Friday, December 13, 2013

40K Friday: Return of the Deathwing

We spent the weekend iced in here and Apprentice Red wanted to play some 40K with his Ork army. At one point he wanted to orks vs. orks but that didn't seem all that exciting to me at the time. I ended up going with my Big Yellow Hammer - an Imperial Fists Deathwing army. I had added some tanks to them since their last outing and wanted to see how that would work. We went with 1750 points, made up our lists, and we were ready.

My army list:

1 Belial (HQ) @ 190 Pts
     Deathwing Assault; Independent Character; Inner Circle; Marked for      Retribution; Tactical Precision; Vengeful Strike; Warlord Trait: The Hunt; Terminator Armour; #Iron Halo; #Teleport Homer; Thunder Hm. & Storm Sh.; Warlord

5 Deathwing Terminator Squad (Troops) @ 270 Pts
     Deathwing Assault; Inner Circle; Split Fire; Vengeful Strike; Terminator Armour; Thunder Hm. & Storm Sh. (x5); Cyclone Missile Ln.; Deathwing Terminator Sergeant (character)

5 Deathwing Terminator Squad (Troops) @ 270 Pts
     Deathwing Assault; Inner Circle; Split Fire; Vengeful Strike; Terminator Armour; Thunder Hm. & Storm Sh. (x5); Cyclone Missile Ln.; Deathwing Terminator Sergeant (character)

5 Deathwing Terminator Squad (Troops) @ 250 Pts
     Deathwing Assault; Inner Circle; Split Fire; Vengeful Strike; Terminator Armour; Storm B. & Power F. (x4); Thunder Hm. & Storm Sh. (x1); Cyclone Missile Ln.; Deathwing Terminator Sergeant (character)

5 Deathwing Terminator Squad (Troops) @ 245 Pts
     Deathwing Assault; Inner Circle; Split Fire; Vengeful Strike; Terminator Armour; Storm B. & Chainfst. (x1); Storm B. & Power F. (x2); Storm B. & Power W.; Asslt. Can. & Power F.; Deathwing Terminator Sergeant (character)

1 Vindicator (Heavy Support) @ 135 Pts
     Vehicle (Tank); #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Siege Shield; Demolisher Cannon; Storm Bolter

1 Vindicator (Heavy Support) @ 135 Pts
     Vehicle (Tank); #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Siege Shield; Demolisher Cannon; Storm Bolter

1 Land Raider (Heavy Support) @ 250 Pts
     Vehicle (Tank, Transport); Fire Points: 0; Access Points: 3; Assault Vehicle; #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; #Power of the Machine Spirit;Capacity: 10; TL Lascannon (x2); TL Heavy Bolters

Models in Army: 24
Total Army Cost: 1745

Thinking: I ran through several lists trying to fit a command squad, a terminator librarian and/or a bike squad into this with all the tanks but the only way to do it was to drop the land raider at least and I wanted to try it out. The command squad not being a scoring unit made it an easy scratch. I decided that I wanted at least 4 squads to have enough scoring units to take some objectives, and I wanted to use all 3 tanks so that pretty much set my list to what you see above. Considering the previous battle's Ork army had 77 models in army, this was going to take a different mindset.

Strategy: If it's an objective mission one of the shooting terminator squads could sit on a home objective, play backfield defense, and still contribute with shooting. The two assault termie squads will deep strike in while the other shooty squad rides in the land raider. That was the theory at least.

Red brought Gahzgul and a unit of nobz in a battlewagon, a unit of burna boyz in another wagon, a unit of slugga boyz in a trukk, a 25-strong unit of foot-slogging slugga boyz, some lootas with a Big Mek with a Shokk Attack Gun, a ork fighter, and an burna-bommer.

1 is in the woods, 2 is in the ruins in the middle, 3 is in the middle of that storage area on the left, and 4 is back behind the wall top right.

You can see the table setup above. We chose to go side to side (no more diagonal madness for now) and ended up with "Crusade" (mission 1) with 4 objectives.  Belial's warlord trait is set at "The Hunt" where he ge. ts an extra VP if he or his unit kills the enemy warlord. Red rolled a "2" on the rulebook table and took 1st turn night fighting which we forgot to use, even after I mentioned that had happened to me in the previous weekend's battle with Blaster's Eldar. Red won the roll and chose to setup first/go first. I didn't even try to steal as I wanted to go second.

My thinking here changed a bit - I put the termie squad with the cyclone and stormbolters on the home objective(#4) figuring that the missile launcher would still be able to reach much of the battlefield. Belial's deviation-free teleport and the shooting squads's twin-link-on-deep-strike rule meant that the boss went with them into the Deathwing Assault holding area, ready for turn two, along with one of the thunderhammer squads. That meant the other THSS squad went into the land raider, riding in style.

Red dropped 25 boyz on his backfield objective (#1) - probably won't be contesting that one anytime soon! His lootas and big mek went into a conveniently placed ruin at the back. His trukk was way out to his left (headed for #3) while the nobz and burnas set up right in the middle (aiming for #2).

The view from my side of the table
Ork Turn 1 - The boyz and the lootas sat while the trukk and wagons shot forward. The lootas shot at the terminators on objective 4 and one wagon took a shot at the Vindicator sitting in the ruins but missed, as did the Shokk Attack Gun. All in all pretty quiet, and I was happy that nothing died.

Deathwing Turn 1 - I didn't really have anything to move... except for one Vindicator who crept up juuuust far enough. Shooting: the Vindicator in the ruins blows up Ghazgkul's battlewagon - his ego was bruised, and the Deathwing now have First Blood. Then the Vindicator in the woods blew away 9 of the 10 nobz that tumbled out of it - Red was shocked at the devastation wreaked in my first two shots of the game. Ghazzy also took a wound from the exploding wagon, a nice little bonus. The land raider tried to do the same to the other battlewagon but was not as lucky. The Terminators' cyclone launcher blew away a few lootas though - I was determined to erase them, cover save or not!

End of Turn 1 - Gahzgul exposed
Ork Turn 2 - The ork flyers enter, Ghaz and friend run for the ruins, and the Trukk moves into Soda Can Square, nicely protected from most long range fire.The remaining battlewagon manages to stun the Vindi in the woods (he had the proper level of fear now). The SAG managed to land a potentially nasty hit on 2 of the termies on Objective 4 but they both made their invulnerable saves. they also took fire from the lootas and the flyers and suffered exactly zero casualties. So far, so good.

End of Ork Turn 2
Deathwing Turn 2 -  Belial drops in with his squad directly in front of the loota/Mek hideout and in the subsequent shooting phase wipes out all but 1 of the lootaz. The land raider then snipes him,  leaving the Mek all alone in the ruin. The THSS termies disembark from their ride and blow up the remaining battlewagon though they do lose one of their number to burna overwatch and then one more to the explosion, but only 4 of the boyz survive. The deep striking THSS squad drops in near Soda Can Square, deviating a small distance but not badly.

End of Deathwing Turn 2

Ork Turn 3 - The Burna Bomma flies over the Vindicator in the ruins but the bomb bounces off of his armor. The boyz in the trukk unload on Objective 3 (Soda Can Square) and the trukk moves up to block the entrance near the remains of the burna boyz. The Shokk attack gun holds his position, targets Belial's squad, and manages to kill a single terminator!

The most interesting development happens when Ghaz breaks off from the lone remaining nob and charges Belial's squad! When he does I choose practicality over narrative and refuse the challenge. He then banishes Belial from the fight and engages the 4 remaining terminators.

Mechanically I did this because Belial has 3 attacks, the rest of his squad has 8 combined. with only 4 men left he won't get a cheering section bonus so I decide to go with the greater number of attacks over personal bravery.

Narrative-wise I played this as arrogance on the part of my warlord - as the monster ork closes in Belial tells his men "take him" and steps back, arms crossed, as he watches the fight, assessing his opponent.

It goes badly for the Fists - The sergeant goes first and watches his power sword skitter off of Ghaz's armor. Then we have the big initiative 1 beatfest where the rest of the squad manages to land a wound on Ghaz and he kills 3 of the 4 marines opposing him. Great. Ghaz wins, but we are fearless so this dance party will continue.

End of Ork Turn 3

Deathwing Turn 3 - Not much maneuvering. The THSS squad near the land raider charges and wipes out the last of the burna boyz. The Vindicator in the woods, recovered from last turn, blasts the trukk into scrap, clearing a path. Everything else shoots, scores lots of hits, then I roll a ridiculous number of 1's to wound. The Lone Nob survives krak missiles, a Vindicator shot, and storm bolter fire, going to ground and hanging on for dear life.

In the epic confrontation between warlords, Ghaz issues another challenge and this time Belial accepts! Everyone goes at Initiative 1, Thunder Hammer against Power Klaw. Both score 2 hits and 2 wounds, but Belial's Storm Shield blocks both of Ghaz's hits while his blessed hammer strikes home, crushing Ghaz to the ground! Slay the Warlord - ding! The Hunt - ding! The plan worked perfectly, as after the wagon explosion and last turn's minion sacrifice, the big ork was down to only 2 wounds! Praise the Emperor!

End of Deathwing Turn 3
Ork Turn 4 - Shaken by the loss of their leader the Orks carry on. The Burna Bomma gets  a side shot on the woods Vindicator and kills it thru cumulative hull point loss. The turkk boyz prepare to face terminators up close

Deathwing Turn 4 - The land raider avenges the Vindicator by shooting down the Burna Bomma - twin linked is handy for rolling sixes. The Lone Nob survives fire from everything, including the surviving assault cannon (3 1's to wound!) and then Belial fails to charge him in assault! The other THSS squad finally moves in and assaults the trukk boyz in Soda Can Square. The nob and the sergeant kill each other in a challenge (Hammer vs. Klaw Round Two!) but the other 4 terminators absolutely crush the remaining orks, wiping the unit out and taking the objective.

End of Turn 4
We paused here and talked it over and Red conceded. I had two objectives, he had two objectives. One of his though was held by the lone nob with his one remaining wound with my warlord bearing down on him. I had 3 more VP's from First Blood, Slay the Warlord, and The Hunt. As it stood it was 9-6 in my favor. If everything went his way he might be able to make it 9-7 with a theoretical Linebreaker from his flyer. Most likely it was going to be 12-3 after I slew his Nob and he only had the one scoring unit of boyz left besides that.

Objective 3 - CLEAR!

It was a good game and went fairly quickly. I need to stop switching armies or play more often with all of them as there is always a ramp-up re-familiarization period that slows things down in the early part of the game.


For Red his his hindsight take-away was that he should have run the big mob of boyz towards Soda Can Square and parked the trukk boyz in the backfield woods objective and that might have worked out better for him. Orks have a hard time with an all-terminator army in some ways when it comes to shooting as they just do not have much AP2. Volume of fire is all they have and he just didn't have enough.

  • Losing his battlewagon and nobz turn 1 took a lot of the fight out of his force but that's just how it goes sometimes. 
  • I do agree that parking 25 slugga boyz in the back was a mistake and I reminded him that 5 out of 6 games are about objectives and only having three scoring units in a 1750 point force, especially with orks, is a very risky strategy. 
  • The SAG did almost nothing the whole game and I think 25 boyz marching forward with a KFF Mek or a weirdboy would have done more.
  • His flyers impressed me with the volume of fire they put out, but most of it is AP4 and so does little against Terminator armor. 

For myself I thought it went pretty well. I actually used a terminator squad to hold an objective the entire game and it worked just fine. Belial coming down with a shooting squad worked out, and I had enough scoring units to handle this one. I think 1750 is the beginning of the sweet spot for a Deathwing army.

  • I took THSS Belial mostly because that's how the mini I have for a warlord is set up. I am always tempted to take his sword option, but I like the mini to match and the shield has saved his bacon many times, just like it did in this battle.
  • The land raider was purely an indulgence on my part - I've had it for a while and I've never fielded it and I thought it was time. I enjoyed it and it did shoot down a bomma, but I don't know that it's really worth the points. 
  • Vindicators! I knew they were good and they have continued to perform well. Given the points they will always be a part of this army going forward.
  • I wasn't sure about using that second shooting terminator squad with the THSS sergeant and the cyclone launcher. My instincts were to go with another assault squad but I wanted to try more shooting since they are twin-linked on the deep strike turn. As it turned out I started them on the ground but their shooting helped Red decide not to charge that direction and I think they are useful enough in general to keep in the list. 
If I was playing again how would I tweak the list? The land raider is really the variable here. I could take another squad and drop it in some where, giving me more options. I could take a librarian and a bike + attack bike squad if I wanted to get some mobile melta on the board along with some psychic power and another character. I could also take a command squad, forgoing the scoring ability to bring in a banner and possibly a medic to keep Belial alive for tough challenges. 

The Lone nob is hiding next to that d6 - and Belial is coming for him...
A good time and some good stories are what I look for when I play 40K. The epic confrontation between warlords was a lot of fun, as was his lone survivor nob. Overall we had a good time for a few hours and walked away smiling which is all you can ask for. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Well it was long enough in coming, I might as well look it over. Honestly I haven't been running much ICONS lately so it wasn't a huge priority. The short version: it's pretty good, verging on to "better than I expected". It's about 100 pages long, full color, and has the same look and style as the original ICONS rule book.

The contents:

  • There is a big section up front that is basically an FAQ. It's good and does clarify a lot of things, many of them related to the DM-never-makes-a-roll concept and the qualities and challenges . A lot of them seemed fairly obvious to me but I have seen a lot of them online so maybe the concepts aren't as intuitive as they seemed to me. There is also the usual power-detail questions you get with any superhero RPG and that's not a surprise.
  • The second section is a whole bunch of variant rules mostly centered around alternate game mechanics. It's a lot like the Mastermind's Manual for M&M 2E. The Pyramid tests get a workout in this section too. It's useful and reads like practical advice based on actually running some games, not just theoretical options.
  • Third is a short section on battlesuits (using a battlesuit as one's origin and tying all powers to it) and military vehicles (stats for tanks, fighter jets, submarines, etc). It's fine.
  • There are a few pages of rules on adventuring in special environments - underwater, space, etc. The underground one had some interesting ideas which is kind of surprising considering how much of my RPG time has been spent underground. I think this kind of stuff is something most GM's would improvise and be fine but if you were planning a multi-session run or arc that dealt with being in space or underwater it can't hurt to have some more detailed guidelines in place. Plus it makes it easier to explain the challenges to your players (if they think to ask) what they are facing.
  • Sidekicks! A far more thorough treatment of the concept and mechanics than I have ever needed for any superhero game I have played or run. Clearly one of the authors likes the idea, but I have not run across anyone burning to play with a sidekick.
  • Super vehicles - this is a sort of mini-great power discussion of how the various super powers would apply to a vehicle. If you want the mechanics for vehicles themselves then you need Great Power - this is really just a discussion of the powers. It reads like the outcome of a group of experienced GM's talking through how to use the powers in the book as something built into a vehicle. Most of them are a sentence or two and are blindingly obvious if you think about the topic for ten seconds. Think I'm kidding? Example:

Wow, so this power works on vehciles in exactly the same way as it's described in the book! It's not a strong chapter at all. The best thing in it is a note on running an intelligent vehicle (think Knight Rider) using the sidekick rules presented earlier - I think that's an excellent idea and the most likely way those rules would come up in my game.

  • Next up is a chapter on bases and it's far more useful than the vehicle section. Instead of getting into a laundry list of powers it uses examples of how powers might be applied to a base. It also spends some time talking about using qualities and challenges on a base and gives more examples of those. Hey, about about some of that same discussion applied to vehicles?
  • The last section of real content in the book is by far the best - "Universe Style Play" - more about it below.
  • The book wraps up with an index that covers all 4 "core" ICONS books. Nice to have and it looks fairly complete to me.
So all of the stuff discussed in detail above is nice to have but not essential. If you're actually running a sustained campaign then I think it has quite a bit of value in solving problems and helping a GM adjust the game to the tastes of him and his group. Even if you're planning a mini-campaign I think it could add some chrome to the basic game. That said the most interesting part to me was in the Universe Style Play chapter.

One of the basic concepts is running a troupe-style game where every player has several heroes of different levels - Premier/A-Lister, Champion, Back-Up in their language. I think Superheroes is one of the best kinds of games for this kind of setup as it is completely true to the genre.This is not just a fluff discussion - there are numbers for how many of each level a player should generate, and some random charts for generating features and ties between characters. the whole chapter is a process on how to design a universe and it looks pretty solid to me. Lots of superhero games have essays on world building, very few have mechanics tied to it and this one does!

Beyond the setup this chapter also discusses the advantages of doing it this way, the "why". A lot of it revolves around being resilient in the face of player unavailability and being flexible enough to have multiple GM's taking turns running games.

There is also a discussion on setting up not to fail - things to discuss with players about assumptions and expectations of this particular campaign since supers is such a wide field. This is something you see in other super games but it's still good and focuses on practical things like niche protection too.

There is also a multi-page discussion on plotting, story arcs, pacing and it's also good stuff. 

I don't know which of the authors contributed to this section but it is the most practical advice on running a superhero campaign I have seen in a long time, maybe ever. 

I am not saying that lightly - I was prepared to hate this book given the mess surrounding it's long-delayed publication, and ICONS is not necessarily my #1 Supers RPG at this time, but this is great material.

One further note: this chapter is not ICONS-specific. There is some structure and a random chart or two but you could use this concept and process with any system. It's about building a comic-book world and running a comic-book style game, not advice on game mechanics.

It's 20 pages of great, useful stuff that actually walks you through building a world, planning out a campaign, and deciding what goes into your first session and how to follow up on them.

If someone was thinking about running a superhero campaign and asked me what one book's GMing advice should they read it would be this one, period. That's as high a praise as I can give. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trek Tuesday - Where No Man Has Gone Before

In contrast to the big glossy production I revisited last week, there are other approaches that are worthy as well. Where No Man Has Gone Before looks to me to be an ICONS type take on a Trek RPG - not in mechanics but in staying light and loose. Here's the introductory quote from the game:

This is a game about a five year mission, a world where
special effects never progressed beyond painted
Styrofoam blocks and cheap double-exposures. The 70's
were still The Future and Klingons had smooth
foreheads. The idea of a Star Trek movie was a
laughable proposition and nobody thought twice about
planets full of Nazis and space hippies.

I'm thinking you either read that and think it sounds cool or you laugh and close the browser.

Assuming you're still reading the game can be found here. It uses the Microlite d20 system so it is broadly compatible with d20 stuff that is already out there. Significant differences:

  • You only have 4 stats: Strength, Dex, Int, and Charisma
  • There are only 3 classes: Blue Shirt, Red Shirt, and Yellow Shirt Classes are mainly a silo for Talents. There is a set of general Talents and then a list for each class. 
  • There are only 6 skills: Communication, Engineering, Knowledge, Medicine, Physical, and Subterfuge. Each character is trained in one skill.
  • Task resolution is the same as any d20 game - stat bonus + skill bonus + 1d20 vs. a DC
The Talents are great and capture the spirit of the original show perfectly and are thematically appropriate to each class. There are chapters for personal combat and starship combat that look like they would work well. There is an equipment chapter as well. Some stock NPC's and aliens, common ship designs, and lots and lots of random charts to help a DM run things on the fly. 

Notable fun-ness: The "God" section in the Enemies and Allies chapter: 
  • God, Almighty
  • God, Irritant
  • God, Metal
  • God, Petty
Plus a list of godly powers.

There is also an appendix on figuring the ratings for your series which can lead to unexpected complications like the dreaded "Monkey Sidekick". 

All of this is packed into just 45 pages! It's certainly enough to run a few one-off sessions and likely enough to run a mini-campaign. I think the limited list of enemies and ships might become restrictive over a long campaign but there is an expansion, "Controlled Implosion" which adds more goodness - and more random charts - in another 18 pages. There are also paper mini's (shown above), multiple character sheets, and a lifepath generator. It's an amazing little package.

All in all it's a very different approach to Trek than the Last Unicorn version. Where LUG Trek takes it straight and serious this is completely tongue in cheek but does have some ways to reward good setting-appropriate roleplay with Action Points and the expansion has more advice on running it straight as well. If you're at all interested it is definitely worth a look.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Motivational Monday

Wrapping up the villainous archetypes and my little CoH revisit as a whole is by far my favorite redside character type and one of my favorites in the whole game. "Controlled Chaos" was best exemplified in the game by the rare but awesome all-mastermind team where you might easily have 30+ figures running around all tied to the same team. Doctor Cerberus and his demons, Baron Metalstorm and his robots and quite a few others were always a blast. I came to them late and really really wish I had been able to enjoy more time with them. Truly I wish we'd had more time with the whole game, period.