[Been Painting] Night Lords Kill Team (1/2)

Because the weekend before a WFB tournament is the BEST moment to get the 40K brain worms.

It started innocently enough. Wrapping up my entry to the Old World Army Challenge got me thinking about Orks. That got me writing a retrospective on my previous attempts at an Ork army. That got me thinking about all the Ork conversions for which I’ve had ideas for years and years, and maybe doing a little army to host them all…

… except, of course, that it’s Orks, and all the cool tank conversions and economical “stick the spare arms on Kromlech bodies” scams in the world can’t disguise that it’s mobs of thirty walking wound counters who think vets and bovva boots are enough to keep their entrails from becoming extrails when boltguns are on the line. (And anyway, the Ork Boyz whose spare arms would have been the keystone of my Kromlech-based economy drive are about to be booted from the range anyway.)

Thus frustrated, I loaded up Dawn Of War II: Retribution in an attempt to excise the Orkoid impulse from my brain. Which reminded me how great Chaos Rising had been. Which reminded me that I had a whole Chaos Space Marine army hanging around, stalled out for the best part of four years, three squads and a Sorcerer primed and ready to paint.

Then things started to escalate. In chatterings with Mr. Ængle and Mr. Steven it became clear that actual games of third and second edition 40K could be in the offing. A look at the available fixed-pose modern plastic Chaos Space Marines suggested that judicious eBaying would build me a bigger pool of bodies. Enough for a ten man squad, a five man squad and a four man retinue, as well as a Chaos Lieutenant if I repurposed Obsidian Mallet McBovril or whatever his name is from Black Crusade. And there’s a version of the infamous 3.5 edition Codex on Battlescribe.

And, er, now I have a 1000 point Chaos Space Marine army in various stages of done. The above are the first “new” models to be completed. The full story of their acquisition isn’t really germane here, but you can find out more there. I’m doing a “five in, five out” thing where I have to get the primed models done before I can build any new ones, and likewise have to paint up my Sorcerer before I start on my Lieutenant.

For the sake of reference, I’m going to document the method I use on my Night Lords here as well as adding it to the army summary:

  • primer: grey gesso
  • trim and cloth and skin: wash: thinned down Dark Flesh (Vallejo)
  • trim: drybrush: Solid Gold (P3)
  • guns and pipes and worky bits: drybrush: Cold Steel (P3)
  • trim: wash: Seraphim Sepia (Citadel)
  • guns and pipes and worky bits: wash: Nuln Oil (Citadel)
  • plate: tWo ThIn cOAtS: Stormy Blue (Vallejo)
  • cloth: highlight: Sanguine Base (P3)
  • skin: thin coat: Ryn Flesh (P3)
  • bone / plasma / spooky Chaos bits: thin coat: White Scar (Citadel)
  • skin and plate and bone: wash: Drakenhof Nightshade (Citadel)
  • spooky Chaos bits: wash: Nighthaunt Gloom (Citadel)
  • bone: second thin coat: White Scar (Citadel)
  • flesh: second thin coat: Ryn Flesh (P3)
  • base: Astrogranite Debris (Citadel)
  • base: Drakenhof Nightshade (Citadel)
  • base: Valhallan Blizzard (Citadel)

I find the gesso primer much easier to work with than any amount of spray paint, because I can’t aim for shite and also live in a tiny house with no real outside space. A nice mid grey with plenty of tooth is dark enough for the metallics to settle well on, but doesn’t render the other colours too drab.

I generally use Vallejo paints for anything that needs a thin coat or a bit of finesse, P3 when I want a nice strong colour for little effort, and Citadel for anything technical (they still make the best washes and effects on the market, for my money). I would use Citadel Shining Gold for the trim, but after 25 years my pot is almost out and I’m saving it for Vampire Counts where I want to colour match.

They will get transfers eventually, but I’m not prepared to mess around with those in hot weather when my skin is greasy and my temper short. Transfers are not something I’ve historically messed with and I only have so many on this single Horus Heresy sheet what I own – I’m not taking risks with them.

All of this is about as much effort as I’m prepared to make on a miniature. I can do five of these in two days and I tend to get the shakes somewhere in the middle of the plate stage. I am, however, quite pleased with the results. These models don’t all have as much obnoxious trim as the later Chaos range (probably because a lot of the bits are from Iron Hands or Heresy era kits) and have come out looking a little plainer, but I think that works for a team of operatives who’ve been out fighting the Long War forever and a day – hence designating them a go-to Kill Team who may eventually be rotated out of the lines as new models join the army.

I’m also working on the Eye of the Warmaster, my Sorcerer, although I’m not entirely pleased with him yet. That black undercoat has really done the drabs on him and I suspect I’ll need to give the gold a nice strong highlight to put some pop back into him. I may also flip the base colours around so there’s something nice and pale directly under his feet: at the moment he’s one big dark-n-boring blob. The final option is giving up on the “token member of the Black Legion” conceit I originally had in mind, and just painting him up as a goddamn Night Lord. Or Thousand Son. He does look quite… Tzeentchy.

I’m open to suggestions, if you have any.

[40K] To All The Orks Wot I Have Left Behind

Waaagh It All Began

Second edition 40K is technically where I came in.

I didn’t really play properly – I must have set up and played the Battle for Armageddon scenarios (compressed onto a barely 3′ by 2′ folding table) half a dozen times in my grandparents’ house, but other than that I think I played two chaotic games against other eleven year olds who had even less grasp of the rules than I did and hadn’t even bothered with “army lists” or “staying within one Codex”.

SOMETHING about it had me by the throat, though. I think it was the sheer density of the thing: the rich, vibrant, busy art style; the encyclopaedic Wargear and Codex Imperialis books alongside the rules; the short fiction, some of it really haunting in how it portrayed the futility of life in the forty-first millennium (‘Griznak at the Bridge’ gave an Ork a kind of self-doubting, self-aware tragedy you’d never see in today’s tie-ins, and ‘Dark Communion’ is still the essence of Chaos for me) all the damn cards and templates, some of them for strange weapons I would never see fired in anger. And dear god, some of those rules were complex, some of that art was grim!

I know there was hue and cry on the early-days domestic Internet about GW “dumbing down for the kids” with the rise of the Kirby era box sets (my first Internet fight was with one Christopher Valera over his Burger Workshop pastiche, when I was one of those very kids and defending the space opera genre with intensity only the barely pubescent can muster – I doubt he remembers, and I would prefer not to). Having looked from third edition WFB to fourth I can see where that came from, but I’m not sure how it sits with 40K. Second edition 40K was a complicated beast for an eleven year old to grasp, and artwork like the Pontifex Maximus (which still gives me the conniptions to this day!) still made it in.

I played Necromunda, though, and found the rules (especially hand to hand combat – sweet mercy, what a mess that was!) much more accessible when single models were targeting single models. I suppose that’s what I really remember second edition as, in retrospect: rules for individuals, creaking and groaning as whole squads were forced through them. It took another go around for 40K’s developers to work out how it needed to be more than Fantasy In Space: the increased complexity of movement/placement, and the varied weapon loadouts in squads, were accommodated by knocking out the modifiers and conditions that applied much more smoothly to a regiment.

But all of this is just preamble. You see: I collected Orks. They were also in the box and Adrian Wood’s piece about his own army was in my first ever White Dwarf and look, Space Marines just seemed boring. The Orks were in this for a good time, a bunch of lads doing their best in a hostile universe. They had Gretchin with silly names, they had the comedy voices, they had that cool as shit Dreadnought with the four arms. And nobody wanted all of theirs so I ended up with a lot of extra figures.

No photos of that Goff army survive. This was 1996, and nobody was about to waste physical film on taking (bad) photographs of toys.

Continue reading “[40K] To All The Orks Wot I Have Left Behind”

[Meta Gaming] Dark Communion: the Return of Termite Art

This is where it started, you know. Bill King. John Blanche. Three pages, tucked away at the back of the second edition Wargear book. Four columns and a massive illustration in which Chaos is not explained but exemplified. I want you to hold on to that idea – not explained, but exemplified. I think we fall into bad habits, as nerd-folk: habits of codifying and classifying and explicitly stating I-think-you’ll-find-that-it-said-on-page-62-of-that-novel-that… and I can’t even be assed thinking of an example, because I’m pretty sure you’ve thought of one already. What we have here is an impression of what it’s like to be a Chaos Space Marine, to be something old and spiteful and powerful and yet lost in its own body and its own memories. It doesn’t baldly tell you things; it shows them to you, obliquely and elegantly articulating by example.

I can’t articulate some things without people articulating in songs for me. People can’t articulate what Shakespeare said without quoting Shakespeare chapter and verse. Not that I’m setting myself up against Shakespeare; I’m just saying that some things can only be articulated in Art. That’s what Art is for.
— Andrew Eldritch (again)

And is what we’re doing here Art? That’s one for the ages – what is Art, and what is Worth, and does what we’re doing have the signifiers of either? I’m not at liberty to say. It sounds to me, though, like what we can do with this is have some sort of vision, or impression, or concept in mind and communicate that vision through a medium, and it just so happens that our medium happens to be little toy soldiers and funny voices. I’m suggesting that if something can be articulated in a story or in a painting or in a sculpture then it can be articulated in something that has about it elements of them all and is, more to the point, something not consumed – look, don’t touch! – but created actively by a small group of people here and now, in the moment: something tactile and tangible and yet ephemeral, something gone in the morning. Art that renders you complicit in the act of making Art.

This of course brings us back to the art of making, and to Termite Art. Now do you see why I reposted the old Frugal post? Everything I said three years ago still stands – while purporting to encourage conversions and creativity the contemporary Games Workshop (and, increasingly, other manufacturers, including those who pal up with Army Painter and Battlefoam to shill their expensive gamer-brand hardware) doesn’t encourage you to make stuff out of crap you found in your house but instead out of the official brand-name conversion kits (and don’t think getting yours from Kromlech or Chapterhouse or wherever places you beyond the reach of my grand and arrogant swinge; it does not, it simply shows that you’re a smart consumer with aesthetic taste). However, there are a couple of things doing the rounds which have extended my worldview a little.

The first is this alternate usage of ‘Termite Art’ as a term by Manny Farber, meaning not art-as-scavenging but art-as-digestion-and-excretion:

Good work usually arises where the creators seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn’t anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite- tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.

The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.

We’re not operating under any pretence that what we do is High Culture or Great Art; the officer of my WoW-RP guild reacts with polite horror to the very suggestion that it has any artistic merit whatsoever. We are, I hope, acknowledging that what we do is in Farber’s sense an artistic practice. It’s not for anything other than the fun of doing it, and – if we discount the witless pursuit of Official Best Nerd status at events – we become better at it through a rather haphazard process of continually doing stuff.

The other thing that’s gnawing at my soul, post-Gamer-Gate, is the idea of the gamer as defined by what they consume. It’s about video games, of course, but I feel that much of it applies to the likes of us as well.

Gamer identity is tainted, root and branch, by its embrace of consumption as a way of life. If gamers suddenly became completely inclusive, if all of the threats and stamping of feet went away and the doors were flung open, conspicuous consumption would still be the essential core of their identity. The mythical gamer who does not exist to consume is not a gamer. A raisin is not a grape, and no amount of rehydration will turn it into one.

And let’s be honest here; primary or secondary markets, bought or traded, we’re all consumers here. The question is, are we smart consumers? Do we buy the shit that’s shovelled at us or do we say “this is shit, let’s make something better out of stuff I found in the kitchen cupboard or bought in the hardware store or have had in the loft forever”? Embracing Termite Art means, I think, that we take some degree of ownership; we don’t buy ugly models because they’re official or because they have good rules, we don’t spend a hundred and fifty quid on injection-moulded plastic when a perfectly decent 6’x4′ table with basic scenery can be hand-made for half that sum, and we don’t play Borehammer or Stallroller-type Warmachordes, obediently lining up to fit into the out-of-the-box experience that the siege mentality provides.

Embracing Termite Art means playing in a way that gnaws at the edges of the table, that spills over into other kinds of expression, that are bigger than just another pick-up game. I have so much that I want to do, so much that I want to write and draw and model and paint and play and, yes, all right, collect. Without, it must be said, automatically buying only models for parts, or even only buying things for parts. It’s still gaming as conspicuous consumption; but what’s consumed demands excretion, and that’s the principle of Termite Art. It’s not what we buy that counts, it’s what we do with it.

[Meta Gaming] Vintage Years For Grimdark

In a comment thread on the House of Paincakes, resident genius Mr. Cedric Ballbusch staked out the idea that it was a terrible, terrible mistake on the part of Games Workshop to set its space fantasy dakkafest at the end of the titular forty-first millennium. Easy enough to say with the benefit of hindsight, says I, but at the time I don’t think a) Messrs Priestly, Stillman, Halliwell et al were expecting the game to last for twenty-six years and counting, and b) they could have done things any differently.

Perhaps some context will help.

I was born in 1985; the same year that, for the first time since its launch, Doctor Who was deemed too shite for public broadcast, and the same year that The Sisters of Mercy sold out the Royal Albert Hall. It took another couple of years for the other great loves of my life to materialise – Hark was born in 1986 (obligatory mushy stuff here) and, in 1987, the aforementioned Sisters released Floodland and Games Workshop launched this funny thing called Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.

While I don’t think there’s an explicit link between these latter two concepts, you have to understand that in the third term of Thatcher’s Britain, living with the rattling madwoman-in-the-attic spasms of the Cold War’s final years and under the dusty toxic shadow of Chernobyl, a definite sense of fin de siecle seems to have hung in the air, which the two products under the microscope here illustrate beautifully. While not the literal turn of a century in the same sense that the Decadence of the 1890s was, there’s a definite sense of closure, shutting down, boarding up the old shop windows and getting ready to call it a day. How else does one explain the brief fashionable flourish of gothic rock, a prevailing cultural mindset in which the Sisters can nab three Top Ten hits in a year?

The associations between the Games Workshop of the 1980s and the seemingly-invincible Iron Lady have been well documented (here and also here). Everywhere North of Watford and west of, say, Oxfordshire, there’s a sense of hard times, watching the skies, wondering if the rising waters or the falling bombs are going to kill us first. It’s no accident that The Sisters Of Mercy emerged from Yorkshire and no accident at all that 1987 saw them metamorphose into a synth-driven brooding engine, dropping out three singles around three themes – personal revenge elevated to pompous epic, geopolitical economics reduced to a semi-plausible adventure of loss and betrayal, and a seething, sexy, fuck-it-all-let’s-have-a-dance-in-the-ruins post-industrial foot-tapper. What else are you going to do in all those empty mills? Floodland is a personal breakdown wedded to a political quagmire, the one serving as metaphor for the other; it’s unrelentingly, gloriously doom-laden and yet there’s three songs which are basically elaborate sex metaphors and one about soaring away on an amphetamine-fuelled high. Steve Sutherland said at the time:

Dying on record is a dicey business, especially when it’s world destruction that dogs your every waking minute because there’s nowhere to go artistically – the bomb doesn’t get worse, it’s just there. Facing up to that, Floodland is a triumph of sorts, neither optimistic enough to suggest there’s a Noah’s Ark nor pessimistic enough to accuse us all of navigating like a ship of fools. It simply says rust never sleeps and this is what it sounds like.

I’m of the opinion that Warhammer 40,000, with its looming fin de grande siecle feel, is tapping into that same sense that there’s nowhere left to go but that we might as well have fun while we’re waiting for the bombs to start falling. The sense that there may soon be nowhere else to go, that our leader is simply not going to go away any time soon, that everything is falling apart but we keep it together because what else is there? That’s Thatcher’s Britain writ large. That’s the vision at the heart of Floodland. That’s the essence of 40K right there.

How could they not set it when they did? The ol’ China (Mieville, of course) never spoke truer words than “when you sit down to write, society is in the chair with you”, and the society of the mid-to-late-Eighties was one in which, for a brief moment, Mr. Eldritch and his drum machine were right on the cultural button.

It couldn’t last, of course. 40K’s black humour and smirk in the face of oblivion would be exaggerated and distorted as we moved toward the actual end of the millennium and realised that the end of the world has still failed to arrive on time.

The process started, I think, in 1993. Doctor Who‘s thirtieth anniversary, ‘celebrated’ with the cack-awful ‘Dimensions In Time’, a special which – sweet, nourishing irony! – crossed-over with the very programme in favour of which Who was cancelled. (Incidentally, if you think goth music and 40K are depressing, watch EastEnders for a month. Especially at Christmas.) The Sisters released their last single, and have since lurched along on permanent strike, touring every couple of years, trotting out a few new songs every time, but refusing to release either Jack or Shit.

Meanwhile, 40K received its Tom Kirby Big Box Game treatment (although this is where I came in, so I can’t be too hard on it). The words on the front of the box? IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE THERE IS ONLY WAR. ‘Grim Darkness’ has become ‘grimdark’ since then, said with a sneer, in much the same way as “I still like The Sisters Of Mercy!” has become perfect shorthand for being sad, out of touch, trapped in one’s own memories. 40K wallows in its own pomposity, cranking its own release cycle like mad, subsequent Codices acting as ever-bigger giants, turning full circle back to random tables, Vortex grenades and psychic powers on cards (y’know, those things from… 1993’s second edition); forever ramping up the thread of an apocalypse it’ll never have the balls to see through.

At the time, it made perfect sense. Now? I don’t know. All the things I love have turned into zombies. I’ve spoken of my love for ‘dead’ things before, things which aren’t going to be fucked around with in order to produce a new iteration for the sake of paying the bills, and yet I can’t quite put down Doctor Who, or The Sisters Of Mercy, or indeed 40K.

I’m still selling my Necrons, though. And I still type things in Caslon Antique.

[40K] Battle Report: The Perfect Storm

The Black Planet, 4182013.M41

External Planetary Monitor Derv was concerned – not a state of mind to which he was accustomed, in all honesty. The job of External Planetary Monitor was not, in general, one that required a great deal of concern, or indeed concentration; by and large, the job did itself, the ancient computers ticking off incoming and outgoing vessels against flight plans and manifests, and displaying alerts on the Monitors’ monitors on the rare occasions when something didn’t tally. Derv would dutifully forward these alerts to the Navy Yeomanry Planetary Defenders, the Black Planet League of Merchant Venturers, and of course the Galactic Internal Taxation Subdivision – unread, of course, since the penalty for tampering with taxation records was too fearsome to contemplate – and then go back to occupying his time in some other fashion.

Nevertheless, he was concerned, and said so.

“Moon’s gone a funny colour.”

Derv’s immediate colleague, Torq, emitted a vaguely interested, vaguely dismissive, vaguely responsive grunt, and returned his attention to the screen in front of him.

“You’re not going to look, then?”

Another grunt. This one managed to convey irritation, a mild personal contempt for Derv himself, and a deep-seated wish that Derv would clear off and leave him, Torq, to his vitally important duties.

“Stop playing Dark Millennium and look, you slag.”

Having exhausted the possibilities of grunting, or expended his expressive capabilities in the medium too soon – a peril confronting all early-blooming geniuses – Torq thumped the monitor, called it a brainless son of a fragbunny, did the same to his controls, and then finally turned to look at Derv.

“Well, I’m dead now, and we’ve lost Armageddon. I hope you’re happy. That’s three weeks of dedicated grinding down the tube, thanks to you.”

“Shut up and look at the moon, Torq.”

“Which one? Coalfield?”

“No, the little one.”

“What, Solidhull?”

“No, the really little one.”

“That’s not a moon, is it? That’s spacejunk. Has to be.”

“Torq, spacejunk is small. Wulfruna is far away. We’ve been through this.”

“Why’s it green?”

Derv sighed, and gently laid his face in his palm. “It isn’t. Usually.”

“Think we should report it?”

“That’s what I was asking!”

“Well, take some initiative and do it and don’t bother me when I’m in the middle of a twenty thousand player kill-fest again, all right? You’ve got no sense of what’s important, that’s your trouble.”

Derv reflected on this as he typed up a brief report, enclosed a series of grainy, poor-quality images, and punched in the commands that would send his message not down the usual sub-aether channels, but directly to Naval Astrotelepathic Regional Command. Torq had said the same thing when they’d been raided by eldar pirates the year before, of course. Not that he’d noticed. He’d been too busy fighting the Battle of Ichar IV on his monitor to notice the war going on outside his window. Not for the first time, Derv contemplated an intervention, before deciding – as usual – that it probably wasn’t worth the months of complaining that were bound to result.

Over the next six months, Derv’s barely-literate description of events, along with some of the worst examples of stellar photography the Imperium had ever seen, was passed like an unwanted takeway through NARC, back to NYPD as a strictly internal matter of no interplanetary interest, briefly through the dark and foetid halls of GITS where it had been sequestered as a cover for tax evasion, back to NYPD to be stamped as clean, back to NARC for transmission as a matter for the Explorator fleets rather than planetary defence, and finally, reluctantly, hurled into the galaxy at large for any passing explorer to wrap their grubby mitts around it.

The Explorator vessel which did eventually pick up the message and make a brief stop above Wulfruna spent a grand total of thirty-two seconds in low orbit before being struck by what its final transmission described as a hissing column of pure black oblivion, attended by an all-frequencies broadcast of indecipherable machine code which the Explorators had initially mistaken for the latest release by the ‘popular’ ‘experimental’ ‘technical noise producers’ Standard Template Deconstruction, and naturally switched off.

A further three months passed as the transmission was assessed, examined, standardised, verified, appended to a heavily-annotated copy of Derv’s report, and finally released to the galactic aether at large as the most bureaucratically correct distress call in recent history. It was at that point that the Hawk Lords Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes got hold of it, and decided to do something useful.

Another college holiday means another chance to troop up to the West Midlands with my Necrons in tow, and another chance to line them up in front of Ben’s assorted armies and see how much damage we can do before the game inevitably times out on the fifth turn. The slightly ad hoc nature of this trip meant I’d just grabbed absolutely everything and lugged it onto the coach; this turned out to be all right, as Ben had both a Night Scythe to surrender as belated Christmas tribute, and a 2000 point Hawk Lords (purple-coloured vanilla-flavoured Space Marines (TM)) list he wanted to try out. Apparently he’s bored with keeping track of pain tokens and never getting to roll any armour saves, and so has dug his formerly all-conquering Space Marines (TM), which have the added bonus of being closer to fully painted than his Dark Eldar.

Since we have the luxury of time on our sides for these games, they tend to be quite leisurely affairs, in which rules are checked, discussed and followed fairly accurately, and in which various aspects of the game are singled out as Learning Experiences. In this case, there were three things we wanted to learn about. First was, of course, the Flyer rules, since Ben’s Razorwing hasn’t come out to play since fifth edition and the only flying I’ve ever done involves Fell Bats and Winged Nightmares rather than anything with an engine. Second was the Psychic Powers. I play Necrons, Ben plays Dark Eldar, neither of us ordinarily get to lay hands on any whizzes, pops or bangs from the fevered brains of witches, mutants and other neurologically-advanced folks. I still wouldn’t, but Ben resolved to bung a Librarian into his list and see what all the fuss was about. Thirdly and finally, there was the small matter of the Relic mission, which I usually re-roll if it comes up of a Thursday night because, frankly, after my hardest working day, what I want is a nice quick quiet game and not a fartaround. Nevertheless, I figure it can’t be that hard; once I’ve played it once I’ll get it.

Anyway. Those armies.

Von’s Crons

HQ – Nemesor Tekeshi – Necron Overlord with warscythe and phase shifter
Catacomb Command Barge – Tesla cannon
Royal Court – Necron Lord with warscythe and sempiternal weave, 3 Harbingers of Destruction

HQ – Vargard Koschei – Necron Overlord with warscythe, sempiternal weave and resurrection orb
Royal Court – Necron Lord with warscythe and sempiternal weave, Harbinger of the Storm

Troops – 12 Necron Warriors (both Lords go in here)
Night Scythe

Troops – 10 Necron Warriors (1 Harbinger of Destruction goes in here)

Troops – 10 Necron Warriors (1 Harbinger of Destruction goes in here)

Troops – 10 Necron Warriors (1 Harbinger of Destruction goes in here)

Elites – 5 Lychguard with hyperphase sword and dispersion shield (Koschei and the Harbinger of the Storm go in here)

Fast Attack – 5 Destroyers

Fast Attack – 5 Tomb Blades with Tesla carbines

Fast Attack – 3 Canoptek Wraiths

Heavy Support – Annihilation Barge with tesla cannon

The plan is a simple plan. As usual, the footslogging Warriors cower on the edge of midfield in whatever cover presents itself; if required to advance and deploy further Gauss shots in the general direction of the enemy, they do so behind a wall of Lychguard (plus Resurrection Orb and models who can actually hurt things) and Wraiths. That first wave will also be going for the Relic in this scenario, though I didn’t plan the list especially for the mission or anything rude like that. Anyway, the Destroyers are there to point, click and delete small Space Marine (TM) squads, especially small Space Marine (TM) squads with AP4 or better weaponry in abundance, the Tomb Blades to strafe and finish off odd survivors, the Barge to target flyers as a priority (okay, so it needs sixes to hit, but each six is three hits, and it’s twin-linked to boot) and the Night Scythe to drop its cargo of Warriors and angry Lords off somewhere where they’ll be useful and then go dogfighting.

Ben’s Purple-Painted Poultry-Paragon Pigeon Punishers

HQ – Captain Talassar Kaine – Pedro Kantor counts-as

HQ – Cathartes Aura – Librarian with Terminator Armour (force axe)

Troops – Tactical Squad – 10 Marines, 1 meltagun, Sergeant with power sword

Troops – Tactical Squad – 10 Marines, 1 meltagun, Sergeant with power sword

Troops – Tactical Squad – 10 Marines, 1 meltagun, Sergeant with power sword (Kaine goes here)

Elites – 5 Terminators – assault cannon (Aura goes here)

Elites – Chapter Master Tobias Lombardi – Ironclad Dreadnought with assault launchers 

Elites – 5 Sternguard

Fast Attack – Stormtalon (escorting Mortis Pullum)

Heavy Support – Mortis Pullum – Stormraven (Kaine’s squad goes in here, as does Lombardi)

Heavy Support – Devastator Squad – 10 Marines in 2 combat squads. 1 squad has the Sergeant and 2 heavy bolters; 1 squad has 2 plasma cannons.

Ben’s devilish cunning has tied a moderately fearsome counter-assault element, a heavy flier, a light flier, a scoring unit and a walking buff character to a single reserve roll, which slingshots in where the Victory Points are, picks up the two Tactical Squads on the ground, and sort of… grinds forward, rolling lots of attacks and firing lots of bolters. The list is not what I’d call strictly optimal, what with the passing up on free heavy weapons and the interesting choice of Sternguard, but Ben’s an old hand at this Space Marine (TM) business and I’ve seen him spin straw into gold before now. The sheer number of 3+ saves he has wandering around made me a bit leery about getting the objective off them if he managed to bury it in the heart of that Tactical brick, so seizing the Relic early on and getting it away from his footsloggers became something of a priority.

Mission – The RelicDeployment – Vanguard Strike
Warlords and Traits – 
Tekeshi (Tenacity) and Talassar Kaine (The Dust of a Thousand Worlds)
Psychic Powers – Cathartes Aura – Biomancy – Life Leech, Enfeeble

Ben deployed first. I was slightly perplexed to see his plasma cannon Devastators up front, though perhaps he wanted to avoid handing out cover saves for shooting through his own men; I was slightly relieved, meanwhile, to see the Terminators off on a flank where I could stay out of their way, or at least feed them something designed to be sacrificial and stodgy, like the Wraiths. The Sternguard might be a bit of a worry too, after Ben revealed just how flexible those naughty bolters of theirs can be. In fact, I was seeing a lot of AP4 on the board already, and the knowledge that a Stormtalon was waiting in reserve did not comfort me.

I set up the traditional Warrior phalanx – a very slight crescent which focuses its fire onto anything that ends up in the middle, and lurks in cover unless the opponent refuses to oblige me by moving to within 12″ of my guns. In such cases, the Lychguard and Wraiths spearhead an advance, offering their Invulnerable Saves to absorb fire and their mere presence to provide Cover Saves to the Warriors behind. I set up the various Tesla units on my right flank, theorising that the plasma cannon Devastators wouldn’t be terribly hard pickings, and I slapped Tekeshi down with them, with the intention of chewing through the outermost Tactical squad and making a run for the objective later in the game. The Annihilation Barge would similarly divert its attentions once I knew where Ben’s flyers would end up, while having the length of a long board edge to play with meant I was quietly confident of lining the Scythe up against something useful. The Destroyers, meanwhile, lurked behind the Warrior crescent – they would be pointing themselves at some Devastators as soon as possible, but I wanted a turn of cover saves for them before I put their metal lives on the line.

Naturally, I failed to Seize the Initiative.

Round One

The Space Marines (TM) fanned out ever-so-slightly, with the Terminators, Sternguard and outflung Tactical Squad all making cautious advance-like motions. Ben informed me that I would hate him for what he was about to do, and he wasn’t wrong; an Orbital Strike was called down. Now, I’m not complaining here or anything, since my HQs are good, but they’re not so good that they can drop a S10 AP1 Ordnance Large Blast anywhere they can see.

Quite rightly, Ben views this as an early-game ‘get the opponent on the back foot first thing’ option, and while he was tempted to land it squarely in the middle of the Warrior phalanx, the knowledge that my Barge was the only ground unit which could realistically touch his flyers won him over and he plonked it on the vehicles instead. When the dust had settled, the Annihilation Barge was miraculously unscathed (double ones on the Penetration roll, ho hee) and Tekeshi had sacrificed a Wound to keep her Command Barge mobile, although two Tomb Blades and two Warriors lay dead. A corresponding round of stern plasma and heavy bolter fire dropped two more Warriors, two Lychguard, and put a Wound on Koschei. Aura cast Enfeeble on the Wraiths, and the Sternguard and Terminators ganged up to blow a hole in one and reduce another to crater status. Alas for Ben, the Resurrection Orb proved its worth and both the Lychguard lurched to their feet, although nothing else seemed inclined to join them.

The surviving Wraiths hovered forward and laid hands on the Relic, while the Lychguard moved and then ran into midfield, establishing the kill zone betwixt themselves and the Necron Warriors. The Destroyers moved forward and strafed the Devastators nearest them, joined by the Annihilation Barge, which killed a Tactical Marine with its lightning arc, and the Tomb Blades; between all that Gauss and Tesla, the Devastators lay dead, and I was one point up with my claws into the Relic. Good start, I think!

Round Two – Necrons 1, Space Marines (TM) 0
Relic Possession – Necrons

The Reserves un-Reserved and tore onto the middle of the board, with the Stormraven in the lead and the Stormtalon bobbing after it. A mass disembarkation followed, with Captain Kaine and his Tactical chums landing in the centre and forming the brick I’d been so dreading, and Lombardi being flung from his Dreadnought clamp to land squarely in front of the Wraiths and, more troublingly, the Destroyers. Aura, meanwhile, frustrated by the Lychguards’ refusal to stay down, cast Enfeeble on those this turn.

The Sternguard and Devastators ripped through what was left of the Wraiths, and the hail of shots from the Space Marine (TM) fliers dropped three Warriors and Exploded Tekeshi’s Command Barge, to little other effect. The rest of the Space Marines (TM) sunk every shot they had into the Lychguard, knocking them all down and slapping a wound on Koschei into the bargain. Fortunately, they were one wound short of wiping out the whole squad (I love Crypteks) and two Lychguard Reanimated themselves back into the fray. Alas, that wasn’t enough to protect my poor Destroyers from wandering Dreadnoughts – Lombardi angled his descent, skidded straight through the wreckage of the Wraiths, grabbed the Relic, and smacked a Destroyer with his hammer for good measure.

That… wasn’t good. Though Our Weapons Are Useless (there’s Mat Ward’s love of Dark Omen again, you notice) was always an option, I wasn’t banking on the Destroyers’ ability to outrun an Initiative 4 Dreadnought when they fled, and if I lost them, I’d lose my only AP3 weaponry. Instead, I elected to leave them where they were and forfeit a turn of shooting in the hope of freeing them up on my turn and having them around for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, my Night Scythe turned up, and – after some minor brouhaha involving the difference between a long board edge and a deployment zone – was deemed able to arrive behind the Space Marines (TM), lining up its guns on the Stormtalon (I wanted the other one, but there was no way I’d be able to line up the shot and still have anywhere safe to put my Scythe’s giant base). The various Tesla units advanced to bring the Stormraven into their range, while Koschei ploughed on, rearranging his unit so he’d be able to charge Lombardi and retrieve the Relic.

My Annihilation Barge landed three hits on the Stormraven (told you Tesla was good), which Ben elected to Jink against; probably a good call too, as two penetrated its armour. One was Jink-saved, and the other came up… Crew Shaken. Can only fire Snap Shots. Whoop-de-doo, that’s all it was going to do anyway. Still a Hull Point though. The Night Scythe similarly landed three hits on the Stormtalon – one was Jinked, but the two glancing hits were enough to strip away its scanty Hull Points and send it crashing to the ground behind the Devastators. The rest of my shooting was less effective; a lone Tactical Marine who’d been enjoying the view from the mysterious dolmen arches, nothing at all on the Sternguard despite half my army shooting at them, and everything the airdropped Warriors managed to do to the Stormraven was cheerfully Jinked away. In retrospect, shooting the Devastators or even the Terminators might have been a better plan, but you live and learn…

In the Assault Phase, meanwhile, the Lychguard ploughed into Lombardi, who failed to hit with a single attack and got carved into tiny bits by Koschei, freeing the Destroyers up to consolidate away from the Space Marine (TM) lines and the Lychguard to move onto and secure the Relic.

Round Three – Necrons 1, Space Marines (TM) 0
Relic Possession – Necrons

Various Space Marines (TM) shuffled to improve their fire lanes, while Aura Enfeebled the Warriors behind the Space Marine (TM) lines and led his Terminators in a waddle toward the offending mechanoids. The Stormraven turned hard right and dove for the board edge, intending (so Ben claims) on a tight square which would enable it to stay on the board for two more turns and snipe at the Night Scythe with its turrets.

Unfortunately, the Machine Spirit proved a less than capable shot, landing only one lascannon hit, which I successfully Jinked away. The Space Marines (TM) were more successful on the ground, sinking a hail of bolts in various sizes into the Warriors and stripping them off the board, with the final kills on Necron Lords being claimed by Kaine and the Terminators’ assault cannon.

The one Tactical Squad that couldn’t see the Warriors shot at the Lychguard instead, downing two and causing them to drop the Relic – and one, true to form, stood up.

Without the luxury of turret weapons, there wasn’t really anything the Night Scythe could contribute to my turn, so I sent it off the board at Cruising Speed with orders to return next turn from a more sensible position. The Lychguard and Annihilation Barge gave chase to the Stormraven, which had helpfully pointed its rear armour at them (not that it matters for AV12 all round fliers, but the prospect of shooting a death chicken up the bum is never to be turned down), while the Necron Warriors decided that it was time to approach the possibility of maybe getting to Rapid Fire something at some stage and lumbered out of cover. The central unit was joined by Tekeshi – with the Relic unclaimed, it was time to get some mileage out of that Warlord Trait.

The Necron shooting phases were becoming more and more cautious, with orders of fire being preserved so’s to minimise the chance of either lightning arcing my own models or waste the Destroyers’ capacity to bust Space Marines (TM) open like soggy cantaloupes. The Tomb Blades opened up by killing a lone Tactical Squaddie, while the Annihilation Barge secured one (and thus three) hits on the Stormraven. Ben chose not to Jink – a fatal mistake, since two more hits glanced, stripping the vehicle down to little more than a flying anvil, which crashed to no effect. This freed the Lychguard’s Cryptek up to shoot the closest Tactical Squad and nail one Tactical Squaddie, who was joined by his Sergeant and six of his mates as the Warrior crescent focused its fire on them, which meant the Destroyers were able to devote their attentions to the Sternguard and scoop them off the board. The Lychguard, whose continued survival had begun to impress and surprise me, went into the survivors of the foremost Tactical Squad, butchered them, and consolidated at full pelt toward the heavy bolter Devastators. They were almost certainly going to die next turn, but pushing toward that vulnerable and important unit would surely mean that Ben had to focus fire on something within his battle-line rather than outside it, just like last turn… and that would leave Tekeshi free to grab the Relic.

Interesting Rules Interlude – The thing about those Lychguard is that they become perversely more survivable when there’s only one of them left. With hits being resolved against the majority Toughness (5, from the Overlord and Lychguard) and the best available save (either the Overlord’s 2+ or the Lychguard’s 4+) it’s surprisingly hard to shift them, even with Enfeeble to tweak the odds in your favour somewhat. Ben and I had some discussions about this, as it seems – in its own way – as open to exploitation as the old Wound Allocation system was, especially for Necrons with their capacity to take casualties up to this magic p0int, then Reanimate those casualties and do it all again.

Round Four – Necrons 1, Space Marines (TM) 0
Relic Possession – None

Aura cast Enfeeble on the Lychguard again, and led his Terminators back toward the front line and the Destroyers, while the Tactical Squads broke cover and brought the Annihilation Barge within meltagun range. Alas, the Shooting phase was not kind to Ben; the meltagun nearest the Barge missed it, and he decided to hold on to Kaine’s squad until last, just in case he needed them to finish the Lychguard. As it happens, he did – a turn of stupendous Armour Saves from my apparently magical hands meant the Lychguard weathered every single bolt of every size that came their way, although the Rending hits from the Terminators’ assault cannon and Kaine’s super-bolter were too much for them in the end.

The Night Scythe returned from my corner of the long board edge and flew over the battle-line, landing in front of the Relic, which Tekeshi advanced into and scooped up. The Annihilation Barge turned on the spot, while the Destroyers moved up to screen Tekeshi – important as they were, the Relic was more important with Random Game Length looming on the horizon. The Tomb Blades, meanwhile, enfiladed into Ben’s deployment zone, with their eye on either shooting up the Devastators or turbo-boosting to secure a decent save and the Linebreaker point. After the Scythe successfully dropped three Devastators, the Tomb Blades tried to finish them off, but couldn’t quite manage it – the last one fled toward the Tomb Blades (counter-intuitive, but whatever), Knew No Fear, and promptly hid behind a wall. The rest of the army threw everything it had at Kaine’s Tactical squad, killing everyone but the Captain himself, the Sergeant and the lone melta-gunner.

Round Five – Necrons 1, Space Marines (TM) 0
Relic Possession – Necrons

Tekeshi’s fiddling with the Relic had obviously done something, at least, as a bolt of black light shot into the heavens and seemingly turned out the sun! Night had fallen, rather earlier than anticipated, and what remained of the Space Marines (TM) closed ranks and range to pursue the Destroyers and the Warriors behind them. The surviving Devastator nailed one Destroyer, the Tactical Squad nearest the Barge another, but Kaine and his battle brothers flubbed spectacularly, leaving the last one intact and well. Aura reached out to Life Leech Tekeshi, but her sheer Tenacity allowed her to shrug off both the wounds. The Terminators likewise failed to excel themselves, with a combination of Feel No Pain and Reanimation Protocols keeping all but one of Tekeshi’s Warriors in the fight. In fact, the only real disappointment for me was the Destroyers’ failure to Reanimate after the lone survivor broke and fled.

The Night Scythe and Tomb Blades criss-crossed elegantly, the one flying over the others in order to finish the last Devastator while the others swept under the one to zap Kaine and his squad from the safety of the Space Marines’ (TM) deployment zone. Tekeshi, somewhat surprised at the effectiveness of the device she’d picked up, led her Warriors back into formation, and the collected firepower atomised the Space Marine (TM) officer and his associates, with a Cryptek claiming the final kill and the point for Slaying the Warlord. In a final insult to Ben’s dignity, the Annihilation Barge spat electric death into the Terminators, and Ben failed two of the only 2+ saves he’d been called upon to make. Lady Luck had stuck up two fingers for long enough, and the Random Game Length – as predicted – kicked in.

GAME OVER – Necrons 6, Space Marines (TM) 0
Glory to the Dynasty of Kadavah!

Post-Mortem

Well. That was… fortunate.

I’m not going to attribute my victory entirely to luck, as I do think I played a solid game without any of the usual “oh sod that’s blown this one” moments which are the default state for my wargaming career. I do think that Ben had a pretty poor streak, though, from the Barrage flubbing so spectacularly, through the deeply inefficient turn where those Lychguard just wouldn’t die and those meltaguns just wouldn’t hit, to the final kick in the teeth of losing two Terminators. Even his finest moments – landing the Dreadnought right in my army’s face and wiping out the airdropped Warriors in one turn – ultimately came out bad for him, as it meant a turn in which his army turned around and shot things behind them instead of paying attention to the Relic in front of them. That the Lychguard induced a second turn of that was just insult to injury, really. All things being equal, though, I feel he did make three significant mistakes, any two of which might have ended up costing him the game.

In deployment, the Terminators being on a flank meant I could more or less avoid them and focus on things I could actually kill. The Terminators being in the centre would have both supported his Dreadnought strike and allowed him to advance his 2+ saves onto the Relic, secure it, and then bunker up the Tactical Marines around it. It’s not like they didn’t contribute, but they didn’t make themselves a priority target, and if I don’t need to sink torrents of fire into Terminators, I won’t bother.

In movement, I think that it was unnecessary to move the Terminators back toward the airdropped Warriors – that vacillation meant they spent another turn moving back to where they were instead of making a nuisance of themselves. Enfeeble happens before movement, so they could feasibly have done that and then kept driving forward, hooking up with Kaine’s buffing auras, and become a truly frightful proposition for a below-strength Lychguard squad to handle, never mind anything else in my army. To be honest, I don’t feel like enough was made of Kaine; Ben used Dust of a Thousand Worlds to reposition but never actually ended up assaulting anything bar that one drop with the Dreadnought, which ended up out of Kaine’s inspiring range anyway. Personally, I’d attach Kaine to a combat squad and have that unit dart back and forth to place his aura most effectively, catch bullets for him, and chuck out some plasma gun shots to help with high-save infantry and light vehicles.

In list building, upon which we’re in agreement, Ben’s passing up some free heavy weapons, yet he’s paying for the same guns elsewhere in the list, and with no Victory Points for any dead units past the first, the lack of Combat Squads to allow more efficient fire control is inexcusable. His special weapon loadout also leaves him a bit devoid of mid-range or long-range armour-cracking, and the Stormraven has more guns than it can actually fire with any effectiveness. There’ll be a follow-up post to this one at some point in which that matter of list building is discussed in more detail, as I feel it might be educational to go through that process in its own right.

As for the learning objectives; the Relic doesn’t seem that hard now that I’ve played it and feel I have a working grasp on it, although I have no idea what I’d do with the mission in a 900 point Escalation League game – dragging the Relic onto the Ghost Ark and hope for the best seems like it might be worth a shot, but apart from that I’ve no idea. I do feel quite comfortable with the flyers now; this deployment type is tailor-made for them, with a whole long board edge to work with, and lacking any turret guns, I think the standard approach for my Scythes (oh yes, I want another one) will be to fly them on, do the business, and then take them off for a turn to set up a decent vector for next turn. For Ben’s flyers, the temptation is to stay on the board, use a tighter flight pattern, and drop two turns of firepower – but with only one turret mounted gun, I think he’s still better off entering, shooting, and departing to set up a missile vector for the turn afterwards, though I’m willing to give the Stormtalon the benefit of the doubt since it handily turns into a Skimmer after it’s arrived. In terms of Psychic Powers, we’re both quite taken with Biomancy, and I think we’ll both be using it again…

Xiberia, in the Second Year of the Reign of the Tekeshi Conglomerate

With every flash of the dolmen gate, with every movement of her forces through the ether, with every expenditure of energy, Xiberia grew more unstable. Deep in her logic cores, phaeron-Tekeshi knew this, and though the deployment of military capability was necessary, the parameters for failure verged further on the unacceptable with every exertion of the tomb world’s systems. Xiberia’s reigning overlord no longer had the capacity to worry – it had been pruned out of her when she ascended to her current position – but the raw probabilities were not in her favour.

Even now, as the gate flashed, the tomb structure lurched. Stone ground on stone; the ice cage which her planet had become shifted as its latent energies wer harnessed to draw her forces back. Her senses reached out around the world – or did data from around the world flow in? Some outlying chambers had been crushed, some corridors collapsed, some parts of her domain filled with gelatinous irradiated filth. Steam rose through this harness or that, as the constant shifting of material to and from the planet’s core was interfered with for the sake of conquest. Xiberia shuddered – but she endured.

Tekeshi detected her nemesor-self advancing from the gateway, and transmitted to the chamber; for form’s sake as much as anything, the techu displayed a hovering image of her face opposite the gateway, a greenish blur in the vast darkness.

“Hail. Nemesor.”

The smaller, more slender iteration that commanded their armies in the field halted, and bowed demurely, lowering her warscythe in deference. Was that a hint of theatricality in the gesture? A suggestion of whimsy? Perhaps – and yet it was that ingenious quality, that flair, which justified the maintenance of this altered iteration.

“Hail, Phaeron,” she buzzed, in what she doubtless fancied to be a purr. Sometimes, when her selves were sufficiently close for such reflection, Tekeshi wondered if the nemesor had truly grasped that she was no longer flesh and blood.

“Do you. Have it?” Like worry, impatience was no longer a quality possessed by phaeron-Tekeshi; nevertheless, nemesor-Tekeshi had been sent through the gateway for a purpose, and the achievement of that purpose had taken longer than anticipated, and upon that achievement rested the stability and sustainability of Xiberia.

The nemesor took a delicate, mincing step to one side, and another. A catafalque drifted after her, attended by the cadaverous crypteks, hands darting over its contents with what could, perhaps, be imagined as love – for inside the catafalque there rested a construction of cable and crystal, dark as uttermost night even in the deep corpse-light of the tomb.

“We brought back the khepera, as commanded.” Tekeshi’s nemesor-self struck a pose of triumph, then crooked an elbow, rested the forehead of her skull in a palm, tapped long fingers one by one upon the metal in a pastiche of regret. “Koschei has been… inconvenienced.”

“Re-iteration. Acceptable.” Phaeron-Tekeshi paused, savouring the flow of data. “Xiberia. First.”

Nemesor-Tekeshi straightened, capered aside, would almost have clapped her hands had she not been armed. Then take it. Harness the sun. Regenerate our world.”

The image winked out. The crypteks moved, bearing the device further in. Xiberia would rise again.