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. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Dark Imperium thoughts

Okay let's start with the Primaris Marines because what I really want to discuss are the Death Guard. The Intercessors are basically what Marines should always have been: the design adds height and width in all the right places; it adds visual interest to previously very dull flat planes like the legs and arms; and, most vitally, it keeps a lot of the iconic silhouette so it is still clearly a Space Marine. I'm not too sold on the new background that introduces them, I'm of the crowd that would be just as happy if GW had just said “This is a Space Marine now, your old ones are still cool but some day they'll all look like this.”, but its a nice design.
As to the rest of them: the Lieutenants are nice sculpts if a little bland; the Inceptors are a great idea even if their space suit power armour seems a little overdone; the Captain is great and I love the miniature Gauntlet of Ultramar he's armed with; and, I love the idea of a unit armed entirely with plasma weapons though I strongly suspect them of being a glass cannon if Gets Hot remains anything like it is now.

Right, good and righteousness all done, let's talk buboes...
Let's start with Big Daddy Disgusting here. This guy looks huge and his axe is one of the most over the top things I have ever seen this design team put out: its a giant corroded axe with three buzzsaw blades mounted inside it. It slices, it dices, it juliennes! Quite apart from that, there's such a sense of weight to the pose here: the way he holds the axe, the slight lean forward, the Nurgling being squished beneath one boot, it all adds to the impression that this is one slow, heavy guy. Also, he has one of those big nose blade things I so loved with the Blightkings.
And speaking of design cues nicked from the Blightkings, there's this chap and his bell. Apparently the equivalent of the Primaris Ancient standardbearer, this is one guy who really likes his “for whom the bell tolls” imagery. I also like the butcher's apron motif, that's cool.
Finally on the character front is the Malignant Plaguecaster. I'm not as sold on him as the other two Death Guard characters but that could just be a classic case of GW employing the worst angle to showcase a model from. He has a lot going for him but there's something about the head that puts me off. Still, given the way they've painted his staff it looks like they're going back to the very old idea of the Death Guard using a lot of wood in their wargear. No, seriously, the really, really old plastic Plague Marines had wood casings on their bolters. Speaking of...
Oh, look at them! Mutations everywhere, horns and tentacles and pitting on the armour. One of the big improvements this set has over Dark Vengeance is that there are no duplicate models in this unit. The Dark Vengeance Chaos Chosen had two identical Marines with bolters and in a unit that small it really showed. There is such unique character in each and every one of these fellows. My personal favourite is the plasma gunner with his cloak made out of corroded chain. I also like that they're all wearing mutated Mark III Iron armour because it suits them and not just because I really like Iron armour.
Then we get the peons of the army. Now, you know me, I love my Lost And The Damned and any effort to represent something mortal and squishy in 40k Chaos is fine by me. That said, if I had to guess I'd say these were more like mortals possessed by Plaguebearers than simply Nurglesque cultists. They look like they're going to be very fun to paint but also relatively simple, a must with hordes in my view. I mean, once you've got a flesh method that seems like half the model done and then its all detail in a limited palette of metallics and drab cloth.
And finally, the Foetid Bloat-Drone. I've always liked the look of Forge World's own Blight Drone but too many horror stories about building the thing and fixing the thing when it breaks have reached my ears to want one of my own. Now, there's one (or near enough) in lovely, lovely durable plastic.I actually think some improvements have been made over the Forge World version like giving it what look horrifically like a gas mask and working in more explicitly Nurglesque iconography.

Anyway, just a few random thoughts. I'm currently mulling over whether I want the Primaris half. The local store is doing one of those “swap shop” groups so I have a few days to decide whether there's something I want to do with the Primaris Marines or whether I want a double dose of XIV Legion. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

The redemption of the transport vehicle

"Remember where we parked."
The other day, Warhammer Community put up the latest in their series of 8th edition rule reveals and it was the one I'd been most looking forward to: transport vehicles. Long story short, it looks like they might actually do what they're meant to this time round.

I've never really got along with the concept of transport vehicles, to be honest. There were some designs and concepts that grabbed me, to be sure. For instance, I genuinely believe the Imperial Guard Chimera is the best and most versatile light tank in the game. The problem is that transports in general just weren't that useful.

The simple shift in rules GW now proposes is this: embarked units get out at the beginning of the Movement Phase and have complete freedom to move, shoot and charge as normal. A transport vehicle is now, plain and simply, for rushing forward, absorbing enemy fire in their next turn, and then disgorging a large number of angry people right in the face of the enemy. Oh, and then the transport can move off to offer a second target to the enemy.

Hell, now they have combat statistics even a Rhino might offering interesting tactical possibilities. Who knows, maybe Guilliman's plan to make even more superhuman Space Marines will involve inventing a basic transport that's more than a motorised storm bolter. One can hope.

Also, everyone embarked on an open-topped transport can now shoot. That's going to do wonderful things for Dark Eldar and Ork armies. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Battlefleet Gothic knock-offs: a review

My two knock-off Battlefleet Gothic ships finally arrived from Russia and they are a lot better than I anticipated. I was actually fine with what looked, on the eBay picture, to be a rather grainy finish to the resin. After all, I was paying about three pounds a ship and pretty much not much more on postage for dodgy recasts from some Russian guy. Meanwhile, an original metal one of these things from down the road was at minimum ten pounds.

The idea that I'd have to compromise on quality was fine by me but then they turned up and it turned out I hadn't compromised. These recasts are amazing. Just look at the detail fidelity on these things...

When I bought them I said you had to squint just a little to see them as a Nova and a Gladius but with them in my hands there's no need to squint at all, they just are straight up recasts of the original. Also, I got a free plastic soap dish sent as packaging. Result!

Okay, before anyone brings it up, yes this is technically miniature piracy. HOWEVER, its not like Games Workshop makes these models anymore. Choosing the Russian knock-off over second hand originals doesn't take money out of the hands of the people who made them. They want to bring this game back some day with a full product range I will support the shit out of it but I see no reason to pay above the odds for metal models that will chip and break over practically perfect lightweight resin models that won't. If they were recasting models currently in production then I wouldn't touch those, I think that's a step too far.

The only issues I have with the sculpts are that, as you can see from the soap dish images, there are injection points at some pretty delicate places. In fact, I did some small damage to the bottom of the Gladius removing one.

The other small issue was that arose, as you can see, is that the contact point for the flying base on the Gladius is fractionally too wide. The one on the Nova is the perfect size but it should be mentioned that some packing of the contact point might be necessary before affixing the base in some cases. Its a small flaw and one I'm more than willing to live with when a frigate is just over £7 including postage and packing.

Construction is pretty pain free, even the tiny side gun or whatever it is Nova has a pretty good tab design that helps you slot it into the exact right spot to match the one molded onto the other side of the ship. The rear fins on the Gladius also have a small detail on their side that allows you to line them up perfectly with a connecting detail on the main body of the ship that allows you to line them up right.

Purchasing details
The name of the seller is erinaceus_primus and his store can be found on eBay. His product listings are, not unnaturally, in Russian but incorporate the English class name of the ship so you can tell what you're buying without comparing the picture to a rulebook. He carries, as far as I can tell, recasts of all the frigates and escorts for the Space Marines fleet including the escorts that can also be used in the Imperial Navy fleet. They do not supply flying stalks but they can be easily ordered from Games Workshop.

All models are resin, please cut and assemble in ventilated conditions.

He accepts payment by PayPal. He has a 14 day returns policy with the buyer paying return postage. 

Monday, 8 May 2017

(Battlefleet) Gothic Revival

Ships passing in the night, yesterday.
Long story short: I showed a friend my Flesh Tearers and now I'm painting a Battlefleet Gothic force for him.

Long story long...

Yesterday, my friend Tom came over with his Battlefleet Gothic collection which he'd recently recovered from storage. He had decent sized Ork and Imperial Navy fleets with a few Eldar and Chaos ships. Given the rarity value of things, his big plan is to collect a variety of small forces and share them with us for the purposes of games. Over the course of the afternoon I ended up showing him some of the progress I'd made on the Flesh Tearers.

And he liked them. He really liked them, to the extent of asking me to paint any Space Marine ships he acquired in that colour scheme. We agreed on red for the main body of the ships with black on the prow rams, wings and other sticky outy panels.

I've also ordered a couple of... ahem... mildly naughty “not-Battlefleet Gothic models honest, guv” from a Russian company on eBay that, if you squint (not, admittedly, by much) would appear to be a Gladius-class and a Nova-class frigates. I'm waiting for them to arrive before mentioning the name of the company, just so I can be sure of the quality, but they look good enough for the rather low price, especially compared to what the real deal goes for these days.

Being me, of course, I've already named the ships: the Gladius will be Blood Oath and the Nova will be Midnight Approaches. Going to be a lot of violent and/or depressing names in a Flesh Tearers fleet, is my thinking. If I like the models, being escorts, they'll end up in squadrons with their sisters ships Blood Debt, Blood Price, End Of All Hope and Future's End.

By the time they arrive I'll probably have thought up commanding officers and combat histories for them as well, I'm just that kind of player. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Tactics: Dwarf Rangers and kiting

I like Let's Plays and one of my favourites is the Side Quest series on the Extra Play channel. For the past year or so Dan Floyd, the voice of Extra Credits, has been playing his way through the Dark Souls trilogy. Its not as educational as most of the other series the EC crew put out, at least not since James Portnow stopped giving his designer's perspective early in the series, but its fun to watch Dan die over and over, plus he has a really relaxing voice.

Just me? Okay.

Anyway, his commentary introduced me to an idea that finally allowed me to put one of my favourite Dwarf units to proper use: kiting.

In a video game, you exploit an enemy's programming to make them follow you. You use the tactic to draw members of a horde out one by one or drag enemies into an area where you have an advantage.

On the tabletop, you present your enemy with a target they can't ignore but don't want to deal with. In this case, I set up my Rangers the minimun distance away from a unit of Dark Elves Dreadspears. This unit was holding down the right flank of my opponent's army with most of my power units set up towards his left. This unit was already at the farthest extent of his line and the furthest thing he had from the rest of my army. Chasing my Rangers would mean turning to face away from my army, marching twelve inches out of his way and charging into a hail of crossbow bolts.

Ignoring them meant having a unit with great weapons and crossbows attacking his right flank as my Warriors and Irondrakes moved in on his left.

I also had my Organ Gun positioned to take advantage of a failed charge or the complete massacre of my Rangers (who do not have a particularly long history of surviving contact with the enemy).

As it happens, terrible dice rolling on both our parts meant the tactic worked better than it had right to. I kept losing combat and he kept pursuing me exactly one inch short which meant three consecutive turns of stopping just shy of overrunning my Rangers and getting an Orgun Gun in the flank for his troubles.

Its essentially a psychological tactics so I'm going to have to work on making sure the bait is sufficiently annoying in future but I think I finally have a line on how scouting units are meant to be deployed.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

In the grim darkness of June 16th

This image, the next issue teaser from this weekend's White Dwarf, has been doing the rounds of the rumour sites and, just like that, we have a date.

And I have a deadline.

Presumably the White Dwarf will be released the Friday before pre-orders go up, though given they're going with the “free ruleset” system they did with Age Of Sigmar it could just as likely be the day before the rules pamplets arrive in store.

So I have just shy of seven weeks to whip this Flesh Tearers army into shape. I have a Librarian, a Tactical Squad and two Dreadnoughts (one Contemptor, one Death Company). If points costs don't change too drastically, that's just north of five hundred points.

So, wants and needs.

For definite I need Death Company. No Blood Angels army, let alone a Flesh Tearers army, should take to the field without Death Company. Given the shooting rules published on Warhammer Community, a unit or two of Devastators wouldn't be too bad of an idea, either.

I feel there should be Scouts, what with the Flesh Tearers' recruitment needs, and I absolutely want to have a Baal Predator outfitted with all the flamers now that templates are a thing of the past.

My lovingly converted Vanguard Squad, of course, is top priority and they do need something to ride around in. I'm not sold on the look nor the utility of a Rhino (oh, wow, an motorised storm bolter, be still my beating heart) so I'm torn between either a Land Raider Redeemer or splitting the unit in two and running them in a pair of Razorbacks. Ultimately, I think, it'll come down to what I can secure cheaply on eBay.

Time to get the red spray out... 

Monday, 1 May 2017

May is 40k Month!

Is this cheating? Can I cheat at a completely self-imposed and self-defined way of motivating my own hobby? Don't care, doing it.

With GW's recent commendable desire to tell us things about 8th edition, I feel myself really motivated to get things in shape for the brave new world of movement values and armour save modifiers. First and foremost that means continuing to work on my Flesh Tearers, my training wheels army for 8th, but also maybe plugging away at some other things I have lying around like my Genestealer Cult and Mechanicus.

My main aim is to have a useable Flesh Tearers force for 8th edition launch day in June. I have about five hundred points' worth painted with a Librarian, a Tactical Squad and two Dreadnoughts (I do so love my Dreadnoughts). The problem, of course, is I don't know what a “proper” army is going to look like come June: the points system is changing and there are going to be a huge selection of Force Organisation Charts to choose from.

So my idea is this: I shall build to a theme and that theme is speed. This has the dual use of both being true to the spirit of this faction and giving me a chance to paint some Space Marine miniatures I haven't before: Bikers, Land Speeders, Baal-Pattern Predators and, of course, my beloved converted Vanguard Squad who will be getting a suitably awesome tramsport vehicle as soon as I decide whether I want a cheap Rhino for them or to splash out on a Land Raider for them.

I also, more for myself than anything else, need to get some background written for this army. I prefer my background to evolve with play but I want a few details to go in with: unit names, a character for my Captain and a mission for this strike force to be on.

Being the Flesh Tearers, their mission is likely to be Gabriel Seth pointing in a direction and saying “Go that way. Kill things.” but I think I can do a little better than that.