Friday, July 1, 2016

40K Friday - Blood Angels Drop Assault!

My old school Howling Griffon pods standing in until I get the official ones built

Last week we managed to work in a game of 40K on a weeknight! Since we've played a fair amount of Eldar on Eldar battles this year I decided to change things up and try my Blood Angels out for the first time in 7th. We went with 1500 points and my army looked like this:

Sanguinary Priest: combi-flamer 70

Sanguinary Priest: combi-flamer 70

9 Tactical Marines: Veteran Sergeant (power weapon; combi-flamer; melta bombs); 8 Tactical Marines; heavy flamer 176
· Drop Pod 35

9 Tactical Marines: Veteran Sergeant (power weapon; combi-flamer; melta bombs); 8 Tactical Marines; heavy flamer 176
· Drop Pod 35

Lemartes 130

7 Death Company Marines: 2 × boltgun; 3 × power weapon; 2 × power fist; jump packs 256

Furioso Dreadnought: frag cannon; blood fist (built-in heavy flamer); magna-grapple 125
· Drop Pod 35

5 Assault Marines: Veteran Sergeant (combi-melta); 4 Assault Marines; 2 × meltagun 125

5 Assault Marines: Veteran Sergeant (combi-melta); 4 Assault Marines; 2 × meltagun 125

Baal Predator: sponson heavy bolters; storm bolter 140

Blaster went with what's becoming a fairly standard layout for him: Farseer on a jetbike, 2 five-bike scatter bike squads, a squad of dire avengers, a falcon, a fire prism, squad of swooping hawks, squad of dark reapers, and a sword and board wraithknight.

We played the standard 3 card objectives.

My goal with the army was to try out one of the BA's distinguishing features: Allowing tac squads to carry heavy flamers. This opens up some options for them that I think are worth exploring, so I put two of them in drop pods with a sanguinary priest who carried a combi-flamer and a also put a combi-flamer on the sgt. The sgt is also a veteran and has a power sword so he can take challenges against exarchs with a reasonable chance of contributing to the fight.

The tac quads mission is pretty much "take and hold": Drop pod in near an objective, clear it off with multiple flame templates and rapid fire bolters, charge whatever is left, then hold onto it for the rest of the game. With BA's having furious charge and also having Feel No Pain from the priests, it seemed like a job they could do. The Furioso dread had a similar mission.

I started with only the two assault squads and the death company on the board - because you have to have something.

Various degrees of "painted" but better than none!

Turn 1
Eldar: For some reason I let him take the first turn. I was thinking it would draw his units out and spread them apart so that I could land cleanly and destroy them easier. It worked to a point, but I probably could have done it with the first turn just as easily. His jetbikes moved out, blew away a couple of death company troopers and all but one assault squad trooper. Great. Why did I let him go first again?

Blood Angels: I dropped in the furioso and one tac squad. I blew away 4 out of 5 members of one jet bike squad and 3 out of the other 5. The death company moved up and shot one dire avenger. Ok, feeling better as while my assault marines are all but gone he has one bike fleeing off the board and one squad at about half strength.

Turn 2
Eldar: The wraithknight kills the furioso of course. Swoops land and shoot one tac marine. Reapers shoot one marine. Falcon and Fire Prism kill the remaining death company leaving the chaplain standing alone.

Blood Angels: 3rd pod lands, tac marines kill all but one reaper but cannot secure the objective. Baal Pred rolls onto the field and blasts the remaining two scatter bikes leaving the farseer all by his lonesome. Tacs kill one swooping hawk. Gambling, the lone chaplain charges the dire avengers and is cut down by overwatch fire.

At this point I conceded as I had no VP's - bad cards! but mainly as I had no way to handle the wraithknight. He was easily going to kill one of my tac squads on his next turn and the falcon and prism could kill the baal pred next turn as well. Blaster agreed with my assessment but was very impressed with the tac squads and the fact they they wiped his bikes out in two turns.

Post-Battle Thoughts
I need more practice with the army and the approach but I already know drop pods are strong. I think the priests in both squads were overkill  as FNP didn't do all that much and a large squad is already pretty resilient to anything short of a wratihknight anyway. I'll probably go back to the full 10-man triple-flamer squad next time and change up my HQ's - maybe Mephiston. I'm also considering moving the melta assault squads to pods as well and bringing in a devastator squad for Turn 1 board-holding duty. Also - how to reliably handle the Wraithknight ...

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Themed Card Decks for Savage Worlds

With the likelihood of some Savage Worlds games in my future I started looking over my cards and bennies and decided it was time to expand my horizons. One of the overlooked fun elements of Savage Worlds is the physical objects that are part of the game - cards for initiative (and occasionally other things) and some kind of tokens for the bennies. I decided early on to have different decks for different games but I've let it slide as our SW playing time has gone down. Recently, though, I've started looking again.

For Deadlands:

This is really just the backs and the jokers but it looks right at home in a wild west game. Deadlands uses poker chips and a slightly different system for bennies so it all goes together nicely.

For Deadlands Hell on Earth:

These distressed cards look right at home in a post-apocalyptic game. Top of that list with Savage Worlds is Hell on Earth. They would work well for a Fallout or Savage Twilight 2000 game too. Twilight 2K uses a card-based NPC motivation system so they could be used nicely with the original game in that way too.  I especially like that the effect is front and back, though Lady Blacksteel just looked at them and asked why you would pay money for a deck of cards that look like you just picked them up off of somebody's dirty floor. Not everyone appreciates great ideas...

For Weird War II:

There's a story behind these involving WW2 POWs and smuggled maps on cards which is cool. I also think it's interesting that the backs look like a typical deck of cards but the fronts are the difference here. My main interest is the extra military look which adds to a military game like Weird War 2 or Tour of Darkness. These would work for Twilight 2000 as well.

For Supers:

There are a ton of superhero decks out there, villains too. The face cards are all Avengers but the number cards have a nice effect on them too. Plus, they're JUMBO!

For super types I like to use larger than normal cards. I had a giant deck for Necessary Evil but it wasn't themed. These are about 1/3rd wider and 1/3rd taller than a normal deck - enough that you notice it but not game show sized and awkward to handle at the table. I've been thinking about dusting off some Atomic City Stories for a run in Savage Worlds and these cards would be perfect. For NE I am looking at some other options.

For Savage Rifts:

Waterproof cards have been around for a while but if you don't spend time on a boat you may not know about them. They're made of plastic - thinner than a credit card but still with a different feel than normal cards. They also have a silvery, high tech sheen to them when you stack them up. I think they would fit well with Rifts and its heavy tech themes.

I also think they would work well for Star Trek. There are a bunch of Trek decks out there if you want pictures from the shows and movies, but if you want something less series-specific that still looks like it might be from the Trek universe, I think these are a good choice. They're probably good for any science fiction game.

Now none of these are essential for running a game of course, but for a system that has a tactile element to it why not go that extra step and tie it all together. This is one of the cheapest ways to add some flavor to your game. These card decks run around 5 bucks and are all over Amazon and eBay if you can't find some locally. I'm looking at some dice and bennie options as well for certain games to complete the theme - more on that next week.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Individual Initiative - the Curse of the Modern Age!

Oh look - it's Plan A. Again.
Let's talk about initiative.

I was once a big fan of individual initiative. AD&D 2E made it a pretty significant thing (and a lower number meant going sooner!), then for me personally Shadowrun, especially in 2E form, blew the lid off - with ridiculously souped up reflexes you might be able to act 3 or 4 times before some poor meatbag mook could pull a trigger. It was all about ME baby! The the d20 revolution took place at the dawn of the new millennium and ingrained it into an entire generation of players. I don't think I've had a party yet where someone didn't take Improved Initiative in the first 3 levels.

But there are other ways to handle it. Behold a passage from the Red Book of Moldvay!

Notice this - it refers to the side - not the individual! The side! Having seen it in play both many years ago and more recently with the Apprentices it really encourages a group approach to combat. Planning! Tactics! Letting the ranged characters shoot or cast before the melee types charge in shouldn't be a revelation but it is when someone uses this approach that either never has or has forgotten how much fun it can be!

I know some of you are saying: "Well you can do that in a d20 game, you just have everyone hold or delay until everything is set up."

This tells me you haven't actually tried to make this work in play. One thing we see from time to time is when Player A needs to hand a healing potion to Player B to administer to Player C. try doing that without rejiggering the initiative order in the middle of the fight. The other reality is that the barbarian who paid a feat for improved initiative isn't going to hold his action to let the bow ranger shoot first - he's going to charge! The rules encourage it both mechanically and with the spirit of the game due to the emphasis on individual initiative.

Timing is everything
Shocking Side Note: you can do pretty much anything with any set of rules. The feel of a game isn't so much what the rules allow - it's what they encourage. People play games with the "wrong" set of rules all the time and yet they somehow manage to have a good time. That said, it's good to find a set of rules that works with you  rather than against you.

Yes, you can try and force a group approach to initiative in d20 games but you're fighting the system - why do that? Why not modify it to make it easier in the first place, or try it in another game and see if you like the way it plays? See a few paragraphs below for one idea.

It wasn't just old school D&D  that did things this way:

Guess what game this is from? Hint: It has lightsabers and uses a bunch of d6's. It's about as far from D&D mechanically as you can get, and this version of the rules is about 15 years newer than the D&D rules above, yet per-side initiative was a good idea!

 Individual capability affects the order things are handled but only within your own side. But look - there's a way for an individual character to shine by giving his side the win with a high Perception roll! We have a 4th member of the trinity: Tank, Healer, DPS, & Initiative Guy!

To bring it in to the modern age, guess what approach the FFG Star Wars game takes?

Wait, what was I thinking? They're using individual initiative here! But wait ...

Look at that! There's a way to reconcile individual awesomeness with a team approach at the same time! Now the initiative works for you instead of handcuffing you. Think in D&D terms: The healer is often OK going last because they can move up behind the fighters and heal them after they get hit. But what if two fighters get hit hard in one round? Round one you go last, move up, heal PC#1, then in Round 2 you go first, move over, and heal PC#2. That's just one, limited example of how a flexible group-oriented approach to initiative can make a situation more interesting.

I've saved my favorite for last ...

This is the late, lamented, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying approach. The GM picks a player to go first. No dice, no numbers at all. one of the players gets to go first. Unless ...

So now we have some mechanics for breaking the standard approach, and it's harder to jump in front of faster or more perceptive heroes. This is one reason why supervilllains have henchmen.

Note the blue text there - the player who just acted gets to pick who goes next. Again, no dice, no numbers. If games at their best are a series of interesting choices, then this is a great example of one. The pattern of the new team typically is to let all of the heroes go first - yay team hero!

Well ... until this ...
 Then when the badguys get two uninterrupted turns to respond, well, things can get  ... dicey. My players learned pretty quickly to mix it up. It makes interesting choices for the GM too, as you weigh piling on with a bunch of mooks, or how exactly to break it down and keep an ace in the hole.

There are other interesting approaches to initiative - Savage Worlds card-based approach yields some interesting options with multiple cards and jokers while Runequest's strike ranks mainly apply to melee situations. The ones I am coming back around to liking best though are the ones that use mechanics to encourage team thinking as I assume would happen in the game world. Less "me" and more "us" makes for a more interesting game in my experience.

Monday, June 27, 2016