Friday, July 29, 2016

40K Friday - Chaos Marines in 2016

After sticking pretty religiously to my vow to go "Eldar Only" this year I decided it was OK to take a brief detour into other armies. This also would give the apprentices a chance to shoot at something besides space elves too so it was good for all of us.  I talked about the Blood Angels already and so this time I want to talk about the Chaos Space Marines and their fortunes against Blaster's Eldar and Red's Orks.

I won't get into all the details of each battle as we're working on putting them up as video batreps. I'm more interested in the general state of the army as one of the core elements of the 40K universe:

It sucks.

Chaos is one of the great bugaboos of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. For a while now it's been represented by two separate armies: The traitorous chaos marines and the otherworldly daemons. The daemons are still a reasonably competitive army with their own special rules and tricks and quirks. The marines though are in a sad state. They are supposed to be the most personal nemesis of the loyal Space Marines and a serious threat to the Imperium of Man but on the table right now they are overmatched in every way. I've been hearing a lot of complaints about them for a while now so I wanted to see for my self.

Down One Rhino!

In both games I took my Iron Warriors core force of 3x 10-man squads of CSM's in Rhino's, a squad of plague marines, a havoc squad (autocannons), a triple-lascannon predator, all led by a warsmith and a demon prince. This is a force you could have taken going back to about 2nd edition and all of these are pretty basic elements to a chaos marine force. To bring it into the current edition I also took a Heldrake and the Helbrute Mayhem Pack formation.

Basic CSM's are mostly notable for not generally appearing in 7th edition CSM armies. Consider: The Eldar jetbike has the same armor save and toughness. Both are Leadership 8. Both are objective secured in CADs. Both weapons are strength 4 with 2 shots within 12" but the bolter can take one shot up to 24" instead. The Windrider has a base move of 12 instead of 6 and can boost up to 36" in one turn. Because it's a flying thing it ignores terrain while moving.

  • The Chaos Marine is 13 points. If you take 5 of them (which is the minimum unit size) you can take a special weapon  for 10-15 points and if you take 10 of them you can add one heavy weapon for another 10-15 points.
  • The Jet Bike is 17 points, unit size 3-10, and for ten points each bike can upgrade to a heavy weapon!
This shows the problem in a nutshell. When I looked at our forces set up on the table I realized that every unit the Eldar had - except for one guardian squad -  could move at least 12", ignored terrain while doing so, and had weapons that were at least strength 6 and range 36" - typically with multiple shots or twin linking.  The CSM's had the predator with a 48" range and the havoc squad with the same, and one CSM squad had one missile launcher. The three Rhino's do move 12" but they do not ignore terrain and do not carry a heavy weapon, and unlike the loyalists Chaos does not have the option for Razorbacks which do at least carry a decent gun. The demon prince did have wings (at a 40 point upgrade cost) but has to be cautious because he can be wounded by every gun in the eldar army, unlike the wraithknight who can ignore bolters which are the majority of what the CSM's are carrying. 

Wraithknight versus Warpsmith is only going to end one way
(at least my guy is painted)
So the mighty chaos marines are 
  • ... at a disadvantage when it comes to mobility. Most other armies have some way to deep strike various units on to the table but for Chaos this is only open to small elite and expensive units like terminator squads, obliterators, and the Mayhem pack which is 300 points of AV12 walker - not exactly game changers. Some kind of flying transport or drop pods would really help here. Something radical like the ability to deep strike or infiltrate the entire army (representing them coming out of the warp) would be better too. I don't think they need free transports like the various marine formations - heck, make them expensive! But if they're going to be expensive they need to be effective - I'm fine with CSM's as a smaller, elite army in the 41st millennium. Let's just make them work.
  •  ... at a disadvantage in firepower. Even loyal marines can take a special -or- a heavy in a 5 man squad. Chaos should too. They should come with close combat weapons as part of their base cost as chaos tends to be portrayed as an assault-friendly army. Maybe normal CSM squads should get the current rule for chosen allowing 4 special weapons in one squad. 
  • ... at a disadvantage in cost. The current CSM codex was released in 2012 as the first codex for 6th edition. Many things have changed since then, including many point values for units in other armies. There have been two loyal space marine codexes since that time and two eldar codexes as well. There are also very few formations for the bad guy marines - those have become  core parts of many other armies. 
I'm not pining for the days of the 3.5 chaos codex (where my Iron Warriors were particularly potent) but I'd like for them to be in line with most other armies, loyal marines in particular. I know there are some supplements rumored to be on the way but I have a hard time seeing how a campaign book is going to make enough improvements. I'd like to see a new, solid base codex that we can build on for a few years instead of limping along on hope and allied forces.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Things I Don't Need #1 - More Monster Books

There were 5 Monster Manuals for D&D 3E. We're up to 5 Bestiary books for Pathfinder now.  That's not counting various smaller monster books for the Forgotten Realms and the Inner Sea of Golarion. Original AD&D really only had 3 over the course of 10 years and we somehow survived and I don't think the world's monster consumption numbers are up that much over the 80's. I've never sat down to put together something for a game and said "wow, I really need more monsters", even in games where there was only (gasp) a single book of monsters available. This is especially true of games like PF and 3E where you can stick class levels on monsters, give them feats and skills, and give them magic items, resulting in near-infinite possibilities. There are "templates" in those games as well which just open up things even more. I've never understood the idea of someone being "tired" of the monsters available in a game. Tired of what, flipping past them in the book? Because I've run campaigns for years and never used up all of the monsters in any Monster Manual type book.

I suppose it's partially a production problem - a company needs to sell books, monster books are easy to put together, and they seem to sell well enough. Crank one out every year or two and there's a slot on the schedule filled. The thing is I am sure we are well past 1000 different monster entries in Pathfinder alone just in the 4 Bestiaries I own and I will likely never use even half of them - so why do I need the 5th? Or the 6th?

Superhero games do this too. I will make an allowance that super-games tend to feature unique opponents so there is more value to having more completely different enemy entries than you might have in a fantasy game. Even considering that though, supers games tend to accumulate a ridiculous number of villain books in a short period of time. Champions in the 90's had Classic Enemies, Hi-Tech Enemies, European Enemies, Alien Enemies, The Mutant File, and then Allies (or enemies for your enemies) and probably more that  am forgetting because I am not looking at the Champions shelf right now. Icons has multiple enemy books out now and M&M does too. I will never use even half of them in any of these games, so it's a case of diminishing returns.

That's an important thing to keep in mind - the law of diminishing returns is huge here. Let's call it "Diminishing Utility" instead in this case.

  • The first monster book or enemy manual in most games is crucial as it sets the baseline for mechanics and for presentation and implies some things about the setting too. A lot of times this is integrated into the main rulebook (from basic D&D to FASA Star Trek to Dungeon Crawl Classics).
  • The second may be useful for covering any legacy monsters left out of the first book or for expanding beyond the legacy stuff that was included in that first book to show what else can be done.
  • After that I personally find the utility drops off tremendously. At this point themed books can be useful: Bestiary 4 for PF focused on Mythic Monsters, which is very useful when running a campaign that uses the Mythic rules, which I am doing, but another "general book of 300 bad guys" is not that exciting.
Then there are the third party monster books - some are good, some are bad, few are essential 
How does the game keep growing in the monster department in a healthy, hi-quality way? Put the opposition in your adventures! Early D&D did this - the Drow first appeared in the back of a module! The Drow! D&D's "Borg"! (In the sense of being an interesting and terrifying opposing faction added after the basic structure of the universe had already been established). This is pretty standard with superhero adventures - gotta have a villain! - and is one good reason to pick them up! It also means your new enemies have context far beyond a stat block in a huge book of stat blocks and become a far more personal opponent. It's the difference between introducing a one-off alien in a Star Trek episode and introducing the Klingons. If your new enemy/monster/supervillain is actually that interesting then they should be able to support an adventure on their own. If they cannot, they're probably not that interesting and if that's the case why bother adding them to the game? Keep working and come up with something better! once you have a certain quantity of opposition, it's time to work on quality of opposition. The game will be better for it. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Inevitable Pokemon Go Post

No, I don't play it but I have 4 kids and a wife who do so I feel like I have a scientific observer's perspective at this point. It's ridiculously popular among a lot of ages but is especially so in the tweens/teens/twentysomethings crowd.  What I have noticed:

  • It's group play without direct confrontation. My kids and their friends can all go pokemon hunting together or combine forces to battle a gym but you don't see other players and you aren't fighting "that guy standing over there". It's competitive to a degree, but it's an indirect kind of competition, not "PvP" and there is far more cooperation than confrontation.
  • It has my kids wanting to go outside! In the middle of the day! In Texas! In July! Hey look it's only supposed to be about 95 for a high today because we're expecting thunderstorms - the last few days it's been 100. While they are outside they are walking around, looking for pokemon, checking on the gym in our neighborhood, and getting in enough steps to hatch an egg. The egg thing is kind of like a fitbit in that you have to get a certain number of steps in to hatch it and then you get a random new pokemon out of it. We had kids old enough to drive and who have their own cars walk to the grocery store to check out the pokemon stuff along the way!
  • You can't sit at home and play it - you have to move to go get pokemon.  You have to go find pokestops and gyms to advance and resupply for more hunting and you have to be physically near them in reality to utilize their facilities. So it's not that you can get some exercise while playing it it's that you pretty much have to, yet it's not an obvious workout game like Dance Dance Revolution or other "jump around in front of your TV" type games.

The whole thing is genius and is an example of a step towards some of the things I talked about in my RPG Futurist post a while back. Did I say it was a product of genius? I can't say it enough! It's a videogame that kids want to play that requires them to get out of the house and move around the world! It's a holy grail of videogaming!

The other thing I have noticed is how a lot of the news/media sources are desperately trying to make this a dangerous thing, because that's what they do. 
  • "Someone stepped on a a snake while playing Pokemon Go in a park!" I doubt the snake cares - if they had been playing "catch" I suspect it would have bitten them too
  • "Someone found a dead body while playing the game" - fixed it for you
  • "Criminals are using the game to lure people to remote locations and ambushing them" - er, there's no way criminals can "lure" people to do anything in the game. Users have no control over the environment and you can't see other players in the game. The most they could do is sit outside a location designated as a pokestop or a gym and wait for other people to come by but these are usually parks or churches or other relatively well-known spaces. If you're in an unlit park at 2am well, a)that's not new and teenagers have other reasons besides a videogame to be there and b) that's not really the game's fault

For someone old enough to remember it feels a little bit like the beginnings of the Great D&D Bashing of the 1980's, the Great Heavy Metal and Rap bashing of the Late 80's, and the Great Videogame Bashing of the 1990's where there's some initial reporting on this cool and popular new thing (mostly by people who have no clue about it) and then some near-hysterical reporting of possible bad effects of this cool new thing and then a general piling-on of how it's awful and should be banned or regulated or burned in a big gathering outside a church because somehow someway it has something to do with the devil. It's already happening to a degree. I just hope that this one is popular enough among kids who don't care and obviously harmless enough to intelligent parents that it blows over quickly or gets the legs cut out from underneath it by a social media backlash.

Because it's a really cool, fun safe thing that is good for people. It's a work of genius.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

I saw it over the weekend and the short version is that if this had been the second movie instead of the third the series would be in better shape.  It's just a better movie in pretty much every way. I'm keeping the spoilers light so if you've seen the trailers I don't think anything new is revealed here.

Some High Points:

  • It's very respectful of Trek history. Canon matters if you want to call it that.
  • Kirk is less of an impulsive maker of bad decisions here. This Kirk has a little maturity and seems more like TOS Kirk than he has before.
  • There are lots of nice little character moments in the film that feel true to the characters
  • The new character is decent. If she shows up in the next movie then she adds a lot more interesting. If she's a one-off, well, OK.
  • The villain was more interesting than I expected. He's not original Khan, but he's not bad.

Some Nitpicks:
  • That space station is just ridiculously huge. Why would you build a station of that size in the middle of nowhere? Is it a deliberate effort to show how tiny the Enterprise is? If it takes a year or more to build an Enterprise type ship how long did it take to build that thing? It bothered me every time they showed it. 
  • A lot of the movie takes place on one previously unknown planet - a LOT of the movie. You only get so many shots at a movie and I'd like to see a little more of the universe than we did in this one. The station almost made up for it and this isn't a huge deal, more of a wish list kind of thing. 
  • The results of the attack used late in the movie seems like a stretch, even for Trek. I get jamming frequencies to stop enemy coordination - that part I can accept - but the resulting explosions seem difficult to explain. Not critical to the plot but kind of a "how did that work?" moment after the movie ended.

One overarching thing for me: A lot of the impact of the movie depends on us caring about these characters and the ship and the universe. If they had done this as the second movie as I suggested above it wouldn't have worked as well because we would only have had the one prior movie with them. This is the third movie and much like the thrid original cast movie the Enterprise gets blown up and the crew is in trouble. The reason that mattered so much then though is that we had years of TV series to build those characters up. We don't have that with this cast and it does still feel a little "light". It's certainly possible to establish characters and relationships in a movie or three (see Iron Man and the Marvel Cinematic universe) but I'm not feeling it as much here. This is probably where being "Star Trek" hurts it for me because I am constantly comparing it on some level with all of the Trek leading up to this and it's never going to reach the depth, the level of experience, that those previous casts had. Comparing 3 movies to roughly 100 hours of movies and TV shows for those other teams is not fair but I can't help it because it's "Star Trek 9th Edition*" not "Space Cruiser Enterprise 1.0".   

So I liked it, a lot more than the last one. It feels like they are finally off and running and doing their own thing. They are moving in the right direction and I'm glad they are making a 4th installment as there is still a lot of interesting and entertaining stuff they could do in this version of Star Trek.

* Rationale:
  1. Original Series
  2. Animated series
  3. Original Cast Movies
  4. Next Generation
  5. Next Gen Movies
  6. Deep Space 9
  7. Voyager
  8. Enterprise
  9. New Trek
  10. (New CBS Series ST Discovery)