[WM/H] Road to SmogCon II -"Nobody move! I've dropped me brain."

I don’t know why, but I invariably cock up every game I play with Pete. I don’t even have the excuse of heatstroke this time. Not to take anything away from him, of course, the big lad played a solid game and I manifestly failed to do so, but I did end up just shoving figures across the board into the teeth of Cygnar POW 10 and it’s only Pete’s frequent inability to roll numbers like 4 or 5 on two or three dice that kept me in the game. For what it’s worth, I brought the same army as last time and Pete had something like this:

Commander Coleman Stryker (*6pts)
* Defender (9pts) (the only dubious choice here)
* Ironclad (7pts)
Black 13th Gun Mage Strike Team (4pts)
Trencher Chaingun Crew (2pts) (underrated, lemme tell you)
Gun Mage Captain Adept (2pts)
Journeyman Warcaster (3pts)
* Charger (4pts)

I’m not going to bother writing up the game because a) no photos (my army’s still not painted) and b) you’ll get the gist from examining the big lesson that I learned. I’m not playing Makeda or the Titan Gladiator as far upfield as I should be; both of them are melee pieces which I’m treating like spell support, and the consequence is a piecemeal attack.

In this game, a more bold advance and a spot of Fate Walking with Makeda would have let me keep Karn in her control area, which in turn would have meant I could force a few rerolls on Pete’s Ironclad, which in turn might have meant I’d had a living Molik Karn to mess with on my third turn. I also need to ease off on the running to engage nonsense and look for opportunities to smash things; again, with the benefit of hindsight a properly ramped up Molik Karn (Enraged and under Road to War and Rush for extra verve) could have been trashing Pete’s Ironclad and engaging his Defender rather than going for a “if I survive this turn you’re dead” run against Stryker with both heavy warjacks alive and well.

I have to either adapt my play to the army list, or alter the army list to conform with my playstyle. I’m more tempted than ever to roll up with Lord Arbiter Hexeris instead, for reasons which warrant a post all to themselves.

Progress on the scenario has been nonexistent bar the acquisition of two more player character models (a Gatorman witch doctor/bokor and a Farrow slaughterhouser/chieftain). I’d like to plead “busy with work” but the truth is I’ve been through a bit of a slump in which the only miniatures I’ve given a damn about are the Oldhammer Orks I’ve been buying to cheer myself up, and the only gaming I’ve been doing is a long weekend of WoW which induced dough-like immobility until a looming deadline forced me to engage with real, productive work instead of low-outcome work substitute.

WoW really is like aspartame or methadone; it’s not a second job you have to pay for, it’s a job-like experience for the conventionally unemployable or the chronically depressed. Which you have to pay for. I think that’s why a disturbing number of WoW roleplayers choose to roleplay ordinary civilians with boring jobs and civilian problems; for these people, that’s an implausible and enticing fantasy that’s an improvement on their actual lives. For me, the game is an equivalent to binge drinking. If I’m feeling miserable I don’t go out and get tanked up (stupid medication makes that an unpredictable and rather short experience); I sit around pulling the WoW lever for cheese until the experience has become so stale that I start doing things again to avoid its numerous and sluggish obligations.

Anyway, the point is that I haven’t felt like either statting up any antagonists or painting any models, which must change over/after Christmas. I’ve deliberately not booked any work between the 21st of December and Epiphany; for once, I don’t have to spend Christmas fretting over money and income, and so I’m not going to. Hopefully I’ll spend that time actually doing some hobby, putting the Mammoth together (it’s cleaned up! that’s progress!) and giving everything a good coat of spray primer and its first layer of ink at least.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon II – Wrath of Karn

Suicidal drinking game of the week: take a shot every time a Hordes player makes that reference.

Game News:

A semi-triumphant return to Dice and Decks after several years’ absence without leave went well. Very satisfactory to catch up with the chaps who kept me sane during the six bloody awful months in Gloucester; very satisfactory to confront the Laird Holmes* and his Retribution again.

We played two games at 25 points, with lists that looked a little like this:

System: Hordes
Faction: Skorne
Casters: 1/1
Points: 25/25
Supreme Archdomina Makeda (*5pts)
* Molik Karn (11pts)
* Titan Gladiator (8pts)
Paingiver Beast Handlers (Leader and 5 Grunts) (3pts)
Praetorian Swordsmen (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
* Praetorian Swordsmen Officer & Standard (2pts)

System: Warmachine
Faction: Retribution of Scyrah
Casters: 1/1
Points: 25/25
Lord Arcanist Ossyan (*6pts)
* Hydra (9pts)
* Hypnos (9pts)
Houseguard Riflemen (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
* Houseguard Riflemen Officer & Standard (2pts)
Arcanist (1pts)
Houseguard Thane (2pts)

Terrain was a rough circle with a smallish hillock (elevation), a smallish copse (concealment, rough terrain), a smallish area of broken ground (rough terrain) and a smallish rock (obstruction) on both sides of the table, and a long jagged linear obstacle running across the middle. I quirked an eyebrow but I trust the Laird Holmes’ instincts: rejecting the conventional wisdom in most regards, the Laird’s approach generally works out for the best. Scenario? HARDCORE SCENARIO, because that’s all you need for Warmachine and Hordes**.

The first game was a bit of a wash, because I boldly advanced Mr. Karn upfield and the Laird Holmes didn’t focus fire on eliminating him and left a perfect Side Step route to Ossyan. We discussed the matter briefly and I asked very nicely if I could execute the Molik Missile Run (scenario two) just once, to see what it felt like. It was a very brief non-game, but since we were playing 25 points we could rack ’em up and play again.

This time, the Laird’s rust had been knocked off a bit and he was back on form, eliminating most of the Praetorians (including the Officer) as they ran in to engage his Riflemen, while his battlegroup Void Locked Molik and shot a big chunk off the Gladiator, wreathing it in that “no charging for you mate” aura from Ossyan’s gun. I misdeployed Makeda slightly; she spent rather too much time trucking through Rough Terrain, not being able to Leash anyone anywhere exciting or Stay Death on the Praetorian officer, and Molik ended up out of control range at the top of my third turn.

All of this led to a slightly more interesting game, in which I had to scramble to get Makeda upfield (Engine of Destruction was the only way to get her over the wall) and needed a Paingiver to Enrage Karn, bypassing the “no forcing” restriction and ploughing into Ossyan again. Had the Laird but abandoned Chronomancer and cast Admonition on Ossyan himself, I wouldn’t even have been able to do that, and I’d have had to resort to the old-fashioned solution of smashing up heavy warjacks face to face.

Obviously these are 25 point games, with all the benefits (short, sweet and focused) and drawbacks (imbalanced and prone to abrupt endings) thereof, but I feel surprisingly in control of affairs so far. I am quite taken with the Praetorian Swordsmen, after some initial doubts: Keltarii are the superior choice as jamming infantry but I feel that Road to War and Vengeance stack well, turning the Swordsmen into a fast-moving meat grinder that doesn’t have the small command range and angling problems that the Nihilators present.

The army is built to deliver Molik Karn, and I wonder what it’d do if that wasn’t an option. I have a Titan Sentry built up and I am tempted to play a future friendly with him instead: that would make room for Orin Midwinter in the list, or I could drop the Beast Handlers down to four models and fit in a three point piece like the Tyrant Commander or Marketh. I’d make a straight swap for Tiberion if I didn’t want to build him on a metal Sentry body to offset the weight of the mace and head.

Hobby News:

Everything from the All In One box is built now and has had the liquid green stuff applied to gaps (with intermittent results, but it’s my first go with the product), except for the two Huge-based kits. I think I’m going to sell on Epic Xerxis: I’m not that interested in him as a warlock and it’d allow re-investment into things like actual characters for the IKRPG scenario and some alternative pieces for the Skorne army. Likewise, the second unit of Incendiarii are likely to go: they take up a lot of my finite case space and I’d rather have alternative models (like a wave of Cyclopes for Makeda’s Theme Force, or a unit of Cetrati or Gatormen) than doubling up on the one thing.

RPG News:

Well, the scenario is planned out, in terms of decision trees that set up the encounters. My plan is to pre-set the “maps” and have a general idea of what’s going to be in each encounter, but have different ways into the encounter and different dynamics depending on what the players have decided to do. Player choice will have an impact on how things happen but what things happen will still be set in advance, in order to facilitate my plans.

To-Do List: November

  1. Prime and start painting the army.
  2. Source materials with which to build up the Mammoth’s base.
  3. Purchase Minion models to form the cadre of IKRPG characters.
  4. Prepare maps for IKRPG scenario.
  5. Stat up final versions of PCs, NPCs etc.

* – apparently he owns a parcel of land in Scotland.

** – OK, some of the Steamrollers are all right. The one with the small box in the middle and an objective at each corner works for me, for instance, especially if you pick the objectives carefully to Forge A Narrative and set up terrain around it. It’s the ones with arbitrary flags and abstract zones that I can’t abide.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon II – Skorne Again

For those not in the know, SmogCon is essentially Privateer Press’ big European convention, held somewhere in the general vicinity of London (it keeps growing too big for its venues). A couple of years ago I foolishly mentioned to organiser-bloke Jon Webb that I’d be up for running some Iron Kingdoms RPG tables if he needed me to, and when we ran into each other at Salute earlier in the year it turned out he’d remembered. This started off a process of escalation and a renewed interest in all things Privateer, and… I cracked.

SKORNE
Shown also: Sisters of Mercy merch. Incidentally, their Rock City gig was the bomb.

One: I wanted some antagonists for the IKRPG demo, because that is the supposed point of my presence there. Secondly: it was going to be an Unleashed demo, which meant a Hordes army, which is fine by me because I find the Fury system more fun than Focus. (I’m not going to say it’s better, but more things happen with Fury and things happening is generally cool.) Thirdly: it was going to be Skorne, because Skorne rock. Necromantic, sado-masochistic, pseudo-Persian hate-elves with a warped samurai aesthetic – and that’s the most fanboy sentence I’m going to type this year. I innocently asked around on the UK WM/H trading community to see if anyone had any spare Skorne, and it turned out that Rob from Arcane Scenery & Models had an All-In-One Army Set and some other odds and sods going begging, and now here we are again.

Here’s what I have to work with:

  • Supreme Archdomina Makeda (solid infantry ‘lock, decent in a scrap in her own right)
  • Xerxis, Fury of Halaak (‘beast ‘lock, not sure about him: looks hard to protect but I’ll give him a whirl)
  • Aptimus Marketh (useful free-spell-and-free-upkeep support solo)
  • Molik Karn (the All-In-One box is basically built around the Molik Missile tactic as far as I can see; the things that make Molik go faster plus the infantry power to clear the field for his remorseless charge)
  • Two Titans. I’m thinking one Gladiator, for the animus and the second-line beatstick, and Tiberion, for a super-tough Shield Guard to chill with Xerxis)
  • A Mammoth. Having pissed and moaned about Gargantuans and Colossals since they arrived, I have now resolved that if they can’t be beaten, they must be joined, and having joined them, I can take careful notes on how I get beaten and therefore learn how it works. Also, it provides a smooth way to progress to the standard-issue 50 point game from my preferred 35; it’s a single model and thus doesn’t clutter my head with extra activations, and it does a lot, what with the ROF3 gun and the bulldoze and the impressive melee punch.
  • Two units of Cataphract Incendiarii, which might be one more than I want; we’ll see. I do like heavy infantry and guns and Fire and these are heavy infantry with guns that set things on Fire.
  • One unit of Praetorians, about which I am in two minds. The Supreme Archdomina wants Swordsmen, for the Vengeance and the multiple attacks on her feat turn; my heart wants Keltarii for the Parry, the Reach, the higher DEF and the general jamming potential, also because they look cool. I’ll probably go for the Swordsmen: they are the signature Skorne unit and that makes them perfect mooks for the IKRPG scenario.
  • The obligatory unit of Paingiver Beast Handlers, without which no Skorne army is truly happy.
  • A Tyrant Commander and Standard Bearer, for bullying the Praetorians into running faster and not away from scary things. Also a great boss for the IKRPG scenario.

My plan for SmogCon, then, is to sit myself down and run two IKRPG: Unleashed demo games per day, except for whatever day when the Hardcore event is on; on that day I shall be playing in Hardcore. I’m unsure with which of the two warlocks in my possession I’ll be scrumming down for that, or whether I’ll sneak off and pick up one of my other favourites between now and then. There are a few more bits that I’d like for the army – an Extoller Soulward, Mortitheurge Willbreaker and Cyclops Raider, i.e. the usual support network for the Mammoth – but I don’t think the Raider is essential for Hardcore since everyone’s going to be barging into the middle anyway and things should be moving within range of its guns of their own accord. Also, both Makeda and Xerxis can make the damn thing move faster. It’ll need some testing.

I’m not talking about the demo scenario too much, because I don’t want to spoilerise it before the event, but if it goes well I will be typing it up properly and distributing the PDF for great justice. At the moment I’m trying to decide if it’s worth me investing in some new models for Unleashed protagonists, or if I’ll use stuff in my existing collection and build a party from the conventional game.

I will be talking about painting, once I’ve worked out how I’m going to paint them; the one thing I’m not doing is setting myself up to paint any bloody filigree. Step one will definitely be “ink or drybrush armour so that the trim ends up the colour I want it”, and step two… I haven’t decided yet. It might involve painting in the flat of the plates like I did with my Circle (although there’s a lot more armour on the Skorne and a lot more of them), or it might involve going for plain unlacquered armour like one of the houses detailed in the most recent No Quarter Magazine, and saving my effort for the skin and cloth which are less frustrating to do. I did try to find my notes on how I painted my Epic Skarre, ’cause the idea of painting my badass desert-dwellers with appropriately coloured skin appeals to me, but to date those notes have not surfaced. I’m also thinking about adapting the technique I used for my Revenants and inking them with off-white hide armour, with the mandatory vermillion of House Balaash displayed on the cloth. Off-white armour, red cloth, black skin. That seems like it has legs…

[WM/H] In Praise of Hardcore

It seems odd that someone of my die-hard casual convictions (a contradiction in terms, I’m sure, but I will fight to the death for my right to not have to fight to the death, or at least until I’m bored) would embrace Hardcore, and yet, and yet…

Hardcore’s not perfect, in its current incarnation, but it has always had the seeds of glory in it and here’s why.

Fully painted

We are not tinboys. The spectacle of the wargame is important; if it weren’t we would all be playing chess or something. There is something about these tactile objects which speaks to us on a level that has nothing to do with rules and other abstract notions. They don’t have to be perfectly airbrushed hyper-realistic works of art, they just have to be done properly, they have to look like you were trying to achieve something by painting them. If you commission someone to do this, there is no shame in that. If you commission someone to do this and you accept a painting prize for yourself, you are a heel and a rotter and you deserve a slap.

One list

List chicken is a needless faff. I think you’re going to drop ARM-skew so I drop my ARM-cracking list and then you drop your high-DEF infantry swarm instead, and we have ended up in the exact situation that the multiple lists are supposed to avoid. All we’ve done is stress each other out and second-guess each other and start the game with bluff and suspicion and “gotcha!” – in bad faith, as the current discourse has it. There will always be players who struggle to beat other players and lists which struggle to beat other lists. No amount of extra lists are going to absolutively posilutely prepare you for everything you are likely to see across the table. Cut the crap, build one list and accept that you’ll meet your hard counter eventually.

Any points value

All points values have their virtue. 15 points skips the preamble and gets right in at the deathblow. 100 points is an art form seldom practiced in our unfortunate, uncivilised age. 50 points is still an acceptable median for most and I accept the argument that it allows you to balance and fine-tune your list’s capabilities so that it has some tech for everyone. My dislike is largely down to a personal inadequacy: I’ve never quite managed to build a 50 point list that I can run smoothly.

Death Clock

In Stallroller – sorry, Steamroller – 1 and 2, Nationals finals seldom went to round three, and events were often won by the player who could manage the clock to combine the alpha strike with the last chance to move models in the game – bugger that. Timed turns have one very significant flaw – nobody uses up all their time on turn one and everyone needs an extra minute every turn when facing denial-heavy forces (like, say, most Protectorate armies, where you have to work out what you’re allowed to do and to whom). Death Clock is the way forward. Here is your time: one minute per point. You have agency, you have control. Divide and use your time as you see fit.

Mosh Pit

This game is quite complicated enough without adding in “choose your objective type and track its damage and remember which one your opponent has bearing in mind they probably all look the same”, or “you get this many points for controlling and this many points for dominating the flag and that many for controlling and that many for dominating the abstract zone and – ” No. Enough. Elegant design involves paring down rules, not adding more.

There is a circle in the middle of the board, 24″ in diameter. If you have a model completely within it and your opponent has no models completely within it, you win. If your caster is alive and your opponent’s caster is dead, you win. If you have somehow managed to go through the entire event round with neither of these things happening, you both lose.

Hammertime

What’s that? Some jackass is playing keep-away? OK, fine. We had a rule for that back in the Mark One days. If your caster ends their activation completely within 7″ of a table edge on any turn, you lose. Job’s done. Current Hardcore’s POW 14 is too easy to soak; this is a more effective deterrent which allows even a SPD4 caster on the very board edge to get back into play if they run. This matters: the point is to discourage hiding in corners, not encourage convoluted chain-Telekinesis shenanigans.

Four prizes

Fastest caster kill. Most games won. Most opposing points destroyed. Nicest looking army, according to the judges.

These prizes are easy to administrate and they reward individuals who have taken an aspect of the game as far as they can go (efficiency, generalship, sheer mayhem and the craft of miniature wrangling). No ‘best overall’ which invariably leaves someone feeling gipped, and no sportsmanship scores for people to tank or act like jackasses to earn or scare them away from using the judges for their intended purpose. Besides, the thing about sportsmanship scores is that they depend on who’s met/drawn whom – it’s not like painting where you can go around and inspect everyone’s contribution during the lunch break.

And on the fifth page:

You don’t have to make the kind of plays which require the precise marking of arcs, the turning of games on laser-thin lines between bases which don’t quite fit snugly because the models are bigger than their game volumes, and the abolition of three-dimensional terrain. Somewhere along the line, this game for alleged post-pubescents has become one of counting millimetres to avoid free strikes, and touching woods for a bonus without standing in them for a penalty, and blaming yourself if your opponent takes the game way more seriously than you do.

This is not what Warmachine and Hordes are about.

Having a Pair means that you’ve grown up and admitted that being the best at toy soldiers doesn’t mean jack shit and isn’t a life-defining goal. Nobody worth sleeping with cares that you can auto-win on control points with your teleporting Circle army without a single model needing to make an attack.

What I like about Hardcore is that it’s fast and furious and fun. You don’t have time to quibble over every rule or measurement because you’ll run down your clock; you have to keep things simple and brutal and straightforward instead of gimmicky and bean-counterish. I’ll even let you bring your laser lines if you’ll let me declare the intent to leave no gaps. Deal?

[WM/H] Back on the Rack – Thoughts on Skorne

I haven’t been Weak. Not yet. Allow me to explain, if explain I can, what has been going through the old brainbox for the last week or so.

It started innocently enough, with the accidental assembling a trio of brave souls ready to face the worst that the IKRPG could throw at them and give me a chance to join the Century of the Fruitbat and use that Roll20 whatchamacallit. One of the players has an Enthusiasm regarding Skorne, which guided me in the direction of Iron Kingdoms Unleashed and the Skorne Empire rulebook. That brought something to mind – the half-remembered promise that this year (by which I mean next year, obviously) would be the year I finally ran some IKRPG tables at SmogCon. That brought to mind the chilling truth: to run the IKRPG successfully, with actual people, one conventionally requires miniatures. (You can run it as a conventional RPG, but it’s so obviously configured as a way to use your Warmachine and Hordes miniatures that it loses much of its charm if you do.)

Then there was a moment of horrible synchronicity, because this git happens to be what’s goin’ on in terms of Skorne releases at the moment:

Looks smashing, doesn’t he? This sort of chinked off my having seen the Skorne Army in a Box down at Firestorm a while back, and the creeping certainty that I’d like to run a Skorne-themed adventure at SmogCon, and that led to me looking at the other SmogCon events.

Hardcore. That’s interesting. I always quite liked Hardcore, and then I sort of had a shower thought about my old “as few actors as possible” policy in Hardcore events, induced by having seen the single circulating image of the Desert Hydra Gargantuan. Two Gargantuans (one of each) and Archdomina Makeda. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? One of them gets hurried up the field under Savagery while the other tanks under Defender’s Ward. It doesn’t work as well as I thought it does, because Savagery doesn’t work the way I remember it working, but it did make me giggle in my secret heart and I think I’d quite like to play with a Gargantuan and see how it gets killed when I’m the one using it.

On that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” note, I’ve been poking around Battle College and the forums, just to see what’s hot and what’s not these days. Besides the traditional Molik Karn delivery system, I’m seeing a semi-standard ranged support bloc (the Cyclops Raider, Mortitheurge Willbreaker, Extoller Soulward and a couple of warbeasts with good guns, like the Aradus Sentinel), and two infantry units edging out most of the competition: Nihilators and Incendiarii, both because they muller enemy infantry by the double handful. I quite like the look of the Praetorian Keltarii (little Hexerises with Parry!) and the Scarab Pack (that’s a lot of wounds to have damage transferred into, and some fun interactions based on their being a unit of warbeasts). The Siege Animantarax has received an erratum that makes it scarily shooty, although if we’re talking about guns I still have a sneaky soft spot for Venator Reivers.

In terms of casters, I used to be all right with Master Tormentor Morghoul back in the day, I like the look of Master Ascetic Naaresh (not a one-trick pony, but with a fun set of gimmicks to do with taking and healing damage and a lot of mobility), Lord Arbiter Hexeris (ranged support caster with an arc node; sound like anything I used to play?); any of the Makedas, or either of the Zaals.

Knowing where to start is a bit bewildering though. When I start thinking about armies, the urge is to go back to basics; one man, one starter box, and maybe look around for a Journeyman league, ’cause that structures the list-making experience around a defined point of entry, rather than me having to make my mind up. And of course it has to make a playable and amusing IKRPG scenario too. And there is the sad truth of Skorne and all things related thereto: painting that armour kills me and I need to find a way of doing it outside-in, letting the filigree paint itself during the early prime-and-ink stages of my process and focusing my attentions on stuff that isn’t so fiddly that it’s unsustainable in the long run. At the moment I’m thinking some sort of hide armour (similar style to my SAGA figures actually) and putting a lot of effort into painting the skin (something similar to my old Epic Skarre might work). That’s why it’s all been thinking so far instead of doing. The brain needs to settle and the initial fizz and fiddling subside before I go out and just buy everything.