Thursday, January 12, 2017

Star Wars Armada - First Game

The battle begins

I finally got to play a game of Star Wars Armada over the weekend. Short Version: It's good!

The history: The game's been out for almost 2 years. When they first announced it I was very interested - could this be the "Epic" to X-Wing's "40K"? Then I saw the price - $99.95! For a game with 3 ships! That's ... out of line. Points of comparison:

  • 40K 5th edition: 10 tac marines, 5 terminators, a marine captain, and a dreadnought on one side, 10 boyz, 5 nobz, a boss, and 3 deffkoptas on the other side. That's potentially 8 separate units. Admittedly, none of this is painted, but it was also 70 bucks a few years ago. The 6th/7th edition is similar, though the price has crept up towards the $100 mark
  • Dropzone Commander: 3 tanks, 3 APCs, 3 AA vehicles, 6 stands of infantry, 3 dropships each for two different sides, plus a playing mat/poster, 10 cardboard buildings, a full rulebook, and a tape measure. Also not painted but those are quite a few separate units and a nice looking set of terrain to play them on. It lists for 60 pounds and so runs 70-80$ U.S.
  • X-Wing: 3 ships, templates dice etc, lists for $39.99 - the same number of ships, the same basic equipment, less than half the price. Smaller ships, but still a similar item.
The other downside is that, much like X-Wing, if you read some reviews one starter set is barely enough to play a game. The popular verdict seems to be that you need two sets to have a solid base for extended play. That's at least manageable for X-Wing as that puts it into comparable territory with 40K, DZC, and Warmachine when it comes to starter sets. It really hurts Armada. I can't see kids getting into this on their own (unlike X-Wing) so I think that limits its growth to a degree. Hopefully it does well enough to continue being supported for a long time.

Now if the worst thing I can say about a game is that it costs a lot- note that I do not say "too much" - then that's actually a pretty good thing. It looks great on the table and the way it plays it does feel much more like a "big ship" game as opposed to zippy little fighters whooshing around and exploding in one salvo. There are firing arcs beyond "front" and "360", everyone has shields, and facing matters. You have limited control over speed and maneuverability compared to X-Wing, meaning that it takes some effort to do much besides go straight and that will limit your ability to do other things well. This comes about in two ways:

First, the maneuver tool simplifies decades of plotted movement vs. free movement arguments in everything from Full Thrust to Star Fleet Battles. Each ship has a diagram that indicates how many "clicks" it can turn during each move at each speed (bottom left corner up there). Allowed speeds are from 0-4 so it's a limited set of possibilities. This means turns are limited by speed like the turn gauges of old space and naval wargames but everything is built into the ship card and the tool - no protractors! No paper gauges for different turn modes and speeds! It's all of the "realism" we've wanted but in the most playable form I've ever seen for a 2-D space combat game. Yeah, the tool is a little flimsy but buying two starters means we have two of them for now. 

The second part of this is the command dial. Now with X-Wing you pick your move each turn and put it down each turn and that's where you're going. Armada does not do that. Your ship has a basic movement capability based on speed and the maneuver tool and it can probably fire in all directions to at least some degree so I don't see the potential for those uh-oh moments like in the smaller scale game. The command dial instead is "what do you want to be good at next turn" - repairs? shooting? fighter control? or movement? The bigger the ship the more dials you have to lay down at the start of the game, so while the blockade runner is deciding what it's going to be good at this turn the Victory SD is deciding what it will do 3 turns from now. That makes a big difference and you get situations like I chose "repair" a turn ago but no one shot at me this turn and I could have boosted my firing if I had known. 

Also, instead of using the bonus effect "right now" you can take a token instead and save it for later. It's at a lesser effect, but it mitigates the wasted opportunity without allowing for a total change. The "Intensify Firepower" command dial lets you add an extra die once during your shooting. If you save it and use it later it's only a re-roll, not an additional die. It's still good, just not as good. 

The genius here is that unlike a pure plotted movement game this is plotting a bonus effect - if you choose poorly your ship will still be able to move and shoot. It won't cost you your turn, it will just cost you in terms of what you could have done better. Pre-plotted movement games sometimes mean that if you guess wrong as to where the battle is going to happen you get a ship or three off on the other side of the board doing nothing for a few turns until they can get back into the fight. That's not going to happen here, but I was still annoyed when I ended up with repair orders when a boost to my fighters could have turned the game. Rewarding good thinking/strategy with a bonus instead of punishing bad thinking with a penalty or failure is my favorite trend in game design, form boardgames, to miniatures, to RPG's. In this case it's a very actual-play friendly version of plotting ahead and I think it's going to be very enjoyable.   

You might think he's going to blast the Nebulon here. He didn't.
My response was "NO NOT THE PRINCESS!" Ah well. 
Combat is fairly simple - that ship card shows you what color of dice you roll in each firing arc and like in X-Wing there are misses, hits, criticals, and a special result. Hits knock down shields (tracked on dials on each side of the ship). Once the shields are down hits start to count and criticals do bad things to your ship and crew beyond just "damage".  

One fun element is that each ship has some defensive maneuvers it can take (the green things on the ship card up there) like bracing for impact, evading, and rerouting shield power. Different ships have different mixes and some of them have conditions on their usage like "only at long range" etc. You can do them once per incoming volley and if you want to use them again in the same turn you effectively burn them out, losing the ability to do that same defense for the rest of the game. They are tracked with counters so you always know what's available. On top of all that the special result on the combat dice allows the attacker to ignore (or turn off) one of the target's defenses. So there's a lot of back and forth consideration when you blast a ship. it doesn't take all that long to resolve but there's a nice set of choices to make between what your ship can do, what the dice are showing, and what your target can do. 

Fighters: Yes they are in the game and they can have an impact but at this scale they are not the main focus. They have a speed rating from 1 to 5 and can move up to that speed in any direction - so there's no need to advance plot them, as it should be. They have a damage rating vs. other fighters and a separate damage rating vs. ships. If you have enough of them they could hurt a ship but I think it would take a lot for that to happen. There's a "screening" rule that if opposing squadrons move into range 1 then they cannot move (it's assumed they're dogfighting) and they can only shoot at other fighters.  A concerted effort to take down the other guy's fighters might leave enough of your own alive to hurt a big ship but I don't know that it's that simple. They feel very ... expendable. The game comes with X-Wing's and basic TIEs and that's enough to get started. The other types for both sides are in expansion boxes as are things like the Falcon, Slave I, the other bounty hunter ships, the Ghost, etc. 

The end of our first game

There are clearly some other influences here in the mechanics. the one I felt the most was Battlefleet Gothic. Chucking a handful of dice for different results, giving special orders to gain bonuses during the turn, and different types of fighter squadrons moving around the board jumping on each other - all of that felt somewhat familiar. That's nice, and yet it plays smoother than BFG did in a lot of ways. There's no pencil and paper tracking either - it's all on the ships via dials or with counters by the ship card. Once it's put together it's pretty nice. 

We've only scratched the surface with our one game but Apprentice Blaster and I both really like it. I think this may have lit our fire more than X-Wing did and we both like X-Wing quite a bit. One of the big deals at cons in the 80's that I can remember was trying to recreate the space battle over Endor. usually with model ships of some kind and some home-brew rules adapted from something else. That old con favorite is now extremely playable - with some investment of course.

The other comment Blaster made during the game was "What of Armada was like this game?" Yeah, I felt it too. This system is such a fit for a Trek game.

Oh look, someone else is looking into this already.

And this:

Lots of inspiration out there. More to come I am sure.

So how did we end up with the game after griping about the price? Well if there's a thing you're interested in you need to check Amazon for it. Their prices change every day. For months they had Armada listed at $60. Leading up to Christmas 2016 it shot up to $80. Then the day after Christmas it dropped to $45. I have no idea why, but at that point I jumped on it and got two sets per the general recommendation. So that's what we're working with for now. I figure since we like it we will pick up a ship or so a month and see how it goes. The no-painting thing with these games means we can add it into the rotation of "stuff we play" without adding a big pile of ships to the painting backlog and that's a pretty big attraction around here. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Obligatory Rogue One Post

I'm a first generation Star Wars fan - I saw it when I was 8. Loved the original trilogy as a whole. Mostly OK with the prequels although they could have been so much more. Pretty good with Clone Wars, huge fan of Rebels. Read a lot of the books, some are good, many are not. Been playing the RPG since the late 80's (on and off) so fairly informed on the "extended semi-canon" parts as well. Had a lot of fun with the older computer games from X-Wing on up through Old Republic today. Getting into the miniatures games lately with (another) X-Wing and Armada.

Mixed feelings on Force Awakens: Liked it the first time, disliked it the second time, watched it again recently at home for the third time and I like it again.

Rogue One
I loved it. I actually walked out of a Star Wars movie for the first time since the original with no complaints. What higher praise can I give? Despite the lack of a crawl and the different music it felt very much like a Star Wars movie - a very good Star Wars movie. I don;t feel the need to go into too many details because I liked the whole damn thing from start to finish. It stayed true to itself with the way things end with the heroes, it gave us a bunch of new things and characters, it gave us some old familiar when it was called for (AT-AT's on the beach!), it gave us an awesome space battle, and it gave us the payoff on Vader that a lot of us have been looking for since the 80's - Why are people so afraid of this guy? It ain't just stories!

One standout: Pacing. This is a great example of how to build a story from slow, to medium, to slamming it home with action in multiple locations and environments. There was a lot at the end I was not really expecting to see, starting with the arrival of the rebel fleet and continuing from there. It was great.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shadows of the Past: New RPG's Coming in 2017

EN World has a survey up about all of the RPG's that are supposed to be released this year. There are a lot of them, and I can say that most of them are not anything I am terribly interested in or excited about but it is fun to see 50 separate entries on the list. That said, the fact that at least 20 of them are new editions of a game or a "new" game for a setting that is not new to gaming (Conan, Star Trek) is a little disappointing. I may have missed some of the other titles as reboots, so we're talking at least 40% and probably closer to 50% of this year's new RPG's are a little less than "new".

Are we happy that close to half of what we get this year is recycled? Miniatures games have some of this disease, boardgames seem to have far less, and videogames may be worse given the numbers of 2's and 3's after the big videogame releases of 2016. At least videogames have the technology factor to consider. Miniatures and boardgames have some competitive elements to consider. But why do RPG's, where the rules matter the least of all of these - in theory - seem to be on an edition treadmill to this degree?

Settings I sort of get: license expires, new company acquires it, wants to do their own thing. They almost have to, because they probably do not have the rights to the old rules. I think it would be pretty cool though if upon acquiring the Trek license Modiphius had said "yeah we're going to use the old FASA mechanics, updated to include all eras of the show." It is extremely unlikely that something like that will happen without the purchase of some old rights or even companies, but it would be a lot more fun.

For game systems that are with the same company it's less understandable. I don't care about the money so much these days as the sheer hassle factor. Oh look "Hammer of Beethoven" is launching a 3rd edition next year. That means for the third time I'll get to buy "State of the Art:1800", "Composers and Combatants 1, 2, & 3", and "Complete Piano Catalog". I'll also get to learn a set of slightly changed mechanics and sound like I've gone senile when I can't remember how the mechanics of the "composing showdown challenge" work in this edition vs. the first or second. Instead of walking the same ground over again maybe we could do something similar but new. Maybe the world is ready for "Swords of Shakespeare", by the people who brought you  "Hammer of Beethoven". Focus on it for a while and cut the release schedule down for HoB while you crank out SoS.

This is one reason I think Starfinder is a good idea. We have a lot of Pathfinder. We don't need Pathfinder 2 or 4 or whatever you want to call it. Try something similar, or related, but different enough that it's not a reboot. "Complimentary to" is a concept I'm a lot more interested in getting behind than "Replacement for".

Grousing aside what am I most looking forward to this year? As far as complete games:

  • Mutant Crawl Classics - I did the kickstarter so I am already committed and this is just a matter of time now. 
  • Star Trek Adventures - I don't think I'll be doing much with it but I am interested in seeing how it turns out. One of these days maybe I'll get to run a Trek campaign. 
  • Villains and Vigilantes 3.0 - I did this Kickstarter too and I am interested in seeing where it goes too. 
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse - I know a little of the setting from the card game and not much more but I'm a sucker for a well-done superhero game.
  • Starfinder - No, I'm not really interested in more Pathfinder rulebooks, but this isn;t exactly a Pathfinder rulebook. 
Honorable Mention: The next edition of Runequest. Reading through the old RQ2 material from that Kickstarter has been a lot of fun and with a lot of the old Chaosium crew reuniting to do a new edition I think it could be a lot of fun. While it's technically the 7th edition of the game it's the 4th by Chaosium so they're calling it "RQ4" last I heard

As far as books for games I already have:
  • Freedom City 3E - I'm actually running a semi-regularly scheduled game set here - of course I'd like an updated, edition compatible version!
  • This is interesting. I thought 5E was the super-easy-to-convert edition? Now we're getting a grab-bag of updated classic dungeons? Interested but unsure of the real need for the book - for me anyway.
  • Whatever Pinnacle does next for Savage Worlds.
So I do have some interest in the new stuff. I hope it's a good year for all of us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Something New for Monday: Savage Rifts - The Books!

The physical copies of the Savage Worlds Rifts books are finally here and I am completely happy with them at this point, that "point" being holding and reading them but not using them in the heat of play. In the kickstarter I went for the hardback versions of the main books because most of my recent Savage Worlds books have been hardcovers. Beyond this ...

  • The ref screen is the nice heavy hardcover material and it's in the lower, horizontal format I've come to prefer in my limited use of the things these days. 
  • The cards are well done as every single card has a different illustration. I already have a few different decks I'd say are appropriate for a Rifts game but these are the nicest looking of any of them.
  • The bennies are surprisingly heavy. It feels more like a stack of coins than a stack of chips. Maybe I just haven't spent enough time in casinos, but I was genuinely surprised at the weight of these things.

Part of the fun with Savage Worlds is the physical part of the game. Props and handouts are nothing new in RPGs but this game makes physical items, beyond just dice, a part of play and it's another opportunity for reinforcing the genre or setting. Poker chips for Deadlands, bullets for Weird Wars, coins for fantasy games, and specially chosen decks of cards can add just a little bit more immersion to the game. Hopefully these will add a little something when I get to run this one. 

Beyond the physical elements I thought I would share some thoughts on the content as well. Between the Player's guide, the GM's guide, and the Foes book the authors do a really good job of covering the setting and providing the tools you need to run and play the game. Experience shows, and presenting a game that is clearly made to be played is a big improvement over a lot of games that to me look more like they are meant to be read. Things like mentioning that class X has a power or piece of gear in the class description only to find no mention of it in the relevant section, talking about certain groups or monsters as common opposition within the setting only to leave them out of the monster section, and describing common but impactful elements of a setting then failing to describe any mechanics for them - these are all common but aggravating flaws in new RPG's in my experience and I am not seeing any of that here. It's written to be used by your players, and there's a lot of common sense. Mechanics for Ley Lines!  Tables for what happens when a rift opens up! "Monster" entries for all of the PC types like Borgs and Juicers and Glitter Boys! A discussion of how money works in Rifts! These are all things that help a GM describe and administer a world as the players start moving through it! Again I haven't run this version yet but I am seeing a lot of those things that came up in Rifts specifically years ago and that come up in games in general covered in the actual game text here. 

Size comparison

A few things I am not overly thrilled about:
  • The "Tomorrow Legion" - this is the "Rebellion", the "Round Table". the "Freedom League" of the setting. It's also very new. to the setting as in "created for this book". To me, as such, it sticks out like a sore thumb. One of the interesting wrinkles of the setting has been that there really isn't a pure good-guy faction in the world. The Coalition is xenophobic and does a lot of bad things but they also defend a lot of otherwise defenseless villages from a lot of terrible things. Various other magical groups are more tolerant but they also tolerate demonic summonings and other forms of bad/harmful magic. The cyber knights are a loose (very loose) group of ranger/paladin/lone ranger types but there aren't many of them and they occasionally go bad. This group changes that, especially since they are positioned as THE organization for players to join.

    New players will probably think this is grumpy old gamer syndrome  and from a practical point of view it is handy to have a group that the players can jump right into from the start. My counterpoint: we've played this game for 26 years without the "tomorrow legion" and we haven't noticed the lack.  The good thing is that while it's there - and even in the title of the Player's guide - it's certainly not necessary to the setting so I can ignore it and go on.
  • "Castle Refuge" - the name of the Tomorrow Legion's base. Really? Could it be any more generic or obvious? It just smacks of not trying very hard. Maybe name it after the founder or a legend or something a little less literal?
  • Different Dragon types - the original Rifts book used the dragon types from the Palladium RPG. It made sense as the two were connected. Other types have been added over the years and that's fine. The choices for dragon hatchlings in this book are ... one type. "Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling" is the only choice given. There were of course favorites among the choices in the old book but to only have one option here is a little disappointing. 
Honestly these are minor complaints. The whole game is a triumph in design, execution, and inter-company cooperation. It looks great and I can't wait to play it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

40K Friday: Blood Angels - Holiday Battle 1

Even as I was busy figuring out how to paint up the last of the Eldar for the year, I was playing a still-forming Blood Angels army in a series of battles against Apprentice Blaster's Space Wolves. I have been noodling around with these guys for 2-3 years now without every really digging in. I figured it was time. Blaster's Wolves have been gathering dust since he got into his Eldar about 2 years ago and he was interested in taking them out for a spin. So we have two not-at-the-top-of-the-heap armies run by two rusty generals facing off. We decided to do a series of encounters at 500, 1000, 1500, and 2000 points. We would only do one battle per day so we had time to plot and plan for the next one and stick together any new units we might need.

The Battlefield

The Blood Angels Force
I took a librarian dreadnought as my HQ. With only 500 points it let me check off two boxes with one mini. Beyond that I had a 5-man scout squad set up for assault, a 5-man tac squad with a heavy flamer, and a 6-man assault squad with a veteran sgt wielding a power sword.

The Space Wolf Force
Blaster had an Iron Priest, a lone wolf, ten grey hunters with double plasma, a 5-man grey hunter squad, and his long fangs with missile launchers and a plasma cannon.

About Turn 2 - even armor 13 won't save you from repeated Krak missile fire. One bad roll and poof - no HQ!
The assault squad took a beating too.

Birth of a legend: Assault Sergeant Nameless survives missiles and bolters and wipes out the long fangs - he is the only survivor.

I had awful rolls the whole game. I am sure the phrase uttered right before this was "Hittin' on 3's!"
I did learn to stop saying that after another game.

Assault Sergeant Nameless bears down on his new target.

Meanwhile tac trooper Hapless is the last member of his squad on the field.
His heavy flamer is not really helpful at this point.

Assault Sergeant Nameless reaches his goal

The legend grows!

Sometimes you have to get farther away ...
... to get closer to victory 

The Lone Wolf spies a challenge and heads for the Sergeant.
Nameless is only too happy to oblige!

The only ending that would have made both of them happy - and that's how it ended. 

Yes, I lost, but Assault Sergeant Nameless was born! The objective cards just were not with me in this one. The tac squad sat on an objective for 4 turns and I never saw one card related to it or another one nearby. Losing the librarian dread early really hurt me for combat power. I didn't mind sending Nameless against a smaller squad but I wasn't going to have him get "overwatched" by the big squad of hunters.  If this had been a Baal Strike Force instead of a CAD he might have lived through that last fight and made one more charge for glory!

We had a lot of fun with the game  - we always seem to with these smaller fights. Maybe it's because every move and every roll of the dice means a lot more. I also started re-learning about charges and jump packs and the power of missile launchers.

Next up: 1000 potins!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Big Game: Time of Crisis Session 2

Against all recent precedent I managed to run a second session of a superhero adventure/campaign and almost everyone showed up again! The Big Game I talked about previously has now completed session 2 and is about a third of the way through.

Our Heroes:
  • US Patriot - super-strong, super-tough, flying symbol of patriotism
    (known hero in Freedom City, played by Paladin Steve)
  • The Descendant - heir to an ancient legacy tied to artifacts of elemental power
    (new hero, played by Apprentice Red)
  • Dark Justice - lurking, menacing, bringing justice to the streets - a dark justice
    (known hero in Freedom City, played by Variable Dave) Dark J is only slightly in this episode as Dave couldn't make it this time.
  • Heavy Metal - builder and wearer of a hi-tech armored battlesuit to defend the defenseless and make a difference in the world
    (new hero, played by Apprentice Blaster)
  • Barry Allen, the fastest man alive, aka The Flash - yep, that guy. This whole flashpoint thing is way out of control
    (This is TV show Barry Allen, down-powered, and more is explained in the original post linked above. Played by College Guy Alex)
  • Blank, a brand new hero and a brand new character played by a new player who has never done a superhero RPG before, College Guy Shawn.
So I ended up losing one player but gaining one so the numbers were the same. This session ran 5-6 hours depending on how you want to count it as our actual start times tend to be somewhat later than arrival times and our departure times are often significantly later than the last die roll.

Last session ended with our heroes discussing things with the local resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Freedom City. The cosmic bomb sought by our heroes was probably the same thing as the new superweapon the occupiers had recently discovered and brought to a high technology lab at their base in Freedom City. The resistance could smuggle the heroes on to the site but could not offer much help once inside. This was fine with the heroes. They began to prepare for the journey. Dark Justice realizes that a diversion in the city would help make the infiltration easier. He volunteers to stir things up in the streets of Freedom City, much like he does back home.

Lilith, an agent of the resistance who had first encountered the team in the outer barrens of the city brought a ten year old boy forward. "His name is Blank, because he doesn't remember much of anything. We rescued him from a secret lab. He has some interesting ... abilities. He wants to go with you." 

Patriot laughed - "you want us to take a ten year old into a secret Nazi base? Where there's a universe-destroying bomb?"

Blank responded with "I can help you" and proceeded to demonstrate his power. Once Barry recovered, the team grew quiet and agreed to bring him along.

Packed into a shipping container the heroes from another dimension made their covert voyage on to the base. Along the way they picked up sights and sounds and signals of the terrible conditions in this not-so-free Freedom City. Several of them vowed to make things right.

Eventually the container stopped moving. Cautiously they emerged - into a huge round chamber with multiple levels of catwalks, huge blast doors, and concentrations of advanced technology. The focus of the entire room was a huge crimson orb, thrumming with power as waves of energy crackled across its surface. A classic Mark 1 Nazi Scientist emerged form behind a bank of machinery and gave Classic Nazi Villain Speech A, basically "we know who you are, we know why you are here, and we are so confident in our supremacy that we brought you here, right where you wanted to go, anyway because there's no way you can win." As he does this, a 5-man team of Nazi Superheroes (villains?) drops into place beside him, one by one, until he closes the speech the only way he can - "Gett Zemm!" and the fightin' commences.

The teams square off as the Cosmic Energy Device looms over all ...

Now I won't break it down punch by punch but in classic superhero fashion it goes like this:
  • Paragon of American values, red, white, blue and star-spangled tights and cape-wearing U.S. Patriot slugs it out with paragon of Nazi ideals, black tights red cape swastika-on-his-chest Ubermensch
  • Armored up Heavy Metal goes straight for blazing white flame-aura'd, sword-symbol-ed White Knight
  • Magical Master of the Elements The Descendant moves in on the greenish, translucent, creepy Der Geist
  • The fastest man alive zips over to ... a guy wearing a fairly normal looking coverall type worksuit - perhaps a worker standing in the wrong place?
  • Blank hides behind a crate. This leave Der Eule, stealthy nightbird-themed defender of the Fatherland as a free agent.
The very first thing that happens is that Flash zips over to "normal looking guy" and in a blur punches him a whole bunch. The fact that this merely dazes him should tell you that this is not a normal guy. As the others engage Blank runs to a crate very near this Flash-Guy confrontation. He has "hide in plain sight" as an ability and so is effectively invisible at this point. So nobody notices or cares.

After the Flash-punch "normal guy" can only take one action and it's a doozy - he raises his now green-glowing hands, claps them together, and a blast of green energy erupts from him and hits nearly everyone in the room. Despite the chamber being 150 feet across most of the combatants are engaged in a very small area. Several of our heroes are noticeably injured by the blast from the feared Nazi super "Gotterdammerung" - basically a normal guy except that anything he touches explodes. Oh, and he was a pretty loyal Nazi believer. Also, due to his awesome combat power his personal life sucks as he cannot touch anyone, or anything, really, with his bare skin. He's a troubled man after living this way for years as he's really only good for being a weapon.

Now I share the backstory of this particular villain as what happens next is one of those unplanned one-in-a-million coincidences that makes some sessions live forever in our own gaming history. Blank is nearby when the Guy makes his explosion but manages to survive. Terrified, as a ten year old kid in the middle of an interdimensional super-battle should be he lashes out with his main power:


So Blank turns off Gotterdammerung's always-on-make-anything-he-touches explode power.

Gotterdammerung falls to his knees, staring at his hands, in shock.

The rest of the battle continues around them as Blank maintains GD's "off" status.

Patriot and Ubermensch pound away without a lot of progress until Blank decides he can keep GD down and still do something else to help and ... turns off Uber's Protection power. Right before Patriot lands a full-strength critical punch. Now there's a visible effect happening to Uber here but Patriot has no idea what it is and so no reason to hold back as this guy's been taking his best swings with little impact so far. In this case, the punch does a devastating amount of damage and has about 150' of knockback. The nearest solid object is only 50' away - the cosmic bomb. Uber flies back into it, there is a blinding flash, and when it fades there is no sign of Ubermensch at all. 

Heavy Metal goes a few rounds with White Knight giving better than he's getting until he takes a mighty, mighty swing (power attack) and lands a critical hit. This sends Knight into the opposite wall and he leaves an inch-deep impression of a human form in the concrete before he slides down to the floor.

Descendant's magical artifact happens to have one form which is made to fight spirits. This is most unfortunate for Geist who is shocked the first time this interloper hurts him. It's even more unfortunate a few rounds later when, after switching dance partners a few times, The Descendant pops up behind him ("look I can fly too") and cuts him in half with the mightiest blow he has ever landed!

Flash, once his initial opponent takes a seat, dashes around helping here and there until he sees an opening and runs around the inside of the domed chamber, building up speed, then launches himself from the ceiling at Der Eule in a devastating move-through attack. The red, lightning-lit blur streaks down to the ground then disappears, leaving The Flash standing there unharmed and the Owl laid out unconscious on the concrete.

Through all of this Gotterdammerung is a total non-combatant. He sobs uncontrollably for a bit, then notices Lilith crouched behind some equipment. He walks over to her, falls to his knees, and begs to touch her face while his curse is lifted. Yes, there is a back story here. As the villains fall, our heroes gather around this scene and attempt to figure out what's going on. Lilith notes that he has killed thousands and pulls out a pistol and shoots him in the head - or she would have if Flash hadn't grabbed the gun out of her hand. She continues unfazed that "he wants to die" and whips out another pistol but Flash grabs that one too - "I can do this all day". Frustrated, she turns to the man on his knees and says "don't you"?

"Yes, yes, why do you keep stopping her?" he sobs.

This prompts a long totally appropriate intraparty discussion about what they should do. No one really thinks it's right to just kill him themselves, and they aren't thrilled about letting her do it either but a) "turning him over to the authorities for due process" isn't really an option because the authorities here are Nazis! b) he is a Nazi supervillian who has killed thousands and c) he wants to die.

This is one of the high points of my Super-GM career. There's not a scripted right answer here. This is totally up to the characters and the players.

It gets even better as Patriot finally hits on a solution. "Do you want to die a hero?"

The heroes know they need to disarm the bomb. They explain the purpose and the power of the cosmic device. Metal analyzes the technology of the thing and figures out the best place for GD to touch it. He is pretty sure that they will both destroy each other without a gigantic explosion - at least that's what he tells the others. They start to debate how far away they should be when they realize it's either going to cancel out GD and hopefully disappear like Uber did or, he's going to set the thing off and destroy the universe in which case there's not enough distance available to be "safe".

Gotterdammerung stands, looks at Lilith. She looks away. He looks down, then steps away from everyone and nods to Blank. He begins to glow again shortly thereafter. The most hated and yet in some ways most admired man in the room walks over to the universe-destroying bomb and places his hands on it. There is a rapid series of flashes, some strange noises, then both are gone, leaving only a crystal rod lying on the ground. Metal notes that it's an important part of the detonation system if his analysis is correct. Flash picks it up and then the universe fades around them. 

They see Lilith moving towards them "No wait ..." 

They are back on the asteroid, standing before the great face of the Norn in the place without time.

They are whole again. Blank is with them. Dark Justice is not. 

"That was an excellent performance" says the voice of the Norn. "Are you ready to deal with the second device?" 

They are.

The rock fades from view and they find themselves in a shining, sunlit city. The three towers of Freedom Plaza rise in the distance, the stars and stripes flying in the breeze atop the center skyscraper. This looks like home! They walk out into a main street. They see a police officer. 

"Officer can you help us -"

The officer turns around. It's a gorilla. In full police uniform. Speaking perfect English he stammers out "Wha-what are you?!" as he reaches for his sidearm.

Even better than the first session, this one will stay with me for a long time. Blank was a totally new character run by a new player. He just happened to end up with GD as the villain closest to where he was hiding. He just happened to "nullify" the only person in the room who wanted to be rid of his powers!`A totally unexpected development that completely changed the fight, the tone of the session, and the finale. It was amazing! I did not strictly follow the rules with some of this stuff at the end. When something awesome happens you go with it! It made for a dramatic and ridiculously comic-book-appropriate ending.

All of my players dove into the genre full-force. There were snappy comebacks, witty challenges, puns galore, and it was just a ton of fun. This adventure is one big homage to the big crossover events/team up specials and the author (a regular guest on the BAMF podcast) proudly admits it. The cliches are supposed to be engaged as you're playing it this time, not just reading it. My guys all get it, even the ones who aren't traditional comic book fans have seen enough movies and cartoons to get it. They range in age from 17 to 40-something and they all get it and they all work together to make it better. It's a different mix from my other games as this was Flash's second time to play and Blank's first. It went really well and everyone is pumped for the third session. 

Fun stuff: Barry Allen's need to reveal his secret identity has basically turned it into a greeting at this point. One hand reaches out to shake, the other pulls back the mask as he introduces himself with "Hi I'm Barry Allen, the Fastest Man Alive and I am ... The Flash!

More fun stuff: Blank grows up to become Agent K of Men in Black. The neuralyzer is just a prop, he's really using his "memory wipe" power.

Bonus Example of Fun: As the teams line up and the Nazi scientist makes his speech Patriot clenches his jaw and responds with a tirade about America and beating Nazi's. At the table a joke is made about a tear rolling down his face as Heavy Metal flips on a loudspeaker playing the Star Spangled Banner and inside, Patriot realizes he's going to get to beat up Nazi's while the national anthem is being played at 80 decibels behind him.

Next session is this Friday. As a guy who's waited a decade to run this adventure with "the right group" I could not be any happier with how it's gone so far. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Old Year and the New Year

Game-wise 2016 was good and bad. Thoughts on it, practical talk, and hopes for 2017 below.

My "main" campaign, Pathfinder's Wrath of the Righteous, staggered through the year with all of six sessions played. That's less than Paladin Steve's once-a-month Kingmaker campaign! We're supposed to be playing every other week but we're averaging every other month! We're a session or two away from finishing Book 3 which put us approximately halfway through the campaign. We started in September of 2013 and we've managed 37 total sessions in the 39 months since. Call it once a month. I like the campaign but I'm not sure I want to spend 3 more years trying to finish it.

This has me questioning if these long term epic campaigns are a thing we can really do. Some of it is the system as Pathfinder is not nearly as quick in play as Savage Worlds, Star Wars d6, or even M&M. I have 3 or 4 more of these things I'd like to run but at this pace I'm not sure I could live long enough to do them all! Maybe after we retire ...

I admit, the concept of "finishing" a campaign isn't one I've always been attached to. To me you make characters, start playing, and that's a campaign - not a specific plot but the players and the characters and the setting.

Regardless of my long term doubts I needed to take some immediate action as I'm not sacrificing more weekends to "somebody can't make it so we're going to have to cancel" as we have a hard enough time making room on the schedule in the first place. With multiple active teenagers in the house and full time jobs this is a thing we have to plan ahead most of the time. So for 2017 I am going with the plan I discussed earlier on the blog:

  • 1st weekend of the month: Superheroes, mainly Mutants and Masterminds
  • 3rd weekend of the month: Wrath of the Righteous
  • Otherwise: whatever we manage to fit in without interfering with other commitments
I'm also changing my "all of us or no game" policy I've been sticking to with the Pathfinder game. That's killed us, even with only 3 players. I'm willing to flip between Fridays and Saturdays when I can to accommodate schedules but I'm going to have to go with two available = game just to try and keep the thing moving.

Now other than this it was a pretty interesting year. I ran 5 sessions of a d6 Star Wars campaign that just kind of popped up. It's not on a regular schedule - the schedule is "whenever I have all 3 boys here and we have a couple of hours free". I also ran 2 sessions of FFG Star Wars. That means I ran more Star Wars than Pathfinder, more Star Wars than any other single game. I'm pretty sure that's the first time that universe has been at the top of that particular list for me, but I'm pretty happy with it. Combine that with persistent flare-ups of X-Wing, regular visits to The Old Republic, and here at the end of the year the acquisition of Armada and it was more the Year of Star Wars when it comes to my personal game time than anything else. The Apprentices are loving the d6 campaign, even with the irregular schedule so I expect it to continue through next year. I think the ongoing greatness of Rebels and the awesomeness of Rogue One helped show them that the Rebellion Era can be cool too. Of course Rebels also showed that there are more than 3 or 4 force users left in the universe and that didn't hurt either.

Other RPG's that I ran this year: Couple sessions of Marvel Heroic (a game we all still love), a few sessions of Deadlands (which I would like to run more), Mutants and Masterminds (getting into a regular groove perhaps), and ... Dungeon Crawl Classics! That one squeaked in Friday night with 4 players, a bunch of zero level characters and a roughly 40% casualty rate through about the first third of the adventure. We had a bunch of fun with it though picking names, arguing over miniatures, and "unlearning what we had learned" about combat from Pathfinder.

Miniatures: 40K, with visits to X-Wing, Kings of War, and Dropzone Commander, pretty much in that order. I picked up Armada this week so it's on deck for 2017.

Boardgames: I won't claim we have a regular rotation but if we did it would include King of Tokyo, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Munchkin (mainly Marvel this year), and Pandemic. Apprentice Blaster and I still work in Command and Colors Ancients when we can.  I did play my first game of Axis and Allies in at least 15 years this year. It's amazing how much comes rushing back after all that time. The boys liked it so maybe it will become a thing.

Games that fell off the radar this year:

  • Star Trek - I brought up the old game early on as an option then brought up the new playtest rules here towards the end of the year and ... no one was interested. It's not like that's a new thing but it means I'm not going to worry about it too much for now. I'll probably pick up the book whenever they publish it but that's more for me to read and think than any real hope of running it. Honestly with an active Star Wars game I'm not all that upset about it. Attack Wing is also pretty much dead here and no one her is playing Star Trek Online anymore either. Even Federation Commander is dormant for us for now.
  • 40K Roleplaying & Boardgames - we've had a few of the RPG books floating around the house but no one cares. Even some of the more ornate boardgames associated with it generate an "if we have time to do that we could just play real 40K instead" and I tend to agree. 
  • D&D 5th Edition - I'm still interested in giving it more of a chance but Pathfinder is the main fantasy RPG for us and with a friend running it and two boys running PF campaigns of their own  I just don't see that changing.
  • FATE - I like it in concept but I don't know that I will ever talk the group into running it. 

Enough about last year!

Goals for 2017

RPG Stuff:

  1. Recover the Pathfinder campaign enough to feel like it's a living thing again - or call it, kill it and move on. Nine sessions in 2015 followed by six in 2016 is not a trend I care to continue. One of my players has already told me he has a conflict with the third weekend in February so it's not looking all that promising on just day 1 of the year! Having what feels like a failing campaign is a drain on things so either outcome will improve our situation.
  2. Make a supers campaign a regular, ongoing thing. The first-weekend-of-the-month Freedom City game is it! I have interested players, a great system, and a plan - now we just need to execute! This one is looking pretty good. I hope next year's summary has a bunch to say about this, and maybe Atomic City and Emerald City as well. Our every-once-in-a-while Marvel Heroic and our equally intermittent ICONS campaign will be Plans B and C here. 
  3. Ride the Star Wars wave with one or more RPG campaigns. The current d6 campaign is for me and the boys but if the opportunity opens up to run something for my friends I will, either with that system or the FFG system. Everyone seems more interested in it now so I'm going to strike while the iron is hot.

Having regular, ongoing options with these 3 games makes me a pretty happy guy. Everything beyond this is a bonus.
  • Run some more DCC, at least finish the adventure we started. It doesn't have to be a regular, scheduled campaign. I'd just like to run a complete adventure as it was a ton of fun. 
  • Run some Runequest - all of this fun with other games like DCC has me optimistic.  
  • Run some more Savage Worlds: Rifts, Deadlands, Slipstream, 50 Fathoms, Hell on Earth, or another flavor of Star Wars. I like the system too much to let it lie for another year. 
  • Sneak in some Shadowrun. Maybe a one-off, but I want the kids to experience it and I suspect I could round up enough players to make it fun
  • Set up a Gamma World one-shot. It's too cool to ignore completely and it also helps set up a potential Mutant Crawl Classics experiment later in the year,
If I could pull off all of these over the next 12 months I'd be ecstatic. Most likely some of them will happen, some will not, and something completely unexpected will show up too - but this is the plan/priority/hope for now. I am having a lot of fun running my own material so I'm less interested in getting in to another giant campaign arc in a premade setting and more interested in doing our own thing.


  1. 40K: This is our standard and I do not expect that to change. We averaged about a battle a month this year but they tend to be clustered around time off with multiple fights over a week and then a month or two of nothing. I'd like to smooth that out. Right now the sub-goals are:
    • Play with those Eldar I painted up
    • Get the Blood Angels painted up and into  a field-able force
    • Get the Dark Angels painted up and field-ready as well
  2. Star Wars is a big player here too. We already like X-Wing and Xmas bumped up our selection of bigger ships like the Falcon, Slave 1, the YT-2400, and the Ghost. It will continue to be a thing here. Armada is new and I hope it turns into a big player, maybe even #2 behind 40K. Imperial Assault is the only option here that has really not impressed us - it takes too much effort to play when we could either play the RPG or go play 40K depending on what we're in the mood to do. 
  3. Fantasy now means Kings of War for us. We will probably get in a fantasy mood and play a few more games. I don't expect to be buying new armies for it but the ones we have should see some action this year. Maybe we'll even paint them.
  4. World War 2: Bolt Action - there's a new second edition of the rules and I am ready to go with a 28mm army option. It may be a few months before we get anywhere but we will probably play it more than we did in 2016. I'm really interested in some Pacific battles but that new starter set looks pretty nice. We may start there. Flames of War is just a non-starter for us, plus there's another new edition coming out which means "wait and see" at best. 
  5. Dropzone Commander - I got one starter set and built some of it but we never played a real game of it. I'd like to do that. it doesn't have to replace 40K or the Star Wars games, I'd just like to play something more like the old Epic scale games.  
Mantic is constantly bringing out new games and GW is bringing back some old favorites but I just don't have the bandwidth to research them, buy them, build them, paint them, and play them. The door's not completely shut but something new is going to have to really bowl me over to get any real attention at all.

All that said I had a pretty good 2016 and I am looking forward to a 2017 that is at least as good.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

40K Friday Special Edition - Year of the Eldar: Finale

Finally! I finished up the wraithknight yesterday and managed to get the stretch goal of the dark reapers (all 3 squads) finished too. I had finished the spiritseer and the cannon battery the day before. Extra extra bonus achievements were getting the second gun painted and put on the metal wraithlord and getting some snow on the bases for one of the dire avenger squads.

Overall it was an incredibly productive 4-day run. I painted up to the point of completion 26 models and touched up or added to another 12 for 38 models finished to a standard I think is table-ready to good. It's been a long time since I knocked out that many mini's. If you go back and in the rest of the wraith host I built and painted from scratch 42 Eldar models this year, along with 30+ Iron Warriors. That's a pretty good year. I do tend to paint in bursts like this around holidays and time off so one of my goals for 2017 is to even that out and make some progress every week.

Effectively the painted part of this army is some combination of wraith host, aspect host, dire avenger shrine, and a combined arms detachment - depending on points available and how I want to play it. There's more than enough stuff here to play with at over 3000 points so I am very happy with the current state of things.

All that said it's not yet finished. There are 30+ guardians sitting on the table along with the associated heavy weapons and warlocks, a wraithlord, 3 war walkers, 3 vypers, and another farseer - enough to build the big guardian host formation and really put this over the top. I have two unpainted wave serpents too. There are two squads of swooping hawks in the queue as well. Those may be at the top of the list before I dive into another massive batch of yellow.

Things it doesn't have:

  • Jetbikes! I might add one small 3-man squad just to have some cheap speed for objective grabbing, backing down on my anti-bike stance. They've been an eldar "thing" since the earliest days of the game and it seems wrong to have zero of them in an army this size. I won't go full scatter laser on them regardless. 
  • Banshees! Not that great under the current edition, especially with no assault vehicles to jump out of into a fight. I'll pick up a squad someday to complete the set of aspect warriors but it's not urgent by any measure.
  • Warp Spiders! I'd like some but I just haven't seen any of them cheap enough to make me want to get them. They're tricky to find new and ever since that guy won a tournament with30 of them they've been pricier used as well. One of these days. Towards the top of the list. 
  • Wave Serpents! I do have two on the shelf as I mentioned but I am not really feeling the need for them as much. The eldar battle focus rule, especially when it applies to the entire army, eliminates a lot of the need for transports. They are fast, but with no firing ports you can;t use them as bolter shelter like marines do while still being able to fire out the top of a Rhino.  I'd kind of like to have 3 of them for the dire avengers to sweep in en masse and blast something but it's really low on the priority list.
  • Fire Prism! I'd kind of like to have one of these available but this isn't a tank army so it would be a big shiny target for anti-armor weapons - even more so than they tend to be already. 
  • Avatar! I love the background and the model but he's just not that great these days and he's not cheap either. Maybe once I finish the guardians I'll cap it off with an avatar, though I don;t expect him to see much table time. 
  • Crimson Hunter! The one thing I do not have in the army that I think would be useful. I'm low on anti air and it's very effective AA and anti-vehicle once that's handled.
So for 2017 I expect to be playing them more and painting them less. The goal of the focus last year was to get a painted, playable army together and I have pulled that off. Now I can add a unit here and a unit there as time allows while having fun playing it more. It's been a long time since I've had a "finished" eldar army and I am really looking forward to using it. Here's to 2017!

Friday, December 30, 2016

40K Friday: 2016 and Closing Out the Year of the Eldar

Wanting to use your Stompa more sometimes means it shows up as "terrain" rather than as part of an army
We had a big finish here for the year for Warhammer 40,000. Apprentice Blaster and I wanted to try out some of our other armies so we decided to play a four game escalation series with 500, 1000, 1500, and 2000 point battles. I wanted to get more practice with the Blood Angels and he wanted to dust off his Space Wolves who have spent most of this year sitting on the shelf watching the Eldar steal the spotlight. So in the last ten days or so I've gotten in 4 games of 40K which is far better than we usually manage. I'll have a more detailed write up on these later but it was good to get in a groove as a lot (though not all) of the head-scratching rules lookup melts away and the thing is just fun. Highlight: Mephiston managed to kill 3 dreadnaughts single handed in two games so there were some epic moments. DO NOT attack him with dreads when his lightsaber is activated!

In 40K this is one of the good guys ...
Blaster and Red also got in a bonus game  which was the traditional "Christmas Battle" where they try out whatever new units they got for Christmas. For the last few years I go find a nicely painted unit for one of their armies and make that a present for them so it a) doesn't add to the painting backlog and b) they can use it right away. Blaster's Eldar (and his new Scorpions) beat Red's Necrons (and his new pair of Annihilation Barges) but they had a good time.

Back to the "Year of the Eldar" - it's been a lot of fun. Focusing on one army has really made a difference. I have still managed to add units and get some painting done on my Chaos Marines (particularly the Iron Warriors) and Blood Angels but the emphasis was on Eldar and most of my efforts went there. I've only used the Wraithknight twice but even in a traditional CAD force a wraith-heavy army painted up in Iyanden colors just looks right.

  • Iyanden Eldar: I am still finishing up the Wraithnknight and the Spiritseer for the wraith host I started a year ago but I should finish them tomorrow. Hey, that's still technically finishing them in 2016! I'm finishing up a full unit of Vaul's Wrath big guns (D-cannons when you can't field the WK) which will probably be done today and I'm finally finishing the first of the Dark Reaper squads I've been wanting to use for so long. With  some luck I may finish all 3 squads tomorrow too. With what I have already finished that's a pretty serious force and it will all be painted!
  • Dark Eldar: They had a really good year. I called them out in 2015 as a new allied experiment and I have enjoyed them every time I've played them. I added a second raider, a squad of scourges, and based up about 40 more warriors. The archon, two squads, the scourges, and one of the raiders are even base coated now! Regardless of what I decree as the main army for 2017 these guys are on the short list for finishing up to an "allied force org" level.  
  • Chaos Death Guard: I didn't really add anything here but I did sort out what I have and figure out what I want the force to be. It's a bunch of ground-pounding plague marines + cultists + possessed + demon princes backed by missile launcher havocs and a defiler. That's pretty much what it's been but I'm changing out the fast attack section from a squad of spawn+ bikes to 3 maxed out spawn squads. More on the thinking here later.
  • Chaos Iron Warriors: Core is Chaos Lord and Warpsmith leading 3 squads of marines in rhinos backed by autocannon havocs and a tri-las predator with air cover from a heldrake. The bikers from the Nurgle crew above are moving over to this force which gives them another speed unit.  I did some work on them as far as bases and I also built and painted the triple-helbrute deep strike formation.  I managed to play these guys a few times this year and I like the way they're shaping up. Chaos could still use a new book but I don;t feel like I have zero chance when I line this force up.
  • Dark Angels: I didn't add a ton to these guys this year but I did pull all of them out onto a table in the last week along with the Blood Angels and reshuffle some units between the two. I still have a pretty good idea of what I want to do with these guys - they are my mechanized, shooting marines. The Lion's Blade company is the goal here. I just need to buckle down and get them to "playable", which they are not right now.   
  • Blood Angels: Ah, I've liked these guys since 2nd Edition and I've been slowly collecting a force for them over the last 3 years or so. Now I am finally playing them and that puts them in contention for being next year's "Army of the Year" but I haven't completely decided. Considering I have most of the pieces for them and the Dark Angels (and the Crimson Fists too) I may make next year the "Year of Marines" and try and get all of my marine forces whipped into shape. As far as BA's specifically after playing them recently they are my "fast close-in" marines. I have only used them on foot, with jump packs, on bikes, and in drop-pods through these games and I think that's the direction I'm going to stay rather than going heavy on rhino's and razorbacks and tanks. 
The Orks, Demons, Crimson Fist marines went thru 2016 with no real changes. I played Orks once and I might have allied in some demons with one of my CSM forces but that's the only action any of these saw. 

I did add the Khorne Demonkin book a few days ago so I may look at building out a force for that too - for now based entirely on what I have on hand. I'm not interested right now in building that up too much but I do have some berserkers, bloodletters, and other Khorne units sitting around. Why not give the Bloodthirster an army of his own?

So today and tomorrow are finishing up the Eldar for now and seeing what I can do to finish up some Dark Eldar too. I may do the Iron Warrior bikers on Sunday as they should be fairly quick to paint and don't take a ton of detailing to look good. Then it's deciding on the big push for 2017. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Old Video: A Night's Work (Shadowrun promo, 1990)

Somehow I've never seen this before. Not that it's good. Now my year is complete.