Thursday, January 18, 2018

40K 8th: The Aweosmeness of Chaos Space Marine Helbrutes

I've liked dreadnoughts since they first showed up in Rogue Trader. Those early marine, ork, eldar, and chaos dreads were remarkably inspirational and I have ended up with quite a few of them over the years. Their effectiveness waxes and wanes over the editions and with different codexes, but they always manage to at least look cool.

Today I want to  discuss helbrutes, the current designation for chaos marine dreadnoughts. First up: they still look cool!

OK the original single-pose model from the 6th Edition boxed set can get a little old when you see it over and over but the full kit that was released later has a lot of flexibility.

I see posts online stating that you should either take the all-melee brute (usually fist + scourge) or the all-shooting brute (usually lascannons or plasma cannon + missile launcher) because those are the most optimized for their points. Sure. They're also missing the point: It's cool to have a tank that can punch things - hard.

Let's look at a helbrute compared to an all-LC predator, for example:


  • 140 points with the twin lascannon turret, + 50 more for the two side lascannons = 180
  • it's Toughness 7, has 11 wounds, and a 3+ armor save
  • In melee it has 3 attacks (to start) at Strength 6, no AP, Damage 1, hitting on 6's
  • Move is 12


  • 122 points with a twin lascannon arm, +40 for the fist = 162
  • It's Toughness 7, 8 wounds, and has a 3+ armor save
  • In melee it has 4 attacks at Strength 12, AP -3, Damage 3, hitting on 3's
  • Move is 8
So for 18 points less you lose speed , 3 wounds, and two lascannons - that's not inconsiderable. However you gain no degradation, chapter tactics, and a very effective melee capability.  You could put a heavy flamer on the fist which makes the points almost equivalent and adds a fairly decent short-ranged attack but is totally not the same as two lascannons.

In a vacuum, say a one on one gunfight starting at least 24" apart, the Predator should win - it has twice as many guns and doesn't have to move to be effective and so is not taking a -1 to hit every turn for moving with a heavy weapon that the Helbrute will be taking.

But we don't fight in a vacuum. All it takes is one model charging that Predator and it doesn't get to shoot for a turn. It has to back out of the fight in hopes of getting to shoot next turn. if the opponent keeps charging it with something, it will keep not getting to shoot. There are enough deep striking re-roll or roll an extra die shenanigans in the game now that this is a reasonable possibility in almost every game. This is even more true if you take the somewhat popular 3-predator option to use the killshot stratagem as you're an even bigger target to a savvy enemy. 

If one enemy model decides to charge the Helbrute, in contrast, he's going to get a Str 12 punch ... well first he's going to get auto-flamed if you took that option and then he's going to get 4 hard punches.  there is also the chance the Helbrute gets to charge in first, something you would never do with the Predator. 

You could go with a more comparable missile arm Helbrute which evens up the gunfight a bit (2 lascannon shots and a krak missile shot and no longer needing to move every turn vs. the 4 lascannon shots and not moving either of the predator) and reduces the brute's point cost down to 147 and is still way more effective in melee than the tank will ever be. 

Let's also not overlook the inclusion of Helbrutes in the Legion benefits as well: Iron Warrior brutes get to ignore cover! Predators do not! World Eater brutes get an extra attack on the charge! Renegade Legions can advance and charge in the same turn! Alpha Legion brutes are -1 to be hit at more than 12" away.

 While it's true that Predator trios get the killshot stratagem Helbrutes get "Fire Frenzy" which for 1 CP lets a brute fire twice - admittedly at the nearest target but still a nice option to have. 

There is of course the option for the double-melee Helbrute. With two combi-bolters this option only runs 126 points and can just run right up the table. He gets an extra attack from the second fist, or three extra from a scourge, so he's even nastier up close. Make him a World Eaters brute and you're looking at 9 swings on the charge - ouch! For about the price of two lascannon Predators you could take 3 of these guys - I won't say they're more effective in general but if the rest of your army can handle the ranged anti-tank, this could be a really fun option. 

If you want a more practical use for these guys than an across the board charge I would say "backfield defense". They are a lot tougher than a 5-man marine squad or a 10-man cultist squad, they can carry a decent gun, and they are notably charge-resistant to most things that can deep strike. If some Eldar yahoo wants to turbo-boost his wave serpent over into your deployment zone you can blast him and then go bash his hood in to finish him off! With an 8" move followed by a 2d6 charge you can actively defend a fairly large area. 

For me, well, I like to group up 2 or 3 of them with a Juggerlord or a Daemon Prince and go after something.   

Anyway they're fun! They're flexible! Check them out!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Khorne Campaigns: World Eaters vs. Saim-Hann Eldar

After one game with the angry red marines I was feeling pretty good about the army but the second battalion with minimal CSM squads and cultists just felt kind of boring. So I reorganized for more fun stuff and took on Blaster's Eldar Flying Circus:

++ Battalion Detachment +3CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [59 PL, 1086pts] ++

+ Flyer +

Heldrake [10 PL, 185pts]: Baleflamer, Heldrake claws, Mark of Khorne

Legion: World Eaters

+ Dedicated Transport +

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 74pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-bolter, Mark of Khorne

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 74pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-bolter, Mark of Khorne

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 74pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-bolter, Mark of Khorne

+ HQ +

Dark Apostle [5 PL, 76pts]: Bolt pistol, Mark of Khorne, Power maul, The Black Mace

Exalted Champion [5 PL, 75pts]: Bolt pistol, Mark of Khorne, Power axe

+ Troops +

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

++ Vanguard Detachment +1CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [48 PL, 914pts] ++

Legion: World Eaters

+ Heavy Support +

Defiler [11 PL, 189pts]: Mark of Khorne, Reaper autocannon, Twin heavy flamer

+ HQ +

Chaos Lord on Juggernaut of Khorne [7 PL, 147pts]: Axe of Blind Fury, Bladed horn on Juggernaut of Khorne, Plasma pistol, Power axe

Daemon Prince with Wings [9 PL, 180pts]: Daemonic axe, Khorne

+ Elites +

Helbrute [7 PL, 142pts]: Helbrute fist, Helbrute plasma cannon, Mark of Khorne

Helbrute [7 PL, 126pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Helbrute fist: Combi-bolter
. Helbrute fist: Combi-bolter

Helbrute [7 PL, 130pts]: Mark of Khorne, Power scourge, Reaper autocannon

++ Total: [107 PL, 2000pts] ++

The core is the same but I wanted something to get in the enemy's face Turn 1 to distract them from the Rhinos - so I brought in a Heldrake. The Helbrutes and Defiler all have the same movement rate as the Juggerlord so I thought that would make a fun battlegroup to send up the board as a compliment to the zerks.

Blaster's List was:

  • The usual two squads of scatterbikes + jetbike farseer + jetbike warlock 
  • 3 squads of guardians + a bright lance platform for each
  • A wave serpent full of wraithguard
  • A squad of dark reapers
  • A wraithlord
  • A squad of warp spiders
  • A squad of swooping hawks
  • A fire prism

We tried out the new Chapter Approved mission "Dominate and Destroy" - I really like it on paper. 
  • Place six objectives. At the end of each players turn control of each objective is worth 1 VP
  • Kill points: 1 VP for each enemy unit destroyed 
  • Also: Slay the Warlord, Linebreaker, First Blood
Right there you cover all the basic elements of various 40K missions without weirdly specific rules or fiddling with cards. That said, my army was not really built with a mission like this in mind.

 He got to pick deployment type and deployment zone but I managed to win first turn. Objectives were one in each woods, one in that square of ruins near the top of the picture, and one by the fallen stompa. 

My army is on the left, his is on the right.

World Eaters Turn 1

Now my army's basic operating principle is "Rush forward". Specifically the rhinos move + advance + pop smoke and prepare to unload and charge on Turn Two, The Heldrake is there to make a turn 1 charge, and I always envisioned the helbrutes and defiler charging up with the Juggerlord and the daemon prince helping out as needed. I quickly realized this was going to be bad as that meant I had nothing to hold objectives. With one in my backfield and three in the midfield I had no great unit to sit on them. 

Wishing I had decided to go with the 11 point 48" range havoc launcher instead of the 34 point 8" range twin heavy flamer I decided to keep the defiler back on my home objective. The battle canon and reaper cannon had the range to hurt things and he as nasty enough up close any deep-striking eldar would be in for a lot of pain.  The daemon prince stayed back too just in case I needed to deal with two threats - Blaster had a warp spider squad and a swooping hawk squad in reserve so this was a possibility. I burned 3 CP's on the defiler's shooting and did about 3 wounds to the fire prism. Underwhelmed.

The heldrake shot forward, flamed the jetbike squad, then charged into the guardians and the wave serpent - which was his real target. This is where his limitations became apparent. He's plenty tough, especially for a flying type thing, and while 4 attacks is pretty good, he's only WS 4+. That means only 2 of those are going to hit and considering he's unlikely to have character re-roll support that's not really super-impressive. He does get a +1 to hit flyers and considering how many of those the Eldar have it is a nice benefit but is it enough? The jury is still out.

The biggest issues I found as I wrapped up turn 1 was that a) while I was on 4 objectives I wasn't sure how I was going to hold them and b) I hadn't killed anything. Losing the long range tac squads and the missile havoc squad meant I had very little long range shooting.

Eldar Turn 1
  • Everything close to it opened up on the heldrake and obliterated it. This is going to make further evaluation of his offensive capabilities very difficult.
  • The fire prism and one guardian bright lance detonated the plasma helbrute - literally, as he exploded and did mortal wounds to the autocannon helbrute and 3 more to the juggerlord.
  • He managed to kill one rhino too but I only lost one marine on the bailout.
  • Lesosn 1 - Dark Reapers and their always-hit-on-3's do not care about your smoke launchers
  • Lesson 2 - Unchecked Eldar psychic phases are unpleasant for the opponent
He charged in his wraithlord and it killed a couple of zerks - then they struck back and killed it, though it did take both of their attacks to do it. The champ with the powerfist did most of the work here but it was a team effort. 

At the end of turn 1 his 2 objectives + kill points had him ahead of me.

World Eaters Turn 2

  • Most of the army advanced because I was just not close enough to charge.
  • I kept the autocannon brute back somewhat so he stayed in front of the juggerlord as I tried to squeeze out some more objective VPs.
  • The puncher-brute was not close enough for a charge so he advanced
  • The defiler didn't do much
  • I reached for a Turn 2 charge with one berzerker squad and it failed. 
  • The second squad got out and prepped for a counter-charge next turn
  • The third squad stayed in their rhinos as I decided to sit on another objective as nothing was even close to in-range. 
So turn 2 I accomplished very little even though I did get 4 more VP's from objectives. My rhinos were being used to hold objectives instead of charging in and absorbing overwatch. I just was not killing anything and I knew that was going to be a problem on his turn as I was in range of pretty much his entire army now. Blaster made the unusual for him play of not moving up with any of his units other than the wave serpent and it left me hanging out in no-man's land waiting to get blasted by the full firepower of the Eldar. 

Eldar Turn 2
It was a massacre.
  • He blew up the puncher-brute
  • He gunned down the damaged zerker squad and the dark apostle
  • He blew up another rhino and then killed the squad inside - scytheguard are nasty
So I conceded once that second squad died. I had a damaged helbrute and a half-dead juggerlord at one end, One full zerker squad and one almost-dead rhino at the other, and one daemon prince and one defiler in my backfield. Nothing was working and the only thing the zerks were in a position to charge on the next turn was the d-scythe wraithguard which was a suicide run. 

So what went wrong? Part of it was the army design, part of it was the mission. 

  •  I still like the core but even berzerkers need fire support. A BS 4+ defiler is not sufficient fire support. I have a unit of rogue trader missile havocs that was originally headed for my Death Guard army. Since the DG no longer get havocs they will probably convert to Khorne. 
  • I like the defiler even though it has a split personality being sort of OK at shooting and OK at fighting. I think it's going to have more impact up close so he and the Juggerlord may become better battle brothers.
  • I like Helbrutes but I think 3 is probably too many. More on them in another post. 
  • The Heldrake sort of performed like I had hoped though I had hoped he might survive to Turn 2. I am wondering if using two might make a big difference, especially in keeping fire off of my rhinos and helping one or both of them live to see a second turn. The problem with running them up on a gunline is that the long ranged guns can still shoot my rhinos because he had a thousand 12" range shuriken catapult shots to pour into them. Have to think about this one. 
  • Juggerlord vs. Daemon Prince - I like both and I think both have a role even if I did not use them very effectively this battle. Just for enemy target priority obfuscation it might make more sense to take two of one instead of one of each. Again, need to think on it more/
  • We mostly play Maelstrom missions here. Objectives are a thing with those missions, but there are a bunch of other things in there too and it's fairly rare that you will be asked to spend multiple turns sitting on an objective. This army is fairly mobile, but it's not really meant to sit in one place for long. 
  • Kill points are a little rough here. Sending an assault army into the teeth of a gunline is pretty much guaranteed to put you behind on kill points fast. Ideally you make it up late in the game but if you never get there...
  • I was thinking Maelstrom when I built this list and I should have stuck with that instead of changing it up right before we played. Realizing I needed to sit on objectives really threw off my game plan to the point I had melee units like the daemon prince hiding in the back. 
The Future

I already have another list figured out for a rematch with Blaster but I am wondering if 3 squads/rhinos is enough? Maybe I should go to 4? I could just double up that first battalion and go with 6 squads and 4 leaders. That would leave about 200 points, enough to keep the defiler or the heldrake in the force. I think a line of 3 rhinos, a defiler, and 3 more rhinos would look pretty good. Sure, there's no fire support there but it's an awful lot of stuff to have to kill before it crashes into your lines. 

Anyway I will be posting another report after our next fight. Blood for the Blood God!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Khorne Campaigns: World Eaters vs. Necrons

I decided to work on a World Eaters army because I've had berzerkers for years and never had a ton of success with them. People have been talking them up in 8th though so I decided to get an army of them together and try it out. My first victim was Apprentice Red's Necron army.

The list:

++ Battalion Detachment +3CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [56 PL, 1071pts] ++

Legion: World Eaters

+ Dedicated Transport +

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 83pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-flamer, Mark of Khorne

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 83pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-flamer, Mark of Khorne

Chaos Rhino [4 PL, 83pts]: Combi-bolter, Combi-flamer, Mark of Khorne

+ HQ +

Chaos Lord on Juggernaut of Khorne [7 PL, 143pts]: Bladed horn on Juggernaut of Khorne, Chainaxe, Plasma pistol

Dark Apostle [5 PL, 76pts]: Bolt pistol, Mark of Khorne, Power maul, The Black Mace

Exalted Champion [5 PL, 75pts]: Axe of Blind Fury, Bolt pistol, Mark of Khorne, Power axe

+ Troops +

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 176pts]: Icon of Wrath
. Berzerker Champion: Plasma pistol, Power fist
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe: 5x Chainaxe
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol
. Chainsword and plasma pistol: Chainsword, Plasma pistol

++ Battalion Detachment +3CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [47 PL, 928pts] ++

+ No Force Org Slot +

Legion: World Eaters

+ Heavy Support +

Havocs [10 PL, 207pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Aspiring Champion: Chainaxe, Combi-bolter
. 3x Havoc w/ boltgun
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher
. Havoc w/ heavy weapon: Missile launcher

+ HQ +

Chaos Lord on Juggernaut of Khorne [7 PL, 143pts]: Bladed horn on Juggernaut of Khorne, Chainaxe, Plasma pistol

Daemon Prince with Wings [9 PL, 183pts]: Daemonic axe, Khorne, Warp bolter

Kharn the Betrayer [8 PL, 160pts]

+ Troops +

Chaos Cultists [3 PL, 49pts]: Mark of Khorne
. 8x Chaos Cultist w/ autopistol and brutal assault weapon
. Chaos Cultist w/ special weapon: Flamer
. Cultist Champion: Brutal assault weapon and Autopistol

Chaos Space Marines [5 PL, 93pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Aspiring Champion: Chainaxe, Combi-bolter
. 3x Marine w/ Boltgun
. Marine w/ heavy weapon: Lascannon

Chaos Space Marines [5 PL, 93pts]: Mark of Khorne
. Aspiring Champion: Chainaxe, Combi-bolter
. 3x Marine w/ Boltgun
. Marine w/ heavy weapon: Lascannon

++ Total: [103 PL, 1999pts] ++

The theory here is that half the army is 3 rhinos full of berzerkers (including Kharn, two juggerlords, and some buff characters) rushing towards you while some guys with missile launchers sit in the back and take shots. It's not a complicated army, and I don;t have a complicated strategy for using them - that's pretty much it.

Red had a bunch of warriors, a monolith, two annihilation barges, a unit of lychguard, all led by the Stormlord. It was a lot of Necron bodies and some nasty guns.

Here's the start of the fight. We needed more sight-blocking terrain so I broke out the old Mighty Fortress and we decided we were fighting in an old ruined fortress. We declared the battlements and towers to be cover regardless of facing so my missile squads set up in ruins and woods and were pretty happy with the situation. The rhinos were as far up the board on the starting line as I could put them. I got first turn and it was off to the races. The rhinos moved, advanced, and popped smoke - now to endure the first wave of firing.

Over on the left side of the board Red dropped in his monolith and blew up my rhino. It's bound to happen which is why I take 3 of them but in this case his big pyramid tank thing wasn't all that far away from my berzerkers once they bailed out. So ... we charged! As did the Khorne Juggerlord and the daemon prince! With a few krak missile shots to start things off we managed to blow up the monolith in one turn! This had the snowball effect of stranding a 20-man warrior squad he had waiting in the webway or whatever the Necrons call their version of it. They can only emerge from the monolith or one of the flyers and he had only taken the one monolith!

On the other side I advanced up the board and finally got Kharn and the boys into charge range of some skelebots.

The rhinos took a beating as I used them to absorb overwatch and generally get in the way of the robot forces. The berzerks performed as advertised, mulching the opposition pretty handily with attacking twice, re-rolling misses, and re-rolling wounds thanks to the dark apostle and the exalted champion. Those lychguard are really tough but they fell one by one and I eventually brought down Imotekh the Stormlord himself. He conceded after that. I think we made it to turn 4 and it was a really fun game.

The game also convinced me I had a sound core for the army but I was less sure of the shooty half. They contributed for sure, but in the later turns they were somewhat out of range (as we were playing long ways on the table)  and most of the potential targets were engaged in melee and so could not be targeted.

I was also unsure of Kharn - yes he's a melee hurricane but he does nothing to buff the rest of the force and killed a couple of his own men during the fight too. At 160 points I'm thinking I could find a better option. The second juggerlord is 143, does a lot of damage too, and can also buff a squad if they stray out of range of the other two characters. A foot lord in the third rhino might be an alternative as well.

Overall though I was very happy with this battle - now to try them against a different opponent!

Monday, January 15, 2018

40K: The First Seven Months of 8th Edition

It's been a glorious first half-year for 40K. The rules work well, the support from GW has been fantastic, and it's just been a whole lot of fun. Our first fight with the new rules was just over 7 months ago and we've had quite a few since then. With the codexes coming fast there's been new lessons to learn every month and with the FAQ's following right along there have been curbs to the worst abuses in short order. There have also been new ways to play with the Open War card deck and new missions in Chapter Approved. It's the most amazing, active, alive six months of 40K gaming I can remember - and I remember a lot!

I've mostly played my Iron Warriors with a few games of World Eaters, Dark Eldar, one game of Ravenwing and one with Khorne Daemons. I've mostly played against Space Wolves, Necrons, Eldar, and Tyranids. I've won some and lost some but I've enjoyed the games regardless and that's kind of the point. Playing more and enjoying more also drives army building. I've added a lot to my armies over the past few months and even managed to get some significant painting done as well. I've spent the past two weeks reorganizing my workspace so that I can be more organized and hopefully get more out of those chances to sit down, build, and paint.

There are more codexes coming out as GW maintains their furious pace into 2018. The new Daemons codex will have a big impact on one of my armies this week and I can't wait to try it out with the new rules. The big revelation from the codexes has been stratagems: they have had a huge impact. "Here's something cool you can do with your army" is a great way to reinforce the flavor of a particular faction and they give each one some tricks that are worth exploring and learning beyond just units and point costs.

My plans and hopes for the first part of the year are to finish up the chaos stuff while getting in some more games with them and then spend some time building out my various marine armies into a force I like for 8th. There's a rumor that the Ork codex will be out this summer and I'd be happy to spend the second half of the year building and playing them.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stat Trackers for 5th Edition D&D

In a lot of RPG's it's important to track initiative and there are a lot of ways to do it from pen & paper to mag-boards to computer tools. I've used a variety of methods over the years but when we started playing 5E I went with the fairly popular "hanging cards over the top of the DM screen in order" approach. It's simple, inexpensive, and requires no hardware other than a DM screen, which I already had.

Then some guys ran a kickstarter for an improved version of everybody's homebrew solution: trackers pre-printed with monster stats! Now there were form-style printable sheets sort of like this available but for even less prep these are pre-printed which means I don't have to go through and transcribe the Monster Manual - instead I have a 300+ of these things ready to go. For roughly the cost of a 5E book I have all of that plus a bunch of blank monster trackers I can use for IP-restricted monsters and homebrews. I also have a bunch of blank character trackers so I can keep my PCs' stats available too if I so desire. Honestly I almost never track my PC stats in any game - that's their job, not mine - but I may give it a try since these make it so easy. Here's what it looks like in action:

The purple sticky notes are where I'm recording the actual initiative number. I'm not sure this is really something I need to do anymore as there aren't really ways to change it once it's rolled - just ways to shift who goes before who. It's a holdover habit from older editions and maybe this tool will help me let go of it.

As the frost giants were beating down the gate to Bryn Shander I had their stats right there in front of me and I DID NOT HAVE TO OPEN A SINGLE BOOK TO RUN THIS ENTIRE FIGHT!

That's huge. I had the adventure in front of me, but it basically sets up the scene, the goals, and the aftermath. I did not have to look up anything specific to the fight itself and could focus almost entirely on what's going on and not what the numbers are.

This is exactly what I'm looking for when running a game.

For 4E and for previous 5E runs I would typically put together the monster stats I knew would be appearing and printed them out on individual sheets. This saved me from using books or flipping through adventures or using a laptop for stats. This tool is a step beyond because I still needed to track initiative separately from those sheets and this accomplishes both with one item and leaves one less thing to clutter up my table space.

I'm very happy with this product.

One other note: Part of what makes this possible is the simplification of the statblocks for 5E. I think it would also have been possible for 4E as those were similarly clean. There's no way this would work as well for Pathfinder because a lot of the bigger and more advanced monsters have extremely long statblocks, sometimes a page or more for the heavy hitters. It's a good example of an unanticipated benefit to simplifying things where it makes sense.

Solutions to potential future issues: Say I want to run multiple frost giants on individual initiative but I only have the one card? Photocopy the tracker, add a colored post it or sticker dot that corresponds to a colored dot on each individual frost giant mini.

If you're interested they are now "Top Dog Games" and have a website here where you can order them. I don't know them personally or have any involvement with them - I just like what they've done.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Savage Rifts - Session One!

So ... finally ran my first Savage Worlds Rifts game over the weekend. We had some character building to finish up at the start but after that we covered the ground I wanted to cover so I'm calling it a win.

Part 1 - Character Creation
It's more complex than a normal Savage Worlds game and there's a lot of jumping back and forth within the Rifts player book and over to the SW rulebook. Additionally the various Iconic Frameworks have different effects on the normal character creation process - some replace race, some alter the number of attribute points you get, some alter the skills, so each one would sort of have its own procedure chart if there was such a thing. We managed though and ended up with ...

  • A Cyber Knight (Paladin Steve)
  • A Glitter Boy (Paladin Steve's 10-yr old son)
  • A Juicer (Variable Dave)
  • A Dragon Hatchling (Apprentice Blaster)
That's pretty iconic Rifts right there for a 4-man party 

Part 2 - The Opening Scenario
I used (well, re-used) one of my starting concepts mentioned in this post. Specifically, the "Slave Ship" option. They wake up in the dark, stripped of gear, and in unfamiliar and confined surroundings. The ground shudders, the lights flicker, and a previously locked door half-opens, and you're off to the races!

For the GM this is a nicely controlled situation that you can use to introduce players to using various skills, then hand to hand combat, then to ranged combat almost like a tutorial if you wish. Less-disarmable characters (like the juicer) are held in higher security single occupant cells outside the general human "slave pen" and provide another way to try out skills and thinking while getting them free. the whole thing can be mapped out as a flow chart  - you don't even need a map!

For the players this means they have to try out some things without auto-starting with "shoot big gun". I had the human-form dragon, the GB pilot, and the cyber-knight start out in the "gen-pop" pen as they all look like normal humans without some kind of special scan. Admittedly, ridiculously high physical stats make things like forcing open a door much easier but I do want them to get somewhere so this is not really a problem. Our heroes forced the door open, ventured down a hall, found some doors labelled "Special Prisoner Containment" and with the help of some NPC's (I have no serious magic PC's and his restraints were mainly magical)  freed the juicer.  

Part 3 - Combat!
Moving through the next set of doors led to a group of humanoids in armor with pistols and vibro-knives - combat commenced! The basics of combat came back pretty quickly but we were all making wrong assumptions about who or what is or has mega-damage pretty much every round. The knight's Psi-Sword was probably their best weapon (remember that they're all basically naked) until the juicer slapped the pistol out of one crewman's hand, caught it, and then shot him in the face with it - all in the same round! The dragon was the victim of horrendous dice-rolling and did almost nothing during the fight - the wild die doesn't always save you! I'm sure we got some rules wrong here but it helped to shake the rust off. 

Part 5 - Gearing Up!
After this fight they reached some kind of control room that was connected to the armory where all of the prisoner gear was locked up. Several failed hacking attempts and several successful strength checks later they were picking up their gear and some "backups" as well. The Glitter Boy pilot was particularly thrilled at this point. 

Part 6 - The Big Fight
They had several options after getting their stuff back but the ongoing explosions, sounds of firing, and "whoosh" noises from outside led them to make "getting out" a priority. They took an elevator down to the lowest level of whatever they were in, The doors open and ...

... they appear to be in a large flooded room shaped like a U with ships docked on both sides. The elevator opens at the base of the "U" and there is daylight shining in an opening at the top of the "U". It's basically a hangar for waterborne attack craft and most of the attack boats are already gone. There is one still docked near the party and the immediately start after it. 

The boat has two deck gunners warming up their stations and a single full conversion borg watching aft. The juicer takes a shot at him which does very little and the fight is on! The borg gets off one shot with his railgun then the dragon sheds his human form, flies up, and flames the entire deck, setting it on fire, killing the two gunners and shaking the borg. The juicer and the cyber-knight charge in on him and out comes the chain greatsword to test their skill and protection. 

After this brief flurry of actions an armored figure emerges from a different elevator on the other side of the docking bay - a figure wielding a red psi-sword. "Duel of the Fates" fires up out of nowhere as he and the Cyber-Knight take stock of each other. Then the Glitter Boy declares "Everybody Get Down" and unloads the boom gun into the red-saber knight.

The boom gun does a lot of damage and ignores a lot of armor. After the first shot the red knight has taken 4 wounds but managed to soak one (DM bennie) so is still on his feet. We imagined he's just punched full of hole except for a line that perfectly matches where his psi-sword was when the blast hit him. He sneers at the party.

Then the GB fires a second shot and erases Mr. Red Sabre from the planet. Completely.

The juicer, knight, and dragon are all fighting the borg but are having a hard time getting past his armor. They've hurt him but it could be a long fight. Then they all back off and the big gun speaks for the third time and blows the borg into fragments while largely removing the upper deck of the attack boat, The controls are intact as they are inside what was the control cabin or bridge, but the boat is definitely a convertible now. 

They figure out the controls and jet out of the larger ship into the daylight. They spot a shoreline not too far away and speed for it as they watch Coalition SAMAS and skycycles making attack runs on the larger ship where they had been prisoners. They safely make it to land ... but what land?

The Aftermath
I know we mangle the combat rules in that last part as there was a lot going on. Autofire - that could have been a lot nastier if I had thought about it and there were several missed opportunities on both sides to do other cool things. The knight's psi-sword seemed overpowered against the normal crewmen but under powered against the borg. 

The good thing about the "slave ship escape" opening is that it lets me drop them anywhere in the world near a shoreline. The even better thing about ending it just as they land is that I can change my mind now about where they are and they will never even know the difference.

Our youngest gamer was hating life when his character was running around naked but he was cackling with glee once he finally got to fire the big gun. It is every bit as nasty as advertised and it's a medium burst template which means things like the red knight's -1 to be hit power doesn't help as you don't aim at a target, you aim at a spot on the ground, and everything near that spot gets blasted with fragments. It's going to be fun.

Everyone had a good time, including me, so it is going into the rotation. I'm going to re-read the rules and work up some cheat sheets for combat, psi, and magic to make things easier next time. I have the general SW cheatsheets but I want some Rifts-specific ones for this. 

Next time: Strangers in a Strange Land!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Agile-Style Gaming - One Year Later

Captain Jack's ship the "Tinasi Fire"
I posted this almost a year ago about adapting tabletop gaming to a new model: Instead of announcing that I am going to run Game X on Date Y I ask who can make it on Date Y and then, based on the available player pool, run Game X, Y, or Z. It's a fairly common expectation to try and build a game around a set group of players, and it's a pretty common reason for games to get cancelled when one (or more) of those players can't show up. This approach is an attempt to get around it.

Now you may say "press on!" and in the past I have done so, but if the party is 3 levels deep into the lich-king's dungeon and the cleric can't make it there is usually some resistance to forging ahead. This is not just a D&D thing either - if Tech Sergeant Chen was taking the lead in escaping the work pits of Saladar-9 it doesn't make much sense for him to completely vanish from the adventure when his player can't make it. So there are plot-reasons, campaign coherency reasons, and game mechanical reasons for wanting a consistent group of players for an ongoing game.

I ended up running two different 5E games this way: I was running one for Paladin Steve, Variable Dave, and Apprentice Blaster. Dave couldn't make it for a while but we wanted to keep digging in to 5th edition, and Steve's oldest is ready to try out D&D. So we started another 5E campaign, this one set in the Realms, and it's going really well. It's now the "D&D game we play when Dave can't make it" campaign.

I've tried this approach for the past year and let me tell you - If we don't have the mix for the "main" game we will still have the mix for *some* game and that means we're playing that week instead of not playing. We may have to wait an extra week or three to see how it goes for Tech Sergeant Chen but it between we're going to find out how Smuggler Captain Jak Daniels, his First Mate Gim Beem, and Jedi Knight Jon-E Wahkker do against the Fearsome Bounty Hunter Rum Chata in the days of the Old Republic instead.

Captain Jack's droid - "Old Number Seven"

So as a solution to the "no game this week" problem it works. As a solution to the inconsistent party problem it works. That said there are issues that arise:

  • A good game draws attention. "Hey I like Star Wars too, I want to play that too" says the player who is not part of the list for that particular game. Do I bring him in and muddy the player/game matrix? Or do I start a new one and create a new entry in the matrix?
  • One player who is part of 3 of your 6 games is out for a month. Then a second player is out for most of that same time and wipes out two more of your six games. 
    • For one thing, this cuts out a huge swath of your options. This approach is resistant to damage, not immune
    • Additionally this creates a situation where it may make sense to start a new campaign with the available players, but realistically how likely is this particular configuration of available/not available likely to occur again? So you start a new game that gets played a couple of times then never happens again. I'm thinking it's better to make it a branch-off of an existing campaign so it can be routed back into an existing game when the time comes.
  • The last-minute cancel: You know Jim-Bob can't make it this week so you plan on playing Game Y. Then suddenly Jason cancels and now the matrix says Game Z but you haven't touched that one in a few months. 
It's tricky being a GM sometimes.

Jon-E Wahker's Green, Blue, Red, Gold, Purple, and White!

The main advice I can offer here is this: Resist the temptation to let every player join every game. If you do that you're circumventing the whole reason for taking this approach. If somebody can't make it you have a game tailored to just the people that can. Don't screw that up!

Also: Don't run multiple campaigns for the exact same group of players. I ended up doing that last year and all it does is create conflict. I have a D&D game and a Deadlands game that is based on the same group of 3 players. It's dumb - don't do it!

The Final Challenge: You're going to run a lot more games as in "campaigns" but you're going to spend less time on each one over the course of a year. How much "more" and "less" depends on how often your players miss. You do have to pick a "main" game - "if everyone can make it then this is what we play" and then things branch from there. Decide the others as the schedule issues come up. If you get into an interesting run and then that particular group never seems to get together again go ahead and schedule a special run to wrap it up! If a group wants to drop one game and play something else instead let them!

It's mostly working for me so I'm going to keep doing it. More to come as things develop.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

2017 was an interesting year - the year I ran more different games and less of any one game. It was also a year I filled in a lot of boardgame "gaps" that I had been feeling for a long time. It was also the year 40K was reborn and became even more our Number One miniatures game.

  • I ran a few sessions of Mutants and Masterminds and then it just fizzled as my players were unable to gather at the same time and other games moved into the space this created.
  • I ran a few sessions of our very leisurely d6 Star Wars campaign earlier in the year.
  • I ran one session of Runequest. Hey, "one" is better than "zero"!
  • I was determined to get in more experience with the FFG Star Wars game and for a while I did - I ran 4-5 sessions of it this year and feel cautiously optimistic about it.  
  • I have been trying to get back to having a regular Savage Worlds game on the schedule and I briefly achieved this while running a few sessions of our Deadlands campaign but then it too sputtered to a stop as Player Schedule Incompatibility Syndrome reared it's head again.
  • I ran 4-5 sessions of 5th edition D&D using "Keep on the Borderlands" to kick off our experiment with the current big thing in RPGs.
  • I ended up running 4-5 more in a  second, separate 5E campaign using "Storm King's Thunder" for more of the typical schedule issues. 
The single biggest issue (and I know I'm not alone here) is schedules: I have college kids with their work and school schedules, I have adults with work and family schedules, and it's a real challenge to get those to sync up regularly. It gets an order of magnitude more difficult when trying to keep the same group of players together for a particular campaign! Now about a year ago I outlined my approach to managing this and that's pretty much what we have done and it works - with some considerations I will describe in a future post. 

In spite of the challenges I am still getting to run a lot so some things are going well. 

Looking back to last year's kick-off post, well ...
  • I was noting that 5E had not replaced Pathfinder and seemed unlikely to do so - weeeell...
  • One goal was to rejuvenate or kill the Pathfinder campaign I was running. I did accomplish this at least. 
  • I was trying to make a Supers game a regular ongoing thing. That briefly appeared to be working, then it fizzled. My players all seem interested but it never really seems to be the top priority. I may have to resign myself to it just being that way here and keeping some things ready as a fill-in option.
  • I also resolved to do more Star Wars - I did!
  • I didn't run any more DCC, Shadowrun, or Gamma World but I did manage to squeeze in more Savage Worlds and a session of Runequest so partial success there. 

Enough rear-view mirror - what does 2018 look like?

Well 5th is here to stay for us for now. I expect to finish SKT and probably move on to Tomb of Annihilation in that campaign. I expect to finish the Keep and move on to the next thing in that campaign. I halfway expect us to end up with a third campaign in it as well - why not? 

We're regrouping on the FFG Star Wars and I expect we will at least finish Beyond the Rim early this year. After that I am not sure. I'd like to do some more with it but it will depend on the players. I expect the d6 game to continue.

The third main game will be Savage Worlds but right now it looks like it will be in the form of Rifts. Rifts! I'm set to run a kick-off session this Saturday so we will see how that goes. Assuming we have fun with it I could see it becoming the "other" game we play on a somewhat regular schedule. If it fades out then Deadlands will likely make a comeback. 

Anyway it's shaping up to be a good year - I have a clear course, a decent plan, some backup plans, and interested players!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Looking Back at 2017: D&D

2017 is the year 5th Edition D&D became my "main" game. Early on we were mainly playing Star Wars and Deadlands but once we started playing 5th edition it rapidly started to take up most of our game time.

This is not really a surprise - from the very earliest get-togethers D&D (some version of it anyway) has always been our main game and everything else is a change of pace/when we can fit it in/off week type game. I've had brief bursts where we've set D&D aside to focus on some other game for a limited time but we always come back to the fantasy game.

I don't mind spending time and money on a game I know we will play so I spent some of both this year catching up on 5th edition - picking up the books and accessories I didn't have, looking around online on how other people run it, checking up on computer/tablet/phone applications, and just generally looking at how it works and what people are doing with it. I did the same thing with Star Wars last year and Pathfinder the year before so this is not a new thing for me.

To me there are three main options when running a well-supported long-lived game like D&D:

  • Run a published campaign - there are several of these for 5E
  • Convert some favorite older material and revisit some classics - lots of options here too
  • Go totally original - setting, adventures, etc. - Certainly an option with 5E and a good excuse to bring in some of those third party support materials.
Now I'm doing those first two for now and developing some ideas for the third so hopefully next year will see major progress on all three of them. 

Knowing that it is the "main game", that everyone is excited about it, and that we're still largely in the honeymoon period with the game makes it easy to look forward to next year and easy to plan out what we're going to do - as much as you can with an RPG anyway. Between 5E's slowed pace of releases (compared to 4E and Pathfinder) and my good-sized pile of older material that is easily converted, I have a lot of options down the road.

So ... I'm happy with it. I'm happy with the way the game plays, I'm happy with what I've decided to do with it, and I'm happy that my players are enthusiastic about it and enjoying it. It's a complete win so far and that's really all I can ask for.

More on the individual campaigns next week.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Looking back at 2017: Pathfinder/Starfinder

Looking back at this post from January this should be a pretty short item, right? 

This is the year I stopped running Pathfinder. I'm still playing it in my friend's Kingmaker campaign, but even in that once-a-month game we only played about 6 times this year. Most of this is due to scheduling issues more than anything else but I'd still say as a group we are less excited about Pathfinder than we used to be.

We had a fight that took up roughly 5 hours. There were plenty of interruptions and distractions but still, that's a lot of time for one combat. If we're going to spend that kind of time on battles I'd rather play 4th Edition or Champions. Pathfinder rewards (some might say requires) system familiarity quite a bit and with us only playing it once a month (or once every two months) we get rusty and the game plays slow. I suspect a group that plays every week would wonder what in the hell we are talking about  but we cannot manage to do that anymore.

I still like the game in general. I still have adventures for it that I would like to run. I'm just not sure when that is going to happen.

Then there is Starfinder - the game I was so middling about that I haven't finished reading the PDF. When it comes to sci-fi fantasy mixes I have Shadowrun, Rifts, and Star Wars and I'd probably go with any of those before I start up a Starfinder game - at least that's how I feel right now.  I'm sure it's a decent game but it's in a niche I have well-covered already.

Will I run either of them in 2018? Who knows? Starfinder I might give a test run if I ever finish reading the rules - a one-off if nothing else. Pathfinder might sneak back in if we end up unsatisfied with 5E for some reason or maybe a limited run through a specific adventure. Neither one is really at the top of the list anymore though.