[WFB] The Twin Princes of Tiernmas

Barrow Kings.

That’s the lede, lest it not be buried. Now, the explanation.

I love the idea of the Tomb Kings: the ancient and eternal watchers over dead kingdoms, enacting timeless rituals over resting bones, rising and slaying when the living transgress on their domains.

I quite like the gameplay of the Tomb Kings: the distinction between Hierophant and General allows me to take risks with the army’s best fighter while keeping the army’s best wizard safe, and the magic, although subtle, is satisfying in its sheer reliability. As with my Vampires I find them a bit lacking in mid-sized games when I have to bring a narratively superfluous caster along just to keep my magical heft up, but that’s not their fault.

What I don’t like is the Tomb Kings models that I own. Most of my line troops are brittle mixed-medium Mantic kits that fall apart as soon as I look at them (yes I have heard of pinning; no I am not doing it for forty sodding Skeleton Archers); the “prime Zandri Dust and paint the details” approach hasn’t worked out as well as I’d like either, and they’re so samey, the worst thing for a reluctant painted like me.

What I also don’t like is that I have a huge bag of Gripping Beast Revenants (technically they are Mindless now, but I bought them as Revenants and Revenants they shall always be) which I don’t use because I live many miles away from any kind of SAGA scene.

But if you squint, those are solid single piece undead miniatures, off of which bits do not fall. And if you happen to go peeking online, you’ll know that Gripping Beast now do a wider range of undead infantry. And if you happen to be me, permanently frustrated in the search for third party cavalry and chariot figures that look remotely modern, the whole issue can be sidestepped if you go old-school and load up on whatever chunky single piece cavalry take your fancy.

The Twin Princes resolve all of this. Selling off my Mantic and TTCombat Tomb Kings should generate enough currency for additional Gripping Beast figures: an armoured warlord, a crowned and spectral sorcerer, a goodly number of armoured sword and board skeletons and some skeletons with bows. Put these alongside my existing big wizard and zombie horde, and that might be a credible (if slow) undead army. I can play that lot as about 1000-1500 points of…

Tomb Kings, with the new characters playing the part of Tomb Prince and Liche Priest respectively, and the Mindless Revenants serving as Skeleton infantry.

Army of Sylvania, since the Revenants also came with two big plague pits that make ideal Grave Markers and a suitably nefarious looking not-Vampire (probably going to brandish the Rod of Flaming Death so I get a third Bound Spell in there somewhere).

Undead, going all the way back to fourth edition: plenty of Wight Champions among the Gripping Beast Hearthguard figures, a unit of archers to provide covering fire, and a suitably vast blobule of Zombies for raising and disposing. And a Liche as my general!

The Revenants are already primed and inked, and they will set the tone for the proceedings nicely; all they’ll need is a coat of paint on their dead skin and some suitably incoherent, desaturated colours on their clothes.

Of course, the whole thing needs background, and this is where we turn to the narrative I worked up for The Maven & The Witch. We know that there are cairns of ancient civilisations dotted all over Bretonnia and Athel Loren, from the dark times between the fall of Nagash and the rise of Giles le Breton. We know also that such a collection of tombs lies within the region of High Tessonfroid, the chill high place overlooking La Vallee des Manchots Frenetique and the domain of Hiver le Sable, because my Wood Elves have been hard at work on ensuring that said tombs’ occupants remain firmly indoors.

And so we have it. Twin princes, from the ancient kingdom of Tiernmas that was before Tessonfroid. A warrior and a warlock, unalike in dignity, united in their goal: to take back what was theirs, to see the cursed winter never end, to drive out the living and reign as two kings!

Being no fool, and having struggled with Tomb Kings in my handful of games so far, I intend to try before I buy, taking “the build” in sixth edition, sneaking them in as the third-round opponents for The Maven & The Witch and nudging the points value of that engagement up to compensate. I am so in love with the concept and the painting possibilities here that I’ll probably do it anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to try. “The build”, incidentally, looks a bit like this:

Tomb Prince                154
Blade of Mourning, light armour, shield
Liche Priest               165
Cloak of the Dunes, Neferra's Plaque of Mighty Incantations

24 Skeletons (shields)     192
24 Skeletons (shields)     192
16 Skeletons (bows)        128

24 Tomb Guard              368
Champion, musician, standard (Icon of Rakaph)

1200 points: eggs, meet basket. I wouldn’t take an army like this to a pick-up game, but it’ll do to test the basic principle. They’ll be up against the Maven and her forest friends, not a force with a great deal of spell denial under their belt, so I’m hoping two Incantations will do the job, especially with a reroll to any embarrassing snake eyes from the Hierophant. The Blade of Mourning is in purely because I like its name, and it will help with shooing away the Dryads in the absence of auto-breaking.

The figures will be proxied by elements of my Sylvanian family: Skeletons will be acting as Skeletons, albeit with some spears and crossbows that aren’t really there. A Wraith and a Necromancer will do for the Prince and the Priest. My Drakenhof Guard have consented to lower themselves to pretending they’re ordinary sword and board boys for the outing. You are welcome to imagine members of this range hanging about the battlefield instead, or to picture my “they’re playing pieces so let’s ‘paint’ them as such” Revenants, from the featured image.

I shall be in touch. But right now, it’s back to painting trees.

[Off Topic] “Oh, all right. One more lifetime won’t kill anyone…”

It’s been a hell of a year.

I don’t just mean 2020, although it absolutely has been. Leaving aside Nineteen Crows and the return to form of Perfidious Albion, there have been troubles closer to home.

I didn’t let on when I was making the final posts of what I swore would be the final year, but I’d just had to pack in my writing gigs after a year of freefalling income and declining health. I’d also run into an expensive (life-shatteringly so) bureaucratic cock-up at the same time. It was all getting a bit rough and for a while I thought I’d be spending Christmas 2019 on the streets.

Instead, by lucky hap, I took a job in a bookshop, put my PhD on hold while I learned the ropes and ended up leaving it there. And after three months, the town it’s in flooded and we became ground zero for cleanup and care. And THEN, while I was on what was going to be a week’s holiday in London, Nineteen Crows happened. I nearly ended up living in E and K’s spare room again, and when I came home I spent four months playing an Amount of Total Warhammer 2, making my peace with V:tM’s fifth edition by trying to run a couple of chronicles, and…

I also made a bunch of mini-RPGs. Having tried to crack the mid-tier RPG industry and realised what a crock it is, I fell in with the rabble-rousers and went indie. Most of them are system tests – attempts to make one or two mechanics work as isolated indie games about THIS or THAT. One is a hack I made because I was so very, very pissed off with Vampire: the Masquerade after a year doing research on it and saw a way to make Wolfspell into something that scratched the same itch and put some feelings to rest.

I actually quite like making games, it turns out, and the next one is – well, I’ve made a single to hear myself on the radio, and a couple more followed, and I’ve done a weird EP of cover versions, and the NEXT thing is going to be the debut album, as it were. Figuratively speaking.

There’s some other business. I tried Classic World of Warcraft and it was the push I needed to quit altogether. I tried to stream again, but that kind of workmanlike #content creation has never really been my scene. I ended up in charge of matters pertaining to board games at work: we are, step by step, figuring out how to turn a successful monthly club into a community and a customer base.

And, as the year turned and I had a bit of mad money even in the midst of furlough, I found myself turning back to Warhammer like an old, old friend. Half-assed collections of Chaos Dwarfs (event swag/trades) and Tomb Kings (a side project that took on appeal) have been rounded out with new third party figures. My new gaff is smaller, but located such that playing games is less of a giant fiddle to pull off. Which of course made me think about the website.

I thought – well, why not?

I have quite a bit to say. About what I’m playing, what I’m making, what I’m studying. Expect occasional dalliances with Warhammer, still, but also developer’s notes on the games I make, and the occasional bit of academic sidepiecing. It’s like the old GAME OVER days, but I’m not ripping off Andrew Eldritch’s branding. Much.

[Off Topic] Recommendations, inter alia

[30/08/2016 21:01:07] Von: (I am currently Low on Cash and do not need to be thinking about Chaos Space Marines)
[30/08/2016 21:01:27] Von: (hell I don’t even know how to plan and manage a 40K army any more, what with all these Formations and Allies and shit)
[30/08/2016 21:01:54] Prince Charles: YOU DO NOT NEED MORE CHOAS MARINES
[30/08/2016 21:03:12] Von: YOU ARE QUITE CORRECT IN THIS
[30/08/2016 21:03:26] Prince Charles: VON
[30/08/2016 21:03:30] Prince Charles: YOU HAVE PLENTY OF SHIT
[30/08/2016 21:03:42] Prince Charles: PRIORITISE
[30/08/2016 21:03:49] Von: I KNOW RIGHT
[30/08/2016 21:03:54] Von: PRIORITIES ARE A THING
[30/08/2016 21:04:08] Von: that fucking Mammoth is sitting there waiting for me to Google ‘elephant toenails’

I don’t know where this whiff of interest in the Grimdark has come from again. Must be the Stars aligning or summat: I was in the right mood to reread the Night Lords Omnibus, replay a bit of Dawn of War II, and idly look at the Start Collecting Chaos Space Marines box and wonder if that and a bunch of Night Lords helmets off Forge World (the skull ones, not the stupid bat-wing ones) were a viable acquisition. I also binge read a few blogs.

(By the way, Jimmy, your Eldar army looked lovely, and I’m sorry for all the egotistical and derailing responses to your posts; upon rereading them now I am struck by a sense of wisdom, and a frequent “oh, I should have said this, instead of gabbling on about things I already understood”.)

This is the perfect opportunity for me to raise a glass to A Gentleman’s Ones, and to recommend – besides his excellent army logs and game reports for the Arrugginiti and Onorevoli Chapters – this post on inverting colour schemes and this one on bases and their power to unite disparate elements within a miniature or collection. As the man himself might say – glorious.

While I’m feeling recommendative (silence! it’s a perfectly cromulent word!), I should also like to draw attention to Gardens of Hecate, where work is put into that most neglected and ill-considered aspect of the wargame: terrain.

In conversation with Hawk Dave a couple of weeks ago (oh, the namedropping!) the great man happened to mention what a shame he thought it was that people didn’t spend model prices on terrain features. The reasons I detect behind this inarguable tendency are numerous. As Dave himself says, it’s not something you can actually play with. Adding something to an army feels more fulfilling.

I would add that terrain often has to be generic – it’s kept to the hills and woods level because that’ll work with damn near everything. When something like the Killzone tournament comes along, someone like Brian emerges to curate specific terrain for that specific environment – the rest of the time, what we generally want to curate is something that works with everything.

It’s an odd reversal of the trend toward the branded and proprietary that we see with miniatures and rules – and I think terrain has held out against that because, frankly, it’s something we had to do ourselves for the longest time, and so it’s taking longer for the Bought Kit to replace Termite Art as the standard practice.

I have a box of ‘scale’ hills and rivers that I should finish at some point. They’re huge. Tall enough to award elevation within WM/H, and broad enough that they aren’t dwarfed by the buildings, trees and some of the models on the table. Given that my kitchen table is a trifling 4′ x 3′, they almost dwarf the table; they imply something massive just off the edge, which is how I feel hills ought to work in the 25-32mm scale of my preferred wargames.

There’s another blog I wanted to recommend, but its name escapes me. It’s not Haute Macabre, but it’s something that feels like that: something arty and strange and a bit pretentious. The authors do a lot of kitbashing, play a lot of Mordheim, and carve out their own eloquent and erudite take on the shared universes of the Workshop. For the life of me I can’t remember what it’s called. That’s annoying.

Currently Playing… a spot of Dawn of War II and that’s honestly about it. I’m feeling a bit flighty right now. I ‘should’ be giving WoW a roll since Legion’s out now, but in honesty, I can’t be arsed. I have no intention of being sucked into the serpent’s coils again. It can wait. It can wait until it’s bloody well working properly, for one thing.

want to play some Black Crusade. It’s coming to the point where I might put up some sort of notice in the ‘Model Centre’ in town – it’s been a year, they’re still selling GW kits, it can’t be a total flash in the pan.

Currently Modelling…

A Scourge starter set for Dropzone Commander. I scored a bargain on the Facebook group immediately before taking a short break from Facebook (I realised I’d spent the best part of a day mindlessly scrolling up and down instead of doing anything worthwhile, and that I couldn’t focus for thirty seconds without popping open a new tab for the blue and white god: that’s an addiction profile if ever I saw one, and I’m not having that). There’s a set of command cards, which I’ve opened and sleeved, and a second starter force, which I’ve decided to sell rather than overloading on bread and butter at the expense of the full dining experience offered by the Scourge range.

I’m also painting the Mammoth. Finally. The armour is done, the skin is done, and some of the metal has received its basecoat, with metallic ink to follow. It stalled slightly while I thought about how I would be painting ropes (of which there are many), nails and  tusks (which are prominent) and the howdah (which is a significant detail). I’m still not sure about the ropes. Purple is technically my spot colour and is thus far absent from the figure, but I’m worried about it detracting from the gun barrels and fists. The nails and tusks are going to look suspiciously similar to the armour, but I think I can treat it like I do the skin on the infantry, i.e. worth a layer of Actual Paint besides the lazy man’s “slap ink on everything” that deals with the rest of the model.

Currently Listening To… the Sucker Punch soundtrack. Say what you like about that film, there’s a bangin’ set of tunes on it. This one’s my favourite.

[Off Topic] Currently…

Currently PonderingEmergence vs. Determinism, although not in the usual “railroading r bad and u r bad for doin it” sense. It’s more to do with how the process of designing and ‘solving’ encounters works. Perhaps “Imagineer vs. Prepper” might be a better dichotomy.

Every so often Ben (co-host of that podcast I pretended to do for a while) pops up to ask for my perspective on a strategic or tactical choice that’s emerged in his Star Wars play-by-forum game, and I’m always flabberghasted by the amount of detail – if-this-then-that-ah-but-what-if-this that he presents in these scenarios. It’s not a PbP thing either – he’s the same in tabletop, he seems to think that he needs an elaborate map of his Brujah’s haven and a series of boltholes established all over the city.

Jaro, the DM of my intermittent Roll20 game, is the same – he’s a nice bloke but asking for exact rules on composition, cost and storage of bullets made me raise an eyebrow or two. In Jaro’s  case there’s an element of damage by a dick-move DM who once had an entire party die of exposure because nobody had said they were wearing clothes (this is a dick move because they were in mid-adventure when he dropped this bombshell). Jaro is something of an enthusiast for precision and adherence to rulebook and sourcebook, I think because he wants insulation from this sort of cockbothering behaviour, but it makes for some friction between us since I am definitely not inclined to the “gotcha” nor to the elaborate and intricate modelling of situations.

What I am about is a sketchier kind of gameplay where the fun is not in solving an elaborate situation with detailed resources and forward planning, but in making shit up as you go along. If there needs to be a chandelier for someone to swing off, there will be a chandelier (although dice must be rolled for swinging and the results of the roll are binding). If there needs to be an escape route it will be there when someone looks for it, if they look for it in a plausible place and if  they roll well on some sort of “can you find it in time” check.

This applies whether I’m playing or running the game. If I’m playing… well, the 5e game has now settled down into a predictable and well-oiled machine where I come up with a bare-bones plan which will work and leaves room to improvise, Charles overcomplicates it with needless flourishes and excessive moving parts which nevertheless impress Jaro into letting us get away with it, and we both have to bully Arianna into taking any sort of risk when executing the plan.

(Sidenote: Look, if you roll a rogue you have to accept that you’ll be sent on dangerous sneaky solo stuff, it’s the law, if you wanted to stay at the back and be safe you should have bagged the coveted Cleric/Mage slot and then I’d have been slavishly defending you and not Charles, and yes, I know you’re reading this, Ari, because you hang on my every golden word.)

I suspect this sort of thing has come to my attention because I’ve been playing a lot of single-player CRPGs lately, and those are all about picking your way through a predetermined encounter or chain of quests that trigger in a particular order. I generally suck at this since I’m used to muddling through and improvising, not having to talk to that guy to get that objective before I do this thing so I can actually get XP and phat lewtz and so on. I am getting better at it, but I still occasionally think “can I not just come out with my hands up, spin a plausible yarn about being attacked by four big lads with guns, and coming off best in the shoot-out because I’m brilliant, and then Dementate their disbelief away?”

Currently Playing: Besides occasional sessions of 5e or LotFP on the Intertrons, I am mostly playing Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. I tried this for about five minutes back in the day (real time, strike one! FPS/action controls, strike two! likelihood of accidentally punching a hooker, breaching the Mass-Charade and getting shot in the cobblers, strike three!) but, like Planescape, I’ve reappraised it after a few years away. Buying one of those Razr game controller things (so that I didn’t wear out one half of my expensive split ergonomic keyboard, which I bought so that I didn’t wear out my ailing wrists while typing several thousand words a week for work) has helped me learn how to FPS even as it’s made my MMO-ing suffer and contributed to a drop-off in Warcraftery.

Bloodlines is fun, in a very oWoD kind of way – it feels like a sort of farewell tour of all the wacky shit which was due to disappear when Time of Judgement came out, and if approached in that style it’s not bad. Sadly, the game does indulge in the Major Sins of front-loading, reducing interactivity while NPCs show off in cutscenes, and including arbitrary combats which show up the limitations of my social-build Tremere, but… well, it’s oWoD.

(ETA: This is the sort of business decision which only makes sense if you’re White Wolf. You’re in the process of wrapping up your old game line and launching a whole new universe, and you make your tie-in video game a valedictory salute to the old rather than a launch platform for the new world with its new concepts, encouraging crossover and buy-in. It’s almost as bad as making a mechanistic nerdy-boy game with no particular focus while paranormal romance is ruling the roost, or taking the makers of a major motion picture based on a short story within your setting to court instead of using the buzz to republish and revamp said material. Essentially, you are spectacularly dumb and you deserve to go out of business within the decade.)

I am playing the GOG.com version with the extensive fan patch that actually makes it playable. I am also playing a Malkavian who thinks he’s a ninja (with a katana and a six dot Melee pool he is not entirely wrong about this, and shafting Sabbat thugs up the arse from Obfuscated safety has yet to get old) and a Tremere lounge singer (shagging her way through most encounters and heavily reliant on Disciplines in a scrap). I experimented, briefly, with a Ventrue dominatrix and a Nosferatu eco-terrorist hacker, but the Ventrue was a bit dull and the Nosferatu is definitely hard mode for someone not accustomed to first-person stealth-em-up. If this lot were all in the same party it’d be ‘perfect’ Classic WoD.

Incidentally, while the other V:tM game was very faithful in its adoption of Disciplines but introduced some overly granular percentile bollocks for stats and had an awful level-by-dots feeding/healing/buffing mechanic, this one keeps the elegance of the dot-based system (streamlining it with fewer dots and more defined combinations) and does good things with Disciplines. Streamlining Auspex, Presence, Obfuscate and so on as per the physical Disciplines and eliminating the action economy horrors  of Celerity (as far as I can tell, having not gotten to use it yet) is a good idea. I’ll have to try it in the tabletop game at some point. Hacking White Wolf’s excessive mechanisation = good call.

Currently Reading: The Prince (the treatise by Machiavelli, not the Netherese review/antiSocJus blogger/belch-vector, although I’m reading his blog too). Rob Kuntz was surprised that I could manage to write decent Renaissance-esque intrigue settings without having read The Prince and I’ve been meaning to make good on this for a while now. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (decently accessible social history, conveniently attuned to the needs of a modern reader who wants to understand the difference between Now and Then, possibly recommended reading for twenty-first century gamer-prats). The first four Discworld books (yes, again), although I’m currently on a reduced-fiction diet as I have bought quite a lot of non-fiction (Spinoza, Castaneda, Bowker’s biography of Orwell, the rest of Padel’s poetry essays, and a collection of excerpted Brecht) and had it sitting there for months.

Currently HobbyingI bought a job lot of cultists, demons, villains, zombies etc.  from Heresy Miniatures (they have a sale on until the end of July, buy now, beat the rush, help Andy recover from honourable Dragon-related fiscal suicide). These will be making up a Blood Bowl team/rounding out a Frostgrave warband/providing something for my Otherworld adventurers to slap around in RPGs. I was working on a new wargaming table but space seems to be at a premium these days and that one may have to go the way of the dodo. I realise that I barely wargame at all these days, which has checked my hand every time I consider giving Frostgrave or SAGA a proper poke. Insert gripe about how I am old and tired and hate learning new rules, too.

Currently Smoking: Poles.

[Off Topic] Terry Pratchett, OBE: 28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015

“Terry Pratchett’s died.”

That’s not the sort of thing you just walk into a room and say to someone. It simply isn’t cricket. That’s the sort of thing you break to someone gently, over a cup of tea, something you take your time over and think about. It’s not an everyday sort of announcement, nor an everyday sort of news.

When just a wee lad, left to my own devices in the library as often as not, I was interested King Arthur and dragons and all that malarkey, but not in what you could call fantasy as such. Not original fiction about that sort of thing, written by people who’d lived within the twentieth century. Not, until the day when my bleary little eyes alighted on this gaudy-looking paperback with a dragon on the front and some startlingly-drawn chaps in dodgy-looking armour attempting to do harm upon it. Guards! Guards! was where it started.

The first fantasy novel led to a lifelong fascination with the genre, fed into an interest in fantasy play and fantasy games, and into a fascination with writing. When I came to write my own material – prose and resources for games and, to the chagrin of a dozen hard-working pedagogues, essays – and to frame my own characters and worlds and perceptions, they were invariably formed by this body of work that I’d read upside down and inside out over the years. Before Pratchett I’d wanted to do all sorts of things when I grew up; after Pratchett I wanted to be A Writer. More than that, I wanted to be a particular kind of Writer – the kind who uses words like ’embuggerance’ and still manages to make a point.

It feels trite and selfish to say “well, the subject of this tribute was a huge influence on me” and then talk about oneself line after line, so allow me to scrabble for redemption and say that I’m not the only one. A generation of young readers cut their teeth on Discworld, watched Johnny and the Dead on the telly, played spot-the-author with a worn copy of Good Omens – you get the idea. Not until a former teacher from Gloucestershire wrote a Bildungsroman about a speccy kid at magical boarding school did anyone come close to Pratchett’s stature as the genre-defining figure in British young adult fantasy.

Pratchett defined fantasy and comedy and bloody good prose to the boy who would be Von and to thousands like him, but he defined activism too – at least, a particular kind of critical activism. His novels are hysterically funny, of course, but there isn’t a single Discworld that doesn’t have a steely grey eyebrow raised at something foolish or barbarous. Pratchett’s books lay the absurdity of the world bare – and absurdity isn’t just funny, it’s also dangerous and stupid and demands to be pointed out, ridiculed, understood and prevented. Look at something like Wyrd Sisters, which is a funny story about witches and the excesses of theatre, with a rather serious point about the upbringing of children and about the arts as propaganda. Look at something like Making Money – you have to sell a lot of snake oil just to get people believing in currency and exchange, never mind reinventing them and getting people to accept that this piece of paper is innately valuable – and yet ideas like used stamps being worth what it says on the front and pins being highly collectible take off without your trying.

You can’t go around saying things like “Pratchett holds a mirror up to life” because that’s simply not enough; Pratchett lays life out on the slab, slices it open with a flash of stainless razor wit, and has a good poke around inside, showing us where the cankers are, making daft remarks about sausages, laughing at words like ‘spleen’ and ‘pancreas’ – and then the blade twists again and there’s a lump of something black and rotten on the end of it. A-haaa, you say, in your finest Tom Baker tones: there it is. And he does it all without being righteous or bland or preachy, without ever telling you that you can’t say or think or do a given thing – Pratchett can call you an idiot to your face and have you laughing as he does it. What Pratchett really does… did… is excise and excite human nature. Everything else is ironmongery – but it’s brilliant, ornate, detailed, charming ironmongery, with sniggering orang-outangs peeking out of the pattern, done by someone with a name like Calumny Jones.

I would be delighted if my children and grandchildren are taught to talk about Pratchett in the same breath as Dickens, and with the same reverence for wit and whimsy and the same phrase for What It’s All About – the Condition of England. I would be even more delighted if they enjoy him as much as I have.

Rest in peace.