[WM/H] Road to SmogCon II – Dead and Breakfast

Anyone interested in a convention report covering five versions of the same RPG scenario, with no pictures of the actual content (because I was too busy running the games to faff around with any of that Instagramming-pictures-of-your-dinner nonsense), plus a single insanely casual game of Hordes vs. Warmachine?

Also, an obnoxiously British gatorman and his friend.

I hope so, ’cause that’s what you’re getting.

I have to confess that despite having forty days on the clock, I didn’t actually achieve everything on my to-do list. The models didn’t have much more paint on them than in that last post, the last player character model was actually bought five minutes after the first demo session ended, the scenario wasn’t tested and the Mammoth is still in bits. The maps, however, looked smashing, mostly because I had nothing to do with them other than describing what I wanted to Robin and then leaving well alone for a few days.

The scenario itself was pretty straightforward: the PCs had been captured by Skorne and offered their freedom if they agreed to help the Skorne out in attacking a Khadoran border fortress, by delaying or destroying the reinforcements on their way to the fort and then meeting up with the Skorne to support the attack. Each of the PCs had a paragraph or so of motivational notes designed to thicken the plot and encourage arguments, betrayals and contrariness. Most of the NPCs were entry-level mooks, but the commanders of the Skorne assault and Khadoran defence were statted out like proper characters with about 50 XP sunk into them – in other words, they’d mulch any single PC who tried to take them on.

Only one group out of five stuck by the Skorne, honoured the arrangement and helped Razaak the Undying seize the fortress and claim his prize. One group attempted to betray him, got caught out, and managed to escape their bonds in time to backstab him during the attack. Another group fragmented, ended up killing both major NPCs and founded a petty mercenary kingdom in the deep Khadoran tundra. Yet another switched sides and agreed to work with the Khadorans, earning themselves a contract with the Greylords Covenant, and the last lot were going to play it straight but lost their cool in the heat of battle and decided to slaughter Razaak and his army before they were halfway across the field. (In retrospect, naming him ‘the Undying’ was asking for trouble…) I’m proud to say that at least one PC was taken out in single combat with the Undying in each session, though, and that – exactly as planned – every group had some internal tension over whose side they were on.

Spending the weekend running the same scenario allowed me to directly compare the playstyles to which I was exposed – the hardcore roleplayers who went back to try and negotiate with Razaak, the competitive Warmachiners who poked at the edges of the scenario and looked for ways to break it, the first-time roleplayers who took my advice about using everything on the character sheet to heart, and the one group who spent at least sixty of their hundred and eighty minutes coming up with increasingly elaborate plans to delay the Khadorans, blame the Skorne, switch sides and get everyone killed. (To be fair, it worked!) It also meant that I could run it in my sleep by Sunday morning, which is good, since that’s essentially what I ended up doing.

It’s my own fault really; myself and my roommate Charles both conked out early on the Saturday night, woke up at 2 a/m and said “fuck going back to sleep, let’s hit the Iron Arena.” The result was a leisurely game ‘twixt my Skorne and Charles’ Retribution – it had to be leisurely since neither of us could count reliably and one of us had lost the tape measure, resulting in a lot of bodged measurements with spray templates and widgets. It was… well, it was a delightful bloodbath. Praetorians fell like teardrops in the face of the Retribution’s firepower, and elves baked to a crisp beneath the shells of the Incendiarii. Charles’ feat turn saw my entire battlegroup slammed halfway back to the table edge and flat on their backs; mine saw a prized character myrmidon downed and the last Praetorians cutting swathes through the Houseguard infantry. Charles called it after that – with one battered warjack, five infantry models and a warcaster on fire, it wasn’t quite clear how the elves could punch through forty-eight wounds of Cataphract infantry to reach Makeda and avenge their dead.

Charles’ conservative, control-heavy, let-them-come-to-you-and-perish-before-your-awesome-firepower playstyle doesn’t transfer to roleplaying games, though. In the absence of players for the last demo session, we joined the Epic campaign on the other side of the hall, and… well, by the first round of the second combat Charles’ Stormsmith/Storm Sorceress was an unconscious heap in the corner, blacked out from racking up twice the recommended number of fatigue points and badly hurt from bouncing a blighted Nyss just far enough back for it to counter-charge her. I’m glad to say my Monster Hunter fared a little better… at least he managed to cut up a Nyss Sorceress before rocks fell and everyone died, quite literally. Last job for the day was to retrieve Charles’ entry to the Golden Thrall painting contest (shortlisted for the Single Miniature trophy) and crawl off for a curry and a well deserved kip.

Here’s the thing about SmogCon. It’s bloody expensive (I wouldn’t have been able to go if I hadn’t been splitting the room and food costs) even if you aren’t buying back into Privateer Press’ games in order to attend – but every time I go I remember that there’s more to PP games than tedious 50 point Steamroller tournaments where every millimetre counts and the army lists are built to win the games before they start.

One-day tournaments attract a particular kind of player. SmogCon attracts everyone. If you play anything produced by Privateer Press you’ll be able to play it there, and given that it runs non-stop from 9 on the Friday to 5 on the Sunday, you’ll be able to play a lot of it. Going to SmogCon is a breath of fresh air (as it were), and it turns me from embittered ragequitter to born-again fanboy every time.


[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.

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…

[IKRPG] Actual Play Review: Iron Kingdoms Role Playing Game

In theory, I should hate the IKRPG.

No, really. It’s a three-hundred-page rulebook with great slabs of abilities, skills, spells and complicated item construction systems; it starts with a Fantasy Humanities Textbook and doesn’t hit the gameables until a third of the way in; and, while it insists that it can be played without miniatures, it reads like such a straight upgrade of Warmachine/Hordes into a single-figure action-RPG that you’d probably be a bit mad to try it.

Then again, in theory, I should love the IKRPG.

I play Warmachine and Hordes – have done for eight years – and can generally be counted on to give Privateer Press the benefit of the doubt (not always: see also character upgrade kits, Colossals, and the increasingly transparent attempts to make No Quarter a must-buy). I owned (though never quite found time to play) the D&D 3.0 sourcebooks for the Iron Kingdoms and generally liked them (although I’ve never forgiven them for The Longest Night, ‘that adventure where you follow a DM PC around for a three-day murder-tour of Corvis).

Since I enjoyed it from the player side of the screen (an unusual seat for myself) and since I know the rules and setting fairly well and it’s been suggested that my ongoing attempts to teach new players might be enabled by working with something that’s known rather than something I’m making up as I go along, on balance, I thought it might be worth a pop with my usual Dark Ages Vampire / Star Wars d20 rabble.

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