Friday, February 1, 2013

40K Friday - The Tranicos Campaign Battle 1 - Supply Drop!

The campaign begins! Thundwerhawk gunships drop units of Crimson Fist marines in locations all over the planet to assess the magnitude of the Ork problem. For one force things get complicated early as their follow-up supply drop is knocked off course by unexpected heavy fire from a hidden ork force. Annoyed but unafraid, Captain Banderas leads a team to locate and secure the supplies for his men...

Lining up before the battle

This was the kickoff for our year-long 40K campaign and it was a lot of fun.  This is an escalation campaign to give us all a reason to paint a little more and to ensure we play regular games.

We started with 500 points which is really really small for a 40K battle though it's not far off from what our Rogue Trader fights used to look like - well, mine anyway. The Apprentices weren't around back then. Anyway 500 points gave me this:

1 Captain Banderas (Space Marine Captain) @ 128 Pts
     #Iron Halo; Power Armour; Storm Bolter; Power Fist (x1); Frag Grenades;
     Krak Grenades; Warlord

9 Tac Squad Alpha (Tactical Squad) @ 175 Pts
     Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Missile
     Launcher; Flamer; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Space Marine Sergeant @ [31] Pts
          Power Armour; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Melta Bombs

9 Tac Squad Beta (Tactical Squad) @ 195 Pts
     Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Missile
     Launcher; Flamer; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Space Marine Sergeant @ [51] Pts
          Power Armour; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Power Fist

Models in Army: 21
Total Army Cost: 498

That's not a lot to work with, but with combat squadding it gives me two 5-man flamer/sgt squads for close up stuff and a pair of 5-man squads with a missile launcher to stay back and shoot things. Plus Captain Banderas of course. My Warlord trait was "Dust of a Thousand Worlds" which gave my captain and all friendlies within 12" the Move Thru Cover rule - very nice.

Starting positions
Apprentice Red's Evil Sunz mob consisted of a Big Mek and some boyz mounted in a battlewagon (that rusty vehicle in the upper part of the pic), two individual Big Gunz (Kannons) in the center of the board, and a dreadnought (which counted as Troops because of the Mek, which is a handy way to get nastier stuff into a low point game). The 'wagon had a kannon and a deffrolla, the dread had 2 DCCW's and 2 big shootas.

We played "Crusade" and ended up with 5 objectives. The red barrels in the pictures are the objectives, tying in nicely with the supply drop theme. They ended up roughly 2 on his side, 2 on my side, and one in the middle. I opted to set up second/move second and the fight was on!

Bottom of Turn 1 - Orks have moved, Marines have not
Turn 1 - The Orks move up, the wagon turns sideways for some reason, and there is a bunch of shooting that mostly misses (Orks!) and that which hits bounces off of the always reliable power armor. The marines close-squads advanced, one missile squad bounced a shot off the side of the wagon and the other missed the kannon battery completely.

Top of Turn 2

Dreadnought 11 o'clock!
Turn 2 - Ork shooting manages to kill the first marine - on turns 1 & 2 5 out of 6 blasts land on target over the marines and it finally catches up with them. The marine close-combat squad on the right moves up and then charges the battlewagon, smashing it with krak grenades and the sergeant's power fist! The explosion kills a few boyz but the marines are unscathed. First Blood to the marines!

Death of a Battlewagon

End of Turn 2
Ork Turn 3 - The boyz charge the Alpha close combat squad and Captain Banderas challenges the Big Mek to personal combat, which he accepts. The boyz wipe out the tac squad completely, while Banderas utterly destroys the Mek. Slay the Warlord! Leaping from the fray, the Captain moves away from the raging orks and prepares to gun them down with his brother marines.

This roll resulted in the deaths of 5 marines. Sometimes the armor just doesn't work.
(6 wounds from orks, armor saves are a 3+ ...)

Bottom of Turn 3
Marine Turn 3 - After the mixed results of the hand to hand assault above the marines descide to do what they are good at and blast the boyz into oblivion with rapid firing bolt guns and frag missiles. Feeling somewhat redeemed, the marines are in a strong position as the orks have no more scoring units.

Captain Banderas leads the firing to finish off the boyz

Turn 4 - The gretchin kannon battery realizes that the marine boss is standing out in the open all by himself, and they nail him with kannon fire, slaying him! To follow up the deff dredd charges into melee with missile squad Alpha (the last place they want to be) and pulps two of them. The marines do pretty much nothing this turn, stunned by the fall of Captain Banderas!

End of Turn 4
Turn 5 - The Orks manage to kill one more tac marine with a krak round and the dredd charges forward to try and push missile squad Beta off of the objective. close combat squad Beta continues to advance on the grot battery but the main action is elsewhere. The marine missile squads, knowing it's a close fight, manage to score two glancing hits on the dreadnought. With a roll the game continues to Turn 6 and the Orks still have a chance!

End of Turn 5
Turn 6 - The orks kill one more marine but the dredd fails his charge. In response, missile squad Alpha nails the lumbering xenos machine in the back with a krak missile, destroying it and the game is over.

The Ork dredd falls and the grots are about to die flaming death, bringing the fight to an end.
In the end the Crimson Fists held two objectives plus Slay the Warlord, First Blood, and Linebreaker. The orks had only Slay the Warlord, giving the Fists a 9-1 victory in this first battle.

Battle Notes: Red realized pretty quickly that he only had one scoring unit and that he had made a mistake with that choice. His only real chance was to steamroller me off of the objectives and losing the battlewagon, the boyz, and the mek in about one turn decided things right there. Low point battles can be very swingy and this one certainly was - exhibit A being my failed armor rolls in the Turn 3 assault. I also think that for the next low-point battle like this we may go with a 4X4 playing space instead of 6X4. This would also compress the terrain somewhat too.

Force Review:
Marines: Tac marines are stellar at this point level, being very customizable and having the option to split into 5-man units. Don't leave your Captain exposed!

Orks: Big meks are a nice cheap HQ choice but they are not that great at taking on other characters. Kannons are great, and Dredds are fine but it probably should have been in the middle where the big fight was going to happen instead of way off to the side. The ork shooting ended up divided among several targets  and he took 4 turns to get into hand to hand.

We had a lot of fun and at this size the fights do not take as long so we worked in a second battle the same day where I took the Ork side. More on that in Battle 2, coming soon.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Overreaction Wednesday

Picking up from last week Part 3 of the Next goals is here and I continue to like what I see. I think 3E multiclassing is cool but it is one of the things that helped break the game so we will see if they can keep it under control. Down in the comments someone posted that they would like to see 1E/2E style multiclassing make a comeback and after laughing at the idea at first I had to stop and think ... I actually did like those multiclass options quite a bit. Why not take a stab at that? I doubt it will happen but it's something to think about. If not and someone wants this feel I suppose the best way would be to start everyone at 2nd level.

Part 4 is here and while this one didn't thrill me quite as much as a lot of the changes they describe don't really interest me some of the modular stuff will be a big deal. I do like that someone is thinking about how to structure the whole thing in advance, but we saw a lot of that with 4E that weakened considerably just a year or two into the game. "Cautious Optimism" is my feeling right now.

The Barbarian class for Next is out and it looks pretty cool - shades of the 1E version with a double stat bonus for AC and I had a flashback to my 2E Tempus specialty priest when I saw the "Incite Rage" ability that lets you add bonuses to willing buddies. If I get a chance to play I think I know which class I'm taking first.

The 4E campaigns continue here. The Apprentices have finally reached the Temple while a couple of party deaths in the Impiltur campaign threw the group off for a few weeks but they have recovered now. I really need to get back to catching up on those session summaries ...

The other interesting development is that I finally broke down and picked up Stonehell. As much as I like 4E it does tend to center around those big set piece fights. While I am experimenting with a more traditional D&D approach in the ToEE game with wandering monsters and more open "encounters" it does still take a while to run a fight and I would like something a little faster to run on weeknights. I was looking at the latest playtest pack for Next and it has potential, but it's also very much in flux from month to month making it hard to run a sustained campaign. I dug back into Labyrinth Lord, specifically the Advanced Companion, and realized that it covered a lot of what I was looking for - then all I needed was something fresh to run and Stonehell struck my fancy. So I'm reading it this week and thinking the Apprentices and I may start a new game this week. More on that later.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Extremely Expert DM Advice #3 - Keeping a Game Alive

Greyhawk Vacation!

Alright so you have a game and some players. Maybe you've even had a session or two - success! It can be a real challenge to keep that going though. Now if you're in a dorm and have a bunch of friends on campus maybe not, but if you're mainly working with the full-time job and family and other hobbies crowd then schedules get complicated and subject to change - how do you fight through that and keep your game alive?

There may be a lot of other advice out there on the web but the thing that has worked for me is to schedule your game and then stick to it. Yes, it's that simple, but it's difficult to execute in some situations and for some people. Regardless, I'm convinced it's the primary key to success for keeping a game going long term.

When I started the 3E group I ran a few sessions and ended up with about 6 players at the time. We talked and settled on an every-other-Saturday at 6pm schedule and stuck to it for about 8 years. I ended up with a solid pool of about 8-9 players, at least 5 of which could be counted on to show up on any given week, and occasionally the whole crew would make it for a particularly epic session.
I didn't even know they made these
The DM is the core of this - if you don't show, then no one else can either. So spend those cancellations wisely and sparingly. If you want it to live you have to make a commitment and that's what I did. I kept that game going through a divorce, the aftermath, being a single dad, dating, a layoff, and all kinds of difficult circumstances. Yes it takes some time and yes it means you give up some other things that you could be doing at that time and yes you may have to tell non-gamer people that you're busy with something  but that's what it takes - make it a priority and jump on board! Sure, every once in a while you'll get sick enough that you can't run. Sometimes you'll have a work thing, or a girlfriend thing, or a kid thing or a holiday thing - it comes up but it doesn't come up that often and if you have a standing schedule for your game then you can try to schedule the planned stuff around it. If you stick to it, your players will start to make it a priority as well and start adjusting their schedules around it too.

Players, even if they do adjust their schedules, will miss sometimes too. People get sick or have things come up. That's OK, just play on with the rest of the party. Their attendance is appreciated but not required. You may want to consider your minimum party size to run in case you have multiple non-attendees and know in advance - you may not have enough to feasibly run your game. For our current D&D campaign I have 6 regular players, the encounters are built for 5 (yes it's 4E), and we've decided only to run when we can get 4 players together, so if I have 3 "can't-make-its" then we call it off for that week, again assuming that it comes up before the game starts.

Remember Marc? It's like that sometimes.

How do you handle it in-game when players miss? Honestly I don't spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it. With D&D it's pretty easy to come up with a simple justification of why a character shows up or takes off.

"Looks like the Elf Ranger had to get some fresh air or commune with nature or something"

"The archaeologist is going to spend some more time digging though these ruins while the rest of you check out what's on the other side of the river."

"What happened to the Drow?"
"She didn't say"

Other helpful note: We never end in the middle of a fight. I say "never" because I think I've done it twice in the last 10 years and each time reminded me why I don't do it. One of the reasons is that it's much easier to add and remove characters when they're not in combat. It's also better for their health, because if there is a fight on and the player can't make it, my usual handling of it is that so-and-so falls unconscious. This takes them out of the fight but not out of danger, so if things go badly for the party, well, it could be bad for everyone. Adding characters to a fight? "so-an-so charges through the door" - no one gets too concerned about where the reinforcements came from when they're in the middle of combat.

So after all of this scheduling consistency and regular attendance is only part of "keeping it going". There is another hurdle out there, more for some than for others, but it does exist: Gamer ADD. Maybe those mechanics that looked cool a few months ago turn out to be tedious or confusing in play. Maybe the setting just isn't doing it for you. Maybe the current game is fine but that new game over there just looks so much cooler ...

That's not MY stuff - I didn't like Cyborg Commando

These are the early stages of Gamer ADD and few things annoy players more than a DM who keeps switching games. I've been that guy, I know other DM's who have been that guy - don't be that guy! This is why picking the right game is so important - because you need to stick with it once you get started. Level based games like D&D are especially troublesome when this happens, because part of the enjoyment is tied to character progression, and switching games typically means a lot of new characters and not a lot of leveling up. Now if you genuinely feel like you've picked the wrong game then it's probably worth making a change. Just don't do it 3 or 4 times over the course of a year or it won't matter for much longer.

So, to wrap up:
  • Set a schedule
  • Stick to it
  • Don't switch games

You may be fighting stuff like this too

Now that we have that down, I'll tell you how I now violate the first two regularly.

Once you have a group established and have things rolling for a year or two you can be more flexible with the scheduling. After we took a break at the beginning of 2010 I started up with a group cut down to 4 players. I set a time and we followed the plan I outlined above setting the schedule for every-other-Friday night  and it worked. Along the way we picked up two more and we also started seeing more schedule conflicts. We have high school football stuff on Friday nights in the fall, so I talked to the group and we switched to Saturdays. One guy has another game on alternate Saturdays so he can't always make those nights. We switched back to Fridays once football was over, but one guy can't always make it on Fridays. So now what we do is that when we do play we look at calendars and schedules at either the beginning or the end of the game and we try to set the next session at that time. Sometimes we can't so we work it out over email during the week. 

Now this works because we a) have only 6 players involved b) everyone has a pretty regular schedule of work and family stuff and c) we only need 4 to run. One of the benefits of this has been that we hit stretches where we run more often than twice a month - sometimes hitting 3 weekends in a row. There have been a few larger gaps too but those have been less common than the bonus sessions. It works for us. The group is pretty committed to playing regularly and everyone seems to like it.

I would not do this with a new group. I would do exactly what I described above and stick to that for at least a year before I tried getting flexible. I also would not do this with a larger group as it gets more and more complicated to juggle those schedules. If you have a smaller group and playing the game is a priority for them it might work for you.