Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Why are Space Marine tanks STC?

It is actually a slightly oddity. Of course, its one of those oddities that exists for the simple reason that we're talking about a canon written in fits and starts over the course of decades by dozens if not hundreds of people. However, as time has gone on and Space Marines have become more and more special it has become a little odd that their tanks are STC tech.

So, bear with me here: as its always been explained a Standard Template Construct system was basically a massive fabricator that could create anything out of anything. Human colonies would set down on a world, the STC database would evaluate the resources at hand and provide the colony with the best version it of whatever it needed that could be created out of a series of standard schemata that it's AI could adapt to circumstances.

Nowadays, in the grim darkness of the even farther future, the STC patterns are revered as holy writ and there is a very real crossover between technological advancement and archaeology as tech-priests strive to discover lost STC data.
There are even whole bits of background about how the techno-archaeologist Arkhan Land found the STC schematics for what would become the Land Raider and Land Speeder. Further, there was a massive theological divide in the Adeptus Mechanicus when the Black Templars retrofitted linebreaker weapons onto the Land Raider as to whether it was heretical or not (read: a non-STC design or a forgotten STC design). The result of that debate basically boiled down to: “It works, therefore it must be compatible with a heretofore unknown STC or the Machine-God wouldn't allow it also half the chapters in the Imperium have adopted the design while we were debating and they're bigger than us.”.

The thing is, though, that Space Marines are the one place where non-STC tech was prevalent in the early Imperium.

The Primarch Project, the Astartes process, their power armour, their weapons tech and almost everything else was designed personally by the Emperor, the one being who could get around the Mechanicus because of their very convenient belief that he was the Machine-God personified. He was personally able to advance science and technology to his own design because his word on such matters was, effectively, considered itself to be an expression of the STC system.

So why are Land Raiders and Speeders STC designs? Why are Rhinos and all their variants based on the (Dark) Age Of Technology RH1N0 all-terrain vehicle?

Of course, but the I opened the post with the real answer and there's not really a way to reconcile it with modern canon. Though, there is a cheeky part of me that just wants to claim that the Emperor agrees with my complete disinterest in tanks and transport vehicles.

On the other hand, of course, being based on pre-Astartes STC sdesigns would explain why all Space Marine vehicles are actually slightly too small to accommodate the people they're meant to be transporting. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Flesh Tearers vs. Death Guard: let the 8th edition commence!

Yesterday, finally with rulebook and Index supplements in hand, Matt and I began the first in our first series of games for the new edition. This is our “getting to know the edition” series, naturally, I used my Flesh Tearers because they are my training wheels army (I haven't played regularly since the beginning of 6th edition). Matt, meanwhile, spent an hour or so gluing his Death Guard together so he could start the edition with an army he has no preconceived notions of (this actually turned out to be a good plan).

So, not our first game but the first outside of using slightly incomplete resources off the internet. Matt had the contents of his Dark Imperium box and I had the roughly equivalent power points Flesh Tearers force consisting of:

Librarian in power armour
Chaplain with jump pack
10 Tactical Marines
5 Vanguard Veterans
Land Speeder with multi-melta
Death Company Dreadnought

This worked out to 2 power points more than Matt's and so he got his underdog bonuses. We had a straight up fight with no objectives just to get a handle on things.

Result: win to me. I had both characters, the Dreadnought and a couple of Tactical Marines still standing at the end, Matt had one Poxwalker and his Plague Champion (who... just... would not... die!). We learnt a few things and we forgot a few things.

Things What We Forgot
Shooting pistols in combat is something you really, really need to remember you can do. The loss of additional attacks for charging affects Tactical Squads' effectiveness a lot more than you think it will so, seriously, remember that they have pistols and you can use them.

Cataphractii armour has a better invulnerable save than normal Terminator armour and the Lord Of Contagion is wearing Cataphractii plate.

You can't deny psychic powers if you don't have a psyker on the table. This is why I targeted Matt's Malignant Plaguecaster early on but we forgot this detail and so some of my psychic powers got denied in Turn Two out of the clear blue sky.

Morale at the end of the turn, not the phase, we did a couple of morale tests at the end of the shooting phase and just had to remember the result for later.

Things What We Learnt
Matt used his twenty Poxwalkers to roadblock my Death Company Dreadnought, a slow and interminable beating I took because my Dreadnought was not in a position to do anything useful by leaving the combat. Given how resilient the Poxwalkers turned out to be (it took me eleven turns of combat to whittle them down to one guy) I dread to think what they might have achieved if they'd reached my Tactical Squad.

Plague Marines: super resilient. Matt was trying to use them to take out my Tactical Squad at range but as I kept failing to kill him from a distance we quickly realised that it would just have been better for him to wade through the bolter fire for a turn or two and charge me. This edition is a lot better for designing units to do what they're meant to do and Plague Marines are footslogging attrition specialists.

My Land Speeder is now a character sniper. The speed meant that in about every turn I was able to ensure a character was the closest possible target for my multi-melta.

Also, Land Speeders are a lot more fragile than I anticipated at only Toughness 5 and 6 wounds. Definitely a vehicle that needs to avoid combat wherever possible.

In an edition where extra attacks don't just materialise out of thin air, chainswords are worth their weight in gold.

On the other hand, I'm not sure meltaguns (or any multi-Damage special weapon) are really that useful in a Tactical Squad anymore. They seem more of a contingency fallback than something you'll get full use of most turns.

Given how poorly it did in the one turn it was fighting my Dreadnought, I think the Feotid Bloat-Drone is more of an anti-infantry thing than anti-vehicle.

Area of effect is better than having buffs that only work for the unit a character is with. My Dreadnought managed to get Litany Of Hate re-rolls just from having the Chaplain nearby. Obviously, though, this is a thing to keep a ready eye and a ready tape measure out for.

I love my Chaplain's inferno pistol. It is a good pistol.

Bonus Background Fact!
According to the main rulebook's appendices, there is still a planet of the catgirls. This joke persists. 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

8th edition, 1st impressions

Disclaimers before we begin: this is all based on one game in an odd format with no reference to points or power balancing. That said, these are impressions based on an actual game with full access to the rules and datasheets so I guess it might be of use to someone.

The format of the game was simple: come to GW on games night with an HQ, a Troops unit and “something cool”. There were four of us: myself with my Flesh Tearers (I didn't get my Black Templars, for that is what they were finished on time), Matt with some Traitor Guard (using standard AM rules), and two people who I shall refer to as Rugby Shirt and Baseball Cap out of respect for privacy and not knowing Rugby Shirt's name who had Khorne Daemons and Tau Empire respectively.

We divided into pairs: me with a Librarian, Tactical Squad and Death Company Dreadnought and Baseball Cap with Tau Commander, Fire Warriors and a Crisis Battlesuit Bodyguard Team vs. Matt with Command Squad, Veteran Squad and Rough Riders and Rugby Shirt with Daemon Prince, Bloodletters and Bloodcrushers. No scenario, standard twelve inch deployment, fight!

So, first eighth impressions:

The Good
Dreadnoughts are a lot more survivable. Mine ended up in combat with the Daemon Prince and Bloodletters. It died but it survived two turns and got the Daemon Prince down to one wound before it fell. The fragility of walkers has been a problem for a while and this has been very effectively addressed.

On that subject, the ability of small arms fire to wound anything came into use with the Veterans chipping off a wound from the Dreadnought. It took an entire squad (and Matt muffing his rolls for his meltaguns) but they took off a wound.

Multiple wound and multiple damage weapons got a rollout on all sides. The fact that multiple damage doesn't carry over between models balances it out nicely. Firing my meltagun at Matt's Veteran Squad was pretty ineffective as I was basically wasting two thirds of its power sniping off one model.

The ability to use pistols in combat is an idea I'm surprised hasn't been included before. It makes dedicated assault squads more effective for what they do and actually enhances Tactical Squads rather nicely, making them the all-rounders they were always meant to be.

Flamers are better. On paper they have much the same range they always did but, like other ranged weapons, if even a part of the target unit is in range you now get to fire with full effect. Obviously, they hit automatically which is more than enough compensation for losing the templates.

Supporting charges, or whatever the actual term is: great idea. It always seemed strange to me that a unit could be standing a few feet away from their comrades being minced and do nothing for a few minutes. Nice and fluffy idea, good mechanic that makes the opponent put extra consideration into considering their charges.

Chargers attacking first: unalloyed good, no problems there even if we kept forgetting that all chargers had to attack before we moved on to the alternate activation. Just a thing to get used to.

And, finally, as far as Johnny Number Blindness here is concerned, a To Wound chart that can be explained in simple sentences is worth its weight in gold.

The Middling
I am still not entirely convinced by the AoS-style leadership. None of us lost more than a couple of wounds to it at a time, the single D6 and generally high leadership on our units meant it was quite forgiving. Get back to me once I've had reason to test it out with my Orks.

Falling back from combat... well, I imagine it has more utility in bigger games. In our game all it really did, when we came to think about it, was deprive my Tactical Squad of using their pistols in the next turn. Probably the best use of the rule is to open enemy units up for a firing solution from more effective ranged weapons.

No firing arcs is ultimately good though I do miss the mechanic of picking enemy models off from the front of a unit backwards. Its probably for the best and means you don't get sergeants and such hiding in the middle of the unit which just looks... well, crap.

That said, the ability to effectively “hide” characters from all enemy fire unless they're the closest target is perhaps not the most logical idea (there would be times when you as a commander would want to target the enemy general) but the Rule Of Cool applies. You just want to get your general into combat with the enemy general and this facilitates that.

The Bad (or, The Will Take Getting Used To)
I think the relative ease of firing off psychic powers might be a bit OP. Again, am impression that will need a few larger and more balanced games, preferably ones where I don't have the only psyker on the table, to sort out whether I'm right or not.

Not getting extra attacks for charging isn't a problem but the brain has had years to program its cost/benefit analysis around the idea of charging as a force multiplier that it will take some adjustment. It has its bright side: it means combat units will be prioritised for combat instead of just charging everything in that's in range. Its a good mechanic that means units will be used more frequently in line with their background purpose but, again, a little mental adjustment is in order.

Overall, I was impressed. The game flows a lot more organically than I've ever seen it, there was very little rulebook flitting and no significant unbalances came up from four pretty diverse armies.

Quiet confidence is beginning to transform into moderately loud confidence. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Some thoughts on the Land Raider Crusader

First of all, people have been telling me for years that the Land Raider is a living nightmare of a kit. I've been told how awful it is to build, how nothing seems to fit together and the unnecessary complexity of the tank commander add ons and such.

Now, either GW substantially reworked the sprues when they made the plastic Crusader/Redeemer kit or against all logic I am better at building things than my friends.

(I am not. I once rage quit building a Land Speeder Typhoon.)

The only component I've had any problem with is the tank commander: the connecting point between the multi-melta and the commander's hands is rather small and not quite the right shape to make good, solid connection. Its a truly minor complaint fixed by a little trial and error.

Next thought: I love the design of the Land Raider. As much as it is a big metal box, the placement of the weapons around the different facings makes it look like a rolling fortress. You get a much better idea of why the Space Marines view these things as akin to (or, in some cases, as literally) religious relics to be preserved and venerated.

I also like how the Crusader is very, very well optimised for mowing down infantry. Whereas the purpose of a Rhino has always escaped me (“Let's put wheels on a storm bolter!”), the purpose of the Crusader is clear. Its a linebreaker: it drives up to the enemy line, firing mainly anti-infantry weapons and one multi-melta for dealing with barricades and emplacements and then the front ramp smashes down and disgorges a six pack of Terminators or the large family size Crusader Squad.

It literally only just clicked for me writing that sentence that the Black Templars' signature squad is named after the Black Templars' signature tank. I am an idiot. That realisation took almost twenty years.

Funnily enough, I'm not building this for my Flesh Tearers. I want to concentrate more on Fast Attack options there. Rather, this is to accompany some older models I'm reconditioning, though I can't say for what army as my best friend reads this blog and I'm planning a little nostalgic surprise for him when we have our first 8th edition game. We'll be doing that this week as the local GW is running some taster events for which we're being asked to bring one HQ, one Troops choice and one “special thing”. My special thing, depending on how much I can get done this week, will either be this Land Raider or a Venerable Dreadnought I'm in the process of reconditioning (that is to say, painting better than when I first bought it).

As to the HQ and Troops, well that would be telling and my bestie would guess what I'm bringing but I'll have pictures up when its too late to spoil the surprise, probably on Thursday.

You know, I never thought I would ever be this enthusiastic about 40k again. I'm far more of a Fantasy fan, games wise. Even though its still all theory at this stage, the new edition looks like its been streamlined in all the rights ways to be smoother to play and easier to remember the mechanics without sacrificing depth.

Still, proof of the pudding and all that. Maybe I'll change my mind after playing the thing. I hope not.  

Thursday, 1 June 2017

June is Death Guard Month

What else could it be? As much as I like the design of Primaris Marines (if not the concept or anything about the Dreadnought), the Death Guard are the main event of Dark Imperium for me. I'm still mulling over whether I want to swap shop the Bigly Marines or wait for inspiration to hit. I have this vague concept of painting them orange but that might be a passing craze, I don't know.

Anyway: Death Guard, the XIV Legion Astartes, the servants of Nurgle, the bringers of pestilence, the one Chaos Legion whose greatest rivalry is with another Chaos Legion because Mortarian really, really hates Magus the Red, the chubby traitors of cuddliness.

Just me, that last one, I take it?

Anyway, my absolute favourite Chaos Marine faction is coming to workable, buildable plastic but they're coming halfway through the month so, in the meantime, I once again brave the indignities of Forge World resin...
Yes, I know pics of plastic Death Guard Terminators have leaked but I honestly do prefer these sculpts. I'd have to, after my less than happy experience trying to scrape the FW Plague Marine torsos down to a point where they actually fit into the plastic legs they're designed to be built with it takes a lot to interest me in a Forge World kit. I have two sets of Terminator bodies, my plan for the second being to build two more “basic” Plague Terminators to fill the squad up to Nurgle's sacred number and then use the other three to make alternative weapons.

Yes, I'm going to do the “sacred number” thing in as many units as possible. I'm that sort of hobbyist. I even have a concept for the Possessed. You see, I want my Possessed not to be Death Guard but loyalist Marines they've captured and basically injected daemons into. I have approximately two or three complete Space Marines in bits in my bits box so I'll mix them in with the five Possessed from the actual kit, slap on some Deathwatch shoulder pads and then paint in a rainbow of appropriate colours to make a suitably horrific unit.

Oh, I also have a name for my Lord of Contagion: Scrofulus Bezoar (yes, I just did a big re-read of Sandman, why do you ask?).

For the moment, though, first priority goes to getting these Terminators started. I want to experiment with colour scheme on something big and relatively simple before working on the Dark Imperium models and I've had these conversion kits lying around for literally years. 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Lion as written by Chris Wraight

(SPOILERS for The Horus Heresy: Primarchs: Leman Russ: The Great Wolf by Chris Wraight)
I picked up Chris Wraight's Primarch's novella The Great Wolf on a whim. I don't follow the Horus Heresy series as closely as I used to, just checking in when a particularly attractive pairing of author and legion comes up. Usually, Chris Wraight writing Space Wolves would be a easy sell: I like Chris Wraight, I like how he writes Space Wolves. The only sticking point was the subject of the novella.

Its the duel with Lion El'Jonson.

Now, I get it. Its a hugely iconic moment in 40k history, its a big personal moment for both primarchs and there really isn't a place to slot it into the regular Heresy novels quite aside from the fact it isn't something that could really fill out a full-length novel. The Leman Russ novella was a natural home for it, especially as I'd bet the Lion novella will be about his relationship with Luther.

Still... Chris Wraight, Space Wolves, give it a try, I though. It started off great with the Thirteenth Company of all people being one of the main focuses of the story. Hell, Wraight even remembered the existence of Bulveye, now that's what I call fan service! Indeed, it took a while for the Dark Angels to turn up and I basically convinced myself that, okay, this was going well and was interesting and I could take the hit if the Lion bit wasn't as fun.

Well, I was wrong. The Lion bit is great because unlike most other authors, Chris Wraight has something more to say about the Lion than to wiggle his fingers and go “ooooh, untrustworthy and mysterious”. One of the first scene Russ and the Lion share has them basically comparing their ways of war. Russ, as long established, takes his wars very personally. He's the Emperor's appointed executioner, after all:

Ever world we burn is for vengeance. They are condemned, he is condemned, and we are the sanction.”

The Lion, meanwhile, has a far more impersonal take on the whole affair:

For me, the order was simple – go out, harvest worlds for Terra. I carry no hatred for those who resist. I barely see them. They are numbers, objects, obstacles to overcome. In the end the Great Crusade is all, and it stands or falls by our actions.”

As prosaic as it sounds, this is probably the deepest insight we've ever been granted into Jonson's mind. Most of the Legions gain their character from the personality of their primarch but Jonson has always been a mystery so Wraight works backwards: he takes the mindset of the Unforgiven and applies it to the Lion. He takes the cold singlemindedness with which the Dark Angels and their successor hunt the Fallen and asks what that would mean for a Jonson who has nothing to hide yet. Actually, the fact that Jonson has nothing to hide at this point, is a central theme of the novella and his conflict with Russ (hint: it has something to do with the Thirteenth Company).
Its certainly a more interesting approach than just having the Dark Angels always being untrustworthy dicks since day one which has tended to be how other authors treat them. And I'm not ust beating down on the “lower tier” Heresy writers here: Dan Abnett is just as bad for it in Unremembered Empire with Jonson forgetting to mention to anyone that he has bloody Night Haunter on his battlebarge because that's not the sort of thing that's going to come back and bite him on his knightly arse.

So, yes, for the first time ever I find myself interested in the Lion and it makes me want to dust off my Angels of Redemption. I've always liked the colours and the mechanics but now I have an insight into their psychology: the mission is everything without consideration of personal glory. Now, this gets a lot less heroic in the “present day” where that purity of purpose gets twisted into an endless quest of vengeance against the Fallen that has them regularly abandoning, selling out or massacring allies left and right but that psychology still holds true to a large extent.

Wraight's angle on the Lion also has the virtue of, just for once, not painting the Dark Angels as being entirely in the wrong. As much fun as I have tweaking our resident Dark Angels player's nose with the phrase “heretics in skirts”, a problem that comes up an awful lot is this:

How does anyone trust these guys?”

So having a novella that shows them on a good day when there's no reason to (intentionally) betray anyone is a breath of fresh air. It genuinely is the first time I've seen them portrayed with the efficiency for war that gives them value as a fighting force and not just a bunch of shifty guys who swoop in, mysteriously abduct a mysterious person for mysterious reason and then massacre a hundred thousand Guardsmen for having seen too much. Or, to put it another way, as an army that works outside of their one USP storyline. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

8th edition detachment rules

Just to be clear: as I queue this post these images are still “leaks” and thus rumours. They look legit but we've all been bitten before. That said, let's talk crunch!

Now, I hate the standard force organisation chart with a fiery passion. It doesn't work for me. I know what its meant to do. Its to provide balance by restricting every player to the same basic menu of unit types which isn't a bad design philosophy but it can be a little limiting that, say, no matter the context or importance of a mission your army isn't going to commit more than three units of elite troops to it under any circumstances.

This isn't to say the standard force org is going away but it is getting more versatile. For one thing, the “standard” version lives in a tiered system...
So, different sizes of chart for different sizes of game, I can get down with that. I also like that you get more Elites with six slots in the normal-sized game Battalion Detachment, a move that reminds me of Fantasy going to maximum 50% Special choices. I imagine that some of the more powerful Troops choices will find themselves bumped up to Elite status to compensate but I can appreciate the opportunities for army theming this represents. We also get an extra HQ slot (two of the three being compulsory), which is no bad thing since most armies now have so many HQ options that just two and only two was starting to feel very restricting.

Flyers are now part of the standard force organisation as their own discrete entity, which is nice.

The flipside of this trend seems to be raising the compulsory Troops choices from two to three which might seem unfair except for the fact that there are now force orgs that don't require troops at all.
So, basically, one themed chart for each of the other choices: Vanguard for compulsory Elites, Spearhead for compulsory Heavy Support and Outrider for compulsory Fast Attack. Each has Troops at 0-3 and the other choices at 0-2. These measures and dropping the HQ slots down to two again gives these charts a significant downside to the Battalion. These are charts for a more strict theming than the three-tiered standard and I like that. My mind is already brimming with ideas for a Flesh Tearers Outrider Detachment (all the Assault Marines...).
And then there's a page of various housekeeping exercises: flyer, fortification and super-heavy detachments that presumably slot along the side of a main army plus an HQ themed chart which seems designed for campaign theming and the like when you want the big boss man / woman / alien / robot / daemon present for a special game with his own cadre of hangers on and a big thing.

All in all, yet more reason to look forward to a very versatile edition of the rules, me thinks.