Friday, January 25, 2013

40K Friday - The 2013 Dark Angels Codex

A few years back this book would not have meant a whole lot to me because I didn't particularly care about this particular bunch of space marines. That changed around a year ago when I started looking at the possibilities of an all-terminator army. The Dark Angels first company traditionally fights in terminator armor only, and in their 2008 codex it was possible to field an army entirely composed of these troops. It's cool, and different, and fun to play, and in the fall of last year I finally acquired such an army. More on their first battle here.

The Apprentices still have no interest in fighting these guys again

Also in the fall of 2012 I picked up the new 6th edition starter set for 40K and though I was expecting to build out my chaos force, I instead was sidetracked by the possibility of a Ravenwing army. After all I already had the codex, I had extra bikes(that I had been planning to use for chaos bikers - oh well) so it made some sense. So I picked up some more starter set bikers and some more speeders and pretty soon I had quite a pile of them, but with word of the codex being updated I decided to wait and see before actually building them.

Well the codex is here and it is a vast improvement over the previous one. Don;t get me wrong, I liked the old one too, but this one has everything that one did plus a whole lot more.

First, the negatives:
  • It still takes a special character as an HQ choice to unlock Deathwing or Ravenwing as a Troops choice. This can be Belial the Deathwing captain, Sammael the Ravenwing master, or Azrael the frigging chapter master.  I used to have a huge aversion to special characters and the group I played with had an agreement to never use them back in the 2nd & 3rd edition days, and we made fun of people who did. That has changed, and these days I am on board with treating the special characters as part of the army, but it would be better in my opinion to not require them for things like this. In the Space Marine codex if you select a standard captain and then mount him on a bike, it unlocks bike squads as a troops choice - something like that would have been nice here. Specials are nice and all, but sometimes the point costs and the flavor aren't quite right for what a player is thinking. It's not a huge issue as it was this way in the prior book - it's just something I was hoping would change.
  • The flyers are being almost universally derided as inferior to existing choices for other armies. I haven't tried them yet myself but I'll take the internet's opinion on this. Some of the weapon combinations do seem a little pointless.
  • Lots of typos - for going to a full color hardback and increasing the price significantly, I expect better editing than what we have seen here. Fortunately the FAQ is already out and corrects the known problems with missing or incorrect entries. 
Aside from these the book has:
  • Tons of background and nice looking art including coverage of the history, organization, the whole "Fallen" thing, and the successor chapters
  • The traditional unit by unit review of everything in the list including background, rationale, and special rules
  • There is a separate armory section in this one, and it's pretty extensive
  • Not surprisingly there is a whole section with pics of very nicely painted mini's
All of this does give a very strong impression of what the Dark Angels are about. The atmosphere is that of a wandering order of monastic penitent knights doing their duty while keeping a terrible secret. Compared to something like the Ork codex it's all very grim and serious. Heck, even compared to the Space Wolves it puts the grimdark in to a whole new level. I can't see these guys sitting around their mobile asteroid fortress drinking and telling tall tales - they sing hymns and chant litanies. It's darned close to a whole chapter of chaplains. If you want a "serious" marine army, this is the one for you. I am also a little concerned that the knightly thing bleeds over into Black Templars territory too much but I suppose that will be handled whenever they finally get a codex update.

After all that we get to the army list section, also known as the good stuff. I'll discuss by unit type.

  • Azrael: slightly better statline, slightly less expensive points cost, and makes both Ravenwing and Deathwing troops. I think he's going to be very popular as he enables the Doublewing army and gives you another HQ slot for a Librarian or Chaplain if you want one.
  • Ezekiel - statline unchanged, cheaper, only level 3 psyker
  • Asmodai - returning from the 3rd edition codex, same statline as an interrogaor-chaplian with less flexibility but has unique gear. Seems kinda pricey to me.
  • Belial - Ah yes, another heavy-hitter. Nearly a 50% increase in cost but he has a better statline, his sword is nastier and he has a few more special rules. He's still one of only two ways to make termies troops so I expect he will be very popular too. I know he leads my Deathwing ...
  • Sammael - the Ravenwing boss. WS up by 1, sword is nastier, more special rules, and his cost dropped by 5 points! Also, he can still take the landspeeder option and now it's AV14 front and sides AND has a 4+ save - yes, I will be trying that out just to see the eye-bugging that will go along with it.
  • Company Master, the generic leader type - good statline and has lots of wargear options but for some reason cannot take a bike! He is also quite limited in his terminator armor options which seems odd too. I don't think this will be a very popular option
  • Chaplains and Interrogator Chaplains - for 20 points difference I think Interrogator is quite a bit nastier - better statline, access to relics, and access to termie armor. I'd have to be pretty pressed for points to trade down.
  • Librarian - Level 1 with an option to go to 2, access to 4 disciplines, option for termie armor - he seems pretty fairly priced.
  • Techmarine - doesn't take a slot but only 1 wound, he can take up to 5 servitors as a sort of mini-squad. He does have access to the special wargear which could be interesting with things like the Power Field (4+ save to all models within 3") Can;t take a jump pack but can take a bike so that's an interesting option too.
  • Command Squads and Deathwing Command Squads and Ravenwing Command Squads  - another set of units that does not take a slot, but could be a serious points investment. It's 5 marines (3 for the bikerwing) and has options for standards/medics/champions as upgrades, and is fairly flexible with the gear. These are the 2-attack/leadership 9 veteran marines so it could be a fairly potent force. I have to figure out how to modify my old Belial-upgrade-command-squad from the old codex into this configuration, and whether I want to work one in with my in-progress Ravenwing army.

Troops - you have two choices:
  • Scouts - your scouts are now just like other marine scouts - skill 3, Troops choice - but they are significantly cheaper. Still very flexible and a missile launcher scout can now take flak missiles. Not sure that's a great idea, but it is an option.
  • Tactical Squads - if you outfit them the same way, they cost the same amount as before - but you have the option not to do that. There is more flexibility here. I can see 5 man squads with just a heavy weapon being an interesting option, especially for smaller battles as objective holders. 
Flexibility is nice but I think we're going to see only a squad or two of tacs or scouts as the coolness of taking bikers or terminators as troops completely overwhelms these two choices.

  • Deathwing Terminators - Basically the same as before with the option to take plasma cannons as the heavy choice and to up the squad to 10 marines. Point costs are pretty similar, they may vary by a few points depending on your configuration but it should be close. They have some more special rules than before. They can also take a Land Raider as a dedicated transport. At a ridiculous point level this could lead to the 9-land raider army (6 transports, 3 heavy support) which would be a lot of fun to see on the table. 
  • Deathwing Knights - NEW!-  for when Thunderhammer/Stormshield terminators just aren't strong enough the Deathwing now goes to 11. WS5, Effective Strength of 6, (AP 4 but goes on initiative), and the option once per game to go to Strength 10. Oh and Toughness of 5 too when they are in base to base together. I nominate this unit as "most likely to be Vindicatored", but it still might be worth it.
  • Dreadnoughts - They got cheaper - a venerable costs as much as a standard dread did in the last codex and can be upgraded to a Deathwing Vehicle which makes them even harder to kill. I think these will be more popular than dreads in standard marine armies, at least until the generic codex comes out  
  • Company Veterans Squad - Kind of an afterthought but they do have an interesting set of options. These might be a better bet in a smaller point game or as a Razorback squad. You can get a  special and a heavy into a 5-man squad with them though which makes them more interesting than I originally thought. You can also tool them up for melee as they do have 2 attacks. 

Fast Attack
  • Ravenwing Attack Squadron - up to 6 bikes, an attack bike, and a landspeeder, which for around 250-300 points can be divided up into 4 separate units, taken as troops with certain leaders, making 3 of them scoring. T5, 3+ save, multiwound units. That's pretty useful. Also, even adding a veteran  sergeant back in they are 30 points cheaper. I use them in my Deathwing army for the melta and the teleport homers so this is good news for me.
  • Ravenwing Support squadron - Speeders are cheaper, Typhoon launchers are more expensive, but together they net out at the same price. I don;t know how many of these we will see as I suspect many players will take them in the attack squadron first as they are independent units there. Still, if you really like speeders you could theoretically throw 22 of them down on the board now - Sammael + 3 x 5 Fast Attack support squadrons + 6 in attack squadrons as Troop choices. Fun!
  • Ravenwing Black Knights - NEW! - I don't know, they're still T5, 3+, 1 wound models and they are 50% more expensive than regular Ravenwing. Why bother? Twin-linked plasma guns, that's why! Highly mobile re-rollable AP 2 Strength 7 weapons should be very nasty. They also have hammers but I think getting these guys into melee is a mistake - those plasma shots are what you're paying for. They will be am early addition to my Ravenwing army and we will see how they do.
  • Ravenwing Darkshroud - NEW! - Mobile cover save boost and a small assault boost - not sure it's worth it but I am open to being convinced.
  • Assault Squad - 30 or so points cheaper but likely to be overshadowed by all this other nifty stuff. I'm guessing that the hardcore Dark Angel players who already have them painted up will keep theirs, but I don't think we will see many new units joining the force.
  • Nephilim/Dark Talon Fighters - NEW! - We needed some anti-air but a lot of people seem underwhelmed with these. I'm asking myself if they're more useful than another Ravenwing squad or more terminators and I'm not sure they are. Probably a later addition for me.

Heavy Support
  • Devastator Squads - cheaper all the way around: the squad is less,  the vet sgt is now optional, and the weapons are cheaper. Very nice for a more traditional marine force, not as big for Deathwing/Ravenwing forces.
  • Predator - Pretty much the same, lascannon options are slightly cheaper
  • Whirlwind - 20 points cheaper which may make it viable in a smaller point game as they are comparable to Razorbacks now.
  • Vindicator - unchanged
  • Land Raiders - We now have the full set of 3, otherwise unchanged. They do have the Deathwing vehicle option which makes them a little tougher but it is not cheap.
  • Land Speeder Vengeance - NEW! - Let's see, Armor 10, 2 Hull Points ... hmmm. It does have a nasty gun as being able to drop S7 AP2 large blast is going to hurt a lot of armies - like Deathwing! It's almost as if the Ravenwing was built to fight the Deathwing! It's more expensive than a Vindicator, and while it is more mobile it is also a lot more fragile. At this point I think it is mainly for the all-out Ravenwing themed army and I don;t know that I'm there yet.
Beyond this their special rules are a mixed bag: Inner Circle gives fearless and Preferred Enemy CSM - makes sense. Grim Resolve makes them Stubborn and replaces Combat Tactics, ensuring they will never run from a fight, even when it makes sense to do so. Warlord Traits are fine and flavorful. There's one that gives the Warlord and his unit Furious Charge which could be nasty but other than that I see nothing especially powerful.

Overall I think it's a really good Codex and is a good model for how these things should be for an established army at this point - nothing revolutionary in background or mechanics, just more options and more flavor. I don't know that it approaches Grey Knights in power but I think it's in the Space Wolf/Blood Angel power range. I also think it's going to be very popular as the first codex with real all-bike or all-terminator options. Considering I have two armies that use this book it has a ton of impact on me and I am very happy with it.

I was thinking that Apprentice Who might start his 40K days with this army but he seems more interested in "big monsters" so we may be leaning towards Chaos Marines or Chaos Daemons for him. Luckily one of those is already out and one is due out in a month or two so we will be taking a look at those in the near future.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Renewed Interest in the Realms and a look at the Haunted Halls

The big maps
Lately I have picked up a serious thing for the Forgotten Realms. I don't know what started it but I have been going back through my older material, stuff I haven't read in years, and reading or skimming quite a bit of it. I think it has something to do with the maps. There are a lot of nice big maps for the Realms and I've decided to decorate the gameroom walls with some of them.

My fever has mainly been concerned with the heart of the 1st & 2nd Edition material.

A lot of stuff on the Sword Coast, Cormyr, the wilderness in between, and the Moonsea.

Even then I can't ignore Waterdeep and Neverwinter, two other core areas

Some of it may have been spurred by some party nervousness over recent events in the Impiltur campaign that had them asking "if we all die what's the plan to restart" - well, I clearly needed to put some thought into it if they were concerned enough to ask. The answer right now is "there are many options". We could do the city/dungeon campaign in Waterdeep, the ruined city & surrounding area campaign in Neverwinter, we could return to Phlan and the Moonsea, we could go early 4E and use the Gray Vale as our starting point, and I am also looking at Eveningstar where some of the original Realms campaigning began. There are tons of choices, all of which I like.

I've also realized and accepted that probably all of my 4E campaigning is going to take place in the Realms and I am OK with that. I didn't run much in it before 4th edition, though I played in it a ton, so maybe it was time. I like having the players feel that connection to other Realms players, and there is quite a bit of supporting material out there on the web too.

So I still don't know exactly what bit me but I'm going to ride it for a while and see where it leads. This kind of mania usually works out well for me by the time it has run its course. This week I have been reading the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

This was a 2E product and for those unfamiliar with it think "Village of Hommlet" for the Forgotten Realms. It describes a nice little village in northern Cormyr, including a map of the village, maps of a temple and inn, and several NPC's. There is also the requisite local dungeon, the Haunted Halls.

The village is well done with lots of local flavor, some politics, law, and economics - this is stuff you don't see much in modern RPG adventures. I liked this part and would call it comparable to Hommlet though it does not detail every house and villager in the village.

The biggest section of the book describes the Haunted Halls, the main exploration destination for adventuring. Several other danger zones are mentioned with a paragraph or so of ideas but only the Halls are described in detail. Recommended level is 1-5.

The dungeon itself has a lot of flavor and some very vivid imagery, but is mostly traps, green slime, and solitary low level monsters (one stirge? one skeleton?) interspersed with the occasional overpowered creature like a 7HD mimic and a 6HD Mummy - it's a really weird mix of monsters and I think most low-level adventuring parties at the time would be annoyed at the lack of monsters to fight and then possibly killed by the tougher stuff.

An additional concern is that only one level is detailed here - there are supposed to be an additional upper and several lower levels (it's built into the side of a cliff) and there are brief descriptions of what might be there but it's pretty much a "figure the rest out yourself" approach. The size of the single dungeon is comparable to the Moathouse from T1 as far as number of rooms and while there is a lot of interesting stuff in the place it feels rather empty in comparison. If the Moathouse is a secret forward base for an evil power, the Halls are pretty much an abandoned ruin. You can learn some things about what has gone on here but I don't see any epic tales coming out of it as written.

Given the potential I see here, its status as the origin point for the original Knights of Myth Drannor in Ed Greenwood's campaign, and the way I felt after reading it, I have to say this was a disappointment. I think the village is fine, but the dungeon is really just a starter kit with no payoff.

So how would I fix it?

Well the other areas mentioned should be developed:

  • The Caverns of the Claws is supposed to be a "notorious troll-hold" - that sounds like fun for a party at the higher end of the level range
  • The Crypt of Shadows is exactly what it sounds like - lots of undead
  • Ironguard is some wizard's lair from an old issue of Dungeon. Look that up, instant adventure site!
  • The Warriors' Crypt is supposed to be a battle grave full of undead warriors possibly held by a demon
  • Beyond these you could also drop in some other things in the region. Given the number of ruined wizard towers in the area DCC #3 the Mysterious Tower would fit right in.
Flesh those out and we have a decent little sandbox area for a new party to explore for quite a while. Of course we need to detail out the rest of the main dungeon to make it interesting for more than one expedition. There's probably more information out there in other FR products that could yield ideas but I haven't researched that far yet. I do have some ideas though:
  • If we wanted to make the lower levels as extensive as they probably should be to support the amount of adventuring they are supposed to have seen, then I would consider using the maps from Undermountain - they're ready to go, just needing a population to make them interesting. the players will never know the difference.
  • Temple of Elemental Evil - use the included Halls level, add a staircase down leading to the ruined chapel level and the subsequent levels for the rest, or replace the ruined keep on top of the cliff with the Temple and mix in some alternate history for the region
  • Replace the described (sparsely described) keep with the haunted keep from Moldvay Basic. There was an expansion of it over on Dragonsfoot that would work quite well.
  • Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth - pretty much as-is
  • Have the side passage that leads to the Owlbear lead to the entrance to S3 - fun fun fun!
I think it's certainly salvageable as a beginning area with some extra effort by the DM. It would also place the campaign firmly in Cormyr which is one of the more well-described areas of the Realms - if that's a plus in your eyes. You could sprinkle in some politics if the party gets interested, add some interference from the Zhentarim, or you could just leave it as a pure sandbox, expanding into the Stonelands area to the north. If I ever kick off another Realms campaign (maybe Next?) this will be one of the areas under consideration, regardless of edition or style.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

ToEE 4E Session 10 - Nulb and the Temple, Finally!

Back in Hommlett the party rests, shops and debates their next course of action. They are 3rd level now and paying a little more attention to their gear. They are:

  • Torgor Bearkin, Dwarf Sentinel Druid with his bear companion "Po" (Apprentice Red)
  • Isaac, Human Swordmage (also Red)
  • Torinn, Dragonborn Sorcerer (Apprentice Blaster)
  • Apollo Magewood, Elf Bladesinger (Also Blaster)
They thought they had arrived at the perfect solution in having the crayfish shell made into studded leather armor, a new type from Mordenkainen's Emporium but then they realized that it would take a feat to be proficient with it and decided not to mess with it, so they sold it to the blacksmith for some extra gold. 

Apprentice Red was intent on picking up some healing potions and did so.

No, I didn't show them this sign.
They then debated for a good 15 minutes on how many and what types of rooms they should get to keep their stuff in - they are treating the Inn of the Welcome Wench like a bank and storage facility! This debate then turned into a discussion on whether to go to Nulb first or head directly for the Temple. They opted for Nulb.

It's a pretty small place
After an uneventful journey - other than the creepy expository text I read to them - they found themselves in Nulb, drinking at the Waterside Hostel amid much teenage boy silliness like "wanting a D&D bar fight" and things like that. There are times when I wonder if they might be happier playing with a group of friends their own age and this was one of them, but it was still fun. Since they were in Nulb in the middle of the day and there were all of about 5 people in the bar they decided to press on for the Temple.

After another long creepy description (there is a lot of boxed text in this part of this adventure - a lot of it!) they poked around the fringes of the temple and focused in on the three main areas of interest - the big tower, the wooded area, and the temple proper. They decided to check the woods out first. 

Quickly discovering a ruin inside the trees they debate about crawling down into the hole in the pile of rubble and after a few minutes rats begin swarming out of the thing, attacking them in droves. The party gets chewed up a bit but nothing too serious and they drive off the rats soon enough. They then decide to go ahead and climb down the hole and discover what's left of a basement, a concealed trap door leading to a wine cellar. There is quite a bit of still drinkable wine down here, and this leads to more silliness from the players ("whoa, this place just got a lot less sinister"), but they have played enough D&D to recognize that this is stuff they can sell if they can get it out. They work this out and then decide to do more exploring before they get too into wine excavations.

They look around the north end of the Temple but do not get close enough to any doors (which are at the southern end) to get into the whole warding thing, so they decide to head for the tower. They notice the ravens, the chained door, and then sure enough the bladesinger goes and peeks in the arrowslits on either side of the door. That's when the swarms of ravens attack! However, having learned much about how to fight swarms from the rat fight this one is over before it really gets going - Torinn throws a flame spiral followed up by a breath attack and all of the ravens are dead in one round as the rest of the party joins in.

At this point we paused as the party considers their next move and the DM considers tactics for what's inside the tower ...

DM Notes: This was a milestone of sorts as they are finally at the Temple itself, even if they did only scratch the surface. Now we will really start to dig in to the meat of the whole thing and I expect my 4E encounter building skills to be tested as we get into more of a traditional extended dungeon slog than I have been running - but that's next time.

This session could have been subtitled "How to fight swarms" as they managed to run into two separate groups of them. In the original the rats are 12 giant rats fighting in a confined space and gaining certain advantages. For 4E I decided to use Rat Swarms and they worked out pretty well making multiple attacks each round and inflicting some minor ongoing damage which I envisioned as individual rats hanging on and biting away. It looked a little dicey at first but once they figured out which attacks were having more of an impact they started leading with those and the rest of the fight went by quickly. By the time the ravens came along they knew exactly what to do and combined with a nice damage roll from the sorcerer (which bloodied the things in one shot) they polished them off in one round! I replaced the giant ravens sitting up in the tower (with a magical size-changing illusion hiding their true size) with raven swarms, mainly because I liked it better. I will post my notes for this area soon along with some explanation of what I was thinking.

When I was reading the description of the temple - yes I was reading it aloud, I hate to summarize High Gygaxian - and showed them the cover picture, one of them says "Is it all dark and stormy like that too?" NO! I just read to you that it's NOT all dark and stormy like it was in the days when this place was open for business! Now pay attention! - it was that kind of run, but we did laugh a lot.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Well, if you were unhappy with the great PDF massacre of 2009 they've fixed it:

It's laid out like DriveThruRPG so it's pretty easy to navigate. It looks to me like they're plan is to go with a normal price equal to the original cover price though everything is on sale right now for quite a bit less than that. If that's permanent, that's a great thing. Regardless it's a good thing right now - In Search of the Unknown is free, most adventures appear to be $4.99. Moldvay Basic is $4.99 as well! Not every product is there but it's a solid start.

It's a good day!