Tuesday, November 30, 2021

9th Anniversary of the City of Heroes Shutdown


I haven't noted this every year and yes there is a version of the game back online for a good two years+ now but I still felt like mentioning it this year. Homecoming and the others are great and they have added some new stuff to the game but it's not quite the same. 

I'm not sure why it feels different but it does on some level. With none of the old characters or supergroups carrying over there was some loss even after recreating many of them. It's a different crowd these days. The loss of the old forums that were such a repository of knowledge and a ton of fun. A lot of it may just be life changes over the past nine years. Time and life march on, tastes change, people come and go ... it would probably be different now even if the game had never shut down but it did so we had a clean break for almost 7 years for things to drift.

This is certainly not intended as a complaint about the revival - far from it! I was super happy when we were able to log back in again and I'm still glad it's around even if I do not play as much as I did those first six months it was back. It's nothing but a positive development. 

I am a little disappointed that we don't have "more". We have the original game with some enhancements but I was really hoping we would have "Paragon City: The Next Generation" by now. None of the successors have launched with an actual game nine years later and none of them have anything more than an alpha/beta/early adopter type option. I was pretty optimistic about them in 2012 ... I am far less so these days. 

Some of the in-the-moment posts:

Friday, November 26, 2021

Not-40K Friday - The Evolution of Warhammer Dragons

There's a cool post over on Warhammer Community that runs through the designs of dragons for Warhammer over the decades and it's worth a look if you've been around fantasy miniatures for any length of time. There are 4 or 5 of the metal "S" dragons floating around here so it felt relevant. You can see changes over time in all of the fantasy ranges, not just Warhammer, and the trend has been towards the bigger and bigger, especially the last 5-10 years. That's one of GW's brand new big dragons up top and I admit it's pretty impressive and hits a lot of the right notes for me. 

This is one of the classic S-dragons, maybe the first as the high elves were I believe the first army to be able to take an actual dragon as a mount for some characters. This version was around 4th edition (there was at least one earlier non-S version for 3rd) and set the pattern for many years. I have a pair of these, plus a pair of the dark elf version of the same vintage, plus some of the orc war wyverns with a similar look. I had mixed feelings about some of those color choices even when this thing was new but that was the look they used across the entire range.

This is probably the least-Warhammer paint job I have ever seen on one of these beasts but it does show that the old models hold up pretty well if painted well. This makes me want to do something with my unbuilt models like this. 

I remember when these came out for 6th or 7th edition and it was shocking ... compared to the old guard metal models above this thing is just a revolution. That pose! Apparently plastic does allow a much greater range of options as there's no easy way to get something like that out of the old versions. It would take a ridiculous amount of pinning and also never moving it anywhere for any reason to get one of the older models to look like that. 

These newest versions ... that's another one up there ... they're just amazing. bigger and beefier, less serpentine and more dino-beast. They look more like D&D dragons have looked for a long time. Also more of a Hildebrandt-looking dragon:

Nothing wrong with that. I've probably used my old dragon miniatures more in RPG encounters in recent years than in straight-up miniature battles in recent years. It's always a big moment when a dragon shows up - at least it should be - and I do like having a decent miniature to drop when they do. Even the RPG-specific dragons have much bigger options now than they used to with some of the Pathfinder Battles gargantuan dragons coming on an 80mm base. 

Anyway it sent me down a trail so I thought so I would share.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Friday, November 19, 2021

40k Friday - Catching up on the Blood Angels


I was looking over the shelves last week and realized that while I have a pretty decent set of painted Blood Angel units I somehow have managed to not have a finished, painted squad of sanguinary guard, nor do I have a fully painted unit of death company. It's a weird gap. I haven't played them recently but I want to and so with some time off next week that's the current goal - get those two units built out and basecoated and then see how far I can get with finishing them.

Loadout will be 9 swords and power fist just because that seems pretty flexible. I will probably build 5 more with axes since I have the models and might want to mix them in the future.

I am very interested in mixing in some inferno pistols but I'm not sure it's really worth it. I like the idea of being able to jump in and vaporize a tank or cripple a knight but they are 5 points apiece, and then it would make sense to give them fists as well if you're going after the big targets and there's another 5 points so now they running about 50% more expensive than normal. Maybe the 5-man axe unit gets infernos instead to keep the cost down - BA's would be wounding vehicles on a 4+ anyway so it might work as well. Fists would hit on a 4+, wound on a 3+ while swords and axes would hit on a 3+ and wound on a 4+, barring other modifiers. 

Sure, sending them in with the warlord would give them the easy +1 to hit but I'm not sure that's what I want them to do. Maybe if I'm going with a smash-captain anyway but I'm thinking death company with thunder hammers would probably be better for that.

So settled on the melee for the most part but still need to sort out the guns.

Death company ... I have a ton of these guys both old metal and current plastic and I actually disassembled some of them to retool them for 8th edition's awesome option of bolter + chainsword ... which went away with the 9th edition codex. It probably should have as it's never been an option before to give them full ranged capability and full melee capability, but it was attractive enough that  I got sucked into chasing that particular meta ... and now I get to change them back. I should know better but insert eyeroll here.

Loadout for them, well, I'm starting with a back-to-the-basics ten guys with bolt pistols and chainswords. Once those are in playable shape I'll start looking at other options. I know I want  some power weapons to mix in and the idea of a 5-man unit with all thunder hammers is too attractive to let go. I'd like to get in a few games with them and see what they can do and then mix in some options. 

I also need to look over the character options as well. With 9th restricting marines to one captain + one lieutenant  per detachment I do like the idea of cheating past that with the death company versions since they do not count against it. It seems like at least one plus Lemartes and/or Astaroth would work alright, especially if I'm bringing multiple squads. 

Those are the main 2 units I want to focus on for now. I do have some others in the backlog though.

  • I have another Baal predator kit that I want to build as the flamer version just to try it out and to have the option in the army.
  • I have a mostly painted and mostly built redemptor dread that I need to finish, not to mention other regular dreads in the queue.
  • I have some phobos characters that need to be finished too. 
I finally settled on a new paint scheme so now I can finish the primaris stuff I picked up and built and primed but was holding off on this year. It's mainly using an army painter red so I can match up spray and bottle paint to try and get this stuff done. I don't need it to win awards, I just need it to look like I had a plan and come out "good enough". If the weather will cooperate I should make some good progress this month. 

 More to come ...

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Time Traveler's Codex for Mutants and Masterminds


The latest book for M&M in a system which has quite nicely - and rarely these days - been growing this same edition since 2010.

Aside: looking back I thought I had covered these books more extensively but I really have not. I should probably fix that soon.

To play an M&M campaign you really just need the core book - specifically the Deluxe Hero's Handbook. There is a Basic Hero's Handbook but it's more of a starter kit in a lot of ways - I reviewed it here

Everything beyond that is optional. Need some supervillains? There is Threat Report and there is also Rogues Gallery. Need a setting? There is Freedom City and also Emerald City plus Atlas of Earth Prime for the bigger picture. Need a breakdown/examples of how powers work? Power Profiles is your solution and the Gadget Guides book is pretty damned useful too. There is a ton of support available if you want it.

Some of these are more optional than others though, I would say. Most campaigns will have at least one super-team so the Superteam Handbook should be handy for a lot of GM's, alongside villains and setting material. In contrast Hero High seems fairly specific: if you're running a teen heroes game then sure ... if not, well, it's probably less useful.

The Time Travelers Codex to me falls right into that "specialized" category of super-supplement. Sure, a lot of campaigns will have -some- time travel at some point. But ... will they have so much you need a whole book on the subject?  I'd say that's mostly up to the person running the game and possibly the players. If you weren't planning on it but your game suddenly veers off into Legends of Tomorrow then it's a good resource to have. If you're just dropping in a killer robot from the future as this week's challenge then it's probably overkill. 

Let me say this is a fine book, as thorough a treatment of the subject as I've seen in an RPG supplement. The closest thing I can compare it to was the GURPS Time Travel book from back in the 90's and this is better for M&M players as it's specifically aimed at superheroes and the tropes you get with comic book time travel.

The first section discusses how time works, specifically how you want it to wok in your campaign. This is mostly conceptual, as in "how much can travelers actually change history?" along with some mechanical options. 

Chapter 2 covers the time travel campaign  - approach, power levels, advantages, gear, time machines (!), and archetypes - you will see some familiar concepts here like "Quantum Alien" and "Warrior from a Grim Future". It's the most mechanically useful chapter in the book. 

Chapter 3 is all about gamemastering the special thing that is a time travel campaign and the challenges it presents. There is even more here about how time works and who might care when you start messing with it, and some villain archetypes that fit this kind of game ... including, yes, the killer robot from the future. 

Chapter 4 "The Heroic Eras" which breaks down concepts, styles, and some rules guidelines for each of the big comic book ages: Golden Age (including notes on Emerald City in that era), The Silver Age (plus notes on Freedom City then), and the Iron Age (comic book iron age, not historical iron age) including New York City at that time. 

Chapter 5 hits all of the high points on the general time travel wishlist: The time of the dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, the Roman empire, the Islamic golden age, medieval Europe, Ming dynasty China, the height of the Aztecs, the golden age of sail, the wild west, then a near-future cyberpunk era and it closes out with a take on post-apocalyptic earth. 

This is why it's a great book: The conceptual stuff on how time works and flows and how it can be screwed up are great in a general sense and got me thinking about the "rules' of time travel for a campaign. Then from chapter 2 on you start getting practical things like what kinds of characters might work well in that game and what kinds of opponents you might encounter. After that chapters 4 & 5 give you actual places to go with those characters to face off against those opponents ... all while trying to either fix history or at least not break it according to the "rules of time". So it's not just a bunch of theoretical discussions - it includes actual useable material for a real game and that puts it over the top for me. 

I've had a campaign written up for decades now that starts after the end of the world with clones of the heroes waking up as an emergency failsafe but with damaged memories who then have to figure out what went wrong and how to stop it and then take a little time trip backwards to prevent it. This book will let me flesh that out quite a bit more and make it even better. 

So I'm glad I bought it. I don't have any immediate plans to use it but I definitely have some ideas on how to use it - and that's where it all starts, right?

Thursday, October 28, 2021

So Say We All - The History of Battlestar Galactica


If you are a fan of either BSG series then you should read this book. It's that good. 

The first part focuses on the 1978 series - the road to getting it put together, the background of the people behind it, and the peaks and valleys it experienced from conception to the end of Galactica 1980. 

The second part is all about the 2004 miniseries and subsequent full series up through the somewhat controversial finale.

The best part of this effort is that is not just a narrative written by some outsider. most of the book is comments from interviews with damn near everyone who worked on these shows - producers, directors, writers, actors, special effects guys, wardrobe people, technicians ... it's incredibly thorough. You do get a network perspective mixed in as well for both series which adds an intersting side to things. Even those who are no longer with us are recalled in anecdotes from people who worked with them. Lorne Green is discussed a fair amount in the early part of the book for example. 

Richard Hatch contributes quite a bit as he is the one guy who was heavily involved in both series and went from being opposed to the reboot to jumping fully on board. It's interesting to read his take on various aspects of both shows and what might have been. 

The chapters on the second series benefit tremendously from Ronald D. Moore, the main guy for the show, being totally open to discussing every aspect form getting it created and out there to writing work, casting, various limitations they were operating under, and just generally opening up about the whole run. 

After reading it I have to say it's as thorough a breakdown of a show as I have ever seen and I feel like I don't need to worry about digging into anything else on my own - I've read the definitive work on the subject. If you're at all interested you should go get it. 

Now to go find their Star Trek books ... 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Friday, October 15, 2021

40K Friday - Base Expanders


One of the hazards of miniature wargaming is that different games have different standards for basing the miniatures. Width, length, even number of figures per base can all vary from game to game even within the same historical period. Some look for individual figure removal from a unit to reflect casualties while other just track damage in some way until a threshold for removing the entire unit at once. One particularly annoying aspect is when a particular game decides to change its own standard for base sizes - which has happened quite a bit in 40K. So let's talk about how to handle that.

The first one I can remember is when Terminators went from 25mm to 40mm bases. This was somewhere around 3rd edition. At the time I had just had the one 5-man squad of metal terminators so i just picked up some 40mm bases, glued them on top of those, 25mm base and all, re-flocked them, and went on about my life.  Looking at them now I would probably take a different approach than having each one stand on its own little hill but I'm not going to re-do them at this point as it's not worth it to me.

Over the last 5-6 years though regular marines went from 25mm to 32 mm bases and ork boys have gone from 25mm to 32mm as well. That's several hundred figures impacted for me right there. Now I mostly play at home with family and friends so this is not an urgent thing. Technically the only rule GW has stated on basing is "use the base that came with the model" which is great but when you have a pile of older figures it can get a little weird to mix them in with more recent acquisitions. Warhammer 40,000 is in no way a precise enough game that this kind of thing dramatically unbalances things but something in my head wants to "keep up" and try to maintain most of my armies with the current standard. So ... how can I do that? Do I have to pull models off of bases they've been on for 30 years? Risk breaking them or at least damaging the paint and destroying whatever flocking effort I put into them back then? Well ... no. No I don't. 

What you see at the top of the page are three of the options I've found over the last few years. Lets look at each of them. These are all intended to adapt a 25mm base to 32mm. 

One of my old Snakebite orks will be assisting us with this exercise - let's call him Pete. There you see Pete the Snakebite Ork taking position with one nice solution that is probably the most snug fit around an old 25mm base. It's 3D printed by the seller and it does fit nicely. A few of them were a little rough on the ends where they join together but a little file work settled this pretty quickly. They come in different colors as well if you might want to leave the sides unpainted.

I liked the silver-sided basing with my Grey Knights.
(Definitely need to touch up that one base)

The only downside is that given that snugness they are not tolerant at all of any overhanging base material, particularly crunchy stuff. So if you've had some "free expression" with sand or gravel or even sawdust hardened by time and a varnish coat it can really interfere with the execution here. The only other thing to watch is that it may be slightly taller than some of the 25mm bases so you can get a lip effect where it meets the base - I suggest giving it a second go-round with the flock if this happens.

Here Pete is modeling the wooden ring option for us. This is the most basic option in a way and it is also the least expensive - which is why the rest of my orks will be wearing them soon. It is not a particularly tight fit so it can leave a gap, particularly at the top. There can also be a slight lip effect here too depending on how you're doing the base. There is no slope as you find in most other round bases so if you like that beveled effect these may not be your cup of tea and they won't match if you mix them into a unit with normal GW 32mm bases in that respect. The other trick here is that since you will be liberally applying glue in that gap to secure it to the existing base and it will be moving downwards ... make sure you don't glue it to your table/desk/workbench. No, that totally never happened here - why do you ask?

Finally, Pete is now wearing the extremely fashionable cupholder-style base expander. Honestly these are probably my favorite but they also cost the most. They slip right over an existing base covering it all the way around. You glue your existing base to the floor of this expander - no danger of table-gluing here - and then fill in any gap with glue and flock and you are in business. There is a slight gap at the top but this makes it less picky about any overhanging material than the two-piece option up above. 

Here's a sample of the different options on some Blood Angels. On the left you can see some of the wooden ring options that clearly need a second dose of flock to close those gaps. On the right are the cupholder style bases which I think look really good. 

Now this is strictly a need for the stuff I have already painted and based. If you have unfinished older figures you can buy 32mm bases both slotted and unslotted in big numbers fairly cheap and if you're looking at some classic metal marines or something of similar vintage that is the way I would go and have gone myself. 

Here are some links to the eBay stores for the makers of each of these options. I have nothing to do with any of them other than having bought some of their wares:

Hopefully this will help someone out in some way. It's good to have options.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Lost City - Goodman Games Edition


I picked this one up a while back and thought I ought to discuss it a bit. 

I've run the Goodman Games versions of B1/B2 "Into the Borderlands" and X1 "Isle of Dread" and enjoyed them immensely as did my players. Returning to those old stomping grounds from the beginning of the 80's in the current edition with a group of players where a few of them were around for those early days but most of them were not was a blast. Watching some of them search for a plot - when the secret is there is no plot - was entertaining along the way. GG is doing these right.

The third release was S3 Barrier Peaks but it has a much higher level range so I have not tried to run it yet - one of these days. 

B4 though is a starting adventure so I could fire it up at any time really. I have to admit up front though that while I've owned a copy of the original for decades I've only tried to run it once and it didn't last long. I played in it once before that and it didn't last long then either. It had been a while since I read through it but this book includes the original version and an updated 5E version with some expansion material which makes it easy to compare the classic versus the new. 

Reading through it my old feelings crept back in from way back - I just don't like this adventure all that much. The original felt like half a module as it sketches out a massive underground city but it only details part of a dungeon, a ruined pyramid/temple, only fully details half of that structure, and then gives a page or so of ideas on what's in the rest of the city.

See that map? Fires up some ideas, right? Well, the original module covers the top half of the Step Pyramid in the traditional keyed room with description style, then gives a more basic rundown with monsters and maps for the lower half, the one page of notes on the actual city ... and that's it! The rest of the map is up to the DM. I remember feeling kind of ripped off when I read it way back when that while it's titled "The Lost City" the actual adventure is "The Step Pyramid" plus a page of notes. 

(This is -not- Goodman Games fault - its how the adventure was published originally)

I so wanted to like it - it is one of the most Conan D&D adventures ever published. The party gets separated from their caravan crossing the desert, finds a ruined city, discovers a secret entrance into a large structure, then finds an underground realm inhabited by various masked and possibly crazy people belonging to different factions with different agendas which is ruled by a monster/demon/thing that has set itself up as their god. It's potentially a great "contained sandbox" as it is underground but the players can do whatever they want - join a faction, try to fight the demonic ruling thing, establish their own power base and take over, or just do some exploring - and possibly looting - and move on.  

At least, it would be a great sandbox if there was more there to hang stuff on. I think it over-details the pyramid and then misses out on the rest. You get ten small dungeon levels with pretty much one stair or ladder connecting each level to the next so the level design is not complex. The factional material is interesting - there are 3 old gods of the city whose followers are trying to overthrow the cult of Zargon, the ruling entity of the city - but the space is so constrained that I'm not sure how much alliance-building the typical dungeon crawling party is going to do. 

The big bad guy Zargon lives in a one-room level at the bottom of the pyramid. He's likely too tough for a party to take on even with some help (12HD, AC0, 7 attacks/round 6 of which do 1d8 + one at 3d8) and it's just a weird place to put him. Shouldn't he be in a temple of some kind in the actual city? Maybe on the island? Maybe over by the volcano? You know, closer to the sacrifices he demands? Perhaps not in a 40x40 foot room all by himself?

I really wish the original had made the city the focus and spread the encounters out amongst the rest of the map. Make the pyramid a 3-level dungeon that gets the players up a few levels, ends with a temple to Zargon, and then lets them descend to the city for the rest of the adventure. Even with a fair amount of the city left undefined an encounter table and some specific locations equivalent to a single dungeon level would have made things much more interesting and given the factions room to breathe. Imagine rallying the various factions to take on the cult ending in a fight against his weird form on top of a step pyramid in the city or on that island that would be the cult's big stronghold.  

Now the good thing is that the new super-edition from Goodman Games has a similar take on things. They do not change up the original section with the pyramid other than updating it with 5E stats etc. as that is the mission statement for these books: update what's already there then expand around it:

  • There are encounter tables for the desert the PC's will be wandering prior to entering the temple.
  • The lost city itself gets a keyed encounter map - including a stronghold for each of the three factions plus a big temple to Zargon, and an encounter table!
  • The rest of the underground areas on that map also get some attention including the island, the volcano, various caves in the underground area, and the catacombs under the city itself. 
Beyond this there are new spells, new items, and new monsters as with the other volumes in this series, plus a small set of handouts/illustrations for the players. A nice touch is having all of the maps - and there are quite a few - collected at the end of the book in one big section which ups the playability in a nice way.

The notes suggest that PC's could end up at 6th level or high playing through all of this material and I can see that happening as with all of this material it becomes a mini-campaign all on it's own. The flow might involve some circling back in and out of the city, I think, for the best experience and I would definitely move Zargon out of his hidey-hole in the pyramid down into his temple in the city but there is a lot to work with here - straight-up fights, factional encounters and negotiations (I can see some dedicated bard players going nuts here), and lots of exploration covering wilderness, dungeon, and general "underground spaces" type terrain and locations. 

I loved the idea of the original but thought the execution let it down. This version finally lives up to the potential I saw in the original and I can see it leading to a lot of fun for a new adventuring party. If you want a somewhat different way to start a campaign this is definitely worth a look.