Saturday, June 30, 2012

6th Edition in 6 Seconds

Played my first game of 6th edition Warhammer 40,000. 1,250pts vs. an Ultramarines player. We both stumbled through the rules and (most importantly) had a blast!

The rules didn't change everything that I wanted them too, but then again, I don't have Games Workshop on Google+ so there's no way for them to have known what I wanted. I'm going to do a full review for Monday's post. I hate to keep you all waiting that long, but that's life. Go out and play! And if you can't do that, then go out and watch people play.

Just take others' opinions with a grain of salt, because mine is the best...


P.S. If you're really dying to know what I think, the short answer is that I really liked it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More to Say on Four-ty-kay

So yeah, this post is a day late. So sue me. Well guess what? You can't! Anyway, I spent two hours yesterday with a friend trying to hook up my XBox to the internet, and then my Monday night Pathfinder game happened, so there wasn't much time to do any writing that day (not to mention that Sunday I got inexplicably sick and just sat in bed reading 2000AD).

So what's on the docket today? Not much; just wanted to wax speculation-wise on the 6th edition of Warhammer 40,000, which I am very excited and hopeful for. Now, for the sake of this post, I'm going to assume that these are true (or mostly true).*

Not exactly the changes I wanted to see, but upon first glance it looks like it addresses some of the problems I had with 40k 5th edition. Primarily, I disliked the overall philosophy of 5th edition, that of the tournament-centric attitude the game took. Granted, Warmachine/Hordes does this, but they do it well. I think that Games Workshop's creative team are too wacky (in a good way), and too entrenched in an older design philosophy to adhere to a tournament-centric attitude as close as they wanted to. 40k has too many options, and too many "if this, then this" conditions to be tournament-centric. Now listen! I say this as a good thing. Tournament-centric games are great (see: Warmachine/Hordes), and I'm not saying that GW games can't make entertaining tournament games, but I think the best place for games with the Warhammer moniker is at home, or in a games shop for casual and campaign play. This is where the game came from, and unless they want to do a larger overhaul than they've ever done (came close with 3rd edition), it should remain this way.

This is a pretty personal complaint, though, and there are many gamers out there who would vehemently disagree with me. I'm a big boy, I can agree to disagree. It's also apparent that I'm a casual tournament attendee at best. I mostly play campaigns, or one-off games with my friends. I'm not opposed to tournaments at all, but they do bring out a competitiveness that I don't necessarily crave in wargaming. 5th edition did not contain enough "fun" that I want to see happen on a gaming table. What do I mean by "fun?" Well, look at 8th edition Warhammer: wizards blast each other with spells just as likely to destroy them as their enemies, forests and jungles come alive to attack any souls who dare enter their boundaries, and rivers run with magically-imbued blood! That sounds great! That sounds like a game I want to play. It paints a picture (a bloody, John Blanche-y picture) of a cataclysmic battle in the Warhammer World. It brings me into the action, and feels less like a game, and more like I'm actually commanding an army on the tabletop. I would like to see more of this in 40k. Right now, 40k seems very gamey (and not in the gross meat way). I feel like I'm standing at one end of a gaming table rolling dice and moving plastic soldiers. I want to feel like I'm an Autarch, ordering troops around a battlefield.

Minor problems I've had with 5th edition had to do with vehicles, psychic powers, and force organization. Vehicles always gave me a headache because in this edition most vehicles' resilliance was disproportionate to their points value. This was a general thing, I think, but was most noticable within the Space Marine armies. These jerks had 35 point Rhinos that could take as many glancing hits as there were turns and remain functional. Immobilized? Just roll a 6 and you're good! Did your Stormraven move its max move? Don't sweat it, you can still fire your big gun. Despite the already heady power of the Space Marine vehicles, they broke every damn rule in the vehicle section.

Since 2nd edition, psychic powers have always been boring. They've been glorified abilities that present only a minor setback when they fail to be cast. Sure you might lose your psyker to some brain daemon, but there were so many countermeasures (psychic hoods, etc) that it really never became an issue. Coupled with most psyker's leadership values being in the 10s, it really wasn't all that dangerous. Some of them were super-useful, some not so useful, all rather dull. I would've liked to see the return of the psychic phase with a mechanic similar (if not exactly the same) as Warhammer's magic phase. It's exciting, risky, and devastating.

Force Organization was, at the time of 3rd edition, pretty unique. I hadn't seen anything like it in any other wargame. Warzone came close, but it still wasn't as robust as 3rd edition's system. I actually liked it at the time, and liked how each set of missions required a different Force Organization Chart. Yet, as the editions wore on I started to see the cracks in the system that apparently always existed, but had been covered up by a shiny veneer of newness. I much prefer a percentage system like 40k used to have and Warhammer went back to. Perhaps it could even look something like this:

HQ - 0-25%
Elites - 0-50%
Troops - 25%+
Fast Attack - 0-25%
Heavy Support 0-25%

That's just off the top of my head. But here's the difference. In a 1500pt game right now, I can take three Land Raiders with little problem. Sure it's ~50% of my points cost, but who cares? Vehicles rule! Under my proposed percentage system, to have 3 Land Raiders you need to be playing 3000pts. An extreme example, yes, but one I've actually seen before (woof!).

So according to this Reddit thingy, which seems to mesh well with the hints in the latest White Dwarf, I don't think I'm going to get my wishes exactly. First off, the Force Organization chart appears to be the same. That's too bad. Next!

Psykers get new psychic disciplines, but no psychic phase. Not exactly what I thought would be the coolest, but I guess psychic powers in 40k aren't as earth-shattering as in Warhammer, so a Warhammer-style system might be out of place in a typical game of 40k. Sill, new disciplines might make the psychic aspect of 40k a little more interesting, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Vehicles also appear to be more vulnerable, which is exactly what I wished for. Hull Points give them wounds, which means that if you're burdened by poor luck (like I often am), you can at least hope to wreck a vehicle by just pounding it with firepower. Flyers also appear to have their own rules, which is good. I still question the need for flyers in a 40k-scale game, but I don't stay up all night thinking of ways to complain about them (and the related doom of 40k) at my FLGS, so I'm ambivalent. So long as they work, I'm okay with them.

As for the "fun" of the game, wacky terrain is a good start. So are the rules for having a Warlord. These help make the game more characterful, and less like you're pushing around 28mm 3D stat lines with weapons. Of course, I don't know how any of these actually work, nor have I tried them out in a game yet, so I can only speculate.

Well, that's all the speculative energy I have at the moment. I hope you enjoyed (or at least finished reading) this lengthy post with (yet again) no pictures. I'll have more to say next Monday when I've actually played a couple games of this edition and can give a more in-depth view. Until then...


* Rumors should always be taken with a grain of salt... Gaming rumors doubly-so.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's D&D!

Dungeons & Dragons Next! It's happening; you can't stop it. They put it out for a public play-test; you can't stop that, either. So what is it? What's it doing here? And why should you care?

Well, if you're not a fan of D&D, or not a role-player, that last question is pretty simple. Just stop reading this post and pop-back on Monday when I talk more about 6th edition 40K. For those of you that are D&D/RPG fans (or you just like semi-literate ramblings), keep reading.

DISCLAIMER: Even though D&D Next is an open play test, play testers still had to click on some non-disclosure thingy. I don't know what the legality of me posting stuff on here, so I'm going to try and keep it pretty vague. I guess I could wade through the EULA or NDA or whatever it was that I clicked "Agree" to, but as you know, things like those are long. I may hungrily eat-up gaming rulebooks like they're Stephen King novels, but when it comes to legalese, I blank out. Therefore, I'm not going to read it, and just be vague. If the Hasbro/WotC black helicopters land in my front yard, I'll meet them at the door, cigarette dangling from my mouth, and say: "what took ya so long?"

If you can look closely, you can see a top-secret watermark.
It's called D&D Next. Why? I dunno. I think they're like me, and are sick of the edition wars people bother everyone with on the Internet and in game shops. Perhaps they're building it so that editions, themselves, become obsolete. Perhaps they're tapping into a gaming zen that the industry has been dreaming about since Gygax and Arneson emerged from the depths of Castle Greyhawk. Perhaps they're creating a game so perfect, and representative of the geist of role-playing that any product out there is compatible with D&D! Or perhaps it's a placeholder.

So what's changed? A lot, and a little. A lot, in that it's not 4th edition anymore, not even close. It's sad really; I thought 4th edition was an extremely elegant system, and the designers of it should all win awards, but I could see how it wouldn't be the cup of tea that D&Ders pour into vials to simulate potions of clarity. Instead, one could say that little has changed, because of the similarities this game has to BD&D and AD&D. They definitely turned back the clock and made the game very simple: no attacks of opportunity (AoO), no flanking bonuses, and the saving throws are all just ability checks. In fact, abilities play a bigger role in this version than in any version since BD&D. If you want to "use rope" there's no more "use rope" skill, instead you make a Dexterity (DEX) check. If you want to search a room, make a Wisdom (WIS) check, and add any bonuses you have for Perception. Combat had a neat little trick to make up for the lack of flanking: advantage and disadvantage. If you were in a situation where you have an advantage you roll 2d20 and choose the best; if you're in a situation where you might receive a disadvantage you roll 2d20 and select the lowest... Elegant!

I actually like this system for a couple reasons, the first being its simplicity. I've been playing a lot of Basic D&D lately, and I've really come to see the appeal of simple role-playing systems. You roll dice, you add/subtract modifiers, and you compare them to target numbers to work out success/failure. Right now, D&D Next does this very elegantly, and gives you something more to do than just hack and slash, though not to the extent that D&D4 did. There are some at-will type abilities going on here, but the Vancian system is back (Magic Missile is a 0-level spell, which means you can use it as much as you want), which has a love/hate situation with me.

The idea for D&D Next is that it can be expanded upon by adding modules, so that the game gets more complex. You want combat with miniatures on a battle grid? Just add those rules on. You want skills and feats? Go ahead. It's almost as if they're taking a beefed-up BD&D (but with races being separate from classes), and letting you spice it to taste to make it AD&D. For instance there were no skills but there were some skill-like abilities that certain classes possessed. The Clerics could recall lore about religion (Knowledge (Religion)), and the Rogue could find and disarm traps (Disable Device), and that was part of its class, rather than a skill that the character invested in.

This reminds me, actually, of the article I wrote on Dungeon World, where I talked about what makes a role-playing game "old school;" a solid division of class roles. D&D3 and Pathfinder can have characters branch off in different paths, almost making them homogeneous. BD&D, D&D4, and D&D Next have very specific roles for the characters: Rogues open things, and disable them, Fighters bash, Clerics heal, and Wizards blast. Some might think of this as constricting, and it might be, but it's also what the game used to be and where it came from. It appears that it might be going this way again.

Now, of course, the play test was just that: a play test. Who knows where it will go from here, or which parts of this play test we were supposed to play test. Perhaps they're only taking criticism on the characters, or the combat system, or perhaps everything in it. I have to say, one thing I thought was pretty underwhelming was the module they supplied to play test in: The Caves of Chaos. Older gamers may remember this as the main part of B2: Keep on the Borderlands, which I find a very hack-and-slash adventure where you pretty much work your way through the Monster Manual. I do appreciate that it was pretty much B2 word-for-word but with the updated monster stats.*

The aforementioned B2.
Overall, I liked it, and I'd like to see where it's going. I'm really loving Pathfinder right now, but I have to admit that I'm missing the D&D brand. This play test had classic races like Hill and Mountain Dwarfs, and Pelor and Moradin, and all that good D&D IP. I think a definite defining factor on my complete fandom for this edition is if they re-do the Greyhawk setting (I'm also a huge fan of Dark Sun, but Athas had its moment in D&D4).

I should also mention (before signing off) that if you want to contribute to the D&D Next play test, you should go here and sign up!


* I wanted to just mention that combats are lightning-quick in D&D Next. One complaint I have with D&D4 is that the combats are really long. Pathfinder has quick combats (and thus, so did D&D3) and I like that. I just didn't know where to mention this fact in the review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One Edition Beyond

So it's no surprise that the new edition of Warhammer 40,000 (40K) is coming out next week, and will be announced this Saturday. My game shop has already started taking pre-orders, and when the new issue of White Dwarf arrives sometime in the next couple days I will make the hard decision on whether I should get a regular book for $90, or a collector's edition book for $158.50. Not exactly Sophie's Choice.

These pictures are to break-up my wall of text.
So what are the hopes? What's to be said? Well, we've all heard the rumors, but what are rumors, right? Sometimes they're true, and sometimes they're not. That's sorta the definition of rumors. However, I can tell you my hopes, and you can tell me I'm wrong, because when it comes to 40K I don't dance with the best of them.

Now don't get me wrong, I love 40K; I always have. It's also the game I probably have played the most of in my lifetime, but the amount of games I've played of 5th edition have been countable on two hands. I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm not a competitive player. I don't care about the scene's "meta" (a silly term used to describe trends, and tactics, amongst the players of a given area instead of anything involving the game itself. For instance, do all Vancouver gamers use lots of tanks? That would change Vancouver player's tactics), and I don't care about what might make the game unbalanced insofar as it's still fun. And 5th edition ain't fun.

Spanish, I reckon.
Well, for me it ain't fun. The reasons are varied, but they come down to a few factors. First, the game just isn't as fun as others out there. It's been practically the same since '98, except that they've just kept heaping on new rules to address problems that could've been fixed other ways. Kill Points and objectives, for instance, were ways the design studio attempted to address the "kill 'em all" attitude of missions, but instead just created systems that focused on the meta game. That's really what's become of 40K since 3rd edition, is that the game has felt more and more like a "game" and less and less like a sci-fi conflict. Why should I take that tiny neon green flag sitting in the flat part of the table? 'Cause you gotta. Why is this psychic power just tacked onto a commander who is armed with a crummy gun? 'Cause psychic powers are glorified weapons with very little risk of malfunctioning. 

Are those dice holders?
Now, it wouldn't be right for me to just sit here and gripe, so I thought I'd throw in some ways this could be fixed, or if I like a particular rumor, I might harp on that rumor and hope it comes true. 

First way to fix the "fun" aspect of the game is to make it feel more like a sci-fi conflict and less like I'm actually moving 28mm figures around a table (I already know I'm doing this, I don't need a $90 book to  show me). Make missions an important part of the game. one thing 3rd edition did well was the plethora of missions in the back of the book. Most people just played the damned Standard Missions anyway, but at least I could've played a breakthrough if I wanted to.

Amp up the psychic powers. Make them a random element in the game, and I don't just mean an unreliable part of the game, but make them exciting. Warhammer's magic phase is exciting; Joe Schmoe the Librarian casting Psychic Bolt on a Ld of 10 isn't. He's gonna make it. Give me some powers I can build tactics around, and may backfire, not just a fancy upgrade.

Vehicles being powerful have put me off of 5th edition as well. Sure they can be taken out in one hit, but when a Space Marine Rhino only costs 35 points, and is a movable bunker they get irritating. Vehicles should have a presence, many armies use them (I imagine this won't change 38,978 years into the future), but when one army in the game has access to so many of them, for such an inexpensive price, I don't know... Besides, Space Marines come equipped with ways to deal with vehicles, while every other army has to pay extra for the vehicle-killing grenades. My Dire Avengers don't stand a chance against a Rhino, and Marines are only marginally more in points cost and can take one out, no problem.

Holy crap! Psychic cards!
Solution? Ramp up the cost of vehicles or come up with a new system that deals with their damage. The current one consists of rolling on a (silly) chart until you get something good. Perhaps give vehicles a ton of wounds, and have every wound be a critical hit on a roll of a 6. Reference a critical hit chart and voila! You have some character added to the game for the addition of one extra step. No matter whether you roll a critical or not, the vehicle is still going to die (if it's hit enough), but not for a while as it could potentially have 10 or more hit points. 

The Codex Creep is a phenomenon whereby each codex produced is more powerful than the one before it. For years I decried this crackpot theory, and chalked it up to the excitement one felt at the new book, and just general strange behaviour gamers have around Games Workshop products. However, lately I've noticed such a scene arising. It almost seems like each new codex for 40K follows a different philosophy in games design. It's very patchwork quilty and irritating. Never mind that there are still codices that have yet to see an update (which of course will be meet with complaints aimed at the fact that they have to buy a new codex to replace the one that sucked and they hated using in the first place).

Solutionio! Step over to the Warhammer side of the offices and peep what they're doing with the army books. With the exception of the Ogre Kingdoms book being pretty good, and the Tomb Kings book being more challenging to play with, all the army books so far released are ace! They're balanced, they're well-written, and they're cohesive as a whole, while still retaining individuality. If 40K codices received the attention that Warhammer ones do, it'll be a solid game, indeed.

Oh! And bring back movement values, for Chrissake! I'm not a moron. I can remember that Eldar move 5" and Space Marines move 4".

So that's it. Later today I'll hopefully have a copy of the White Dwarf in my meaty paws, so I'll be able to talk at the Internet more about this game. Prepare yourselves for Friday's update when I'll have something to say about a D&D play test (once I read over what I can and can't mention about it). Also, once I get a new camera (don't hold your breath) I'll start posting pictures of my models again. Won't that be lovely?


Monday, June 18, 2012

Dungeons, Dungeons, everywhere...

The Wargamer is back, everyone, and with it comes a review of a yet-to-be-released game called Dungeon World. Dungeon World is a role-playing game that boasts "old-school style and modern rules." Really, it's a game that captures the essence of the original Dungeons & Dragons while incorporating a new mechanical aesthetic I see popping-up here and there within the "indie" gaming scene. Now, that's a hell of a paragraph, touching on various things I just spouted out without any explanation, so let's just sit and digest it before I explain more.

Here, look at their Kickstarter.

Now, I'm too young to have digested the zeitgeist of role-playing games during the late-'70s/early-'80s, but I am playing in a Basic D&D campaign right now, and I have been playing role-playing games quite regularly for over a decade-and-a-half so I can speak on the matter of "old-school style" without looking like a total rube. Primarily, what I gather, is that every character had a role, back in the day. Rogues opened things, fighters bashed things, and wizards threw spells and died. Combats were deadly, the fantasy of the world seemed like it was left on the low setting, but was really ever-present, and Larry Elmore, and Keith Parkinson, painted sweeping vistas that fostered the imaginations of DMs, and GMs.

So, what's meant by "new mechanical aesthetic?" Crack open a copy of Burning Wheel, or the Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, or even the Mouse Guard RPG (based off the Burning Wheel system), and you'll see that, while all the usual trappings of a pen-and-paper role-playing game are there (dice, character sheets, attributes and skills), the way these things are used is different. For instance, in The Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries (TCFTEM) all the players are characters remembering instances in the past that had already happened, but for the purposes of the game are happening just now. There's also no Game Master (GM). Instead, the other players are your adversaries, but, like a traditional GM, they're also there to help you tell a story, rather than see your carefully-crafted character dead. You roll the dice to give you attributes, and to indicate success (or failure) on given tasks, but the dice need to be interpreted subjectively, rather than objectively.

I guess that's the real difference between a traditional RPG and the modern games that are termed "indie:" the "democratizing" of the GM, making her less of a benevolent tyrant, and the use of dice in more abstract terms (a departure from gems like Rolemaster, where the dice are law). Now, of course these are generalizations, and don't deign to encompass all of the newer RPGs invading our game shops.

So what about Dungeon World? Well, I had a a chance to play this game on Free RPG Day, with one of the creators of the game as GM. I played the Ranger, while those around me played the Wizard, Rogue, Fighter, Bard, and Cleric. Much like an old-school RPG, the classes were well-defined (Cleric healed and repelled undead, Wizard blasted stuff and cast light, the Bard buffed, etc.), and the game even includes an interesting rule stating that you cannot double-up on classes within a party. Before you think of this as restrictive (I guess it is), it does create for some balanced parties and allows each gamer to shine in their own way.

We went through character creation, which consisted of your typical fare, except that you start with the choice of class before you do things like stats, race, etc. The character creation was also part of the character sheet, which contained all of our options for that character, which we checked, circled, or highlighted in some way to show that we chose that certain ability. For instance, I had a choice with the Ranger between going with a human, or an elf. I went with human, and checked off the box next to it. Assigning ability scores is as simple as putting them (along with their modifier) into the relevant statistics (which are the same as in D&D: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). I don't know if these were pre-rolled, or if you always start level 1 with the same six numbers. Other than the choice of race, or stats, I got to choose my animal companion, and my equipment all by checking boxes, and circling choices.

The most innovative thing about character creation was the rule for Bonds. Bonds are personal connections between you and the other players. Few are adversarial (you are a party, after all), and most of them are pledges such as fealty, or mentor ship, or something like that. They come into play when you wish to aid or confront another player, in which case the modifier to the die roll would be equivalent to the number of times that player is mentioned in your Bond statement. The statement, itself, is a list of Bonds between players with a blank space where the character's name should go. These are all done through agreement with the players, making it so that you can't just mess with some one's background by saying that they hate nature, when really they love it (a couple of my Ranger Bonds had to do with nature, and the bonded companion's feelings towards it). As you play, you may resolve these bonds. Perhaps your lukewarm feelings towards another player is cooled or warmed, or perhaps you've been assigned to mentor another player, and you've taught them all you know by the end of the adventure. In this case, you erase the bond, receive experience points, and write a new bond beneath.

Experience points are gained for failing rolls! Let that sit in. This definitely gels with the old adage that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. One xp/failed roll, and when you get 8xp you've levelled! Ding!

Now how do you hit things? All dice rolls to succeed or fail, are determined by rolling 2d6 and adding in your relevant stat bonus (STR for combat, DEX for shooting, etc.). 10+ unequivocally succeed, while 7-9 succeeds but with something bad happening to you, and anything less than a 7 is a failure. Since the GM doesn't roll any dice, the failure usually means that the target of the attack gets to deal damage (having hit the PC by virtue of not being hit by the PC), or the player slips and falls in the case of a skill check requiring a rope, for instance. 7s, 8s, and 9s still consider the action a success, but perhaps the enemy has snuck in a blow, or some other misfortune befalls the player, just not as bad as if a total failure were to occur. What I thought was super-keen was that on a 7-9 sometimes the GM offered me a choice, such as with my missile attacks where I could attack with -1d6 damage, or attack at regular damage, but mark off an ammunition point from my quiver (ammunition points are an abstract way of tracking arrows, or bolts). This "choice" mechanic is repeated with other actions as well, leading to what was a detailed role-playing experience. Rather than the GM declaring on a failed roll that, "your arrow flies wide, and strikes the cavern wall," I was put in as part of the action, and not just the sad recipient of a failed roll.

The actions one can take in Dungeon World are known as Moves and they are things like Volley (missile fire), Hack-and-Slash (melee), Spout Lore (used as a knowledge-based skill), and Discern Realities (perception, prettymuch), to name just a few. Each of these Moves works similarly to the method I described above, and replace the Move, Minor, Standar, one would find in D&D, for instance.

So how do I like it? Enough to back it on Kickstarter (here it is again). What do I like about it? Its mechanics. As you all know, I'm a sucker for how games work. If I had any interest in mathematics, I'd have become an engineer, so instead of figuring out how machines work, I like to take apart games and look at them in that fashion, and I like what I see here. It's interesting enough to grab my attention, but familiar enough to keep me playing. In fact, one of the things I like about this game is that I can imagine myself playing in a protracted campaign using this system. Many of the smaller "indie" RPGs (I must admit) I
can't imagine playing beyond a one-off, but Dungeon World seems like it has enough to keep my attention for much longer.

I can't just fawn over it, though. Some things I'm hung up on are from my "mainstream" (I'll have to write an essay on the dubious usage of terms like "indie" and "mainstream" in reference to gaming) gaming likes: I would like to see an increase in HP from level to level. In Dungeon World there is no HP increase, so I imagine I'd have to rely on my new powers to keep me from dying against larger, and more powerful monsters in later levels. I do like the basics of the levelling system, but more HP would be nice. Also, I'm not sure if a game like this would put more work or less work on the GMs shoulders. My GM seamlessly demonstrated the shared storytelling and die-deciphering that the game showcases, but I wonder how a system like this would fare if I GM'd it, or a more inexperienced player. At least they wouldn't have to roll dice.

Overall, I really, really, like this game. But don't take it from me; go here and download the quickstart, and see for yourself. I can't wait for the hardcover to show up on my doorstep so I can plan my first adventure. Man, I hope the bestiary includes an Owlbear.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Coming Back (Soon)

Coming at cha next week (the 18th of June) with more content, and a tighter schedule.