Friday, April 8, 2011

H is for Howling Griffons

In the early days of Warhammer 40,000 people made stuff up. This is a lot harder to do now in the game as so much has already been created that people tend to paint up armies and characters that have been defined by the writers at Games Workshop. I don't mind finding inspiration in other people's work or ideas but I don't like the slavish copying of characters and lore over and over and over again. So my armies in the Warhammer games tend to originate around the fringes of the background and stem from the early days of the game. This is particularly true of my Space Marines, who are painted in the colors of the Howling Griffons chapter. When I got into the game this is all of the material there was on the Howling Griffons:

That's it - no lore, no famous names, no homeworld descriptions or special powers or psychotic tendencies or any of that other stuff that comes in the modern codexes for special marine chapters like the Space Wolves or the Blood Angels - just a really cool paint job and a cool name.

Now early on my marines were fielded with whatever models I had available. Back then they came in a box of 30 plastic troopers for a decent price and could be supplemented by metal characters and specialist types and some tanks and APC's and light vehicles and special weapons. Those basic troopers are still the core of my force, almost 25 years later.

I added leader types very quickly

Next up were some Dreadnoughts, basically walking tanks crewed by badly wounded marines who are placed inside pretty much permanently. One of them was subsequently modified during a later version of the game to include a bigger gun, which is a custom-crafted thing that I'm still pretty happy with.

Marines have access to super-heavy suits of power armor known as terminator armor. The usefulness of them fluctuates with each new version of the rules but I loved them early on and have used them ever since.

The landspeeder is a light scouting/gunship type vehicle. This is one of the original types - the newer ones look much much sleeker and higher tech but I like my ancient artifact.

Later versions of the game added a variety of tanks for the marines and these are two of the nastiest. When people fear the big nasty gun on one of your tanks it's best to take two of them - it's the only way to be sure.

For some time this was just a random collection of similarly painted troops and stuff. What really brings a force together and starts to generate stories is when you decide on a theme for an army. Once that happens then characters start to emerge and make regular appearances and after a series of battles Force Commander Vorzan finally gets to face off against the Ork Warlord Thrashmangala, Scourge of the Seven Worlds, and either dies gloriously or brings down the beast with the crushing grip of his power fist. Of course he also might die rather ingloriously in one round without inflicting a single hit but that generates some stories too. Playing with a regular opponent or group of opponents and using some persistent characters, the battles soon become a mini-campaign of their own and start to sound much like an RPG campaign with stories of character confrontations, screwy die rolls, unusual abilities, and interesting gear. In fact it's akin to my favorite kind of RPG stories, the ones that arise and develop in play rather than being handed down from on high by the DM - there is no DM, so that cannot happen. It all comes about from players interacting, winning,losing, characters dying or being incredibly lucky or unlucky and it can make for a ton of fun even in between games.

Early on I decided that my marine force was based on a strike cruiser, a type of ship the space marines use for patrolling and rapid response. They aren't battleships but they are the ones out on the frontier watching for and responding to trouble. This gave me an excuse to fight any and all opponents and keep a coherent narrative for myself as they could all be encountered while patrolling a frontier, from Space Orks to rival marine chapters. Later the game added rules for Drop Pods which can let marines deploy directly onto a battlefield without marching overland from a shuttle landing first, which is very cool.

I should say that I actually have two different marine forces. This came about because frankly Howling Griffons are a lot of work to paint. That quartered color scheme tales a lot of extra work to keep clean on a miniature and it's all got to be done by hand one at a time. It was taking me forever to do and I wanted another marine force I could paint in a hurry (the traditional way to basecoat grunt marines in mono-colored power armor is to spray them, do the guns, the eyes, and maybe one other spot, and they're done) so I started working up another force as well. Now it became even more important to differentiate them from each other and so Captain Tiberius Kirk was born.

Marine Captain Tiberius commands the strike cruiser "Inceptum" which is on a 5-year patrol of the spinward frontier of their domain. He is assisted by his able command crew of Senior Librarian Sproch, Chief Techmarine Scottus, Senior Chaplain MacKoy, and his squad leaders Sullus, Chekorov, and Uhrus.

If trouble is discovered on a planet the typical response is that the terminator squad led by Tiberius teleports down while the jump squad deploys nearby and the rest of the troops including the dreadnoughts Captain Pike and Captain Garth make an orbital insertion via drop pod.

So yes I've ripped off one well-known sci-fi universe to use in another sci-fi universe but it's a lot of fun even if the other person doesn't get it. It gives me a good strong theme to use when planning my games and when adding to the force. As a ship-based mobile reaction force that deploys mainly by teleporter and drop pod it also contrasts nicely with my other marine force, which is an armored column of tanks and APC's, basically an all-vehicular force. Each has it's own personality and they play very differently from each other.

I haven't posted a lot about miniatures games on the blog mainly because I've been playing them less over the past year or so, but there are a lot of similarities to RPG's. This includes everything from creating characters and recounting stories to the relentless march of new editions and new books full of supplementary material. It's familiar territory to say the least.

Characters: Like Icons 40K rates things on a 1-10 scale but there tends to be more concentration at the low end than in Icons mainly due to the nature of the game, so this isn't necessarily good for a straight up conversion en masse, but what if a single space marine was sucked into the warp and deposited on earth:

An Imperial Space Marine for ICONS

Prowess: 6 (Remarkable) Marines are genetically enhanced, trained from recruitment, and do nothing but fight and meditate their whole lives. Leaders would be higher.
Coordination: 6 (Remarkable) Maximum human capability 
Strength: 6 (Remarkable) Maximum human capability
Intellect: 4 (Good) They're smart but tend to react more from training and experience, plus their education on anything but war is limited
Awareness: 6 (Remarkable) Maximum human capability + years to decades of experience
Willpower: 7 (Incredible) Genetic enhancement + training + indoctrination + psycho conditioning means they are very difficult to control or corrupt. It's not impossible (see Traitor or Chaos Marines and the Horus Heresy) but it's difficult

Stamina: 13
Determination: 3

Origin: Transformed (+2 to one stat)

Specialties: Weapons (Guns), Weapons (Blades), Military 

Blast - 6 (Remarkable) - Bolt Gun - shoots physical ammunition
Life Support - 4  (Good) - Power Armor - No breathing, no pathogens, no toxins, immune to vacuum
Invulnerability - 6 (Remarkable) - Power Armor 

"For the Emperor" - Space Marines are fanatically devoted to serving their emperor. Separated from the Imperium by time, a marine would attempt to get back and would also look for threats to the future emperor that he could deal with now. 

"Space Marine" - Marines are typically called in as the next to last resort as they see all problems as military problems and are not concerned with collateral damage or casualties. They are a relatively fine instrument  in the 41st millennium somewhat akin to 2nd millennium special forces, but they are not dissuaded from direct action by things like hostages.

This example of a marine comes in at 54 points, not terribly overpowered compared to a random roll character. There are specialist marines that might have specialties in Electronics or Mechanics and leaders would have a higher level of Military and combat training. One time-lost marine could be fun in a superhero campaign but they might better serve as a plot hook if you have some players who are interested in the 40K universe. Perhaps some Supervillain has opened a gateway to M41 and is attempting to bring through some Tyranids for nefarious purposes. The marine will recognize these and can warn the heroes of the threat they represent. This could lead to an awesome fight against swarming hordes of bio-engineered alien monstrosities with an effort to close down the gateway before a bio-titan steps through, taking the threat to a whole new level.

Wrapping up, Space Marines are super-powered humans from the future in hi-tech power armor, making them a natural fit for a supers game, a fun diversion for a D&D game, and an interesting addition to a horror game. They might also be fun in a light or comedy game as ultimate straight men.

Final wild idea: Federation scientists, searching for a solution to the Borg problem, open a portal to somewhere else. This somewhere else happens to be the 40K universe.
Referee: Borg, tyranids, tyranids, borg. I want a good clean fight.
Also: Chaos possessed borg cubes. Discuss!

Anyway, that's enough about marines and 40K for now. Next up, a double character weekend!


sirlarkins said...

Great old Space Marine models! I completely agree - contemporary 40K is so ossified in the Canon Cult. I've never understood why so many players seem okay with the idea of everyone fielding the same "special" character. Why not develop your own?

Barking Alien said...

I miss the old game of 40K and it's 'uild your own stuff'attitude. In the mid-to-late 80's I went to might first GenCon and we (my friends and I) brought custom built Orgus Flyers and 'Dreadnaught' battle armors make from Japanese Gundam models we kit bashed. A 1/144 Scale Mobile Suit Gundam Zaku is easily converted to look like you have a 7 inch Imperial Space Marine.

We had this one British guy from Games Workshop you said, "Whut the F#*@ is that?! Whut is it?!" when we dropped those babies on the table. Hilarious, creative and fun.

I might still play 40K if their attitude hadn't changed to 'buy this to win'.

Blacksteel said...

I do still play but it is different from those early days of make up whatever you want. Each edition makes some changes to the game, often for the better, but the adherence to Canon is terribly pronounced among the younger players because they don't know any better. Playing at home with the apprentices I can run it as I see fit but the once a year I venture out to a tournament it's a struggle.

BA - I like the mecha-army idea, we may have used some similar models for our marine dropships back then. There is a mecha-ish army in the game now, the "Tau" and I've often though a bunch of anime models in a similar scale would look better for some of the centerpiece units.