Friday, July 26, 2013

40K Friday - 40K Football! with the Crimson Fists!

The second battle in our 40K weekend fun saw Apprentice Red's Necrons taking on my Crmson Fists - a very different army in what turned out to be a very different game. My force:

1 Chapter Master Pedro Kantor (HQ) @ 175 Pts
     #Dorn's Arrow; #Iron Halo; Power Armour; Power Fist; Frag Grenades; Krak
     Grenades; Warlord

4 Sternguard Veteran Squad (Elites) @ 210 Pts
     Power Armour; Special Issue Ammunition; Bolt Pistol (x4); Combi-Melta
     (x4); Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Space Marine Sergeant @ [50] Pts
          Power Armour; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Melta Bombs; Combi-Melta
          (x1); Lightning Claw

     1 Razorback @ [40] Pts
          #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; TL Heavy Bolters

9 Tactical Squad (Troops) @ 220 Pts
     Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Missile
     Launcher; Flamer; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Space Marine Sergeant @ [41] Pts
          Power Armour; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Power Weapon (x1); Bolter

     1 Rhino @ [35] Pts
          Vehicle (Tank, Transport); Capacity: 10; Fire Points: 2; Access
          Points: 3; Repair; #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Repair; Storm

9 Tactical Squad (Troops) @ 220 Pts
     Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Multi-Melta;
     Flamer; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Space Marine Sergeant @ [41] Pts
          Power Armour; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Power Weapon (x1); Bolter

     1 Rhino @ [35] Pts
          Vehicle (Tank, Transport); Capacity: 10; Fire Points: 2; Access
          Points: 3; Repair; #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Repair; Storm

4 Scout Squad (Troops) @ 90 Pts
     Scout Armour; Bolt Pistol (x4); Sniper Rifle (x3); Heavy Bolter w/Hellfire
     Rounds; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Scout Sergeant @ [28] Pts
          Scout Armour; Bolt Pistol; Sniper Rifle; Frag Grenades; Krak
          Grenades; Melta Bombs

1 Predator (Heavy Support) @ 85 Pts
     #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; 2 Spons. Hvy Bolters; Turret Autocannon

1 Predator (Heavy Support) @ 165 Pts
     #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; 2 Sponson Lascannon; Turret TL Lascannons

1 Whirlwind (Heavy Support) @ 85 Pts
     #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Whirlwind Multiple ML

Models in Army: 37

Total Army Cost: 1250

Almost twice as many models as the previous battle and a bunch of vehicles! Now I may regret taking a mechanized force against Necrons but I wanted to get a decent chunk of my Fists on the table for a game in at least a somewhat similar fashion to the way I intend to field them at higher point levels, so that's what I did. The core concept of this army is Tacs in Rhinos + Pedro & scoring Sterngard in either Razorbacks or Drop Pods with Predators/Vindicators/Whirlwinds as heavy support. Termies or Dreads fill out the elites. Fast attack at the moment is a speeder - yeah we're a little light there after donating the assault squad to the new Blood Angels army across the room.

The Setup

We ended up with "The Relic", probably the most controversial mission in 40K 6E as it's a single objective that is movable, and some armies are far more mobile than others (hello Eldar jet bikes!), giving them an instant advantage. Neither of us had an especially mobile army so we went with it as-is. We had the diagonal setup too, which is fine for variation but it's a pain to figure over a terrain-filled board.

Speaking of terrain we are working on a themed-terrain setup and I wanted to get some prototypes on the table so those Mountain Dew cans showed up. Hopefully in their next appearance they will be fully dressed as "fuel storage tanks". I also wanted some LOS blocking terrain on the table for a change, especially since I had that Whirlwind.

The plan was to use the sterngard and tac marines as my retrieval force, possibly sacrificing one of them to protect another. The whirlwind, scouts, razorback, and dakka pred would concentrate on thinning the warrior squads while the annihilator pred would focus on blowing up the monolith when it arrived. I was really worried about how to deal with it as it's tough, deadly, and can teleport his troops around the board.  The sterngard had combi-meltas especially for dealing with it, as did the one tac squad with the multi-melta, and the other sergeants had melta bombs if things got desperate. Between these and the lascannon pred I hoped I had enough to handle it.

End of Turn 1
Turn 1 was fairly quiet as we both closed in on the Relic. With no monolith to shoot the laser predator shot up the destroyers and the last one was killed by a storm bolter shot from the rhino - first blood to the marines. Marines and the dakka pred shot up the wraiths, cutting them down to one. Red took a hull point off of the rhino and that was about it.

End of Turn 2
 Turn 2 - enter the monolith! My rhino and the combat squad are blown away. The other rhino is blown up and the tac squad inside dismounts with no casualties. The warriors move up to surround the objective.

The Necrons move in

I was not terribly concerned yet but I realized most of my melta was on the opposite side of the field from the monolith and out of range, so the predator was going to have to do the heavy lifting. Also the whirlwind wasn't hitting !#$@ after two shots. The sterngard can't get into the ruins so they park on the edge and shoot what they can.

Turn 3
Turn 3 continued the slow amping up of tension. I blew a hull point of the monolith and shot up the warrior squad on the objective.

Turn 4
Turn 4 the necrons shoot up my missile launcher combat squad who break and flee the woods. They also take a hull point off of the predator, while I take another one off of the monolith.

However, the warriors on the Relic are looking mighty thin ...

Turn 5
Turn 5 is one of mixed emotions - his secondary leader charges in and destroys my laser predator while his other unit of warriors move into the woods vacated by the missile squad and then shoot them off of the table. The monolith teleports his 3rd unit of warriors in front of the dakka predator and they blow it away with gauss fire. But ... tac squad and sterngard move in on the objective after wiping out the last of the warriors holding it. So it's a rough turn, but now I'm holding the only objective AND if he wants to come park that monolith next to a bunch of melta shots I'm happy to accommodate him!

End of game die roll is high and the game continues.

Turn 6
He only has one unit close enough to intervene and I charge them with Pedro and the sterngard while the tac squad moves off with their prize.

Pedro shouts "remember the mission" as he beats down multiple necrons. The rest of the sterngard are lost but the tactical marines move safely away and the game ends! Crimson Fists win with objective + first blood vs. nothing!

The main difference here is that I remembered the victory conditions and Red started acting like we were playing for killpoints about halfway through the game. Sidetracked with blowing up my tanks, he didn't have enough units in the right place to pull out a win. More than any skill issues or army list issues that's what really determined the outcome here. Sometimes that's all it is.

The whirlwind did very little but I'm not giving up on it yet. I did like the ability to get tac marines into the center of the field by turn 2 so I think there is still a place for the mechanized marine force in 6th edition, despite the lessening of vehicles. I also really like scoring sterngard, so Pedro has found a home.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It's that time of year - The Crush!

(Hey, it came up under "Gen Con Cosplay" - how could I not use them?)
It's that time of year when new games come out at a blistering pace. We've already seen Shadowrun's new edition and Edge of the Empire in the last few weeks DC Universe is shipping in book form. 13th Age is shipping now. Numenera releases in a few weeks. Stark City for ICONS and the M&M Anniversary Edition rulebook are due out next month. Pathfinder has the usual torrent of stuff. WOTC has a fair amount of Gen Con specialness for Next. I'm sure there are releases for everything from Rifts to Doctor Who as well. It's a firehose of game books!

I can't help but wonder if this hurts game companies on some level as there's only so much disposable income to go around within a certain time period and if someone is travelling to Gen Con it seems logical that they would have less money to spend on books than if they were at home doing their usual routine. Regardless, it's been the model for so long now I can't see it changing on its own but I wonder if the continuing popularity of kickstarter will have an impact? Good ideas and organizing a KS can happen year-round. Will that be the next trend - timing your kickstarter to enable having a product to sell at Gen Con? I'm just wondering out loud but I can see some experienced KS users making that a consideration on their next effort.

It's also interesting to watch the tactical maneuvering around Gen Con as well. If you release a new game at the con then you can post up a video of the design team opening up the game with a cheering crowd - not a bad way to promote the game. There is a risk though of being lost in the flood of other releases at the con as several days of cool new things bury your story. I know it seems like there are cool new things announced or released there every year that I manage to miss in the wave of news that washes over the web that week.

Some companies want some spotlight time all to themselves and release a few weeks to a month prior to the big con. This gives them a certain window of buzz as the only big news of the week. I think this is what we saw with Edge of the Empire and Shadowrun and it seems to be working alright for them. I wonder if it hurts sales though - if some hot new game is released in mid-July am I really going to wait a month to pick it up at the con? Maybe having a second product - a new adventure, a DM screen - maybe that's the trick to mitigating that and keeping the buzz going.

Star Wars is an odd case - they were in production almost continuously from 1987 on, then finally petered out in 2010. Then we went through 2011 with noting new. Last year saw the announcement and I believe they had the beta rulebook available and now this year we have the finished core book. I'm betting with FFG behind them now and with a core book out the door that we will be seeing a lot of Star Wars over the next few years. I'm taking their 40K line as a guide and if that holds up there will not be a lack of material.

With DC complete and Marvel cancelled there are no new comic book RPG releases for this one. Any bets on how long that will last? With almost quarterly releases of superhero movies you would think someone could figure out how to sustain a game for a few years but no one has in quite a while.

We haven't had any new Star Trek for years either. Again, there have been a couple of fairly popular movies in recent years, but no new RPG. I wonder if anyone has even tried for the license recently? Oh well, one of these years Traveller Prime Directive will get finished and I'm still interested in trying that. Maybe next year.

Finally, for the second year in a row, no new D&D stuff.  Sure, there's been some old D&D stuff coming out, and there are some Next adventures or documents being passed out there, but no "Complete Book of Modrons" or "Player's Handbook VI" or anything like that. There's a fair amount of hubbub around their new Forgotten Realms update kickoff as well. I suspect this will be the last year 4th edition is even mentioned. Next year though ... next year will be a massive August for D&D as whatever the new edition turns out to be will be released and it will be THE thing for Gen Con. Hopefully it's worth the hype.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shadowrun 5, Part 1 - The Setting

It's funny coming back to a game after skipping an edition. It's a rare thing for me, I can only think of a few games where it's happened, and none of them were games I spent as much time with as Shadowrun. I picked up 1st edition around the time it came out, 2nd edition when it came out, and 3rd when it came out, and played and ran at least a short campaign in each one. We had a blast and over time I have picked up every book published for those three editions. I was a pretty solid fan and it was one of our main games of the 90's. Then in 2004 the 4th edition came out and changed a lot of the core setting and mechanics of the game and I skipped it - never bought a single book, did not run or play a single session of it. But that was then and this is now.

Nine years later the 5th edition is out and is supposed to be bringing back some elements of the older editions (you know a lot of this sounds familiar, what is it with 4th & 5th editions of RPG's?) and I decided to give it a look. Since it's a futuristic game I decided to go high tech and get the PDF instead of the printed version. This is written from the point of view of a long time fan who hasn't paid attention since 3rd edition but is willing to give the new stuff a chance. I'm breaking it into at least two parts - setting and mechanics.

If you're not familiar with the game, allow me to quote myself from an earlier post:

The background (which I assume most people know by now) is a baseline cyberpunk society recovering from a worldwide internet crash when the world is unexpectedly invaded by the Player's Handbook. Suddenly walking around town with a katana makes sense, especially if you have wired reflexes, body plating, and a friendly mage nearby to heal you. You can get claws like Wolverine, guns like Neo, and throw spells like Dr Strange, although probably not all in one character as magic and cyberware tend to not get along.

That's the basics.

This will probably always be the definitive cover for me
I've decided against doing an exhaustive page by page review - there is a lot of book here -  so let me hit the high points as a returning player/GM:

  • There is a lot of short fiction in here, at the beginning and spread throughout the book. Normally I think a little goes a long way when it comes to this kind of thing but so far it hasn't annoyed me.  I think SR is unusual in that the stories do closely reflect how the game typically works for most groups, and they effectively communicate how it's supposed to feel. So I'm OK with this approach.
  • Early in the book there's a page of the slang used in SR and after skipping most of the past 9 years I still knew what almost all of them meant. It felt like a familiar place after reading through that and realizing I was not as out of touch as I had feared. This is another atmospheric touch that I liked.
  • There is a section on what is effectively the "theme" of the game: that everything has a price. This section breaks it down from the "price" of magic to cyberware to the corps to the shadows - very nice and again, setting up a consistent feel for the game.
  • There is a short overview of the world and who runs each part of it. Brief but effective in highlighting that some of it is familiar and some of it is completely different.
  • Then we get to a more detailed focus on a typical character with several sections including "A day in your life", "what you might be doing", and "The Opposition" which focuses on the megacorps of 2075, organized crime, and the other groups you might encounter violently.
Now all of this is in the first 40-something pages of the book. The rest of the 400+ pages is general rules, combat rules, sections on each "power source" from magic to the matrix and the rest, a bunch of gear, and a pretty hefty gamemaster section. I haven't finished reading all of that yet, and it looks pretty heavy, but old SR was pretty intuitive so I'm hoping this is as well. Also, it seems to have more illustrations than the 3rd edition books at least so I'm not staring at multi-page walls of text describing gear with no visuals as in that edition - that's a good thing.

Although this new cover has grown on me
As a returning player/GM I will say so far, so good - I like what I'm reading. The timeline has moved up from the 2060-something I remember to 2075 so there are some changes but at the same time there are a lot of familiar names and places. The default setting is back to Seattle but other options are mentioned. The gear and guns seem familiar enough and the full-VR Matrix has a role again in addition to the wireless augmented reality Matrix that came along in 4th edition. Magic is magic and most of the old stuff seems to be accounted for as well. There's a very familiar feel about it, from the language to the world, to how tings work, to the outlines of the shadowrunning life. I am very optimistic about this one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

13th Age - The Rest of the Game

Last week I waxed on about the Icons and Relationships element of the game and I really liked it. I like some of the other parts of the game as well and thought I would share those too.

  • "One Unique Thing" - players declare one unique aspect of their characters at start. Maybe they are the only Klingon in Star Fleet or the Last Son of Krypton  - well, maybe not those in particular. Anyway the idea is to state something that makes the character unique. Now the old school side of me says "great, another special snowflake thing" but it doesn't really bother me that much. Heck, in the old days the idea that my magic-user wore red robes and was bald was about the only thing that made him different from a friend's magic user that wore blue robes and a pointy hat. Having something codified into the character building process to isn't automatically bad. Also, it comes across like a Fate Aspect, something that can be occasionally tapped in a social situation rather than a combat modifier so the power implications should be minimal. 
  • "Backgrounds" - This is a new take on skills that is more retro than it first appears. Each class has a certain number of points to spend on backgrounds - moisture farmer, bush pilot, desert scout. The number of points spent becomes the skill modifier applied to any roll where that background might be relevant. So if I had 8 points to spend I might put 2 into moisture farmer, 2 into desert scout, and 4 into bush pilot. If I find myself trying to fly a ship later, I can use that bush pilot background for a +4 bonus on my skills to fly it. 
    • This is a nice flavorful way of keeping a "skill check" mechanic in the game that stays away from detailed point management (like 4E did with "trained" or "untrained" skills and then goes beyond that to stay away from detailed skill management altogether. It's much more like the Secondary Skills of AD&D where a character used to be a farmer or hunter or something and could use that when discussing things with the DM. 
    • It also gives the potential for some fun interaction ala Marvel Heroic as players attempt to justify including the bonus from their backgrounds in all kinds of unexpected situations. This on-the-fly development doesn't necessarily show up on the page but it does come out in play. The relevant ability is also something to be determined on the spot and that should add even more fun to the discussion. 
    • The default assumption is a varying number of points per class but there is a note that that's primarily to honor previous editions and that giving all characters the same number of points isn't going to unbalance anything in this version of the game. That's probably the direction I would lean.
    • There is no built-in advancement of the number of background points but there is the option to take a Feat that adds to them, so the option is there for players who want it. Nicely done.
  • Gear is simplified in a lot of ways. Armor is heavy or light, no need to determine exactly what make it is except for flavor. Weapons are divided into a number of types like light/heavy and one or two handed and even that is an abstraction I am prepared to live with - it worked fine for Warhammer so it should be acceptable here. 
  • Classes are less hard-coded as most pick from a menu of class talents and feats to determine their abilities rather than a fixed list. I like what I see though I expect playing would expose some favorites and some potential weaknesses. The designers are straight-up here, noting that a barbarian is much simpler to run than a wizard and describing the differences between each class is a solid way.
  • Combat changes include general simplification, damage adjustments, and the escalation die.
    • There are fewer modifiers, fewer defenses, fewer conditions, no grid requirement, and much less positioning and AoO tracking. Fighting in Spirit is a nice little rule allowing a downed character to throw a +1 on another character, chalking it up to inspiration or the force or past training.
    • Damage is basically 1 die per level. If you use a sword for 1d8 at 1st level, you're doing 5d8 with it at 5th level. Ability modifiers double at 5th to keep them from becoming less relevant. This sounds similar to what Tunnels & Trolls does and I bet it works just fine.
    • The Escalation Die is a mechanic I like - At the beginning of combat it is zero. As of round 2 put out a d6 set to "1" and move it up each round til it maxes at 6. This is a to-hit modifier for the PC's and a few special monsters. The idea is to speed up combat but it has some other interesting effects as well. Players are less likely to open with an alpha strike, instead waiting until hey have a solid bonus to add to their big blast. It also adds some dramatic tension to the fight as I suspect being at 0 or 1 is going to feel "down" to most players after they get used to the system. It also gives a nice mechanic to hook things on (like bloodied did for 4E) and some class abilities do tie in to the escalation die count. Also, there are monsters that can interfere with it as well. I think it has a ton of potential.
  • Incremental advances are a way of smoothing out the leveling process. After each session, players can choose one part of the goodies form gaining a level (there is a list) and apply that to the character. This is a lot like the career advancement scheme from WFRP and I think it's a great idea. I don;t know that there are enough advances to gain one at the recommended rate, but I think it's something each group could figure out fairly quickly. 
  • Monsters have quite a few changes and I like pretty much all of them. There are rules for mook monsters which are somewhere between the swarm rules and the minion rules from 3rd & 4th edition. Damage from monsters is fixed but has some triggered effects based on to hit rolls which keep things interesting. There are also some that key off of the escalation die which is cool too. There is also some interesting adjustment to the usual save or die type attacks that looks like it could work well - something I'd really like to test in play.
  • Setting: I skimmed it. I didn't see anything I hated about it, I'm just not that interested in another fantasy setting when I have so many already. Conversion and adaptation would be the main plan here.
Possible Escalation Die candidate? Especially for a Roman-themed game?

Alright so there are a lot of parts I liked. What would I do with it?

If I was starting up a new D&D type campaign in August or later I would give it a serious look. Maybe take an existing D&D adventure, do some light conversion work, run it and see how things went and whether my players liked it.

As a DM running an existing 4E game ... well, there are parts I could take but I'm not going to scrap my current rules for these unless my players suddenly mutinied and demanded it, and even then scaling down from 30 levels to 10 would be pretty tricky. I could layer the icons and relationships over 4E if I wanted to, and the escalation die might be fun but without monster abilities triggering off of that it might not be quite as complete. I'm going to think about it.

The main thing I worry about with a game like this is that although it's getting a ton of attention now where will it be in a year or two? Castles and Crusades was a big deal when it came out as a lighter, more old school flavor of 3E and how active is out for it now beyond occasional adventures? How many groups are playing it? I loved Arcana Unearthed and later Arcana Evolved and they had a good run for maybe 4 years and now there's not much support at all. Book of Iron Might was the same way. With everything from Numenera next month to the ramping up of "next" over the next year to the ongoing Pathfinder juggernaut, I'm not sure how well or how long it's going to be supported. Maybe in the age of the kickstarter this is no longer the problem it once was but I'm leery of buying into a game that's a new flavor of D&D without actually being D&D. Sure it worked for Pathfinder but I'm not sure we're going to see the same thing here. There's a cost there, partly financial and partly not, and I may wait awhile to see if it's worth going all-in. One bright side: at least there's no licensing issue like there was with MWP and Marvel.