anything that makes the players have consequences to their actions is a good one. There's a wealth of opportunity with this. If they annoy a noblewoman whilst building their army, there'll surely be a price to pay later (should they survive).  If they deal leniently with deserters, their command may not respect them (and so forth).  Overall, this adventure has real potential and I'd happily give it 4 out of 5 stars, even if the interior art is not by Brom(!)

Finally, this is the last published adventure that strongly follows the books that were published alongside the campaign setting (i.e. the Prism Pentad).  The next adventure deviates significantly from the books and is written by a different author to Freedom and Road to Urik.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Freedom

Continuing with the reviews of the ADnD Dark Sun Campaign Setting, today I wanted to take a look at the first published adventure to take place on Athas. Entitled "Freedom", this adventure marked a new design of publication. Inside the folder (as pictured) are two spiral bound books, one for the DM and one for the PCs. Broadly, the one for the PCs contains pictures showing certain situations to give the players an overview of the situation, or a close up of a certain item, etc. The DM's book contains the actual adventure itself. Summary stats and info are contained on the inside leaf.

As a product, I don't know of any owner being able to keep the folder of the spiral books in anything like mint condition. I've even seen shrink wrapped copies of these designs with damage from the spiral books contained within - its a very probably design flaw.

The adventure itself starts with one of several encounters that culminates in the same final result: the PCs are turned in to slaves. Singularly, this event is enough to shut down the entire game for some players and is a real source of friction. The best way I've found to get around it is to have a "powerful" NPC approach the PCs and ask them to have themselves arrested and turned in to slaves for different nefarious purposes.  This creates a sense of purpose in the playing group as they feel its a choice they've made, rather than something that has randomly happened to them. It makes for a much better atmosphere without losing any of the subsequent adventure.

In the next few sections, the PCs labour away on Sorcerer-King's Kalak's giant ziggurat - a building that he wants erected with all haste and doesn't care particularly about how many slaves perish in its construction. Various encounters can occur and they all have subsequent consequences. Eventually whatever choices are made, the culmination is the assassination attempt on Kalak by the heroes of the Dark Sun novels during which the PCs attempt to escape the death trap that Kalak has set. To be clear, the PCs are not the heroes of the assassination of the sorcerer-King, they play a secondary role to what happens in the novels and this will be disappointing to some players.

My main problem with the latter parts of the adventure is the fact that all the PCs may have split up and appeared in distinct sections of the final gladiatorial arena by that stage. Again, the fact that I had the PCs elect to enter the slave pens for a different reason was the only thing that was holding them together at that stage. Different groups would have no reason to work with each other by then and will be looking out for themselves if they are roleplaying the scenarios correctly.

To my mind, the adventure provides an excellent introduction to the brutal world of Dark Sun, but the events and choices made are highly individualistic.  There needs to be more in-game roleplaying reasons for a group to forge and stick together, and this is what lets down the adventure overall. If running Freedom, I would strongly recommend using such reasons and make becoming slaves in to a choice. The same brutal introduction to the game ensues, but becomes a much more enjoyable group effort. Two stars out of five from me for this otherwise.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dark Sun Campaign Setting Review (1st ed)

In Dungeons and Dragons there are a number of settings and campaign worlds that stand out against the normal fantasy fare. The Dark Sun campaign setting (first edition, 1991, pictured and reviewed here) is chief amongst them to my mind. Having DM'ed Dark Sun for many years during university days, it remains one of my firm favourites of all time.

So, what is all the fuss about? Imagine a world that is almost endless desert. Throw in to the mix that unscrupulous mages caused this state of affairs - all magic has to be powered from somewhere on this plane and the most frequent way is for the mage to drain the lifeforce of the surrounding flora - and this world is a post-apocalyptic one where survival is the keystone to many adventures.

There are a significant number of further twists that serve to define and differentiate the setting utterly from others. Firstly, every character from the greatest merchant to the lowest street thief has some wild psionic / psychic talent. Some may hone their psionic skills to a high precision, but every person on the planet has raw potential and is able to channel some kind of ability (limited telepathy, biological modification, teleportation, clairvoyance, and so forth). Where the life draining effect of magic is shunned (and indeed: persecuted), psionic ability has become the norm. There are no gods either (or if there used to be in previous ages, they have long since abandoned the plane of Athas - the Dark Sun world). Hence priests worship the elements (earth, air, fire, water) and occasionally the para-elements.

The world itself lacks metal (and metal ore) - in large part (presumably) because they were used up in previous eras. Therefore weapons and armours are created out of bone, obsidian, leather, teeth and all manner of other assorted items. Speaking of armour: you're not wearing much because its too hot and you're losing too much water to perspiration. And speaking of water: where are you getting yours from? It costs quite a bit if you're outside the protection of some of the more generous city-states.

And civilization, such that exists on the world, is perilous enough. Each of the major city-states is ruled with an iron fist by a supreme-power wielding Sorcerer-King (or Queen), who gained their power in a previous age and have long since cemented their positions by fair means (an election for instance ... but the populous didn't know just how long they'd live) or foul. In truth, these paragons of magic and psionics are the closest things to gods on this planet and can grant their law enforcement officers (templars) clerical power. Darker yet, each one of them is on the path to metamorphose in to a dragon - the ultimate predator who wields magical destruction like its going out of fashion. And yes: there is one dragon left in the world. And he's utterly evil.  But that's only because he's guarding the hyper-evil of the planet: an ancient being who starting a cleansing war to rid the world of none-humans.

The PCs also have access to a wider array of races, including muls (half human, half dwarf), thri-kreen (praying mantis insectoids), half-giants. But more than that, each race gets its own twist. Elves are not mystic creatures inhabiting enchanted forests: they're lanky desert runners synonymous with thievery; dwarfs are not bearded dudes with war hammers, they utterly hairless and have a psyco-magical need to focus on a medium to long term task all the time (or they get turned in to undead); halflings are cannibals and live in the wild regions of the remaining forests ... and so forth. And on top of that, each city-state has its own peculiarities and similarities to ancient Earth cultures (Romano-Greek, Aztec, etc.).

Overall, the Dark Sun setting remains one of the most innovative (alongside Planescape) of the entire dungeons and dragons run. It certainly merits at least 4 out of 5 stars from me. The negative side of it are the complex (and varying) psionic rules that needed to be implemented (now cured in 4th edition perhaps?!), alongside the fact that after millenia of stagnation, one of the sorcerer-Kings died (that always upset me a little bit, but I can see why that had to happen in some ways, but it did lead to a series of pseudo-high fantasy publications after it in what should have remained a Mad Max dnd setting). I'll be having a look at some of the subsequent publications in future posts.


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