A miniatures games blog about Warhammer 40k, 15mm American Civil War (ACW), D&D, Classic Battletech, painting, terrain and anything else that rolls or shoots...

Friday, December 31, 2010

Rogue Trader - A Look Back

Well, the holidays are here and we're all in misery.  Nothing says glee like traffic, idiocy and relatives.  I guess it's stressful times like these that make all of us long for a better place and personally, when I'm not wishing I was a young rich English footballer, getting paid hundreds of thousands a week to swerve kicks into the top corner, I'm probably thinking about little plastic men.  It's a curse.

While sitting bumper-to-bumper on the parkway doing just this, I decided to take a look back at the grand daddy of the modern monster that is Warhammer 40k.  I present to you, Rogue Trader!

Pretty dramatic, eh?  I'm particularly fond of the Ork head/club. 

Published by Games Workshop in 1987, Rogue Trader was intended to follow on the heels of the already successful Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games.  In fact, in the intro of the book even says, "Warhammer 40,000 employs the proven and popular game mechanics of the Warhammer Games System...and can therefore be used in conjunction; you will find creatures and weapons from one game will be perfectly usable in the other."  Nice!  I'd venture to guess that some intrepid souls out there were curious enough to see how this would have actually panned out and gave it a go.  Nowadays, games like that are the stuff of legend...

If the introduction was any indicator, the rest of the rules follow the example and freewheeling statements like the above are numerous throughout.  At the time of the game's release, there were only two box sets of miniatures, Space Marines and Orks.  Everything else was fair game model-wise and they actually encouraged you to find/create your own miniatures and even go as far as to make up your own rules for them.  No codices, no WYSIWYG rules, just your imagination.  Of course, it didn't hurt to have a shrewd tongue in order to convince your opponent that this giant Mattel robot of doom he was about to face was fair and balanced.

A large portion of the rules such as shooting and movement still remain relatively unchanged but there are a lot more elements to this version that hearken to a roleplaying game rather than the polished, speedy beast of miniature destruction that we are familiar with today.  The most obvious of these is the inclusion of a GM ("Game Master") to preside over the events that unfold on the tabletop.

As most of you are probably familiar with, the GM or DM (in D&D terms) is the main mover and shaker in the RPG world, and without these hardy individuals, there would be no game.  In the early days of Rogue Trader 40k, points values for units were non-existent and it was up to the GM to decide the forces for each side before the battle.  There is a small section that describes a skeleton method of assigning points values to individual models based on stats and equipment but like many other parts of the rules, GW leaves these open to interpretation, citing "common sense" as the best judge.  Once the battle had begun, the GM was in charge of doing things like tracking movement of hidden units and settling rules disputes.  Sadly, this position was only to last through the first edition, and like many other "common sense" related elements, was axed with the emergence of Second Edition in 1993.

So as not to make this quaint little trip down memory lane too long-winded, I'm just going to run down a list of my personal favorites...

  • Splitting Units -- During their movement phase, a unit can be split up as long as the controlling player provides a clear, written order to the GM. ie: "Send the missile launcher to that trench to cover us.
  • Hiding -- A unit that did not shoot in it's turn and is behind cover can "hide" where it cannot be shot at by the enemy.
  • Weapon Profiles -- Virtually unrecognizable from today's standards, the weapon profiles in Rogue Trader contained info like range bands (bonuses/penalties based on distance from target), armor save modifiers (ex. -6 penalty to save for a lascannon, -1 for a boltgun -- this would eventually be dumbed down to AP) and wounding, where many weapons had a variable amount of damage they would cause (d6, d8, d10 etc.)
  • Reserve move -- Any unit that was far enough away from the enemy and did not shoot during their turn was allowed to make an extra move.
  • Psychic Abilities and Psi-Points -- At the initial release, there were 40 powers to choose from.  These powers were then divided amongst four different mastery levels.  Each one would expend a certain amount of the psyker's Psi-Points and when these were depleted the psyker would have to rest to recover them.  Many of the powers had a devastating tabletop effect, but there were also a few that had virtually no tabletop effect and were seemingly intended for a set of off-table role-playing rules that never emerged.   
  • Mutants! -- Probably my favorite.  Extensive rules and random generation tables were included and encouraged players to create and do battle with their own roving bands of mutants.  Some of the more colorful random traits are Cloud of Flies, Bulging Eyes, and the unfortunate Enormous Involuntary Noise.  All of these would have some effect on the tabletop play, but were clearly included for roleplaying purposes.

When it was all said and done, Rogue Trader provided a very good groundwork for what was soon to come.  Although it singlehandedly launched a sub-genre that was to be copied many times over, I still feel that it never lived up to it's true potential.  Never quite a roleplaying game and not quite a tabletop miniatures war game, it straddled the fence between the two, using elements of both to somewhat mediocre effect.  However, the fluff is great and the artwork alone is enough to recommend trying to hunt down a copy of this book.  

This is also where I am going to announce my next great project (besides a ton of painting.)  This examination has inspired me to try and pick up where Rogue Trader left off and come up with a comprehensive system to link both the tabletop and roleplaying elements.  After a couple days of taking a good look at the system, I think I have some pretty decent ideas and will follow up soon with a post detailing these.  

Until next time!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Project: Imperial Guard (where men are men)

Well there's been a slight layoff in painting production in December but with the arrival of some new toys, that is all about to change!  I decided that my Ultramarine army is in decent shape and the plan is to take it to the table for a few games in order to figure out how it performs under the "new" (to me, at least) rules before making any further additions.  With that, my gaze can finally turn to those most lovable of meat shields, the Imperial Guard. 

Ever since the dark days of Second Edition, I've always been a fan of the Guard.  There's something about them that just really appeals to me.  I think it probably has to do with the fact that in a universe of untold horrors, grotesque aliens and huge war machines with weapons that level cities, G.I. Joe Schmoe is still out there in the trenches with nothing more than a rifle and his wits.  Not that I would ever find myself on the business end of a snarling Ork assault or a Tyranid invasion, but I feel like on some level I can relate to these guys.  They might have huge tanks and big guns of their own, but when it comes down to it, they're really nothing special.

As a young pup, the Ultramarines were always my first love, and I really only started collecting the Guard as an afterthought; basically as an Allied force to mix things up a little bit.  What drew me to them first were the awesome Leman Russ tanks and I knew I had to get these in my army somehow.  In Second Edition, there were no real rules regarding Allied attachments beyond what armies you could pick from, and what percentage of the total army list could be allocated to allies.  So, the first things I ran out to buy were TWO Leman Russ's (a standard model and a Demolisher) an Inquisitor in Terminator armor and a squad of Catachan jungle fighters.

Over the next few years of my 40k career, I slowly added to this with models I picked up here and there that seemed cool to me, most of them notably NOT of Games Workshop lineage...which brings me to another point. 

There are a TON of companies out there that make standard 25mm human sci-fi figures...many of which are perfect for use in an Imperial Guard army.  My favorite source for these was the now defunct (but still dear to my heart) line of Warzone miniatures by Heartbreaker Hobbies.  More recently, The Wargames Factory has released a line of plastic Greatcoat Shock Troopers that look very sinister and at a price of $20 for a box of 18, they're nice and easy on the wallet.  These are just two examples of extra sources for alternatives to the standard GW fare...and there are many more out there!

Note: Big Brother says you can't use them in official tourney play, but most local stores seem okay with it as long as they aren't too hard to identify in terms of WYSIWYG, or "what you see is what you get."

After a couple years of this, I had a mish-mash of models loosely banded together to form something that resembled a coherent army.  Hardened jungle veterans lined up next to gas-masked trenchers who were dug in next to pint-sized snipers who in turn supported a squad of heavy armored (note, this had no game effect, it was just cool looking) infantry with assault rifles.  Looking back now, viewing this 'army' deployed on the field must have been like seeing a Jackson Pollack piece for the first time.  But, it was mine and in my fifteen-year-old brain, it was awesome. Fast forward a decade and here I am, cracking open the 5th Edition Codex: Imperial Guard for the very first time.

Cue: rude awakening. 

Apparently, things have changed a bit since the glory days of the Vortex Grenade.  My army, as it is, can no longer even be fielded as such.  It appears that in both points values and force organization, Games Workshop (read: money grubbing bastards) has put a premium on number of models.  This basically means in order to put an Imperial Guard army on the table, I would have to roughly double the size of my existing force.  *sigh*

After a couple days of frustrated ranting, my protests slowly gave way to the reality of the situation.  I had spent THIS much time and effort on these models so far, and I'd be damned if I couldn't use them.  So, like the pathetic addict I am, I logged on to the GW website and started filling my shopping cart. 

I know what you're thinking, "But Rob, you just said there are a ton of other sites to get miniatures from!!" I know, I know...but with my sights set on competitive play, I decided I will have to:

A. Drink the GW Kool-Aid and play by their rules by using their stuff. 

B. Be able to field a somewhat cohesive looking army instead of the rag-tag misfits that currently fill the roster sheet.

So, I looked everything over and based on the usable models I have in my army, I purchased the following to bolster my force and give me what I feel should be a decent list that suits my playing style, ie: slow moving with big guns.  I decided to stick with the Catachans as the fluff-base because I generally think they're badass, plus, I already have a squad and a couple of additional Catachan models painted.  In larger games, I fully intend to use this force in concert with my smaller Sisters of Battle detachment (now under the Codex: Witch Hunters umbrella) to give them a little more bite.

Behold!!! One mortgage payment's worth of little men.

- Catachan Jungle Fighters Battle Squad Box (30 models)

- Catachan Command Squad (5 models)

- Regimental Advisors blister (3 models)

- Heavy Flamer blister (2 models)

- Catachan Assault Weapons (1 w/ Grenade Launcher, 1 w/ Melta-gun)

- Catachan Heavy Weapons Box (3 Heavy Weapons teams -- 6 models)

- Catachan Heavy Weapons Team (1 team -- 2 models)

So, there you have it...50 models altogether.  Let's do this.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Flesh and Iron

I know it's been awhile since I've updated anything on the blog.  Alas, it would appear that the HOLIDAYS and the circus that surrounds them have begun to get the best of me and my nerd-posting has suffered.  Although I may have not been updating the blog, I've still been keeping busy!  In honor of receipt of a big ol' Imperial Guard shipment from Games Workshop (which I will detail in the next day or two) I decided to get into the flavor of the army with one of GW's newer additions to the Black Library, "Flesh and Iron" by new kid on the block, Henry Zou.

I went into this book not expecting much more than the standard issue mud n' guts content that seems to be linked at the hip with the Imperial Guard these days.  In truth, that's kind of what I was looking for but I found myself being pleasantly surprised when it was all said and done.

In his second novel, Zou takes us to the jungle world of Solo-Baston where we find ourselves dropped into the midst of a local rebellion against the forces of mankind's mighty Imperium.  From there, the bulk of the plot follows the 88th Riverine, a Catachan-esque unit of amphibious assault troops and their mission to silence a shopping mall sized cannon that's dug into side of a mountain.  Previously held by the Imperium and seized by the rebels, the size of the cannon (several American football fields long) prevents the Imperial Guard from mounting any sizable frontal attack to take back control of the large island where it's located and thus, the Riverine are called upon sneak inland and do the dirty work. Carnage ensues.

The first thing that struck me was how realistic parts of this book seemed compared to others I've read that are along the same lines.  After I finished reading it, I wasn't surprised at all to find out that Zou actually served time in the military.  Anybody can write combat scenes, but where Zou's experience shines is the moments in between the fights.  The way the soldiers interact with each other, their emotions and mental state before and after combat and even how they clean their weapons are all little strokes that on their own don't amount to much, but taken together they really add another dimension to the novel.

One of the best ways I can describe "Flesh and Iron" is the Vietnam war with lasguns.  Monsoons, oppressive  heat and humidity, ambushes from a foe that blends right in to the indigenous population and the constant threats of the jungle all take their toll on the men of the 88th and by the end of the novel, it shows.  This all builds up to a pretty massive twist that even I didn't see coming, but makes it well-worth reading until the very end.

Overall, I really liked this book and flew through it in a couple of weeks' worth of lunch breaks.  Zou impressed me enough with this effort that I'm going to grab a copy of his first work, "Emperor's Mercy" as soon as I get the chance.  If you want a break from the usual "big battle" style of Imperial Guard writing, or even if you're a first-timer just breaking into the game, I highly recommend this book as a good one-off read in between the massive trilogies we're all so fond of.