Monday, 11 December 2017

Characters, or The Importance of Not Being Seen


As anyone who's read, or read some coverage of, Chapter Approved will know, the CHARACTER keyword came in for a tweak. Now, a CHARACTER can only be targeted if they're the closest model, regardless of whether any other models can be seen or not. So, for example, a unit of Scouts hiding out of LOS 10" away stop you shooting a Lieutenant 24" away out in the open. This, along with a few other recent developments, seems more than a little odd. Let's take a look in more detail.

Who wants to be a hero?
Firstly, what is the CHARACTER rule trying to represent and achieve? Most obviously, it allows characters to operate in support of their troops without immediately getting shot. Since 8th Edition doesn't allow characters to join units any more, this protection is necessary so Psykers, Commissars and Techpriests don't get picked off with Lascannons. The in-game explanation is that whilst we, as players with our bird's eye view of the battlefield, know how important that Guard Officer is, it's less obvious to an Ork Loota trying to pick him out amongst the press of Guardsmen.

Look at me! No, don't! I'm so confused!
Now, we immediately come across a bit of a disconnect here. Not to put too fine a point on it, 40k characters don't tend to exactly try to hide how important they are. The whole point of a model like an Ancient is that they inspire their brothers with an enormous flag, and even the dimmest Ork can probably figure out that the Humie with a six-foot banner is an important target. (We could look back to Vietnam, where US officers learned quickly that displaying any rank insignia got them shot.)

Things get a lot worse, though, when you consider Characters who also happen to be vehicles.
Nope, nothing important here. Just a plain 'old Dreadnought
The idea that a model still gets CHARACTER protection if it also has the VEHICLE keyword is very odd. Obviously they still have to have less than 10 wounds, but two obvious examples are the Librarian Dreadnought and the Ravenwing Talonmaster. The Talonmaster is a particularly nasty one since his Land Speeder puts out a lot of firepower and his abilities naturally mean he wants to be amongst other models. The Librarian Dreadnought at least has to get somewhat close to contribute more than a plain old Librarian can.

Why the LOS change?
The exact reason why the rules regarding models that are out of LOS but still closer than a Character changed is tricky to figure out. The best explanation is the ancient art of the Rhino Snipe, where a player could position a couple of his own models, usually Rhinos or other cheap, bulky models, so that a firer could only see the exact target he was intended to shoot.  The reasons for doing this varied from Edition to Edition- some only allow models in LOS to be killed, others only allowed units to fire at the nearest enemy unit full stop- but it was a well known dodge and until Chapter Approved worked in 8th Ed.

He's only a spectator
Then, of course, we also have the fact that models in melee still count as closer models, even though they can't be shot. A Commissar standing behind a blob of Guardsmen who are in melee is safe from enemy fire, even though the enemy can't shoot the Guardsmen either. Again, this feels like having one's cake and eating it.

Trying to make sense of it all
Now, one of these issues is reasonably simple to 'fix', assuming we agree a fix is needed. For the vehicle Characters, we could say that:

"If a model has both the CHARACTER and VEHICLE keywords, it may only be targeted with shooting attacks if it is the closest model to the firing unit with the VEHICLE keyword."

This would mean that enemies would still not suddenly know, for example, that a Talonmaster was a super-important Land Speeder, but could at least choose to shoot it instead of a single Dark Angels Scout who happened to be closer. If we remove the Wound total requirement, it also allows Tank Commanders to receive some benefit from the CHARACTER keyword by not being the closest tank, which would be an interesting tweak.

Now you see him, now you don't
The LOS and melee things are trickier. We could start by tweaking the CHARACTER rule as follows:

"A model with less than 10 wounds and the CHARACTER keyword can only be targeted with shooting attacks if they are the closest eligible target to the firing model." 

This removes the protection from models that are out of LOS, and models that are locked in melee, since these aren't eligible targets. Models with an indirect fire rule would still have to shoot targets that were out of LOS (eg Artillery models) but at least they still get to fire at something. However, the Rhino Snipe is still a thing, so we would also need to say:

"For the purposes of this rule, friendly models are not considered to block Line Of Sight. If a model is closer than the CHARACTER and the firer's LOS is only blocked by friendly models, the CHARACTER may not be targeted."

Now the wording on this is fiddly, and it goes to illustrate how tricky rules writing is- believe me, before you talk about how 'vague' the rules of any game are, try writing a set of rules that can't possibly be misinterpreted or misunderstood. It really isn't easy. The idea, though, is to prevent players Rhino Sniping by basically ignoring those Rhinos when deciding if the Character is the closest visible target. In game terms, we might imagine that your squad was about to fire on the enemy infantry when the Rhino got in the way, and now they're waiting for it to move. Of course you would still have the odd strange situation, but overall it reduces some of the sillier protections Characters get without making them hopelessly vulnerable. Let's put our three rules in order, adding the 'eligible target' wording to our vehicle rule:

"A model with less than 10 wounds and the CHARACTER keyword can only be targeted with shooting attacks if they are the closest eligible target to the firing model." 

For the purposes of this rule, friendly models are not considered to block Line Of Sight. If a model is closer than the CHARACTER and the firer's LOS is only blocked by friendly models, the CHARACTER may not be targeted."

"If a model has both the CHARACTER and VEHICLE keywords, it may only be targeted with shooting attacks if it is the closest eligible target to the firing unit with the VEHICLE keyword."

Now, I think that this makes Characters make a little more sense, but I'm interested to hear other opinions on it.


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Chapter Disapproval


Now that gamers other than those in that little elite circle that always seems to get things early are finally getting their hands on Chapter Approved, I think it's fair to say that there's a little head-scratching going on. Let's have a look at some of the points of contention I've seen so far.

Conscripts
Since the release of the initial Indexes, Conscripts have been a popular choice for Guard commanders looking to fill a lot of the board with cheap chaff who are too scared of their own officers to run away, not to mention unleashing great torrents of inaccurate las-fire. The release of the Astra Militarum Codex saw one nerf, with the Conscripts being reduced in terms of maximum squad size and only understanding orders on a 4+. Not long after, the ability of Commissars to keep them in line got massively reduced in a FAQ, to the extent that in the event of heavy casualties they can even cause more Conscripts to flee. Now I'm not a competitive tournament player, but to me at this point Conscripts seemed to be fairly reasonable- they were still cheap chaff and there were still ways (Valhallans, Stratagems etc) to stop them breaking, but they were no longer the frustrating mass of immovability that they were at the start of 8th Edition. I thought the Commissar nerf was a bit much (and had made my own suggestions  on the matter). Then came Chapter Approved, and the sound of many a snapped drill-cane reverberated across the land.

For some reason, the team behind Chapter Approved decided to make Conscripts have the same points value per model as normal Guardsmen. Now, we might expect that two models both in the Troops section of the same army list and having the same points value would be roughly equivalent in usefulness- that is, that the Conscripts would have some abilities Guardsmen lack, and vice-versa. So let's take a look.
Conscript: LD 4, WS/BS 5+, no upgrades, can only receive Orders on 4+. Squad size 20-30.
Guardsman: LD 6 (7 from Sergeant), WS/BS 4+, access to heavy and special weapon, full access to Orders. Squad size locked at 10.
As we can see, the common Guardsman has several advantages over the Conscript. The only advantage the Conscript has is that the maximum size for the squad is larger. At first glance, there seems to be no reason to take Conscripts at all, but let's look a bit harder.

The Guard have several abilities that benefit a larger squad. Orders, obviously, become more efficient, particularly those that grant re-rolls or extra shots, and this effect is magnified if the Laurels of Command are in use to allow a double order. Aura abilities, like Harker's, or Leadership bubbles, are easier to apply to more models if the squads are bigger, and psychic buffs like Nightshroud or Stratagems like Take Cover work better on such squads, especially in Matched Play where the Rule of One means they can't be repeated. Possibly the strongest argument is the Tallarn Ambush Stratagem, which is limited to three units but with Conscripts could still be 90 men. And of course, Conscripts do allow more men per Troops slot.

Unfortunately, at least for the Conscript owner, many of these benefits are either negated or made irrelevant by other abilities and Stratagems. Most notably, the Combined Squads Stratagem lets the Guard player pay 1CP at the end of the movement phase to merge two Infantry Squads into one, and whilst this does cost a point unless that point is refunded by Grand Strategist the fact remains that having more Troops choices usually means having more CP in the first place. Being able to affect more models with one Order is only true if the Conscripts can pass the 4+ test, and even then the inferior profile of the models reduces the impact of the Order almost as much as the extra numbers magnify it. And of course, that Ld 4 means that heavy casualties can potentially cause a very large number of models to flee. Finally, the Send In The Next Wave stratagem, which looks on the surface to be an excellent reason to use large blobs of Conscripts, has now been clarified to cost Reinforcement Points, making it somewhere in the region of next to useless to worse than useless in Matched Play.

My gut feeling on this- and time will tell- is that this latest alteration to Conscripts was not made taking into account the other changes made to Commissars in the recent FAQ. If it were still easily possible to keep them on the table with a Commissar then the points change might just barely be defensible, but as it is I fear GW have gone well over the top.

The Puzzling Case of Renegades
Hold on to your hats, though, because there's a Faction that took it in the shorts every bit as badly- and even more puzzlingly- than the Guard. Yes, I'm talking about Renegades and Heretics, a poorly thought out army list that GW took advantage of Chapter Approved to make... worse. The most discussed example of this is the Malefic Lord more than doubling in points cost. The justification is that they were being used as Smite batteries, which would be a more convincing argument if Primaris Psykers didn't do it just as well and cost a little over half as many points now. Yes, the Malefic Lord has a 4++ and gets quite nasty if it survives a Perils but a much simpler fix would have been to make it lose its powers after a Peril, just as it used to in the previous (Imperial Armour 13) version of the rules. But that's not the worst of it.

Renegade Militia squads are one of the core Troops choices for a Renegades list. On paper, they look much like a Guard squad, but with 6+ armour, 5+ WS/BS, a Leadership of D6+2 rolled when they first have to test and no access to Orders, Regimental Doctrines or Stratagems other than the core rulebook ones. For this, they cost the same points per model as Guard squads do. They do at least enjoy the privilege of being able to go up to a squad size of 20. Chapter Approved makes two changes- firstly, it clarifies that the points of the squad don't reduce if two models combine into a Weapons Team, which I don't think I've ever seen anyone try to claim, but there you go. Secondly, like Guard, it splits the points cost of Melta and Plasma weapons into two brackets, a lower one for BS 4+ models and a higher one for 'other models'. If you spotted the face-palm worthy error there you're apparently smarter than GW's play-testers and proof-readers. Yes, Renegade Militia, with their 5+ BS, now have to pay as much for those weapons as BS 3+ Disciples and better yet, no BS 4+ model in the army even has access to them.

The other change- to the Renegade Command Squad- was to update the number of models allowed to 4-14, which was already the case but was wrong in the summary in FW Index:AM. Yay.

Just as the suggestion that Saint Celestine was getting more expensive outraged Sisters of Battle players who weren't abusing her in 'Soup' armies (this proved to be untrue, since if run 'properly' with the Geminae her points are unchanged) the fact that one of the worst supported army lists in 8th Edition got not only nerfed by having its one good unit almost tripled in points, but also nerfed by someone who clearly hadn't bothered to take two minutes to actually read the unit roster, has gone down like arsenic in baby-food. Let's bear in mind that in order to field them with the official Forge World models, you're spending £16.50 per squad of ten just for the arms or the same on a separate pack of torsos- if you want to make Renegades with both, you're looking at £33 and they still won't have legs. That no-one thought it might be an idea to make Renegades actually playable and yet they still wasted everyone's time putting them in Chapter Approved beggars belief. At this point, I doubt anyone on the planet is playing Renegade Guard as anything other than Loyalists with questionable ideas as to what 'Loyal' means, or Cultists.

Closing the Book.
We could go on looking at some of the other puzzling things in the book, like the Wych Cult Warlord Trait that is directly counteracted by a Succubus' own wargear, or the Sisters of Battle Relic that can be given to only one model in the entire army list who has little means to actually use it, but this post is long enough for now. Some of these issues are clearly just silly mistakes but once again we as the customers are being asked to pay £20 for a book with mistakes that leap from the page at first sight.

Bah.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

No Soup for you!


I actually mean sort of the opposite of that, but come on, it sits up to be hit.

One of the things that have been really grinding the gears of the sort of people who get excited about that sort of thing is the power in 8th Edition of 'Soup' armies- armies sharing only a very generic keyword like CHAOS or IMPERIUM which use this to cherry-pick the very best multiple sub-factions have to offer. One obvious example is using Astra Militarum to add The Command Point Battery of Doom or simply a very cheap Battalion, but you can get much more extreme and mix and match even within a Detachment.

Now, the advent of the new Codexes should, in theory, help to mitigate this problem a bit. After all, since mixing sub-factions in a Detachment means you generally don't get to use your Chapter Trait or Regimental Trait, why would you do it? However, rather than make Soup less prevalent, I have a horrible feeling that it's instead going to lead to Soups within the sub-factions themselves.

For example, my Eldar, which I've had for something like 20 years now, are Biel-Tan. For my collection, that works out pretty well since I have quite a lot of Aspect Warriors and I've never liked Jetbikes all that much, mostly due to them being a bit fiddly to transport. I also have a couple of units of Wraithguard along with other Wraith models, plenty of Guardians, some Rangers, etc. Now here's the thing- when building lists for my Eldar I keep thinking I don't have enough Command Points, so I was considering picking up some more Rangers to help make a small Battalion and give me enough Snipers to achieve something. Of course Rangers get nothing for being Biel-Tan, so a Battalion of them with a couple of cheap Warlocks might as well be Alaitoc to help keep them alive- and the problem here is that barring a few minor synergy losses, there's literally no reason not to do it. Since Rangers don't even generally wear Craftworld colours I wouldn't even need to repaint my existing ones.

Those two Wraithguard units and my Wraithlord? Why should I ever take them as Biel-Tan when I gain literally no benefit from doing so? They could go in my Battalion and be Alaitoc for the -1 To Hit, or the Rangers could go Iyanden or Ulthwe. Maybe if I decide I want Jetbikes then the Wraithblades could go Saim-Hann with them for the charge bonuses.

You could make similar arguments for most other Factions that have a Codex. I fully expect the Ork book, when it appears, to make it a no-brainer to take your Bikers as Evil Sunz and your Looters as Deff Skullz. I even saw a very telling comment about Chapter Approved that Shadow Spectres were now good for Alaitoc (due to stacking hit penalties for opponents) and over-costed for everyone else. And this, I think, shows us the heart of the problem. The various Traits that the Codexes add very rarely benefit all the units that faction has access to- they suggest not just a play-style, but an army composition. There will be some models in people's armies right now from previous editions which now feel like they aren't meeting their full potential because they're from the wrong Chapter or Craftworld. Then, of course, there's the fact that adding more sub-factions opens up more Stratagems, some of which can then be used on units not from that sub-faction.

Now in 'reality', those units would exist because Biel-Tann, say, still need extra warriors occasionally and have to press Wraithguard into service rather than just asking Iyanden to lend them some. The Ultramarines have bikers because the Codex says they should, even though they could just get the White Scars to do it. But the problem is that the Faction rules only give minor benefits for all your models having the same sub-faction, and most of those are in the form of aura abilities that aren't all that relevant to specialists that probably won't be operating all that close to the main force.

An obvious 'fix' would be to limit the number of Detachments available at a given points/ power level, so say only 2 in 1000 points/ 50 Power, three for 1500/75 and so on in Matched Play and tournaments.. That would seem to make sub-faction abuse harder and at least require some decisions to be made when fielding Soups. It might even make decisions about what units to take based on what slots they fill a bit more challenging, rather than the current method where so long as you have enough cheap HQs you can probably take anything. An alternative, a carrot as opposed to a stick, as it were, would be to award a Command Point bonus to armies using only a single Chapter, Chaos Legion or Regiment to reflect the improved tactical cohesion such a force would enjoy, though such a bonus would have to be tied to the points/power value of the game rather than the number of Detachments or it would only make the CP advantage of low-point-per-model Factions greater.

Perhaps we could even combine these ideas, by reducing the Command Points of an army by 1 for every Detachment added that has any Faction Keyword not in common with the army Warlord. As soon as I write that I see that the exact wording would be tricky to avoid unintended consequences (for example SPIRIT HOST or SCHOLA PSYKANA)  but I think the basic idea- of making armies more efficient the more they stick to a single Faction- is sound. It could perhaps be added to the rule granting Traits and Attributes so you would take the penalty for each Detachment not sharing a CRAFTWORLD, REGIMENT, CHAPTER or whatever with your Warlord's detachment.

Of course for many players, none of this is a major issue, and it remains to be seen if the competitive scene will continue to (d)evolve in such a way that we're even talking about this a few months from now, but since the new reactive GW is trying to pay much closer attention to it, even those of us who just like points values need to take notice.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Difficult(y) Question

Picture related if your brain works like mine does
So, recent events have once again brought the concept of 'difficulty' to my mind, and I think I've finally nailed down my thoughts about it. We Shall See.

I'm a big fan of the Dark Souls games, or more broadly, the 'souls genre' which also includes Demon's Souls and Bloodborne. A complaint that is often levelled against the series is that it's 'too hard' or should include a lower difficulty setting for those who can't handle it. If this call is resisted, people often bring up the fact that no other form of entertainment prevents you from getting to the next bit until you've mastered the current bit- to paraphrase Dara O'Brien, if you want to finish reading Lord of the Rings you don't have to personally defeat the Balrog.

The thing is, though, that if you think about it this 'fact' isn't actually a fact at all. The thing stopping most people from finishing 'War and Peace', for example, is the (approximate) 1,225 pages of 'War and Peace' you have to read to do it. A few years ago, inspired by the Dynasty Warriors series of games, I read 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms', one of the seminal works of Chinese literature* that underpins a lot of their modern culture. I finished it, and enjoyed it for the most part, but it was hard going in places and I nearly gave up. There are plenty of other literary examples, like James Joyce's 'Ulysses' (written in an almost impenetrable stream-of-consciousness) or Georges Perec's 'A Void' (an originally French novel written entirely without the use of the letter 'e') which many people find it very hard to get to the end of without page-flipping there. We might think of, say, Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling as 'easy' authors and Tolstoy or Mervyn Peake as 'hard' ones.

Music is just the same. As I was writing this I had the Mastodon album 'Blood Mountain' on, which I still find too damn weird to actually listen to without doing something else at the same time. Most people who get into any genre of music other than the blandest pop or lounge crooning start with the easy stuff and then graduate to the more complicated and challenging artists- maybe Andew W.K, Halestorm or Linkin Park got you into rock and metal, and then you moved on to Nine Inch Nails or Slipknot. Back in the days when record shops were still a big thing, most stores had a section marked 'Easy Listening' for a reason.

Now, here's what all this has in common. The perceived 'difficulty' of this material is an intrinsic and vital part of what makes it good. Not- and this is important to recognise- necessarily better than the 'easy' stuff, but critical to how it does what it does. If the word-play and wit of a Jane Austen novel isn't capturing you by page 20 (sorry Jane, this includes me though I loved you in Saint's Row) then there's no point skipping to page 200, it's just going to get worse. If the Undead Burgh keeps killing you and you aren't enjoying the process of figuring out what you did wrong and trying again, then making that bit easier is just going to push the moment you get frustrated and give up on the game a little further away- possibly meaning you miss out on the chance to return it.

A game, be it playground, sporting, card, tabletop or console, is a series of linked challenges each of which leads to the next, just as a book is a linked series of words and a song a linked series of notes. For some, those transitions will feel natural and right, to others they'll be jarring, dissonant and uncomfortable. That's fine, and implies no fault on the part of either party, but just like most readers will accept that certain books just weren't written for them and most people understand that a lot of music is really, really aimed at someone else, so it is with games. The thing presenting the challenge doesn't have to change- the consumer has the option to try to rise to the challenge, or move on to something less tricky. Both options are fine.


*I read it in English, of course. I was interested, but not that interested.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Astra Militarum Command Point Battery.. of DOOM!


I played a game of 40k tonight. I started that game with 9 Command Points, and ended with 6. At a rough estimate, I spent 15.

You might think this is due to some sort of cunning trickery or use of obscure or arcane rules, but in fact the effect can be achieved  by taking less than 150 points of AM models. In my case, I was playing my Sisters of Battle, but supplemented the list with a Battalion of my Praetorian Imperial Guard. What makes this so deadly is the simple combination of an Artefact and a Warlord Trait.

My, what a big beak you have...
The Artefact is Kurov's Aquila. It can be taken by any Officer, and gives you a simple ability- every time your opponent uses a Stratagem, you gain a Command Point on the roll of 5+. On its own, this is good, if not exceptional, and should see you gain about 1/3 of your opponents CP total over the course of a game. However, when combined with a particular Warlord Trait things really start to take off..

As cunning as a cunning fox who was recently appointed Chair of Cunning at Cambridge University..
The second half of this blindingly-obvious combo is the Grand Strategist Warlord Trait. This ability comes in two parts- firstly, it allows a single re-roll in the game of a single hit, wound or save roll. Useful, especially if you're playing Matched Play and using the Rule of One, limiting you to one Command Re-roll per phase, but hardly incredible. The second part of the ability, however, is jaw-droppingly potent. If you are Battle-Forged and have your Warlord in play,  then whenever you spend Command Points on a Stratagem each point is refunded on a roll of 5+. This effectively increases your pool of CP by approximately 1/3, and of course for every Command Point you gain through the use of the Aquila there's another 1/3 change it'll get refunded when spent.

Have swagger stick, will travel
What makes this combination so exceptionally powerful is a whole host of factors working in concert. Firstly, since the Aquila only needs to go off once to refund the cost of taking an additional Artefact, it makes it practically an auto-include. Even if you prefer the Laurels of Command or one of the weapons, there's simply no reason not to pay that single Command Point to also take the Aquila assuming you have more than one Officer of some sort. Secondly, as the various Codexes come out more and more exciting Stratagems keep appearing and players will understandably want to use them. The more Command Points the enemy has, however, the happier the proud owner of a AMCPBOD (check the title) will be. The fact that 8th Edition is so horde friendly is another huge bonus- if you take a simple Battalion of three Infantry Squads, a Company Commander and a second HQ of choice you gain a massive strategic bonus, thirty cheap bodies to sit on objectives and three units capable of putting out almost 40 shots each under ideal conditions, all for less than the cost of some Space Marine characters.

Just add salt
The AMCPBOD is incredibly flexible. It's obviously extremely effective when used in a pure AM list, but any Imperial army will benefit hugely from it, especially factions like the Sororitas who don't have their own Codex yet. I've gone on about this before, but to me it seems particularly odd that an army like Marines should suddenly gain a huge amount of tactical flexibility if supported by thirty Guardsmen and commanded by an Officer with fewer years of service under his belt than some of the Scouts. I'll be pretty surprised if we don't see this combination used in quite a few highly placed tournament armies over the next few months.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Ruminations



With the way 40k has been developing recently I've had a few thoughts on various topics. I didn't think any of them was quite post-worthy on their own, so here's a few of them all lumped together.

Are the Guard too good?
Now this isn't exactly a balance question- we all know the Guard are a strong army in this edition and that's fine, though I'd like to see Renegades get.. well, something. No, the thing that's been bothering me is that considering that they're meant to be your average Joe Footslogger, Guard seem to be a bit too skillful. Yes, they've got those bog-standard stats, but look at the Tallarns, for example- whereas the Black Legion suffer penalties to Advance and fire their Bolters, the Tallarns can do the same with their Lasguns at no penalty. Both still end up needing 4+ to hit, of course, but one army is a bunch of standard soldiers whereas the other are veterans of over a thousand years of warfare.

Likewise, whilst the Ultramarines can disengage from combat and fire at a -1 penalty, any Guard squad can pull the same feat at no penalty just because a guy in a hat shouts at them. With a Commissar, Guard have more resistance to losses from Morale than a squad of 20 Noise Marines with a Dark Apostle standing next to them. It just feels a little.. off to me.

I have a cunning plan...
Compounding the issue is the truly mental amount of Command Points available to Guard armies. Whilst most armies can do the same with Cultists, Scouts etc, most of the Guard's tricks work best with the basic Infantry Squad and require some from of Officer, meaning there's no 'tax' element. When you consider that with Artefacts and Warlord Traits Guard can also gain a CP on a 5+ whenever an enemy uses a Stratagem and get their own back on a 5+ when used, on top of often having starting CP in the double figures, it adds up to an army not known for its subtlety having more access to tricks, traps and treachery than Eldar or any form of Astartes. Perhaps this will change as 8th develops, but right now the Guard feel like a more tactically flexible army than the elite forces that are supposed to run rings around them. As Codexes add more uses for Command Points we're increasingly in the position where smaller elite armies, starved of CP, start to look.. average. Perhaps the Spearhead detachment needs to give more CP to compensate?

Big problem, big solution?
With the appearance  of the new Primaris super-heavy, and the talk recently about how horde armies dominate the meta, I thought I'd talk a bit about how the two interact. For all their large Wound pool and firepower, I doubt most horde armies will be unduly bothered by vehicles like the Baneblade- powerful though they might be, weight of fire will bring them down and that's what hordes (especially the Guard, let's be honest) excel at. The calculus becomes very different when we look at the Astartes super-heavies like the Relic Fellblade, for example. The Fellblade, as well as impressive firepower, is T9 with a 2+ save. Whilst both of these are only a point better than their Guard brethren, they make a huge difference in terms of resilience. A lascannon, for example, needs 4+ to damage the thing and even then it gets a 5+ save, assuming the controlling player hasn't taken any other steps to protect it. Worse, if the thing decides to assault it can continue to fire at full effect whilst locked in combat, despite the enemy not being allowed to shoot back, and with 9 WS 5+ S9 ap -2 Attacks doing D3 damage each it'd be mad not to. (This one is my Most Unfavourite Stupid Rule in 8th edition)

I'm not sure if such vehicles are necessarily a hard counter to horde armies since I've not tried it, but certainly if backed up by some Vindicares to pick off critical Characters it seems that with their near-complete immunity to light weapon fire they'd be very effective. Certainly they beat the heck out of most non-FW vehicles- the Fellblade is more than a match for two Land Raiders despite costing less points, for example. Should the new Primaris tank be as tough and follow the recent tradition of having more guns than it knows what to do with, I think it might be a strong contender.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Everybody's Special...


With the new Imperia- sorry, Astra Militarum Codex bearing down on us I thought I'd take a moment to talk about special characters. One of the points of contention that's particularly major with the Guard is that with 40k's timeline having moved on over a century most of the special characters from the previous Codex should be, well, dead. In fact in the case of Kell he's most definitely deceased, whereas Creed is currently stuck in a Necron Pokeball as far as anyone knows. Yarrick was already older than Methuselah* in the last book and by now he must be pushing 200 at least.

I don't yet have the book in my paws yet, so whether it's written to suggest these characters are still active or whether they're presented purely for 'historical' games is something I don't know. We've seen some characters, notably Eldrad, apparently die in the story only to come back later as if nothing had happened, after all. The idea of characters being included for historical reasons throws up some interesting questions. Some, like Captain Tycho, keep turning up despite being dead for some time, and in the case of Tycho we even have profiles for him pre- and post-Black Rage. Others, like Sergeant Namaan of the Dark Angels, died in the story and promptly vanished from the Codex (whilst the Ultramarines promptly got a veteran Scout Sergeant because of course they did).

Often this comes down to models. We never got models for characters like Namaan, Lady Malys (in fact about half the old Dark Eldar specials) or Iyanna Arienal, and so many of them disappeared from later Codexes. Even Vect suffered this fate when the Raider and Ravager kits were updated and his conversion parts were no longer compatible. Why some of these models were never made is a question only GW can answer- I know Malys in particular inspired many conversions and seems reflected in the Yvraine model.

EDIT: Namaan was apparently such a ninja that I didn't notice he did once have a model! Image from Coolminiornot.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
One of the arguments often made of Special Characters is that whilst they're named, they in fact represent archetypes. Maybe your Dark Angels Successor Chapter doesn't have Belial in it, but it has a Master of the Deathwing with a different name who otherwise follows all Belial's rules. We do run into an issue though when a character's rules are tied into their history. For example- and again I've not seen him in the book yet so this might be covered- you can apparently use Creed and still use the 'Vengeance for Cadia' stratagem, which feels odd since if Creed is running about, Cadia doesn't need avenging yet. Of course we could think of it as a 'Cadia Stands!' stratagem but it illustrates the point that things can start to get more than a little screwy as far as the timeline goes. Of course you could also use Creed in a combined Imperial force with Primaris Marines, which is even more obviously messed up. Whoever this guy who's just like Creed with a bodyguard just like Kell is, he seems to have more tricks than his predecessor despite no-one having ever heard of him.

Of course in this age of Doctrines and Chapter Traits, we also have to be careful not to cross the streams, as it were. If you decide to play a heavily Psychic chapter and add Tigurius, then that chapter is Ultramarines Successors, full stop. No adding Ezekiel how ever much you might like him, unless you want to gimp your Trait completely with a mixed Detachment or have some sort of Inner Circle detachment which has totally different rules.

Roll your own
Now you could argue, and you would be right, that I'm getting worked up about nothing. In truth I'm not that bothered and I prefer GW's permissive approach over most other methods. But this does touch on something else I've noticed in both GW games, and games as a whole recently. It used to be that creating your own characters was a big part of gaming. You could build your custom Chapter Master, your Autarch, your Chaos Lord etc. In contrast, the newer Codexes and models seem to be taking those options away. A Primaris or Death Guard character, for example, is really limited in their weapon options and even Captains and Chaos Lords have lost options like Jump Packs and Bikes in the recent Codexes. Of course these are present in the Indexes for now, but going forward it seems that customising your own characters is being encouraged less and less.

We see the same thing in RPGs. Play any computer or console RPG and you can bet that if it deigns to let you create your own character, it won't be as interesting as the ones you meet. Maybe you won't even talk. That cool-looking outfit? Not for you, sonny, even if you kill the guy wearing it and loot his armour. I just got done playing Divinty: Original Sin 2, and in that whilst you certainly can create your own original character you get more story, voice-acting and personality if you choose one of the pre-made ones. You can customise them heavily, of course, but the name and the history aren't yours. It's the same for most high-profile games, with the noble exception of the Souls series. Play The Witcher, and you'd better damn well like Geralt because he's The Witcher and that's that.

Most modern tabletop games are the same. Warmachine, for example, is very particular about who the heroes are and you sure as hell don't get to make any choices beyond which one you pick. (For that matter, in some events you don't even get much choice about what colour you paint them)

For someone like me, who likes to name his characters, build custom models for them, and tell their stories, this is deeply worrying. I used to play a lot of pen and paper roleplaying games before that fire burned out for me and I still gravitate to games where if the characters don't appeal, I can roll my own. With some 40k characters not even having the option to choose which sort of Power Weapon they have, and mono-pose kits increasingly becoming the norm, I do wonder where things are going.





*on research possibly not, since Methuselah apparently lived to the age of 969. Older than Methuselah was at some point is more accurate but less fun.