Friday, November 22, 2013

40k Friday - Heavy Weapons: Havocs and Devastators

Lately I've been picking up some heavy weapon infantry for my marines. It's an area I felt was lacking and I had a chance to rectify that. I thought I would talk a little bit about why.

Going back to the early days of 1st edition devastator squads were fairly common. Most of what we had were infantry figures anyway, and various single metal figures and plastic or metal weapons were easy enough to come by in those packs. Vehicles were a lot less common in those days other than dreadnoughts, land speeders, and some bikes, so you didn't see massed tank armies on the table, especially in the RT days. Back then a marine devastator squad was 330 pts vs 250 for a tactical squad and that bought you two missile launchers and two heavy bolters vs the single missile launcher and flamer of a tac squad, with the rest of the squad the same. (Heck, back then you could equip your dev squad with jump packs too but I never did.) Battles were smaller so having more big guns on the table could have a big impact, even if you were just shooting infantry.

In second edition things started to change as vehicles became easier to manage rules-wise and more effective points-wise. A Marine tac squad was 300 points as was a devastator squad - before paying for weapons. A tac squad typically still ran under 400 points (missile launcher, flamer, some assault gear) while a devastator squad was pretty much guaranteed to be over 400 - 4 missile launchers put it up close to 500. At the same time a classic configuration Predator (autocannon turret + las cannon sponsons) was 135. Hmmm. To be more direct, a dev squad with 3 lascannons would be 435 with no other upgrades while a Predator Annihilator with triple lascannon was 165. You could take two of them and have 100 points left over! I know I started seeing a lot more tanks this edition, and the devastators (and mole mortars and tarantulas) started to thin out.

It probably didn't help that the 2E squads came with one of each weapon type

As second edition moved into third we saw a lot more vehicles entering the game. Every race had dreadnoughts/robots, and most had bikes/jet bikes. All the basic marine tanks were in place (Rhino-predator-vindicator-razorback-whirlwind-land raider). Eldar Falcons and Vypers were flying around. Ork battlewagon transports died out but were replaced by trukks and buggies and trakks.Tyranids had big tough gun-toting creatures. The dark eldar entered the game with their over-gunned light vehicles.

With third edition came the now-standard Force Organization chart. Devastators were now competing directly with tanks for slots as well as points. A ten-man marine devastator squad was now 150 points + weapons, so a quad missile launcher squad would be 230 points. There was new flexibility though - you could take only 5 men, a sarge and 4 weapon troopers, and that would run 155 points. A classic predator was 125. Tanks were still better in many ways but at least the costs were a little closer.

This trend continued, peaking with 5th edition where vehicles were very strong and I don't know that I ever saw a single devastator squad on the table. Over time I broke my own dev troopers up and used them to fill in the heavy slots of tactical squads as alternatives to the standard missile launcher.

With 6th edition though I think they are viable again. Vehicles are weaker with the new hull point mechanic. Assault is weaker too, meaning your missile squad is less likely to get steamrollered by an infiltrating assault unit. Shooting is the way to go for most armies and devastator squads have plenty of shooting. Also many of them can serve an anti-flyer role now with the addition of flakk missiles to the arsenal - they may not be the best way to deal with flyers but they are an option.The point cost of these squads has gone down too.

Plas-ma cannons on a hero-clix map!
Plas-ma cannons on a hero-clix map!
(sing it with me!)
I came back around on devastators to some degree watching Apprentice Blaster's Long Fangs shoot up my troops over the last few years. He tends to go heavy on missile launchers with an occasional plasma cannon thrown in and it's been pretty effective. They were also a pretty effective choice reading articles online and many SW tournament armies had lots of long fang units. I also saw the effectiveness of ork loota mobs sitting back and blasting away at things. This too was backed up by online reports as most tournament style ork armies included multiple loota units. I figured I ought to look into it for my marines and started picking up heavy weapon troopers.

I already had a unit of 4 heavy bolter marines and 4 lascannon marines. Those are kind of the extreme ends of the range though. I still like the heavy bolters as I think they are pretty effective agains orks, necrons, and eldar, three armies that live in my house. I think 4 of them should be able to chew up a squad pretty nicely. In a pinch they can shoot at AV10 or 11 vehicles as well. The lascannons are less generally useful and cost more points but should provide some intimidation against a lot of opponents. They would mainly be anti-vehicle and anti-heavy infantry. I was thinking about using these with my Crimson Fists, especially the bolters, but that is my tank-heavy army and I'm not sure I want to trade a predator in for a dev squad. I still might do it but I'm not totally sure just yet.

Old School Missile Launcher
The main choice of marine players for this kind of squad seems to be missile launchers, and I agree with all of the reasons, namely range and flexibility. With the new flakk option you have a squad that can take on hordes, tanks, and flyers fairly well. There is a point cost of course, but it is only one force-org slot. I could probably scrape one together out of my existing marines but I went ahead and picked one up so I wouldn't have to do that. These guys will likely go into my Dark Angel force as I think they fit in the best. Still might go to the Fists, I just need to sit down and sort it out.

The other option I am toying with is the quadruple plasma cannon squad. Yes, it's probably overkill and yes, on average I should lose one of them over the course of a 5-turn game, but the only units in the game that can ignore that kind of firepower are AV14 and flyers. That leave a wide range of targets, from terminators to bikes to transports to hordes. There is some intimidation there and they are still cheaper than lascannons. With the return of infantry as a big deal in this edition I think they're worth trying out, and being able to fry enemy marines with no armor save never goes out of style. Now it seems like the Dark Angels would be an obvious home for them but my DA's have a lot of plasma firepower already - I'm actually thinking about putting this squad into the Fists as well.

Rogue Trader-era chaos heavy weapon troopers. I like their weird-looking bio-mechanical armor and weapons so I managed to pull together enough to make a dedicated havoc squad. Now to try them out on the table...
Chaos Havocs are similar to the above loyalist squads. The preferred weapon for them is four autocannons from what I see online - I agree that's a solid choice and I am working on putting a squad like that together myself. I also went ahead and picked up a quad missile launcher squad too. If you add in the Flakk option they do get a little pricey but again it's incredibly flexible with frag-krak-flakk options and it only takes up one force org slot if you want to go with tanks or obliterators for the rest of them.

There are two other things to consider beyond weapons loadout:

Squad sizes - I have two preferred approaches.
  • For most games, since we fight mostly smaller battles here, I like the 6-man squad. Sarge, four weapon-toters, and one extra trooper I can sacrifice if the squad gets hit. Plus, this size squad fits into a razorback if I want to make them mobile (not that common but possible) or if I just want to add another relatively cheap heavy weapon and armored target. Blaster's long fangs have a twin-linked lascannon razorback and it has done well for him.
  • For larger games I may take the full ten-man squad and combat squad them into two double-weapon teams. This gives me some flexibility on targeting and some protection when being targeted by the enemy. It could also let me take different weapon setups but I don;t see that happening a whole lot. 

The psychic factor - Divination librarians have a default power that lets a unit re-roll misses. This is a very popular ability for those armies that have it and Dark Angel marines are one of them. It's very tempting to take a devastator squad and park them with a divination librarian. Give him a power field and the whole squad has a 4+ invulnerable save. He is also handy if they get assaulted. Considering that the current bane of devastator and long fang squads is the Chaos Heldrake with his AP3 ignores cover flamer template, this is an especially good move if you play chaos at all.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Overreaction Wednesday

It's been a couple of weeks since the last one of these - it feels like we're in a slower period now - the big cons have come and gone, the Next playtest is going internal, and there's not as much going on in general as far as new stuff.


  • Apparently Mike Mearls said something about evil character support not being included in the PHB. I doubt this as what is described sounds pretty clunky but then I don't much care either as my groups don't usually play evil characters anyway. There's a poll and a discussion here on EN World. This sounds like the kind of thing people get all excited about and then find out there's really not much to it when the game is finally released. 
  • Here's a fairly interesting article on design for Next. I'd like to see stuff like this in the DMG down the road to help guide the future. 
  • Here's the article on the Warlock class design if you haven't seen it. This one didn't do a ton for me. I didn't care about them in 3rd but I thought they made some sense in 4E and had some interesting concepts tied to them. For Next's broader approach to classes I think they're going to be about as distinctive as 3E sorcerers were vs. wizards. I hope they prove me wrong but they've never struck me as a "needed" class. They feel more like something that should go in an arcane magic supplement or they should be refit into a more defined niche, like fighter-mage.
I was happy to see that the D&D Encounters adventures are starting to show up on DTRPG. These are one of the harder to find types of books for 4E, at least at a reasonable price, and they are exactly the kind of product that should be available in PDF. This is 12 encounters with a coherent theme for $4.99 - sounds fine to me. Hopefully the rest of them become available shortly too. Being modern products I can't see too many barriers to getting them out there.

The next big rulebook for PF is the Advanced Class Guide which is supposed to feature new hybrid classes, each of which is a mix of two existing classes. There's a big interview with the designer here and it looks like the beta starts very soon. From their own announcement:

Now that you know when to expect the playtest, on to the new class. Up to this point, we have talked about 7 of the 10 classes: the Arcanist (a mix of sorcerer and wizard), the Bloodrager (a mix of barbarian and sorcerer), the Hunter (a mix of druid and ranger), the Shaman (a combination of oracle and witch), the Slayer (a blending of ranger and rogue), the Swashbuckler (a mix of gunslinger and fighter), and the Warpriest (mixing the cleric and fighter). The 8th class is...
The Investigator. This class blends together elements of the alchemist and the rogue to make for the ultimate sleuth. Using extracts, sneak attack, and a new mechanic called inspiration, the investigator is skilled at putting together clues, finding hidden foes, and striking enemies with precision. Think of him as part Sherlock Holmes, part Doctor Jekyll. Using inspiration, the investigator can add a bonus to certain skill checks, saving throws, and even attack rolls.

Now there are some interesting ideas here and I love the enthusiasm but beyond possible niche bleedover (a mix of druid and ranger? I thought ranger was sort of a mix of fighter and druid already? etc) I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say that Pathfinder lacks class options. In fact I'm not sure what it does lack with lots of classes, races, gear,, four monster books, and magic and combat supplements Pathfinder is pretty well-stocked in most areas. I'd like to see more of the "interesting new systems" type stuff like we have in Mythic Adventures and Ultimate Campaign, but that's probably my always-the-DM side showing. Have people really gotten bored with 20 or so classes and per-level multiclassing? Where do they find the time? The only holes I can see compared to prior versions of D&D is a psionics system and a monsters-as-pc's supplement. I suppose they will get to those eventually. In the meantime I will take a look at the beta version and see if anyone wants to try them out in our game.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mythic Adventures for Pathfinder

I like what I see in this book. As a new-to-Pathfinder DM I don't know that any campaign really needs it but it does look like it should work alright. Since I'm running the current adventure path that uses these rules it was especially important to me to get a handle on them.

Flavor-wise what is it? You could look at it as the "cinematic" supplement for PF - things get bigger and bolder and characters do more than in a normal PF campaign. It's also akin to the Epic Level handbook from 3E though it takes a different approach than that book did. Instead of having extra levels stacked on at the end of the normal 1-20 path, MA adds a parallel track of mythic tiers that can be used alongside the normal level progression. You could be a 5th level character with 3 mythic tiers, or you could be an 18th level character with 1 mythic tier.This change alone is much more campaign-friendly than stacking them on the end.

So how does it work? There is a "mythic ascension" - something that happens that gives a character power beyond that of normal men, sort of like becoming a superhero. There is a lot of focus on this in Form interacting with some strange artifact to finding out that you're a demigod, there are a lot of options here. The idea is that this is a fairly significant moment in a campaign and should be treated as such. This grants the character their first tier of mythic power. This makes them harder to kill, gives some bonus points that can be spent on various things - "mythic power" - and lets them throw an extra d6 in on any d20 roll which is the basic use of those mythic power points.

There are six mythic paths, each is tied to basic class concepts - there's a fighter type and a wizard type and some more mixed types as well. These determine what types of mythic abilities are gained in addition to the basic universal ones. Most of these are not hardwired - there is one set tier 1 ability and one set tier 10 ability, then at every level (including 1 & 10) you get to choose a "path ability" which is a list of powers. Some are gated by tier, others are not. These are sort of like a feat but are more powerful and have to be used by expending mythic power. This is not particularly complicated as a character has a set amount of power at each tier and will have a list of 1 ability per tier to keep track of - it's another resource to monitor but I don't see it overwhelming anyone who already plays Pathfinder.

Advancement in tiers comes through overcoming mythic trials which are discussed pretty thoroughly in the book. There are decent guidelines and quite a few sample trials included in a developed fashion, not just a list.

As you might expect there are mythic feats, mythic spells, and mythic magic items to go along with these ascended characters. A lot of them tie into using mythic power and so are not as unbalancing as they might seem at first.

Let's have a contest - caption this picture! Leave it in the comments!
There are also mythic monsters, 40 of them, along with templates and guidelines on how this impacts CR vs. mythic and non-mythic characters. This looks like quite a bit of fun for the DM. These should also be memorable because many of the mythic character powers have provisos like "unaffected by X unless it comes from a mythic source" and mythic beasties fit that criteria. So, once they get comfortable with their awesomeness, here comes a monster that can ignore or punch right through it. This also helps illustrate how lower level mythic creatures have a role in the game.

Finally there is a roughly 20 page adventure for mid level characters that can get them started on the mythic progression.

I need more of this in my games, I suspect all games do.
I really like the approach taken here. It's a nice power-up system that is completely optional! It's also not something you have to ignore or plan for but not interact with for 20 levels of playing! Some of it feels a little like 4th Edition with the whole parallel approach, much like paragon paths and epic destinies,  and that doesn't hurt either.I like the extra mythic set of magic items and especially monsters.

Now at the moment all of this "like' is theoretical. As we progress through the Wrath of the Righteous I should get a good dose of how it actually plays and works when several players and a DM are beating on it. You can be sure I will mention it in the campaign recaps when the time comes.

Final concern - I wonder if after playing a campaign using these rules, a non-mythic campaign will feel lesser by comparison?

Inspiration: I can see this fitting in to a Mythic Greece campaign extremely well. If I run a non-AP campaign it will probably be an attempt to do this.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Update

Lots of non-gaming stuff going on around here but not as much dice-throwing. Not a ton of tabletop gaming but hopefully now that football season is winding down that will change. The blog is largely driven by what I'm running and playing and when it dies down I have less to say here.

  • The main game, the 4E Rad Hand of Doom has seriously stalled out. Players have had other obligations and I have had a few of those myself. We've gone from a pace of 2-3 sessions a month earlier this year to about once a month. With the holidays coming up I'd like to think that will give us all some time to get back on track but in the past it has usually meant more schedule disruption. There's not that much left to do to finish the adventure and wrap up heroic tier so hopefully we can get a few more sessions in before the end of the year.
  • The Pathfinder campaign has completed 3 sessions and has missed a few dates too, one due to Apprentice Twilight's birthday party. Not as worried about this as there are fewer schedules to coordinate.
  • The once-in-a-while Next/M&M/Marvel/ICONS/Stonehell/Deadlands games have petered out completely this month as divergent schedules have left us very little time where at least two of them and me are in the house at the same time with several hours free. This part probably will pick up with the holidays, it's really just a question of what to focus on.
  • Even 40K has hit a dry spell but that too will likely clear up with some time off for Thanksgiving.
We have managed to work in plenty of high school football games, halloween, some birthdays, some movies, and family stuff both happy and less so. While it's good to have kids and friends who have actual lives it's tricky to manage the hobby time around it sometimes. More to come.

Motivational Monday

Another villain type that I didn't play tons of but the closest thing to a Blaster/Defender on redside. Battletronic (Dual Pistols/Traps) was my favorite, but he doesn't have a writeup yet so he will just have to remain a mystery for now.