Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Age of Sigmar Background

Having read the new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar book, here are some thoughts on the background for the new world, how it differs from the old Warhammer world, what it means for the game design, and what I think it means for the game's future.

First of all, I'm pleased to say it still feels very Warhammery.  There are plenty of hold-over characters and references.  Several of the old characters become gods:  Sigmar, Teclis, Tyrion, Nagash...

Chaos remains Chaos: Nurgle, Tzeench, and Khorne are all basically the same.  The models and art are evocative of the long-developed Chaos look and feel.  Slaanesh is present too, but the fluff says s/he is now a prisoner.  Fan paranoia thinks GW may be writing Slaanesh out of the background to be more child friendly.  I am not yet sure.  I think there may be a battle for Slaanesh in some future campaign.  (Besides, what sort of S&M god would Slaanesh be, if he didn't like to be tied up from time to time.) The Horned Rat gets promoted to be a minor Chaos God.

Orks look pretty much the same, but don't get many photos.

Ogres look pretty much the same, and feature in lots of photos.  I predict minimal changes to the Ogre model range.

The undead have lots of Nagash stuff from the endtimes, and seem to be using the Vampire Counts skeletons.  I predict a loss of Transylvanian and Egyptian elements, in favor of some new look.

Interestingly, the Lizardmen are all over the place in the photos, with lots of giant dinosaurs.  They are renamed, but I think that far from being written out of the new universe, the Lizardmen will remain with minimal changes to the model range.  There are just too many cool dinosaur models.

The Skaven play a major role in the background.  If anything, the Skaven have gotten even more emphasis than in WFB.

The wood elf tree spirits have an army in the main book, minus all the elf elements.

Dwarves are mentioned as existing, but get one picture -- of a Slayer.

The Elves are just gone.  Wood Elves, High Elves, Dark Elves. Gone.  There are elf gods, but they are all sad that their people have vanished, except for a few survivors that hang out with Sigmar.

The Empire is gone, gone, gone.  Bretonnia is gone, gone, gone. No more Renaissance Germany.  No more King Arthur.  Boo hoo.

The world is more open.  There are now nine realms, seven of which are contested battlefield.  Each corresponds roughly to an old Wind of Magic (except for the Chaos Realm itself).  Each of these mortal realms is made up of (apparently) many sub-dimensions, pocket worlds, and so forth.  So there is no D&D campaign map of the world any more, only of particular battlefields, and you are free to invent your own.  I think this is a major change, and it gives GW space to grow and develop this new world.

The Stormcast Eternals are magic Space Marines (more or less) who descend from the Heavens on drop pods... I mean lightning bolts and smash things.  Actually, I think they are quite interesting.  With the Stormcast Eternals, GW is reversing the usual background.  Instead of Chaos corrupting and destroying a decaying world, we have (essentially) a fantasy version of the Emperor's Great Crusade.  Order is on the offensive, liberating worlds and bringing hope.

Overall, I think the emphasis will be on smaller numbers of bigger, more interesting models.  The existing factions are simplified into 4 big factions: Order, Chaos, Destruction, and Death.  So all the good guys into Order, Chaos remains Chaos plus it's got the Skaven, Orcs and Ogres hang out together, and then there are some undead.

My guess is that we will soon see a repackaging and rerelease of many of the old models.  I strongly suspect that GW will keep the newer kits, the ones that are more atmospheric, and larger or more dynamic.  I think older models, models based on real history, and so forth will be phased out.  The biggest losers, I think will be the good guys (and the dark elves).  The two human factions, Empire and Bretonnia, look to me to be gone for good. There doesn't seem to be any good place for their historical armies.  Most of the elf and dwarf stuff seems too low-fantasy, and just generic.  Maybe some of the bigger or newer kits like Lion Chariots, Dragons, or War Altars will survive.

Heck, maybe none of them will, ultimately.  I'm merely guessing when I suggest some older models will be repackaged with new (IP protected) names and round bases.  And all of this is dependent on Age of Sigmar surviving long enough for GW to put into action whatever long-term plans it has.

Given the horrible new rules, I'm not sure that's a safe bet.

But overall, I do like the new world.


Why my posts have become less frequent lately.
So Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is out, and it has no point values, and the old time WFB players are
pretty upset.

Lots of wargames, particularly historical games, have no points, relying on either a game master or a player to set up the armies and the victory conditions for each scenario.  Such games can be quite satisfying, and are often a convention staple.

Moreover, point systems are quite often flawed. Listen to wargamers complain, and it's almost never about rules or rules systems, it is about army lists and unit points.  Are they too high?  Are they too low?  Are the overpowered?  Does this unit "suck"?  More often than not, it's the point value of the unit that we complain about, not underlying the rules representation.  

When I design games, the point values give me more anxiety and heartache than any other factor in the game.  They are the hardest to tell if I've gotten them right, whether the balance is there or not.

Why not just take Sigmar's hammer to points, and obliterate them altogether? What purpose do points serve?  What is the point of points?

It seems to me that points serve several purposes in wargames, which are quite useful:

1) Points are a social convenience.  Any two players who are familiar with a game can throw down a scenario, choosing roughly evenly matched forces.  But it takes time, and coordination.  The players need to meet, agree, negotiate, and design.  It's work.  Points make it possible to have pick-up games.  Make a list at point value X, show up at the store, and play your opponent's X point list.  You don't need to know your opponent, or his army, or ever have met him before. Moreover, a list gives a certainty that you can find an opponent.  I can safely buy and paint model X, and I will always find an opponent, as long as my list is "legal."

2) List design is creative. People like making lists. Johny likes lists because he can play with themes and units.  Spike likes lists because he can hunt for a competitive advantage. It's fun to tinker and customize.  Codices and army books suggest army designs.  "I'd like to do a 1939 tank army."  "I'd like to make a drop pod army."  "Hey, did you see you can make a list of nothing but cavalry? With a train, too?"

These positive factors often outweigh the negatives of a pointed game, and all the crazy balance problems they bring.

I don't know if Age of Sigmar is going to fly or flop.  (My money is on flop.)  But without points, it's departing radically from the features

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

40k Formations and Flames of War Briefings

The venerable 3rd edition Force Org chart.
Seventh Edition Warhammer 40k has been moving away from its standard Force Organization chart.  You may remember this venerable method of organizing armies, introduced way back at the start of 3rd edition, it consists of 1-2 HQ, 2-6 Troops, 0-3 Elites, 0-3 Fast Attack and 0-3 Heavy Support.  In essence, it usually represents a smallish infantry company, with a core of foot troops backed by some heavier vehicles or transports -- although over the years it has also been shaped to allow players other, more unusual types of "armies."

As a system of selection, it is both quite permissive -- allowing a players to pick freely from these slots -- but also restrictive in the overall types of forces permitted.  So you could make a ludicrous force of ten scouts and six Dreadnaughts, you could.  But Imperial Guard players who wanted to make a Tank Company or Space Marine players who wanted to make a Reserve Company Devastator force, found these impossible -- unless GW deigned to make a fudge to cover their specific force.

A typical FoW briefing.
Compare this to Flames of War's approach to army "briefings." FoW separates a force's nationality from its Company type.  So you could have a British Infantry force, a Mechanized force, or a Tank force, each with different Core and Support options and ratings.  A unit that might be Core of a tank company (like a tank platoon) might be the support of an Infantry company, and vice versa.  There could be further diversity by representing different types of tank or infantry companies, from different periods of the war, theaters, or parent organizations.

Flames of War's approach has led to hundreds of lists, many simulating specific historical units which existed for only very short periods of time.  This approach is more open than 40k's -- allowing for a huge variety of company types -- but perhaps too dependent on the constant release of new briefings.

A 40k Formation.
40k, however, has begun to try something new: Formations and Detachments.  Starting in 6th edition, it released an "Allied Detachment," which was a cut-down Force-Org chart allowing you to field allies.  They also began releasing Formation - which allowed you to take groups of models outside of the normal Force Org chart, provided you took them in the specified numbers and with the specified upgrades.  In return, you got a small rules bonus for the models in the Formation.

7th edition has exploded its use of Formations and Detachments enormously.  The old Force Org chart has been renamed the Combined Arms Detachment, which can be combined freely with other Formations, Detachments, and even individual loose units (in what is is known as a "Unbound List.")  Moreover, the last few Codices have been releasing Formations of Formations, in which different Formations are combined.  Many of these Formations are drawn from 40k's extensive background.  The Space Marines now have a Demi-Company, which can be doubled into Battle Company, a Scout group, a First Company strike force, and so forth.
A 40k Formation of Formations

As a person who likes to fiddle with games design, I'm struck by how much these new Formations are coming to resemble Flames of War's myriad company briefings.  Now a variety of force organizations from 40k's universe are beginning to see in-game representations.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Thinking About Amber DRPG

Amber DRPG.jpgThe Amber Diceless RPG has been one of my favorite games for years. Recently I've been trying out its successor game, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, with my local RPG group.  As part of designing the campaign, I've been thinking about what makes a good Amber game work.  (When it works; sometimes it doesn't.)

1) Deep Character Investment: I've found that players often develop a deeper investment in their Amber characters than they do in characters from other games.  The system encourages you to think deeply about the characters' background, their upbringing, and their goals and wants. But, more than that, the very simplicity of the system encourages deep characterization.  Amber characters have only four stats, and maybe one or two of a handful of powers, but players are encouraged to visualize everything about them, from what they are wearing, to the worlds they visit, and have almost no limitations in inventing these details.

2) Infinite Setting: The characters can go anywhere, and do just about anything they wish. It is extremely common for Amber groups to separate, pursuing different goals, in entirely different worlds.

3) The Ties that Bind:  Despite the open setting, Amber characters are always drawn back to each other and to the important NPCs.  Most player groups quickly obtain a full set of Trumps, permitting them to call each other and teleport to each others' locations. So a widely scattered group can almost always reform for a plot point.  Amberites are also all family.  The important NPCs have similar powers, are usually blood relations.  Player characters cannot help but be pulled into the plotting and adventures of other Amberites.

I'm not sure how this will play with my current group, but I hope they will have a good session.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Layers, Donkey

Yesterday, I played a small 40k game against a beginner, at 1000 points, and only one vehicle. It reminded me of the early days of 3rd edition when I started playing, when people used fewer transports.

It made me realize that old 40k is still there in modern 40k, layered deep in the rules.  As 40k has grown, it has developed some quirky rules redundancies.

Consider, for example, how 40k handles multi-wound characters.  Characters have multiple wounds to save them from small arms and to seem more heroic. But there's always been a need to make them vulnerable to really powerful weapons. 

Back in 2nd edition, big guns like lascannons did d3 or d6 wounds to multiwound characters.  Then, in the 3rd edition reboot, the designers simplified things by removing this extra dice roll and replacing it with Instant Death, a rule that stated when S doubled T, it removed the model no matter how many wounds it had.  Simple, easy.

It wasn't too long, though, before they introduced a Salamanter mantle -- wargear that prevented instant death.  Items granting immunity proliferated, and eventually became standardized with the special rule Eternal Warrior.  By 5th or 6th edition, most competitive character builds were immune Instant Death, one way or the other.

There was already a solution, of sorts, though.  Apocalypse had introduced D-weapons, which in their original rules just killed everything, with no save, no invulnerable save, and no nothing.  It was a great rule when playing 5000 or 10,000 points a side.

7th edition ported D-weapons into the main game, but made them less deadly. They now only kill things super-dead on a 6. On a 2-5, they do D3 wounds. 

So now, 40k has two mechanics for multiple wound models.  There's the old Instant Death, which is trumped by Eternal Warrior, and then on top of that there's the D mechanic, which trumps Instant Death.

Monday, May 11, 2015


A setting for Amber Diceless RPG/Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

The Setting
A vast wilderness known as the Marches stretches across existence.  In its depths, reality goes thin, travelers who leave its paths vanish, and malformed things walk. Scattered within the Marches, there exist enclaves of stability and order. The peoples of these realms, the diverse descendants of a long-vanished empire, live in scattered freeholds and petty-kingdoms, defending their precarious lands with rapier and pike, musket and arquebus. Among them are those born to greater power, in whom the Essence flows strongly.  These gentry travel the Marches where others cannot tread, masters of spell, of blade, and of reality itself. 

Game Mechanics
This is a diceless game, inspired by Eric Wujick’s Amber Diceless Roleplaying, and its descendant Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. 

Character Creation
Everybody starts with 100 points to build their character.  Any leftover points become Good Luck for your character.  If you go over 100 points, your character gains Bad Luck.

In ancient days, the fourteen Archons bred mortals into a variety of castes for their empire.  Most inhabitants of the realms are humans, the descendants of the hardy and populous worker caste.  Others may be “elves,” “dwarves,” “orcs,” “trolls,” and others: the descendants of the administrators, builders, soldiers and heavy laborer castes.  There are also races and beings touched by the wild forces of the Marches – the beastmen and monsters – who are rarely welcome within the stable realms.
You can be any type of race you wish, or invent your own.  If it has a special power, such as night vision or regeneration, you may need to pay points for it.

You start with 0 points in each Attribute. An Attribute of 0 is human-average. You spend points to improve. If you spend at least 10 points you are considered to be supernaturally-potent in that Attribute.  You may also sell down your Attribute.  At -10 or below, you are considered completely enfeebled in that Attribute.

·         Will: Used for Mind-to-Mind combat, and for powering magic. At higher levels, it allows you telepathic insight into people you meet.
·         Strength: Covers hand-to-hand fighting and feats of strength.  At higher levels, you become supernaturally strong.
·         Endurance: Allows you to resist adversity and to recover from injury.  At higher levels it allows you to regenerate.
·         Knowledge: Represents your education and life knowledge.  At higher levels, you may intuit information directly.
·         Charisma:  Represents your social skills, and is used for social combat.  At higher levels, you become supernaturally inspiring.
·         Melee:  Your skill in using hand weapons in combat.  At higher levels, you become supernaturally agile and skilled.
·         Ranged: Your skill in using ranged weapons in combat.  At higher levels, you become supernaturally agile and skilled.
For each of your Attributes, you may pick one Specialty, which must be a fairly narrow subset of the Attribute.  (For example, your Knowledge Speciality might be Biology.  Your Melee Speciality might be 2-handed swords.)  When you are using your Speciality, you gain a +5 bonus to your Attribute.

You may use your points to purchase Powers.  Powers come in different levels: Minor, Basic, Advanced, and maybe beyond. Advanced levels are not available at start.
Magic: Magic reflects your attunement to one of eleven Domains.  (Or a Domain of your own creation.) Each Domain is purchased separately.
·         Minor Magic [5 points] allows you to create Minor effects with your domain.  (A spark for fire, for example.  Or a glow for Light.)  Each Minor effect requires a spell slot. Y
·         Basic Magic [10 points] allows you to create larger effects with your domain, and to weaponize them as melee or ranged attacks.  (A firebolt for fire, for example.  Or a blinding burst for Light.)  Each Basic effect requires a spell slot.  You are now sufficiently skilled that you can cast Minor effects at will.
You have six prepared spell “slots.”  You may cast prepared spells at will.  Spells may combine different Domains. You may swap out and prepare new spells as a short ritual. You may purchase more “slots” at 1 point each.
You may also use a long ritual (several hours or days) to prepare an effect at one level above your own. 
The standard Domains are: Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Light, Dark, Cold, Beasts, Healing, Mind, Death.
Sigil-Crafting: Sigils are specialized personal Waystones which you can use to communicate and (at higher levels) travel instantaneously.
·         Minor Sigil-Crafting [10 points]: You may craft a Minor Sigil.  A Minor Sigil allows communication with any other linked Sigil or Waystone.  You can sense nearby Sigils.
·         Basic Sigil-Crafting [25 points]: You may craft a Basic Sigil.  A Basic Sigil allows communication and travel between with any other linked Sigils or Waystones.
Shapeshifting: Shapeshifting allows you to change shape.
·         Minor Shapeshifting [10 points] allows you to change into one alternate form via a short ritual.
·         Basic Shapeshifting [25 points] allows you to change into your preferred alternate form at will, and prepare up to six other forms into which you can change after a short ritual. A long ritual will allow you to swap out and prepare new forms.
Wayfinding: Wayfinding offers control over the Ways and Waystones that enable travel into and out of Realms and through the Marches.
·         Minor Wayfinding [10 points] allows you to sense the presence of nearby Waystones, and to use existing Waystones to open gates into and out of Realms
·         Basic Wayfinding [25 points] allows you to enhance or degrade the effects of a Waystone, to open gates into and out of Realms without a Waystone, to create temporary Paths, and to survive for longer in low-Essence portions of the Marches.
You may purchase a Connection to one of several organizations.  At the Associate level [5 points], you have contacts in the organization, but are not a member.  At the Member level [10 points], you are considered a member of that organization.  Here are some organizations:
·         The Church worships the seven loyal Archons who ruled the old Empire.  The fear the influence of Wild creatures and the Shadow Vessels.
·         The Freefolk venerate the five “traitor” Archons who destroyed the old Empire in the name of mortal freedom.  They have good relations with many Wild creatures.
·         The Magi are a mutual-supporting group of those who wield magic. There is a college for each Domain, and for the arts of Sigil-Crafting and Wayfinding.
·         The Second Empire is a feudal network of many realms.  It attempts to revive the old Empire.
·         The Warders watch over the Marches and Realms, and try to troubleshoot incursions from the Wild and the Shadow.

You may purchase retainers, animal companions, magical items, and even entire Realms.  Minor items are 5 points, Basic items are 10, Advanced items are 15.  Work with the GM in designing your toybox.
You may have whatever mundane items you wish, provided they fit on your person or in a small dwelling, subject to GM approval.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Conundrum

Bigger scale models are more fun to paint.  Smaller-scale models allow more movement, and are more fun to play.

28mm models are the standard for most wargames now; big enough to be interesting to paint, not so huge as to be completely ridiculous.  (Like 54mm). 

But, honestly, I think 28mm is borderline too large for a satisfying game of maneuver.  I prefer the game play with 15mm or 10/6mm.