Horus Heresy: Choosing a Legion

Horus Heresy
Like many long time Warhammer 40K players, I’ve been enjoying the Horus Heresy books that Forge World is publishing and I’m glad 30K is now supported as an era of play. I have Salamanders and Word Bearers forces for 40K but I’d like to do something different for the Heresy era. I picked up the Battle of Calth game some months ago primarily for the minis (though the game was actually good too, as it turned out). Now I’m pondering what legion to choose for my 30K army.

For the last couple of years, I had been planning to do the Alpha Legion. I like their backstory and iconography, and their Rites of War gives them some cool options. I may go ahead with that but I’m doing my due diligence and looking at other options. These are the other legions I’m considering:

Imperial Fists: A surprise to me actually, but there is a big point in their favor. I really like the look and feel of the breacher squads and the Imperial Fists have a special rule called Resolve of Stone that makes breacher squads sing. The yellow armor isn’t my favorite but I think it could be reasonable if muted. Other Imperial Fist rules are also solid and they have a special knight troop type that are proto Black Templars. I’ve never had much interest in the Fists before but they have become a contender.

Iron Warriors: This legions makes a hell of a gun line with their two unique troop types, the Siege Tyrants and Iron Havocs. 30K Iron Warriors are also completely immune to morale tests caused by shooting, which is killer. And of course you can have giant robot bodyguards in the shape of the Iron Circle. So yeah, super appealing to me and I love the idea of a legion of siege masters. There are only a couple of downsides. First, the Iron Circle models are hellaciously expensive. Second, I have never liked the color scheme of the Iron Warriors. At all. The black and yellow stripes do not do it for me. Now I could just make up a chapter of the legion with a different look, so that could be worked around.

Raven Guard: I like the Raven Guard for many of the same reasons I like the Alpha Legion. They are sneaky and great at infiltrating. They have brutal snipers. They also have access to some unique equipment like the Darkwing pattern Storm Eagle Gunship. The Mor Deythan Strike Squad and Dark Fury Assault Squad models are also badass. Their advantage over the Alpha Legion is that I think they’d be easier to paint. And yes, friends, I’m likely to outsource a lot of the painting, but it’d be nice if it was a paint scheme I could handle for some units and the Alpha Legion teal is tricky. The downside of the Raven Guard is primarily cost. That Darkwing Storm Eagle alone is over $200 and I’m but a humble RPG publisher.

So that’s what I’m looking at. I really need to decide what legion is mine before I start assembling the plastic minis. How I build even basic troops will be colored by that choice.

What to choose? Loyalist or traitor? The galaxy hangs in the balance!

RPG a Day, Part 1

David Chapman started a thing on his blog called RPG a Day. It’s basically an excuse to talk about RPGs so, hey, let’s do that. August is my busiest month of the year, with GenCon and PAX happening. I’m thus going to do this in two parts instead of daily. Part 1 will take me through GenCon.

1st – First RPG Played: Dungeons & Dragons. This was 1979 and I was 10 years old.

2nd – First RPG Gamemastered: D&D again. I cannot not tell you what I ran. Probably a dungeon of my own devising. 

3rd – First RPG Purchased: The original D&D white boxed set. I can’t say I played it though. My brother and I brought it home and tried to make sense of it. There was obviously something cool there but as a 10 year old with no background in wargaming (yet!), how you actually played was unclear to me. We got the Holmes Basic Set and then the AD&D Player’s Handbook in short order and that’s when I really started to play.

4th – Most recent RPG purchase: I backed a Kickstarter from my pals at Pagan Publishing. It’s for Horrors of War, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in World War 1. Backing that was a no brainer for a history nerd like me.

5th – Most Old School RPG owned: OD&D white box. I might also add the original Chainmail game. It’s a minis game, not a RPG, but its “fantasy supplement” was the genesis of D&D.

6th – Favourite RPG Never get to play: That’s an easy one: Pendragon. Love that game, but I never have the right group to play it with. 

7th – Most “intellectual” RPG owned: Aria, Canticle of the Monomyth. I think the title says it all.

8th – Favourite character: Finn, my halfling rogue from my friend Bill’s long running AD&D campaign from college. Freeport fans may know him as the Crime Lord of the Eastern District. I decided that he had retired to Freeport after his adventuring days ended. 🙂

9th – Favourite Die / Dice Set: The recently released Dragon Age dice that Q Workshop did for Green Ronin. These are the first custom dice ever done for one of my RPGs, so they’ve got to be my choice!

10th – Favourite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction: The Horus Heresy line of 40K novels is better than it has any right to be. I do worry about it finishing in my lifetime though (30 novels and still going…). 

11th – Weirdest RPG owned: Many options, but I’ll go with Khaotic, a 1994 game from Marquee Press. This was a scifi game with a wacky premise. Player Characters were members of a “jump-team” that projected their minds to an alien planet. The twist is that the entire group inhabits the body of a sort of living war machine. Only one character can control the body at a time though! Much of the game takes place within its mind, as the characters debate about what to do and who gets to control the body. 

12th – Old RPG you still play / read: Well, I recently wrapped up a two year AD&D campaign set in Greyhawk. I started it because I wanted my step-daughter to get a sense of what D&D was like back in the day. One day she was looking through the 2nd edition Monster Manual and she asked me, “Is there a more recent version of this book with better art?” I had to laugh. 

13th – Most Memorable Character Death: I was in college and we were playing the module X2: Castle Amber. I had played it once before, when I was 12 or so, but I didn’t remember much about it. The GM describe the room we had just entered and it seemed familiar. I said, “Hmmm, I think I died in this room.” And then I proceeded to do so again!

14th – Best Convention Purchase: I got copies of the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor books (supplements 1 and 2 for original D&D) for $10 each in the bring and buy area of a con once.

15th – Favourite Convention Game: Before I got into the game industry, I spent four years running an Ars Magica tournament at GenCon. I put a ridiculous amount of work into it each year, but it was worth it.

16th – Game you wish you owned: TSR’s Empire of the Petal Throne RPG from 1975. I never even saw a copy until 1997. I was at a small con in British Columbia and a copy came up for auction. I thought, “This is a small con and maybe no one knows what it is.” I had recently moved to the West Coast and was trying to make a living by freelance writing, so I had little money. I thought I could I could go as high as $50. The bidding started at $20. Before I could even raise my hand, it was up to $200 and ended up going for close to $500. Turns out plenty of other people knew what Tekumel was!

17th – Funniest Game you’ve played: When Nicole and I used to attend DundraCon more regularly, we would play in Steve Long’s Special Violence Task Force game. The PCs were a group of especially violent law enforcement officers from various organizations who teamed up for ridiculous adventures. It was a hoot. This was technically a Hero System game but we barely even rolled dice.

 

Game Night

Note: I wrote this as one of our Ronin Round Tables, a feature we do each Friday on www.greenronin.com. I thought I’d post it here for folks who don’t make it over to the company site frequently. Enjoy. 

In 1999 Nicole and I decided to start hosting a game night at our place to play RPGs. While we’ve moved from that apartment, cycled many friends in and out of the group, and changed the night of the week several times, game night has been going on as close to weekly as we can manage for the last 13 years. It’s a key social activity for us and one that we always try to maintain. Even last year, when I spent 10 months in Austin working on the Warhammer 40K MMO, I Skyped in for at least part of the night to keep that connection. Maintaining a game group is not without its challenges though, and we’ve faced many over the years. I know we’re not alone in this either. How many of these sound familiar to you?

Many Players, One GM
For many years, I ran nearly every RPG on game night. In the early years we played a lot of d20 games, as Green Ronin was one of the leading d20 publishers during that era. I had a long running D&D campaign, ran Freeport adventures, and playtested V for Victory, the World War 2 mini game I designed for Polyhedron Magazine. Later I ran a playtest for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition, and even a short-lived Lord of the Rings game when it seemed like we might get to design a LotR game for Games Workshop (not getting to design that game still makes me sad). Later there was Dragon Age, of course, but game night is not all about playtesting. I also ran stuff like a Savage Worlds Day After Ragnarok game and a weird mash-up of Feng Shui, Underground, Delta Green, and Deadlands. Once in a while, someone else would volunteer to run and I’d enjoy just playing, but those campaigns never lasted. We’d do 3 or 4 sessions and then I’d be back in the GM’s chair. I do like to GM but a certain point I started to get burned out. We got another GM when Ray Winninger joined the group, but ultimately Ray decided he preferred running longer sessions on weekends than working within the constraints of a week night that includes dinner and socializing (and hey, Ray, you can start those up again any time!).

Differing Tastes
Some groups have one glorious campaign that lasts for a decade or more but in my experience those games are the exception. Most campaigns seem to last six months or less. That is certainly true of our group. We’ve had maybe two that have lasted longer than a year. Naturally then, a common question is, “What are we playing next?” This isn’t always easy to answer. Tastes vary widely among our group and what we ended up playing was often a matter of compromise. In all our years of game night, I’ve never run one of my very favorite games, Pendragon, because I knew we had players who just wouldn’t be into it. That game requires a group of players who really buy into the setting and concepts, and I didn’t want to frustrate myself by trying to force it on them.

Life Intruding
I look back fondly on my teenage years, when I had way more free time for gaming. Everyone in our group (with the exception of my step-daughter Kate) is a grown up and of course we have all sorts of responsibilities. Almost everyone who has ever been in our group works in either the tabletop or video game industries, so there have been many times that we lose people for months of crunch time. Convention season is another difficult time, as many of us travel for weeks in the summer to attend this con or that. Marc “Sparky” Schmalz, GR’s Director of E-Publishing, also went back to school a couple of years back, which sometimes limits his time. Mitch Gitelman, an old friend who joined the group while I was in down south, is one of the guys behind the recent Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter and we’re pretty sure that’s going to keep him busy. So while we try to meet every week, it isn’t always possible. Sometimes it has seemed like the whole thing will unravel, but we’ve always pulled it back.

Changing Faces
The game industry can be volatile so we’ve had to watch many friends move away for new jobs, but we’ve also filled empty spots with friends who have moved to Seattle for a new gig. Sometimes the same person has done both those things. The most famous example is Bruce Harlick of the old Hero Games crew, who moved here to work on the Matrix MMO, was part of group for many years, and then moved back to California for several other video game jobs (ending with his current gig at Zynga). We still call him “Bruce the Traitor” for leaving us but he’s far from the only one. Jim Bishop left to go work at BioWare, Patrick Swift for a job at Upper Deck and now Cryptozoic, Tim Carroll for a job at Apple, Jess Lebow for a job at Ubisoft (and the distance record by moving to China!) and hell even me for a while when I lived in Austin last year. Every time we gain or lose people, the dynamic changes a little bit. This isn’t always bad, but it’s another thing that makes long term campaigns hard. GR’s webmaster Evan Sass gets bonus points for being the one person outside the household who has stayed with us through thick and thin.

Campaign Failure
For many of the reasons outlined above, we’ve found it harder and harder to maintain campaigns. While the group was originally conceived as RPG focused, a few years ago board and card games started to overtake that. Since the group often varied week to week, depending on who was traveling or crunching or what have you, it seemed better to play games we could finish in a night. And as I mentioned, I was also burning out on GMing and I wanted a break as well. So we’ve ended up playing games like Ticket to Ride, Dixit, Thurn and Taxis, Small World, Formula Dé, Dominion, and recently Miskatonic School for Girls (a Kickstarter that Nicole backed).

As you can see, we’ve had our ups and downs. Some nights we don’t even game at all. Nicole Lindroos, in addition to being Green Ronin’s General Manager, is a fabulous chef, so she always cooks and we drink, talk, and catch up. Those nights are fun too and even if we only talk about gaming (which is pretty much inevitable for us), I’d rather get together than miss a game night. It’s gaming that keeps us bonded together, keeps us coming back week after week to socialize, and keeps our friendships strong. Of course, it’s better when we actually play something but now my step-daughter Kate (who is 16) is part of the group and she’s helping to keep us honest. Last week she basically told us that game night without games was bulllshit and she wanted to play a superhero RPG please. I think we raised that girl right!

Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 2

Once again, this post contains spoilers for Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh. Stop reading now if you intend to play it one day.

When last we left our trio of adventurers, they had braved the dilapidated mansion of the “Mad Alchemist”, discovered it was not actually haunted, and smashed the smuggling ring they found operating in the caves beneath it. I picked things up a few days later, assuming they had spent that time selling their loot in Saltmarsh and turning that into coin. I had prepared a few rumors for them to pick up around town and passed those on.

Then two men came to see them at their inn. One was an older cleric of Pelor and the other a young man with a freshly shaved head and the robes of an acolyte. The latter turned out to be Jebbric, the smuggler they had shown mercy to back in the caves. He took the whole going straight thing seriously and went off to join the Church of Pelor. The older cleric had brought him to the inn so he could pass on some information about the smuggling ring and so fully repudiate his former life. He told them the smugglers were expecting a ship to come in just a couple of days. If they wanted to finish the job of destroying the smuggling ring, they’d want to take care of the ship. Kate thought to ask about the handout from the caves, so Jebbric explained the signaling system the smugglers used. This proved useful later.

I had given them two days so they could make any preparations they might need. The girls seemed pretty unconcerned about attacking a smuggling ship, so rather than prepare, they started chasing down the rumors they had learned. They visited a park and discovered that indeed frogs were croaking in unison in the middle of the night. They talked to some folks about a rash of burglaries that some blamed on Seaton refugees and others on the famous Keoland thief known as the Scarlet Thorn. Finally they went to see the city council and apprise them of the situation. It was agreed that two excisemen from Saltmarsh would answer the signals from the ship and begin to row out. Meanwhile, the adventurers would approach from the opposite side in another boat and board while the smugglers were distracted.

The plan worked out well. Kate slipped onboard first, backstabbing and killing the guard on the forecastle. Then Nicole’s plate armored paladin made too much noise jumping down to the main deck and the alarm was sounded. The NPC cleric took care of the smuggler in the crow’s nest with a well-chosen command spell (“Jump!”). Nicole assaulted the bosun, killing him and sending his body over the rail into the briny deep. Kate had a long duel with the ship’s captain but poor rolls kept her from prevailing. The paladin finally came to her aid and dealt the finishing blow. Kate was not only annoyed at the kill stealing, but also that the bosun had gone over the side before she could loot the body. She asserted that the treasure so lost was coming out of Nicole’s share, which cracked me up.

Descending into deeper into the ship they discovered three smugglers and a wizard playing cards. They should have come up on deck when they heard the fighting, but I totally forgot to do that so I decided that they were a little drunk and too into their card game to investigate the noises above. When I mentioned that one of the card players was a wizard, Kate went nuts. “I dive across the table and stab him!” she exclaimed. They won initiative, so this she did, hitting the wizard with both her weapons. The poor bastard only had 8 hp to start with so she nailed him to his chair before he had a chance to get up, never mind cast a spell. Two smugglers went down the same round and the last surrendered.

Down in the hold they encountered three lizardmen and dispatched them in a few rounds. Then they discovered three things: a pseudodragon in a cage, an aquatic elf chained up in a tiny room, and a cache of weapons that were being smuggled to a lizardman settlement. The pseudodragon is in the module and as it was total Kate bait, I let her bond with it. Their party can certainly use the help. The aquatic elf, Oceanus, explained that he was captured while investigating the connection between the smugglers and the lizardmen. He then agreed to come with them to Saltmarsh and talk to the town council.

We ended the session there. Next time they have to dicker with the council about the fate of the ship they captured, and then decide on a course of action. Are the lizardmen a threat to Saltmash? If so, what’s to be done about it? And what’s up with those frogs in the park? And is the notorious Scarlet Thorn really in Saltmarsh?

Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 1

When I moved back from Austin, one of the things I wanted to do was get a family RPG campaign going. Our long running game night only sometimes actually features games anymore (long story), and I could tell from various comments that Kate found it frustrating to spend so much time around gamers without getting to roleplay regularly. I tried to get something going with a Dragon Age game last year, but I we only played a few times. I was writing all the adventure material and since this was Dragon Age, it started feeling like an extension of work. I wanted this to be about the family just getting together and having fun, so I decided to take a different approach. Kate had heard endless discussions about D&D at game night, but her actual experience with it was limited. I was looking for a game with a lot of pre-written adventures anyway, so I decided to go all the way and run an AD&D game set in Greyhawk. Might as well give the girl a proper education!

With just Nicole and Kate playing, this was going to be a small party, so I had them create 3rd level characters. Nicole made a paladin and Kate an elf ranger/thief (yes, I bent the rules for her). I created a NPC cleric of Procan as a support character, so the party would at least be a trio. To open the campaign I choose Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, a classic adventure that I had actually never run before. I dug out my DMG II (from 3rd Edition) because it had a write up of Saltmarsh. Most of it was useable, though I dialed the year back to 576. My plan was to keep them in and around Saltmarsh for at least a couple of levels, so the town info would be useful.

Spoilers for Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh follow! Do not read on if you plan to play this module.

At the start of the first session, I told them they had traveled to Seaton at the behest of Saltmarsh’s Alchemists’ Guild to find and acquire some rare ingredients. The day before their arrival, a squadron of ships will yellow sails had raided the town. Hundreds of prisoners were taken and many buildings burned (including the shops they were to visit). The game picked up with the PCs at the Alchemists’ Guild, explaining why the raid had prevented them from completing the mission. The head of the guild said not to worry about it because something more important had come up. He found a letter indicating that an alchemist from the area named Turnbull had a copy of a rare text called Ye Secret of Ye Philosopher’s Stone. The man had disappeared 20 years ago and his ghost was said to haunt his dilapidated mansion. Would the PCs venture inside and try to find the book?

The module makes much of how you have to play up that the house may be haunted. I tried to do so, telling them local legends of the ghost of the “Mad Alchemist.” After they took the mission, I had the NPC cleric ask, “Do you think it’s really haunted?” Nicole and Kate both scoffed immediately, which made me laugh. Kate, so jaded at 16. Nicole quipped, “If I ran a thieves’ guild, I’d hide it in a supposedly haunted house.” I said nothing in reply.

The trio then went to the mansion to investigate. I thought the upper levels needed a bit of jazzing up so I added an encounter in the dining room. They came upon a table and next to each place setting was a severed hand. Kate asked if any of the hands had rings; I said yes. When she entered to loot the rings, the hands (in fact, crawling claws) leaped up off the table to try to strangle them. That was fun. Later they freed Ned the assassin and let him tag along for a little while. Right before he was about to get his clothes back, Nicole hit him with detect evil and the jig was up. They sent him packing wearing only his underwear.

In the basement they avoided the rot grubs by burning the dead body in plate mail straight away. I added the detail that the armor was engraved with symbols of Pelor. Nicole is playing a paladin of Mayaheine (yes, GH nerds, I’m bending the timeline slightly) so I thought it’d be suitable armor for her. Kate then found the secret door and got the drop on Jebbric, the smuggler inside. They interrogated him and tied him up. They then found the book they had been sent for and smashed the smugglers’ ring operating in the caves under the mansion. They turned four prisoners over the Saltmarsh watch, but let the one who gave them information go. Jebbric promised to straighten up. They then returned to the Alchemists’ Guild for their reward. So ended session 1.

Overall, it was a really fun time. Kate, who is soft-hearted in real life, was all about the ducats in Greyhawk. She took meticulous notes on every item of value they found in the house and tallied everything at session’s end. I can see some future adventures involving her thief side. Other possible hooks include the escaped assassin, the plate mail of Pelor, and the raiders that attacked Seaton.

We played session 2 last night. I’ll try to write that up later this week.

The Highlights of My Year

2011 wasn’t the worst of years, but it wasn’t the best either. It was up and down, sweet and sour. I started the year living in Austin and working a day job at Vigil Games as lead writer on the Warhammer 40K MMO. I’m ending it back in Seattle with my family and I’m pretty damn happy to have reunited with Nik and Kate on a permanent basis. I don’t want to dwell on the negative so here are the top 5 other highlights of the year.

1. Kate’s Birthday

I wrote about this a few weeks ago so I won’t go on about it, but the most joyous event of the year had to be Kate’s surprise 16th birthday party. I often feel like it’s my job to apologize to Kate for how disappointing the world is, so it was awesome to see how happy our girl was with her party and all the friends who came out for it.

2. Brazil

In May I flew to Curitiba to be a guest at World RPG Con. This was my first (but hopefully not my last) trip to Brazil, and my first time south of the equator as well. I had a great time, though as usual with big trips like this I wish I could have stayed longer. The con was small but the organizers and attendees were super enthusiastic and they made me feel so welcome. I met many excellent gamers and had the chance to actually hang out with Steve Jackson (the other American game designer guest) for the first time.

The day after the con we got to ride the Curitiba-Paranaguá Railroad. It was a three and a half hour, 116 kilometer trip through the rain forested highlands to the coast. The route went through 13 tunnels and over 30 bridges, and the whole trip was in a vintage Italian train from the 60s. Then we had a huge seafood feast in Paranaguá, followed by more sightseeing by bus before the drive back to Curitiba. All in all, pretty awesome.

3. Seattle: The Returning

I moved back to Seattle in August. Nicole flew down to Austin, we loaded up a truck with the help of friends, and then it was a five day ride through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I’ve mentioned my happiness about getting back with my family, but here I’m talking about the trip itself. When I moved down, I had a fixed deadline so it was four days of hard driving and nothing else. This time Nicole and I had no schedule we had to keep to so we decided to be more casual. I’m glad we did.

Our first stop was at Reaper Miniatures in Denton, TX. Ed Pugh and Ron Hawkins gave us a thorough tour of their facility. They have a really impressive operation going on there and it was cool to see it. We probably spent too much time swapping game industry stories, but hey, how often are we getting to Denton? When it was time for us to move on, they gifted Nicole with some out of production Mousling miniatures, which made her squee with delight.

Next we stopped at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson. It’s a really unlikely place for a museum dedicated to rocketry and space flight it’s quite well done. Apparently NASA wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff back in the 70s, so Hutchinson said, “Give it to us and we’ll make a museum!” The history is well presented and they have some great artifacts, including the lovingly restored capsule from Apollo 13. Worth a stop if you find yourself in Kansas.

In Denver we stopped to have lunch with college pal Pat Brown at the Buckhorn Exchange. We worked out the meet up over Facebook on my phone while we cruised down the interstate. Thanks, technology. Pat recommended an over the top gourmet shop outside town so we had to pop in there as well. They had a huge room full of cheese that was essentially a giant refrigerator. The store keeps coats on hand in case you get cold, but after Texas I enjoyed it in there. Cheese and other goodies we got there made our dinner in the hotel later that night.

As we rode through Wyoming, I thought we were done with stops. Then I noticed on the map that the highway went right by Little Big Horn in Montana. Turns out you can get from the highway to the hill where Custer died in less than 10 minutes. Clearly we had to do it.

4. Dragon Age, Set 2

Professionally speaking, the highlight of the year for me was the release of Set 2 for Dragon Age. It took way longer to get done than I figured, but I’m pleased with the result. The release made me feel great for an hour or two. Then someone asked, “So when is Set 3 coming out?” Oh, gamers. 🙂

5. Steve Ignorant: The Last Supper

I’m ending my list with a bit of punk rock. I did not get to a lot of shows in Austin because I lived in north, north Austin and had neither license nor car. So when German band the Spermbirds came to America for the first time to play South by Southwest, I ended up missing their show. When I heard that Steve Ignorant was bringing his Last Supper show to Emo’s, I determined that I would be there. Thanks to pal Donna Prior, who agreed to drive and come to the show with me despite the music not exactly being her thing, I got my wish.

Steve Ignorant was the singer for Crass, an uncompromising British punk band of the 70s and 80s that went the Sex Pistols one better by taking their anarchism very seriously indeed. They became a hugely influential band, and ran a record label that put out lots of other anarcho-punk bands. Crass broke up in the mid-80s and I never had a chance to see them. I think they only got to America once and then briefly. A couple of years ago Steve Ignorant decided to put on a show called The Last Supper. Basically, he wanted to perform those old songs a final time as “a celebration of what Crass meant” to him.

So this was not a Crass reunion per se, but Steve singing songs from ’77 to ’84 backed by musicians from bands like Conflict, Killing Joke, and the English Dogs. I’m sure a lot of people saw the whole thing as a cynical endeavor but I don’t give a shit: it was awesome. Steve was into it, the band was tight, and hearing those classic songs live was a treat. The real surprise of the night was the performance of many songs from Penis Envy, Crass’s feminist statement on which Eve Libertine handled most of the vocals. A younger singer named Carol Hodge sang the Penis Envy songs and she killed it. She was fierce and delivered those songs with conviction and energy. It was the icing on my punk rock cake.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 31, 2011. 

A Chronicle of Ice and Fire

I haven’t been doing any regular roleplaying since getting back to Seattle, as weekly game night at our place long ago devolved into eat, drink, and bullshit night during which boardgaming sometimes happens. And hey, that’s fun too but it wasn’t scratching my itch. Jon Leitheusser, Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds developer, was nice enough to invite me to join his group, so this week I trekked down to Renton for a kickoff session of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying (abbreviated SIFRP).

When people ask me at cons and such how SIFRP captures the flavor of the books, the first thing I tell them about is the house system and the campaign framework it provides. Before you make your character, you sit down as a group and generate a minor noble house. This is the glue that will hold the campaign together. All the PCs are members or retainers of the house, so you have both individual goals and group goals as the house engages in the game of thrones. It gives a real reason for your characters to work together, so you aren’t just a random collection of mercenary sociopaths (though if you want that, I suppose you could run a chronicle in which the PCs join the Brave Companions).

So Tuesday night Jon, Seth, Jason, James (by Skype), and I got together to generate a house and start character creation for the chronicle. We decided to roll up a couple of houses and pick the one we liked best. Houses have seven attributes (Defense, Influence, Lands, Law, Population, Power, and Wealth). You establish starting stats based on its location in Westeros and these can be modified in several ways throughout the process. You then get to make a certain number of rolls on the historical events table, which both modifies the attributes and gives you seeds to develop important events in the house’s past. Once the final attributes are determined, you can then spend resources to determine details of your holdings. When you’re done, you should have a good starting point for your house and an idea of where Player Characters can fit within it.

The first house we generated was in the Westerlands. That meant Lannisters, which I don’t think any of us were too keen on. Nonetheless, we went through the process so everyone could see how it worked. We ended up with a new house created after Robert’s Rebellion. We had small holdings in the hills with a hall near a river that passed through our territory. We had a lot of money (because hey, Lannisters) which we figured came from river tolls and our two mines. I had a feeling we weren’t going to stick with this house, so I suggested we skip detailing our banner house and military forces. We felt there were hooks here we could certainly use but overall it wasn’t what we were looking for.

The second house was in the Iron Islands and it was clear pretty quickly that this one would win out over the Westerlands house. Jon’s roll of 1 also meant we were an ancient house dating back to the Age of Heroes. This gave us a lot of rolls on the historical events table and plenty of stuff to work with for our house history. Our house was founded by treachery, for example, and other events made it clear it had had its ups and downs: defeat, victory, ascent, scandal, decline, favor. I suggested that defeat be the most recent event and we tie that to the Greyjoy Rebellion. With our resources were able to secure our own island and a small castle, but its dominant terrain was wetlands. We decided the house controlled a bigger, better island in the past, but in a period of decline we lost it to our rivals. As Ironmen we naturally opted for veteran warhips and raiders, as well as some sailors and a garrison for the castle. We brought in an artisan we we could have castle-forged steel, and used other resources so James could play the house’s heir.

At some point we decided that one of our ancient ancestors slew a sea dragon (or perhaps stole the credit for the deed, if we opt to make that the founding treachery). With that in mind, I suggested that we become House Greenscale and that our motto be “Cold Seas, Cold Blood.” We almost went with Seth’s suggestion of Highrock (he thought that’d be funny considering our wetlands) but Jon countered that it’d be a better name for the castle. We all agreed and so we became House Greenscale of Castle Highrock.

We still have some work to do fleshing out the history of the house, but this gave us a good framework to start creating our characters. Clearly court adventures and tournaments are not going to be our forte. We are a house of Viking raiders looking to revive our ancient glories. I’m working on my character now and will try to post something more when I flesh him out. I enjoyed the house creation session and I’m looking forward to getting the game going. Cold Seas, Cold Blood!

Originally posted on LiveJournal on December 1, 2011. 

Gaming and Punk: Crossing the Streams

It isn’t often that my punk rock life and my gaming life come together but it happened this week.

The story begins in the early 90s, when I was living in NYC and helping to run ABC No Rio, a non-profit punk club and arts center. ABC was full of characters and one of the most colorful was Donny the Punk. Although he was a long time member of the NY punk scene, that’s not how Donny got his nickname. No, he got it the old fashioned way, by being gang raped repeatedly in prison in the 1970s. This obviously had a huge impact on his life, and he later was the president of Stop Prisoner Rape. We did an art show once at ABC based on his jailhouse experiences. It was powerful stuff. You can read more about Donny’s harrowing story on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Donaldson_(activist)

So one day Donny and I were talking at ABC and he asked me what I was up to. This was in my early days of RPG freelancing and explaining roleplaying games to my punk friends was often a challenge. But Donny lit up and said, “Oh, gaming! I used to design wargames for SPI.”  SPI, of course, was one of the major wargame companies of the 1970s and the big rival of Avalon Hill.

Donny then proceeded to tell me how he had designed a game in which all the commanders were named after people from punk bands, which I found quite amusing. No one at SPI, of course, had a clue. I just can’t see SPI founder Jim Dunnigan rocking out to The Clash, Dead Boys, or Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

I always remembered that story but not the name of the game. Donny passed away (a victim of AIDS) in 1996 so I never had a chance to ask him again. Looking over his bio, I’m curious to know when and how he ended up doing design and development work for SPI. He did spend some time in the military but was kicked out for “homosexual involvement.” Then he was a Quaker for much of the 70s. All in all, a pretty unlikely candidate for a wargame designer.

For 20 odd years our conversation about gaming remained a personal story I shared with few people. How many punks play wargames after all? Then yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend Crazy Todd. He provided this link and said, “This will amuse you.”

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/716888/rock-n-roll-wargame-the-hidden-coolness-of-city-fi/page/1

Turned out someone on Boardgame Geek was looking at a SPI game called Cityfight: Modern Combat in an Urban Environment from 1979. He had noticed that many of the commanders were named after old punks (Strummer, Pursey, Foxton, Bators, etc.). This was Donny’s game I had heard about all those years before! Of course, I had to say something and I was delighted to discover that there were a number of old punk wargamers on BGG. The majority seemed to be Canadian, which may or may not be indicative of something (it did make me think of my Canuck pals at Fiery Dragon, who published a number of wargames over the last 10 years).

Now I’m watching a copy of Cityfight on eBay. Clearly I must own this unique piece of punk and gaming history. Pogo on, Donny.

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 29, 2011. 

Vigil 40K Tournament

We’re making a Warhammer 40,000 MMO at Vigil so it’s no surprise that the company includes players of the original game. In fact, it’s the only minis game anyone at Vigil plays (which initially made me feel that bringing down all those WWI and WWII armies was perhaps futile). The company has a game night every Thursday and 40K is usually on the agenda. To encourage people to play more and to get the competitive juices flowing, we’ve also just started a company wide tournament. It’s going to be four rounds, double elimination, and Vigil is providing minis as prizes for the top finishers.

My original plan was to play Salamander Space Marines. Having seen the way folks play at Vigil (lots of HTH, expensive heroes and monstrous creatures), it seemed like a good choice. When we had a kickoff meeting and I saw on the whiteboard that 75% of the armies were either Space Marine or Chaos Space Marine, I knew I’d have to be true to my roots and play Imperial Guard though. No one else at Vigil plays IG and most of them haven’t been playing long enough to even recognize my Praetorian troops. I brought back a few things with me on my recent trip to Seattle (including my Hydra flak tank, which I assembled like 8 years ago but have never fielded) and made a 1500 point army tonight. The list can’t change once the tourney starts, so I had to put something together that could handle a variety of opponents. Hopefully, I have chosen wisely.

My first game is Thursday vs. (surprise, surprise) Chaos Space Marines. My opponent is using the favorite tricks of Vigil CSM players: demon prince, sorcerer with lash of submission, and a greater demon. The key will be using my superior numbers to concentrate firepower on his assault units before they get into my battle line. This can be challenging in 40K, which is why shooty armies like Imperial Guard and Tau are a lot less popular than the HTH armies.

I’m not worried about losing the tournament. This is all for fun and when you wargame you need to cultivate being a good loser. My only concern is the tourney rules themselves. Right now they state that tied games have to be replayed until there is a winner. I argued that there should be a system for determining who wins in case of a tie but I’m not the organizer. The first round mission is Capture and Control, in which ties are quite common due to the rules for seizing objectives. Sure enough, the first three games played have all been ties. One battle was re-fought and resulted in…another tie. If this continues, I will lobby for a rules change. Otherwise, this tourney will never end. While I do appreciate the idea of motivating people to play more often, if we’re still playing the first round a month from now everyone will lose steam.

Praetorians, prepare for battle!

Originally published on LiveJournal on February 2, 2011.

London Swag

It wouldn’t be a trip unless I brought home some books and games. I like to travel light these days, so I can carry everything on, but that’s at odds with my love of books. I could easily have found more to buy, but knowing I’d have to hump it all home constrained me. I suppose that’s a good thing. In any case, here’s what I brought back:

The Afghan Wars, 1839-1919 by T.A. Heathcote: Picked this up at the National Army Museum. I’ve read some about Britain’s colonial wars in Afghanistan, but going to that exhibit made me want to know more.

Atomic Highway by Colin Chapman: Traded with Dom from Cubicle 7 for this. It’s a post-apocalyptic RPG I’ve been wanting to check out.

City of Thieves by Ian Livingstone: Ian brought a bunch of signed Fighting Fantasy books to sell in the charity auction. I won this one.

Crusaders of the Amber Coast by by Paolo Guccione: Another Cubicle 7 trade. This is a RPG sourcebook for BRP on running a campaign during the Baltic Crusades. I had not heard of it before, but I’m always interested in gaming supplements that take on history.

Duty and Honour  by Neil Gow: And speaking of history, there’s Duty and Honour, a RPG in which you play a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. Many years ago I contacted Bernard Cornwell’s agent to try to license the Sharpe’s novels, so it didn’t take much to sell me on this.

Hospitallers, The History of the Order of St. John by Jonathan Riley-Smith: Short history of the Hospitallers I got at the Order of St. John’s museum.

Imperial Armor, Volume 9, The Badab Campaign, Part One: The Forge World 40K books are gorgeous but also spendy. I arranged a trade before Dragonmeet with Andrew Kenrick so I could bring this baby home with me. Back in the 90s I wrote a short story for GW, Into the Maelstrom, about Huron and the Red Corsairs, so I was naturally interested in a book all about the Tyrant of Badab’s famous conflict with the Imperium. Now must wait for volume 2.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess by James Raggi: James was nice enough to give me a copy of his fantasy RPG and a bunch of its adventures. I was already curious about this because it seemed to be a game from the Old School Renaissance that was more than a copy of some iteration of D&D. And it’s a boxed set and everyone knows I love boxed sets.

Marlborough’s Wars, Eyewitness Accounts, 1702-1713 by James Falkner: My other purchase at the National Army Museum: This was tries to get at the lgend of Marlborough through the accounts of people who were there. Looks interesting.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 3, 2010.