Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Grad Student Rap

Okay, this has no relation to gaming, but it's too funny not to share. If you've ever been a grad student then this one's for you.

(Notice how I'm making all these short, fluffy, last-day-of-the-month posts so that January doesn't go down as my least prolific month of all time?)

D&D Promotes Gang Activity?

The U.S. Court of Appeals recently upheld the D&D ban in prisons on the grounds that it encourages gang activity.  Read more here.  Apparently, a DM giving instructions to players mimics gang organization and teaches them how to form gangs (I wouldn't have thought that forming a gang was so difficult that it would require instructions).

Damn, and here I've been playing for over 30 years and I don't even have colours or anything!  Clearly, I've been focusing too much on the fun and adventure and missing out on the larger lessons entirely.

I'd have thought that a game that provides a creative outlet and promotes literacy would be a good thing to have in prisons and should be encouraged, but what do I know about such things?  I wonder how long it will be before someone decides that D&D encourages terrorist activity?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Art of Dungeoneering: Chapter V, Energy

This chapter has been a long time in coming partly because January has been a lazy blogging month for me, and also because the elements of this chapter were a bit difficult to piece together as a coherent whole.  As usual, Sun Tzu has given some fairly obtuse instructions and left it to the reader to find their meaning, and my understanding of this chapter's lessons were coloured by my experiences as a Warhammer player, which have taught me the importance of exposing your enemy's flank while guarding your own.

1. Generally, management of many is the same as management of few.  It is a matter of organization.

2. And to control many is the same as to control few.  This is a matter of formations and signals.

3. That the army is certain to sustain the enemy's attack without suffering defeat is due to operations of the extraordinary and the normal forces.

Sun Tzu considers normal forces to be those that confront the enemy head-on, while the extraordinary forces are those that attack the enemy's flanks.  These forces should act in concert to effect victory.  Consider keeping some of your party in reserve, and then deploying them once your main force has engaged the enemy and has their full attention.  In MMORPG parlance use your main force to 'aggro' the enemy and once they are stuck in hit the enemy in the flank with your reserves and watch them crumble.

4. Troops thrown against the enemy as a grindstone against eggs is an example of a solid acting upon a void.

This is a roundabout way of saying that you should attack the enemy's 'soft' forces with your 'hard' ones.

5. Generally, in battle, use the normal force to engage; use the extraordinary to win.

This is a stratagem that I think most Warhammer players understand instinctively.  My Warriors of Chaos army, for example, is organized into two broad groups that I refer to as 'the hammer' and 'the anvil.'  The anvil consists of a large unit of shield-bearing Chaos Warriors of Slaanesh who are immune to fear and panic.  Compared to the rest of my army, these guys don't dish out a whole lot of damage, but they sure can take it.  The hammer is a much smaller unit of Chaos Warriors of Khorne who have given up their shields in favour of extra hand weapons and have frenzy, which combine to give them a terrifying number of attacks.  These guys break easily though, so I hold them back until the 'the anvil' has engaged a big enemy unit and has them locked in combat, then I maneuver 'the hammer' into position and charge the enemy unit's flank.  When I can pull it off, there is little that can stand before me.  Of course my worthy opponent is also trying to do the same thing to me so that's when you employ all your 'sneaky git' tactics to make sure that it's your flanking charge and not his that strikes home first.

This sort of thing can also be employed in the dungeon.  Thieves aren't terribly robust, and they don't do well in stand-up fights, but they are stealthy buggers and their backstab attacks can be downright terrifying.  So resist the temptation of getting the party thief into combat right away.  Instead, hang back and let the fighters get the enemy's attention, perhaps aided by a flashy spell or two from the magic user, then sneak around behind and hit 'em where it hurts!

6. Now the resources of those skilled in the use of extraordinary forces are as infinite as the heavens and earth; as inexhaustible as the flow of the great rivers.

7. For they end and recommence; cyclical, as are the movements of the sun and moon.  They die away and are reborn; recurrent, as are the passing seasons.

8. The musical notes are only five in number but their melodies are so numerous that one cannot hear them all.

9. The primary colours are only five in number but their combinations are so infinite that one cannot visualize them all.

10. The flavours are only five in number but their blends are so various that one cannot taste them all.

11. In battle there are only the normal and extraordinary forces, but their combinations are limitless; none can comprehend them all.

12. For these two forces are mutually reproductive; their interaction as endless as that of interlocked rings.  Who can determine where one ends and the other begins?

Okay, after that barrage of metaphor I think we all get the point.  The following passages are where things start to get murky...

13. When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum.

14. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.

15. Thus the momentum of one skilled in war is overwhelming, and his attack precisely regulated.

16. His potential is that of a fully drawn crossbow; his timing, the release of the trigger.

These four points obviously refer to the timing of an attack, and timing is critical when employing a flanking attack, as I've learned the hard way through many ignominious defeats at the gaming table.  But how can we create good timing for our attacks?

17. In the tumult and uproar the battle seems chaotic, but there is no disorder; the troops appear to be milling about in circles but cannot be defeated.

18. Apparent confusion is a product of good order; apparent cowardice, of courage; apparent weakness, of strength.

The key to good timing is creating your own opportunities to attack by manipulating the enemy - to feign retreat or confusion in order to draw him out and deliver the finishing blow with perfect timing.  But doing so requires highly disciplined troops lest that feigned retreat becomes a route in truth.

This is yet another lesson I've learned well from playing Warhammer.  I often position a small unit of fast cavalry within range of a large enemy unit in hopes of enticing them to charge (and if the enemy unit is frenzied they have no choice), then fleeing in response to the charge.  The idea here is to draw the enemy unit out of position with a failed charge, assuming my cavalry can get away safely, which exposes their flank to a counter charge in my next turn.  The danger here is always that bait unit will fail their morale test to regroup and keep fleeing right off the board.  This is as much a danger in real life as in the game.

So, too, in the dungeon.  If you plan on using henchmen to draw out enemy forces be certain to use only those whose loyalty and discipline are the greatest, or else they may panic and flee at the wrong moment, handing you a defeat at your moment of victory.

19. Order or disorder depends on organization; courage or cowardice on circumstances; strength or weakness on dispositions.

20. Thus, those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform; they entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit they await him in strength.

Understand your enemy's currency and use it to your advantage.  Consider keeping a sack of distraction treasure handy.  If you're being charged by a band of highwaymen, scattering gold coins in their midst will cause the charge to falter pretty quickly as they break ranks to scoop up the loot.  You can use this time to counter-charge or run away!  Monsters, too, have their own brand of currency - often food - that can be used to create a distraction.  For unscrupulous adventuring parties a sack of hobbits can be well worth the investment if it keeps a hungry troll off your back.

21.  Therefore a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.

22. He selects his men and they exploit the situation.

23. He who relies on the situation uses his men in fighting as one rolls logs or stones.  Now the nature of logs and stones is that on stable ground they are static; on unstable ground, they move.  If square, they stop; if round, they roll.

24. Thus, the potential of troops skilfully commanded in battle may be compared to that of round boulders which roll down from mountain heights.

In short, use the right tool for the job at hand.  When you use the right weapons or strategies for the prevailing conditions, executed at the proper time, your attack is sure to succeed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Heteromorphic Novelty: A Prelude to Extinction

The approximately six-hundred million year history of multicellular life on Earth is an ongoing story of adaptation, speciation, and extinction.  The story is read in the layers of sediment, that unfold like pages in a book, divided into chapters defined by global mass extinctions.

I spend much of each day metaphorically swimming in Earth's ancient seas, observing the ebb and flow of life and reading the 'pages' of deep time to reconstruct the ancient world, and there is a frequently recurring pattern of morphological adaptation that is as fascinating as it is enigmatic: heteromorphic novelty.  By this I mean the tendency for taxonomic groups, usually at the level of class or order, which have maintained a conservative morphology throughout their history, to produce wildly aberrant forms as they approach extinction.

It is often the case that as you proceed up through a stratigraphic succession, all the species of a given taxonomic group exhibit little change until you start to get close to the group's extinction horizon.  As you get closer to the omega layer you start to see species appearing with bizarre morphological forms that defy the imagination.  If you can forgive my irresistible urge to anthropomorphize, it is almost as though the group is making a desperate attempt to avoid it's fate.

There are many excellent examples of late stage heteromorphy, and it can be seen in many taxonomic groups, most famously, ammonites, trilobites, brachiopods, and bivalves.  For example, throughout the Jurassic and most of the Cretaceous, ammonite shells were a conservative, simple coil:

Jurassic ammonite, Perisphinctes
But by the Late Cretaceous many species had such aberrant shell morphology that swimming must have been impossible for them:

Late Cretaceous ammonite, Nipponites

Similarly, the trilobite order Phacopida exhibited a fairly conservative morphology throughout the Ordovician and Silurian periods:

Ordovician phacopid, Dalmanites
But in the Devonian, when the phacopids went extinct, extreme morphologies arose, such as this specimen from Morocco:

Devonian phacopid, Walliserops
While it is usually misleading to apply evolutionary metaphor to human activity, the human brain is predisposed to recognize patterns, and given how I spend much of every day, I can't help but see some parallels between hetermorphic variation in pre-extinction clades and recent activities at Wizards of the Coast.

For months now, we've been hearing rumours that 4E has been losing market share to Pathfinder; rumours that have now been confirmed, such as recently reported by Cyclopeatron.  Simultaneously we are seeing some rather sudden drastic changes at Wizards of the Coast, such as the discontinuation of their plastic miniature line, and the cancellation of several upcoming 4E books, as well as the release of their line of collectible power cards for 4E.  Greyhawk Grognard has recently made some insightful predictions about where WotC is going with all this, and I can't help but see these sudden changes in direction as the type of desperate innovation to stave off exctinction that I regularly see in the rock record.  Indeed, this recent activity reminds me of nothing so much as what TSR was doing in the mid '90's, and we all know how well that turned out.

I think that the desperate pre-extinction gambits that we saw from TSR, and that I believe we are seeing from WotC, is a result of hobby companies being run, not by the hobbyists that founded the companies, but the executives and corporations that came to own them.  When you know nothing about the hobby, and care even less, it is difficult to understand how to proceed when people aren't gobbling up your product the way you expected.  Just as Lorraine Williams presumed to make management decisions when she didn't know the first thing about what gamers wanted, it's difficult for WotC to salvage their 4E line when Hasbro executives are screaming for profits - especially when they keep laying off the creative minds behind the line and destroying any continuity of vision (as myopic as that vision may have been).

So here's my prediction: we'll continue to see increasingly bizarre 4e product releases for the next few years until WotC's version of D&D ceases to exist as an RPG.  Oh, I think WotC will keep chugging along, and that D&D will continue to exist as a brand name, but that brand will consist of products that have nothing to do with roleplaying games, and will inevitably dwindle to insignificance.  The rest of us will slow down to ogle the car wreck on the highway, then carry on to the beach, playing and publishing the games we love thanks to the OGL, while we surf the ebb and flow of speciation and extinction in the gaming hobby.

Too Much Information?

It can often be a struggle, when introducing players to a new campaign world, deciding how much background information to give them right up front.  A common school of thought is that players should start out knowing nothing and be allowed to learn about the world as they explore it.  There is a lot to recommend this approach, especially if the GM hasn't done much background work on the campaign world yet; the campaign can begin and the details can be filled in later.

But what if you're introducing new players to a world you've been developing for years, rife with details and a well-established history?  You might not always want to start the campaign in the village where they grew up and even if you do, even the most isolated villagers are likely to know something of their history and culture; the sort of information that helps players define their characters and understand the flavour of the setting they are playing in.  The question is, how to present it?

I've often resorted to the 'campaign guide' approach.  You know; the thesis-length tome of background information that you give to the players, who struggle through the first few pages of boring history before giving up.  This becomes painfully obvious after the first few sessions of play when the party is confronted by the infamous Lord Misanthrope, whose cloak-flourishing, moustachio-twirling appearance is met, not with gasps of horror, but blank stares.

"You know...Lord Misanthrope," you prompt.  "Destroyer of worlds, defiler of maidens, stealer of candy?"
More blank stares.
"Oh, come on!  I described  him on page one-hundred and thirty-two of the campaign guide, didn't you read it?"

There is certainly nothing wrong with campaign hand-outs, and I find a big campaign 'bible' handy for my own use and reference, but there are probably better and more interesting ways of passing that information on to the players than dumping it all in their laps at once.

If you follow From the Sorcerer's Skull (and if you don't you're really missing out on a visually stunning and beautifully written blog), then you're familiar with Trey's approach of describing his weird game world through a series of posts that are presented like travelogues.  Each post is a vignette without any structured order or context; just a snippet of interesting information about the world - a bit of pop-culture here, a monster there - each one providing a fun and interesting insight.  Before too long, almost without realizing it, you come to understand Trey's world almost as if you were a local.  This is just how I've always wanted players to feel in my settings, but have never quite managed to pull off without many years of play.

Trey commented on his recent post, The Dead Travel Fast, about drag-racing culture in Hesperia, that it's more fun for him to write random pieces as they interest him than to present the information in a structured, linear format.  It occurred to me that it's probably a lot more fun for people to read it this way, too, and likely immerses the players in the setting  more quickly and thoroughly than any other way.

This is one of the great advantages of blogs as campaign aids.  They offer us new ways of communicating information and imagery to players in a way that can easily be referred to without having to keep track of reams of paper that always end up getting lost.  Back in the old days, I always took it upon myself to write up session notes for any game I was playing in - it was the only way that we, the players, could remember all the plot threads from session to session.  The problem with this method was it that relied entirely on my presence - if I missed a session no one had any idea what was going on.  With session notes recorded on a blog, everyone can stay up to date, and even players who miss games can quickly get caught up on what happened in their absence.  I've even seen players looking up stuff on my blog using their cell-phones during play sessions.

Nonetheless, I've been slow to really appreciate how useful the blog format is as a play aid; new and cool uses keep occurring to me, such as the metaphysical kick to the head I got the other day while reading From the Sorcerer's Skull.  The next time I create a new campaign world, I plan to follow Trey's lead and introduce the players to their new sandbox by way a series of digital travelogues.  And I'll be keeping that campaign bible in my binder, where it belongs.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pewter, Plastic & Pigment: Pick Your Poison

Remember back in the early days of the hobby when we were forced to use enamel Testor's paint?  There wasn't a whole lot of choice in paints back then, but I was an avid model-builder so I had a fairly large assortment of Testors paints kicking around, left over from all those model cars, airplanes, and spaceships.  Consequently my early miniatures were thickly layered in glossy enamel.

There were a lot of drawbacks to painting with enamel.  Since they weren't water soluble you had to clean your brushes in turpentine, and certain techniques, like washing were a lot harder to do (and completely unknown to me at the time).

Fortunately times have changed for the better and we are now blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to acrylic paint purpose-made for miniatures.  There are lots of different paints available and it can be tough to decide what brand to buy.  Many painters use paints from a variety of companies, but most have their favourites.  Here is a quick comparison of four of the most popular miniature paint brands: Citadel Paint (Games Workshop), Reaper Master Series Paints, Vallejo, and P3 (Privateer Press).

Now all of these paints are good quality and each has a loyal following.  Any of them will produce good results, but how do they compare?  There are lots of factors to consider, but let's start off with price, volume, colour range, and type of bottle.

Citadel Paints
By virtue of the marketing giant that is Games Workshop, Citadel paints are some of the most readily available paints on the market, and most game stores sell them.

Volume:  0.4 oz (11.83 ml)
Price: $4.45 USD.
Price per ounce: $11.83 USD
Colour range: 73 paints in the series, including the Citadel Paints, the Foundation Paints, and Washes.

Pros: The Citadel metallic paints are the best I've seen.  They have excellent opacity and pigment density and you can cover a black undercoat with a single layer.  The Foundation Paints line (18 colours) have a very high pigment density and cover black undercoats very well.  Citadel Washes come in 8 colours and are outstanding for shading miniatures and leave no 'watermark' when they dry.

Cons: The nature of the flip-top pot means that Citadel paints dry out very quickly because of the large air-to-surface ratio.  There is also considerable wastage as large paint rings form around the mouth of the bottle.

The ubiquitous scum ring

Because the lids of these pots don't seal well, you have to peel a large scum ring off the rim every time you open the pot.  GW has recently switched to a new style of pot with a tighter-closing lid, but you still get paint drying in the neck and, even worse, falling into the paint to create a thick goop, which greatly decreases the paint's lifespan.

Paint bottle with clogged arteries

Reaper Master Series Paints
Reaper paints are also very commonly stocked and widely available in most stores.

Volume: 0.5 oz (14.8 ml)
Price: $2.99 USD
Price per ounce: $5.98 USD
Colour Range: 216 paints in the series

Pros: Reaper Master Series paints come in dropper bottles which creates a very small air-to-surface ratio and therefore have extremely long life spans.  The bottles have little pewter skulls within that act as agitators that thoroughly mix the paint by shaking for just a few seconds.  Master Series paints also have flow improver added to them, which make them excellent for fine detail work, blending, and layering.  Master Paints come in 'triads' composed of a mid-tone, dark-tone and light-tone of each colour.  This makes base-coating, shading and highlighting a breeze and eliminates the need to mix to create darker and lighter shades of  your mid-tone colour.

Cons: The tip of the bottle sometimes becomes clogged with dried paint.  I keep a pin handy for clearing the clogs.  The thinner consistency of the paint (due to added flow improver) makes it somewhat less suitable for drybrushing than 'goopier' paints.

Vallejo Game Colour Paints
This is another popular brand that many painters swear by.

Volume: 0.57 oz (17 ml)
Price: $2.75 USD
Price per ounce: $4.78 USD
Colour Range: 72 paints in the series

Pros: Vallejo paints also come in dropper bottles, like Reaper Master Series paints, and enjoy the same benefits.

Cons:  There is no agitator in Vallejo paint bottles and since they cannot be mixed with a stick, this means shaking the bottle for a long time (approximately 3 minutes according to users).

P3 Formula Paints
Produced by Privateer Press, this is another common brand often carried by retailers.

Volume: 0.6 oz (18 ml)
Price: $3.50 USD
Price per ounce: $5.75
Colour range: 72 paints in the line

P3 Formula paints come in bottles with flip-top lids, like Citadel paints but, apparently, the lids seal more tightly than Citadel paints.  Nonetheless there will be considerable air-to-surface ratio and they will likely dry out quickly.

Opinionated Discussion:
You may have noticed that my information on Vallejo and P3 paints is scanty.  This is because they are not widely available in my area, so I've had little opportunity to use them.  So my discussion will mostly compare Reaper Master Series paints to Citadel paints, both of which I have a great deal of experience with.  In general, however, I would tend to favour Vallejo paints as my second paint of choice simply because they come in a dropper bottle.

I'm a big fan of dropper bottles, and if you've ever caught the edge of an open paint bottle with your sleeve and spilled half a bottle of paint all over your work surface, you'll know why.  You can squeeze out exactly as much paint as you need onto your palette and don't ever have to worry about spillage.  The lifespan of paint in a dropper bottle is far greater than in a flip-top bottle.  Most of my Citadel paints dry out in about a year to eighteen months, whereas the first Reaper paints I bought five years ago are still as good as the day I bought them.

Detractors of dropper bottles cite not being able to paint 'out of the bottle' and the tendency of the tips to clog.  You shouldn't ever paint out of the bottle; this decreases the lifespan of the paint and increases the risk of knocking the open bottle over.  Always transfer paint to a palette.  As for clogs; they do happen but are easily cleared by poking a pin in them (I keep one on hand with my tools for just this purpose).

In terms of price per ounce, Vallejo paints are the cheapest, while Reaper and P3 are close to the same price and just about a dollar per ounce more than Vallejo.  Unsurprisingly, Citadel paints are a very distant last place, costing about twice as much per ounce as the others.  When you factor in the limited life span and huge amount of wastage from dried paint rings, the price per usable unit volume of Citadel paints is exorbitant.

That said, I do use them.  I like the high pigment-density Foundation paints and often use them for base coating, although Reaper will soon be releasing high pigment-density paints for their Master Series line.  As I mentioned previously, Citadel metallic paints are excellent and I prefer them over all others I've tried, and I also very much like their new line of washes.  I do try to avoid the Citadel paints as much as I can and go with Reaper whenever possible.

It is probably apparent my now that Reaper Master Series are my favourite paints.  Their paint best suits my style of painting, since I do a lot of layering, blending, and fine detail work.  Their huge colour range of 216 paints and the 'triad' groups is hard to beat. I also like the pewter skull in each bottle.  Besides being a very useful agitator, when your bottle is empty you can retrieve the skull and use it for basing decoration.  This is a cool little bonus

Some might notice that I left the Reaper Pro Paint line out of the discussion.  I did so because I've never seen a retailer carry them.  I've ordered a few of these paints directly from Reaper to try them out, but they aren't a favourite of mine because they come in screw top jars, which can only cause trouble.  It probably is worth discussing them briefly as an addendum, however.

The Reaper Pro Paints come in 0.75 ounce screw top bottles for $2.99 USD, which means they cost a mere $3.99 per ounce (nearly one-third the price of Citadel).  Whereas almost all paints (including Citadel Foundation paints) are intended to be thinned before use, Pro Paints can be used 'as is' without thinning and are intended for quick base-coating.  There are 106 paints in the Pro Paint line, and the colours differ from the Master Series, which means that Reaper has a whopping 322 paints in it's lineup.

So, there we have it.  In my opinion, although Vallejo paints are the most economical Reaper Master Paints are my poison of choice with Citadel coming in dead last.  Nonetheless any of the paint brands will do the trick, and there are none that I would outright refuse to use.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pewter, Plastic & Pigment: Getting Started

Well, it's time to kick off my new ongoing series of articles on all things miniature.  I tried to think of a cool, clever title for the series, but failed.  So I opted for catchy alliteration instead.

I've been nagging one of my best friends for the past thirty years to get off his ass and paint all those miniatures he bought in high school and which have been gracing  his game room, unprimed, ever since.  I was talking to him just last week and was shocked beyond belief to learn that he has finally bought himself some paint and brushes and is working on getting those childhood miniatures painted... a few weeks shy of his fourty-fifth birthday.  But better late than never.

I know he isn't the only one, either.  Despite my chiding I, too, have a substantial collection of unpainted Ral Partha and Grenadier miniatures laying about my basement.  I think that many of us do.  Perhaps it's finally time to see to them.

I was an avid collector of miniatures all through high school, but after I left home they got packed away in boxes not to see the light of day again for twenty years. Life just kept getting in the way.  First were my years in navy, living out of a duffle bag while at sea for three-hundred days a year.  Then came my impoverished student years, followed by my moved-to-a-new-city-and-don't-know-anyone years.  Then, about five years ago, I met a fellow at my local game store who was looking for a new player for his game.  I happily agreed to join the group and bought a new Reaper barbarian miniature to represent my character.  But I couldn't just show up with an unpainted figure.  What kind of first impression would that make?  So I also invested in a small collection of paints and a new brush and took my first stab at painting in two decades.

Garesh Krull - may he rest in peace

It was a crude and amateurish attempt, but I was proud of what was the best work I was capable of at the time.  It also renewed the spark of collecting and painting miniatures, which has become what I like to call my "hobby within the hobby."  It's funny to look back at this miniature, which I was so proud of just five years ago, and find myself embarrassed by it now.  Posting it for the world to see is kind of like dropping my pants in public, but it's a great example of how anyone can improve dramatically with a little practice.

For comparison, here's my most recent character miniature, GW's Prince Althran:

High Elf Prince Althran
My journey back into the painting hobby was slowed somewhat by my ignorance of the sorts of paints and tools that are now available as well as the myriad of painting techniques that I struggled to figure out on my own.  I learned by looking at examples of other people's work and tried to figure out how certain effects could be achieved.  And this is sort of the point of this series; to share my love of the hobby and provide the kind of advice I wish I'd had when I was starting out.  I'm by no means an expert painter - there are many, many people far more talented than I, and I don't presume to show anyone "how it's done," but rather to share what I've learned so far and what I will learn in the future as I continue to grow and improve.

"But I don't have time to paint!"

I hear this a lot.  Let's take a look at how we spend our free time on evenings and weekends.  How many hours do we spend watching T.V.?  How many hours playing computer games?  How much time spent trolling the internet and reading stupid blog posts about painting miniatures?  Most of these passivities (we aren't after all, actively doing anything, are we?) are thieves of time that leave us with nothing to show for it afterwards.  I've made it a habit to devote an hour each day to painting, and the time was pretty easy to find.  As I've become more engaged in my hobbies (working on D&D stuff, painting miniatures, and blogging), I've ended up cutting television and computer games out of my life entirely and don't miss them a bit.  This is not to suggest that everyone should do so, but it's pretty easy to eliminate one mindless sit-com or reality show each evening and spend some time with brush in hand instead.  You'd be amazed at how many miniatures you can paint in a month if you spend even 30 minutes a day working on them.

There's also a practical reason to get some paint on those miniatures.  You're sitting at the game table and it's your turn to act.  You lick the nacho cheese powder off your fingers and move that unpainted Grenadier mini across the table, roll a dice, then eat some more chips.  Repeat all evening.

Painting.  It's fun, it's relaxing, it prevents lead-poisoning.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Assault on Angelis: Round Three - Massacre at Kryalis

Dark Angel Grand Master Azrael studied the map of Kryalis.  His scouts had found the Imperial crypto-transmitter in one of the outlying ruins and had discovered some tyranid pheromone spore sacs concealed in a nearby building - the bioweapon techs would be glad to have those to study.  The city was in ruins after the Dark Angels had been forced to retreat from the advancing broods.  But they were back now to salvage what they could.

His vox operator called to him.  "Sir, scouts report a large force of orks entering the southern edge of town; looters by the looks of them, searching the ruins for tech."

Azrael ground his teeth in frustration.  If it wasn't one thing it was another.  This whole damned planet was crawling with xenos and traitors and his men had been back-pedaling ever since hitting dirt.  It was time for some payback.  He ordered his command land-raider forward into the city along with the other armoured vehicles while his tactical squads took up firing positions in the ruined buildings.  "Dark Angels, all units.  On my mark, fire."

Boss Deffstryker looked up as the koptas soared past, heading into the city to scout the ruins.  "Lotta abandoned gizmos and watnotz in dose buildins," Big Mek Lugnutz observed.
Deffstryker grunted in agreement.  Maybe enough to bribe Kaptin Badruk to promote him to warboss of the Freebootas.  Warboss Gahzbag was still laid up from his fight with that Hive Tyrant; maybe it was time to retire him, permanent-like.

He jumped in the back of the trukk with his Nobs and pounded on the roof, pointing towards the city centre.  Before the driver could even start the engine, three of the koptas exploded raining burning debris into the streets, while the remaining two veered off and fled across the horizon.  A keening whistle was the only warning Deffstryker had before a shell impacted directly into the trukk, destroying it.  All around him the boyz were dying from a combination of artillery barrage and bolter fire.  The only choices were to advance or run away.

"Have at 'em, ladz!" he roared, then led the charge into the city.

Minutes later it was all over.  He and one of his retinue hunkered down in the building behind the carcass of the dreadnought he had gutted with his power claw.  In the streets below, two remaining killa kans were all that remained of his force; they fired on the space marine command squad - the grot pilots were too caught up in the fight to recognize their doom.  Bolter fire from the tactical marines across the way ricocheted around Deffstryker's head as all the Dark Angel tanks brought their weapons to bear on his building. 

And thus ended the most humiliating defeat I have ever suffered.  Orks vs. Space Marines is a pretty one-sided battle at the best of times, but when the Space Marines begin the game in an entrenched position and get the first turn, the orks are in for a very grim time.

The first turn of Space Marine shooting saw the complete annihilation of my entire squadron of koptas, plus the destruction of my trukk and a the whittling down of a good number of my boyz.  My turn was very short, consisting only of moving forward to try and get within assault range as quickly as possible.  The second turn of Space Marine shooting saw off most of the rest of my army and I had not yet gotten a chance to attack.  By the third turn it was all over, and all that was left of my huge mob of orks was two killa kans, my warboss and five nobs, but we decided to keep playing so long as I still had models on the table because I wanted a chance to at least roll some dice during the game.

The warboss and nobs did manage to assault into a building and kill a dreadnought that was hiding in the ruins like a sniveling grot.  They then went to ground in an attempt to maximize the cover provided by the building and try to hold onto the objective within until my Storm Boyz could enter the game from reserve via Deepstrike.  One of the really cool things about 40K is that no matter how grim things look the game can always turn around and often does.  The dice were against me, however, and I kept botching my roll to deploy my reserves.  Each turn the target number improves by one and by the fourth turn, when I really needed those Storm Boyz, I only needed to roll a 2+ on 1d6 to deploy them, but of course, I rolled a '1'.

They deployed automatically on turn 5, when all that I had left on the table was a single nob still hunkered down holding the objective and being shot at by almost the entire Dark Angels army (which was still virtually unscathed having suffered only three casualties).  Boss Zagstruk led the assault on another defended building containing a necessary objective, and my forlorn hope was that if I could drive the space marines out I could at least force a draw, but only if the game ended before the space marines got another turn.  Sadly, although I managed to win combat, the dice were against me again.  Boss Zagstruk hit three times with his dreaded bionik claw legs, which needed only a 2+ to wound and would cut through the marine's power armour like a hot knife through butter.  My rolls to wound resulted, unbelievably, in three '1's.  The space marines fell back out of close combat and then, in their turn, opened fire, wiping out all of the Storm Boyz.

This was a massacre the likes of which I have never witnessed before, and it made the debacle at Little Big Horn look like a stale mate by comparison.  The Dark Angels destroyed my entire ork army while remaining virtually unharmed in turn.

When you get your ass pummeled this badly you have to take your pleasures where you can, and for me it was seeing the look of unbridled joy on the face of my opponent as he reveled gleefully in the slaughter.