Sunday, 18 January 2015

The WH40K universe - in my head

This hopefully isn't one of those situations where a geeky person takes something they love, applies their geekiness, and sucks all of the fun out of it, but it might be (just how does the small town of Bree survive in desolate Eriador, anyway?).

In my youth 40K was only ever a passing interest, with its fantasy cousin proving far more of a draw to our gaming group, but my older self sees the Rogue Trader universe as a brilliant but flawed creation. Mostly I can happily continue to shun it and stick to my orcs and dwarves, until something like Axiom's astropath grabs my attention.

The setting's brilliance is in how it frames "medieval in space" as vaguely plausible, and hence allows table top battles between space-faring civilisations, without the technical levels being so mismatched that the only possible conflict is asymmetric. At least within the Imperium.

But you can only pull that "technology is religious mantra" trick once, so where does that leave our other standard races?


I like orcs probably more than most, but let's be clear - orcs are not a spacefaring civilisation (or arguably even a civilisation at all!). In orcish society there is none of the standing on the shoulders of giants that's needed for any sort of technological process. Let's be generous and say that their limit is muzzle-loading firearms.

Who knows how orks came to be spread through the galaxy from their home world, or even if they had a home world - maybe they were seeded widely by the Old Slann? When they travel through space now it's in the retinues of Renegades, or mercenary commanders keen to make use of their love of battle. Occasionally an exception individual will rise to lead a mercenary company themselves, but when that individual is killed or toppled the remnants of the company may well find themselves stranded on whatever world was the scene of their latest engagement.

So, orks have no space fleets or dreadnoughts of their own, and their vehicles (invariably wheeled or tracked) have a Heath Robinson appearance which reveal their cobbled-together origins and are highly unreliable.

The occasional wealthy mercenary my have carapace armour, and a mercenary company will often be outfitted in a moderately uniform fashion, although there will always be the odd lucky individual with a prized favoured weapon (usually loud = good!). Conversely though there will also be units where the prime weapons have been lost or gambled away and hence the slowest and weakest members end up mustering with clubs, muskets or bows.

"Native" orks on frontier worlds will be even more variable - any more advanced weapons will be the spoils of previous battles and raids, with primitive firearms in the hands of the majority.


With Eldar the paradox is in the other direction - they're in decline, in terms of numbers and ambition, but they still have the full capabilities of their civilisation. There are hints in the Rogue Trader rulebook of their mysterious abilities, including mastery of the warp, but in combat they're on a par with, if not somewhat more fragile than, the Legiones Astartes. It seems that any serious encounter between the Imperium and the Eldar should be more akin to Arnie and his team meeting the Predator!

Clearly the Imperium's xenophobia isn't going to accept that they're in any way superior - of course they're decedent - but do recognise that they have abilities bordering on witchcraft. So, to take a leaf from Arthur C. Clarke, I'd suggest that all craft world Eldar (including dreadnought and vehicle pilots) be treated as psykers with the following abilities -
  • Telekinesis (level 1)
  • Jinx
  • Hide (level 1 Elementalist spell)
I toyed with suggesting Teleport, but then backed away from this - although now I'm wondering whether I've gone far enough!

All abilities should automatically succeed, with no need to test against or track psi-points, but for points value purposes assuming they have 20. Hence your basic Eldar now costs 68 points (without equipment).

These powers are technical rather than psychic in nature though so aren't detectable as such. They're consequently not always available to mercenary Eldar (50% chance) or pirates (25% chance of having these abilities).

I've no idea what these ideas would be like in actual play - in fact I'm sure that in purely commercial terms the direction taken with the rules of effectively having a level(ish) playing field is a more sensible solution. But in my head as big a degree of disparity as possible feels so much more "right".

Monday, 5 January 2015

Painting projects for the year - ambitious version

I've been idly musing several painting projects in my head, while failing to put paintbrush to the orcs I'm meant to be painting...

Having looked at my actual output for 2014 I've scaled this list back somewhat - but it's still way more than I'm likely to finish in 2015. However, stuff I'd like to paint next -
  • My Oldhammer forum avatar and the standard bearer for my main orc unit
  • The hobgoblins and wolf riders from the Dolgan Raiders scenario, including Bagnol, Blackeye and a wagon. In other words about the same figure count as my entire output for 2014, but by August...
  • Some Gondor guards in mail - because in Middle Earth they've not invented plate armour yet
  • The figures from an entire old school scenario - OK, Terror of the Lichmaster's Assault on the Mine only has 21 skeletons and 6 dwarves, but still...
  • Some good guys - my daughters refer to my orcs as "my knights", I think it's time I painted something a bit closer to knightly. Probably the billmen I picked up at Foundry last year
  • The thugs from my Gulgan's raiders project
That's around 100 figures - realistically way more than I'll get to paint this year. Hopefully BOYL will be enough motivation to get the biggest chunk done though, and then we'll see!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

My gaming 2014 - not quite as planned

Apparently this sort of post is meant to be written on New Year's Eve - instead I was trying to get a group of savage orcs finished... and in fact didn't manage either. I'm still going to count them against my 2014 tally though!

So, how did I do against my so-called unambitous goals from this time last year? It seems I wasn't unambitious enough!


Buying stuff continues to be the easy bit of the hobby, although rather haphazard - partially due to the vagueries of eBay, but also down to inconsistent focus.
It looks from the figures I've bought as though I'm focussing on Empire and hobgoblins, and for hobgoblins that's true - although with several false starts. The Empire figures are just down to a splurge while at Foundry for BOYL 2014, it's just possible they'll become my first "good guy" army, although I'd prefer for that to be dwarves. My firm preference for the old Perry dwarves, and the eBay prices for these, mean that stunties are still a distant dream.

On the RPG front I've picked up a lot of the older books I was after - Death on the Reik and Power Behind the Throne, as well as Moldvay's D&D Basic and Expert rules. The last of these gave me quite a nostalgia trip when it arrived in the post, well worth the relatively modest outlay. On the new-but-old front I signed up to the Bethorm Kickstarter, so now have a toe-hold in that setting as well.

Score: 6/10

This year - more of the same -
  • On the figures front I'm going to let myself dabble a bit - more in my projects post to come. But at a minimum I need to put together a hobgoblin force for this year's BOYL
  • On RPGs it's time to focus on stuff from this decade - in particular The One Ring has caught my fancy.


My colour mixing has improved somewhat, mostly thanks to help from my wife who knows what she's doing on this front. I'm often not ending up with exactly the colour I was looking for, but at least in the right direction. I'm feel doing better on the planning side of things as well, although by leaning heavily on ideas from others in the community.

In terms of output it's a bit of a failure though - I'm only really at the 1000 point mark of painted orcs, and my avatar's not seen a brush in over a year. I've gone through productive and stagnant periods, although the latter often down to life being too busy rather than lack of motivation. Hopefully this will improve this year.

Score: 5/10

This year -
  • Move to using a wet palette
  • Blending not dry brushing where practical
  • 60+ figures painted, including my forum avatar and some "good guys"


A much busier year on the gaming front, but still it didn't seem full enough. I didn't manage a game of 2nd edition, and am still rather mixed up on the rules front, but I did manage both days of BOYL. 

Score: 6/10

This year -
  • Keep up the Oldhammer, while becoming more involved with my local club


Not a good year - less than half of my target output, and while I did branch out slightly to looking at the Old World setting from an RPG rather than wargaming point of view, still focused exclusively on the Warhammer world.

Score: 4/10

This year -
  • Try again at last year's plan. Focus on regular and structured blogging, that's not beholden to my painting output

Reading list - 2014

The Dreaming Tree - C.J. Cherryh

I was prompted to re-read this book by its inclusion in the bibliography for GURPS Celtic Myth. It's included there under modern fiction "likely to inspire GMs" and it certainly lives up to that! In fact my reading of it was some slowed by the need to have a notebook at hand at all times.

If I had to sum it into a single word though that would be "atmosphere" - impossible to convey in a short review, especially by a writer such as myself. Suffice to say that Cherryh's sidhe are nothing like Tolkien's elves, and at times the feeling of impending doom makes the book hard to read.

The one flaw is the ending, which left me feeling cheated of the denouement that the books had been building up to. I note from Wikipedia that my copy has a revised ending, which Cherryh felt more satisfying than the original - some day I must find the original and see how I feel about that.

I'm still very glad to have revisited it though - if I ever do get to develop a Norse / Celtic / Sidhe campaign, and it's even 10% as atmospheric as this book, then I'd consider it a resounding success.

The Hydrogen Sonata - Iain M Banks

A good Banks book, but not amongst his best, although that still makes it pretty damn good by most writer's standards.

It's an enjoyable tale, with some surprising twists, but at times the plot armour shows through somewhat. And in places the Culture characters are so smug that you find yourself hoping they'll lose, but I don't think I'm giving too much a way by revealing that they don't... 

It also suffers slightly from uneven pacing - it seems to me a hundred pages or so could have been edited from its length without the story suffering.

I tend to take gaming lessons away from most non-work-related books I read and this is no exception. Firstly it reminds me why I steer clear of sci-fi in RPGs - the breadth of imagination required on even the mundane areas of world-building is a very high hurdle, and authors like Banks put most other works to shame on this score. And equally on the wargaming front, as this story shows it's hard to give much credence to any two space faring races to being close enough in technical level that a straight table top battle could occur - asymmetric warfare seems the only plausible type to me. Even for example in the 40K universe, which has a good backstory as to why the Imperium is a non-technical space faring civilisation, it's a bit hard to swallow that any two factions are effectively equal on the battlefield (I know, I know, stop over-thinking and enjoy the game!).

The Explorer - James Smythe

Another incursion into my reading list from my wife's book group, and a story only one of the group members enjoyed. I did as well - the plot twist right at the beginning almost makes the book worthwhile by itself, but from there it gets even better, although the claustrophobic atmosphere makes for difficult reading at times. Another down side is that none of the characters are sympathetic, which makes it a hard book to enjoy.

Good exercise for the brain though, once all is revealed you're left with the feeling you should go back and read it all again, to see it all in yet another light.

Apparently there's a sequel - hopefully I'll get to that this year.

The Forest House - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Another book from my Celtic reading list, although perhaps less distinctly so. Like Kay's Sarantium, it's a nice touch that it crosses the line from historical / romantic to fantastic in that the druids and priestesses mix learning (e.g. medicine) with actual magic.

Bradley conveys the period with some clever devices such as focussing on a few mundane features of the setting, such as the furnishings. It's interesting to me to contrast this with Tremayne's Seventh Trumpet - Bradley with (I assume) far less scholarship, but more talent, succeeds much better in portraying a distinctive view of the time.

From a story rather than atmosphere point of view the book has a few grating moments - the central relationship between Eilan and Gaius rings rather false at times, with their inner voices seeming rather forced into conveying a romance which somehow isn't supported by the rest of the story.

I'll come back to finish the series at some point, but it's not top of my list.

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch

Another from my wife's book club, and my favourite read of the year. A very British take on the supernaturalist genre which seems to be in vogue at the moment.

Peter Grant, a rookie bobby, sees a ghost while on guard at a murder scene, which abruptly changes his career path. The book mixes police procedural with mystery and elements of horror, its tongue slightly in its cheek but avoiding decending into farce.

The plot makes use of a central deception, of the sort I know intellectually as a reader of a mystery that I should be looking for, but which I unfailingly fall for. When the deception is revealed at the end you're forced to give a wry smile while mentally revising the entire story, but at the same time this always feels like a bit of a cheat to me, since as the reader you're so dependent on the author for information. The same devise could easily be transposed to an RPG scenario - on the one hand the players do have the advantage that they can ask the GM questions, conversely (assuming no railroads) the GM doesn't have the author's assurance that they'll be able to dangle all the right clues in front of their audience. Not a new conundrum since someone was good enough to invent Call of Cthulhu - in fact I remember John over at Dreams in the Lich House having an interesting series on the subject...

Elric of Melnibone, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate - Michael Moorcock

A flurry of interest in the Stormbringer RPG on G+ prompted me to dig out the novels I have, and fill the gaps in my collection. Back in the day I read through the Corum books, but could never really get on with Elric.

Second time around I'm finding them much more readable, overshadowed slightly by the dimly remembered precis from the RPG - it's not going to turn out alright in the end... But they're good, short, enjoyable yarns, and a good antidote to Conan (as apparently their author intended).

Obligatory RPG observations -
  • Sketching out Melnibonean society as an author is a great feat of imagination, but in many ways far simpler for the author than the GM to convey. What sort of dishes are there at the banquet anyway (for example)?
  • Elric is burning through his ancestors' ancient pacts with various elemental lords at a prodigious rate...
  • Definitely not an "everyman" novel - everyone's a named warrior, a prince, dragon lord or duke (although the same accusation could be levelled at Lord of the Rings, for example). I'm not getting much feeling of the world as seen by mere mortals - although enough to know I wouldn't want to live there!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A smidgen of savages

My hobby time rather plunged off a cliff in the last four months of the year, with the result that of my target of 50 or so miniatures to paint since early September I've managed only a handful of savage orcs and a shaman.

A handful of savage orcs

I tried to keep their colour scheme to pale clothing (where worn at all) and light wood colours. Along with the blue war paint I'm hoping that they'll stand out from the drabber normal orcs on the table, without themselves being garish.

I'd ideally add some more war paint at some point (I rather like what Thantsants did with his), and devices for their shields, and also give them a matt varnish to knock back the gloss finish that their skin has ended up with. For now though I need to consider them table-ready and move on to other things.

I also want to considerably add to their numbers - while a small group has some tactical value as a slayer-type unit, really I'd like to be fielding a tribal contingent of probably 40+ of them. Not any time soon though!

Mostly still not painted