Hour of the Geek #2: “My Vampire Counts Army Will Destroy You…”

Does anyone else recall that parody video Fly Weight Films did, years ago, about the security guard whose Dark Elf army was the greatest power for evil in the lower region of British Columbia? Or is it just me? Anyway, I used to laugh at it, but since I turned INTO that guy, I haven’t really had a leg to stand on.

My Vampire Counts army will destroy you.

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Hour of the Geek #1 – “It’s Not A Man Cave, OK?”

God, that’s an awful thumbnail. Rest assured the others YouTube selected were even worse. I promise I don’t always look like a total derpazoid.

Anyway, this is another attempt at that thing I used to do back in the House of Paincakes/Year of Frugal Gaming days, when I was an absolute trollop and would offer myself to any blog that would have me at tuppence a post and a shilling on Sundays to spite the Lord. Further transmissions will follow because I made about three of these in one night.

[Off Topic] Feels Like A Hundred Years

I’ve been at this for a while now. My first gaming blog launched in 2009, which was apparently peak time for new blogs to start – before the glut of everyone and their dog doing it brought on a state of content shock. The volume of free content positively exploded over the next five years, leaving us all feeling glutted, sated, bloated and positively flatulent with free stuff to read and argue about.

By 2014 I was also extremely depressed and, consequently, started churning money through the hobby, buying things to cheer myself up and selling them off again every time I needed to move house, which was too damn often. This rootlessness is a hallmark of my generation (for my sins, I’m just about young enough to qualify as one of those millennials who are killing all the industries everywhere) and, as a consequence, it means I don’t really have the usual Middlehammer experience.

You know the one I mean. “Oh, I played that a lot when I was at school, then I went to uni/got a girlfriend/sorted my life out, but when I bought a house my mum went through the attic and sent my old stuff over…”

Not round ‘ere, mate. Anything that’s not been played with in a couple of years is a calcified asset, money waiting to be freed up; any project that’s ceased to move and live and satisfy will go the same way before long. It’s the only way I could free up space and funding for the next thing and, often, the only way the rent would be paid next month.

I haven’t been able to keep stuff, ever, and to be honest, the wheeling and dealing and bargain hunting was always part of the fun for me. (Obviously, in this day and age it’s all eBay scalpers and mass-produced skeletons going for £25 a pop or take your business elsewhere, a seller’s market if ever there was one – but that’s another story.)

But I was lucky enough to get one of my Middlehammer armies back, and even luckier to stumble into a nice bunch of lads who are still playing proper Warhammer on square bases like we did when I was a wee ‘un. And truth be told, it’s been a lot more fun than all the years of slogging through the fashionable what’s-meta-this-year of competitive Warmachine and the can-I-really-be-arsed-learning-a-whole-new-game of 40K’s edition cycle and the rise of Age of Sigmar.

Whenever I stop and think about this sort of thing I become terribly maudlin, and maudlin’s not a good frame of mind for me. Last time it went out of control and I deleted my entire web presence – all the social media, the blog and its archives, everything went in one night.

Let it burn is what I say. I don’t want to drag everything I said or did over the last nine years behind me like a forty thousand word dingleberry. My most popular post by far was me getting my knackers in a knot over Heinrich Kemmler’s name, which is so utterly trivial now that the gaming kultur war has boiled over into something that distorts lives, careers, the fates of nations…

But I can’t let it all go. I still play, and even more occasionally paint, and sometimes it’s fun to talk about what I’ve been up to. So here we all are, in the looming shadow of Nagashizzar where all fates come to dust. Nine years down the line from registering the original GAME OVER, with a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned along the way. One hundred posts (well, ninety-nine) survived the cull.

Glad to have you back.

Shall we, then?

[WFB] Godspeed You, Black Emperor

Some years ago, when I was in the habit of playing wargames more often than blogging about them (we’re talking 2008-ish here), I wrote up some background for a WFB campaign.

The tentative notion was that it’d involve my Vampire Counts, Dr. Shiny’s Skaven, Blackheart’s Empire and Awesome Mike’s Dwarfs. A lot of water’s flowed under a lot of bridges since then, but there’s still a concept here for a WFB/WFRP crossover campaign that I’d like to run with someone someday, maybe.

The year is 2018. The Empire is divided. The grand provinces of Marienburg, Middenland and Reikland vie for the Imperial throne. The ascendant Vampire Counts of Sylvania have conquered their neighbouring realms and the Ottilia of occupied Talabecland could well become a puppet Emperor. Bretonnia encroaches further and further on the Empire’s borders. The Count of Wissenland has reached out to the Empire’s oldest allies, the Dwarfs of the Grey Mountains, begging for any aid they have to offer… but they have their own battles to fight in the dark beneath the world.

The idea here was to make the most out of WFRP’s more diplomatic relationship between the fractured Imperial provinces and the other powers, and to project the idea of Vlad von Carstein trying another way to take over the Empire. Sylvania isn’t an Elector County, but Talabecland is, and it’s one of the contenders for the Empire. By force of arms, Vlad has established a bloc of cowed Electors who’ll support his preferred candidate; by accepting the Ottilia’s surrender he’s gained the ear of a candidate (probably strongarmed into line by having a bunch of vampires hanging around his court).

There’s room for a lot of stuff here. Intrigue and politics in occupied Talabheim. Brokering allegiances between the other Imperial claimants – none of them is prepared to stand down and let another take the throne, and Vlad doesn’t command a majority as long as they stand free.

Guerilla warfare in Hochland, or along the River Stir, or even (if we want to go stark staring mad) going all Rambo-style with a resistance movement in the Halfling Moot.(Your host retains his healthy contempt for all things Halfling but acknowledges Middlehammer Halflings – malodorous thieving runts who procreate like the proverbial bunnies – as amusing enough to be spared the lash.)

Bretonnian piracy, or even full on invasion, along the Nordland coast or the Axebite Pass. Battles in the deep darkness of the Grey Mountains; an urgent message sent to the Dwarf strongholds.

Loads you can do with this, and that’s just the roleplaying. Battles would probably punctuate short campaigns of RP – as diplomatic efforts succeeded or failed we’d move on to a wargame to resolve them. Could even sneak some Mordheim in there as I imagine the City of the Damned is still an important source of resources, and a key lynchpin in the Sylvanian defences (not to mention an electoral seat; if Vlad could take that, would he have a legitimate claim? what if he could find the Count of Ostermark’s Runefang?).

Unsure which version of the rules I’d favour; second edition WFRP is contemporary with sixth edition WFB (my favourite), but first edition WFRP is of course the game of kings and is designed to dovetail with second edition WFB (the one Oldhammerers… sort of like, but play less than third?)

OR I could just play Warhammer: Total War. I never used to buy that “computer gaming kills tabletop gaming” garbage and still don’t, but the lure of playing with myself and Forging the approximate kind of Narrative I want is extremely strong. I was delighted to note that the Mordheim Vampire campaign kind of synchs up with the Total War one. The earliest hints of a betrayal among the Von Carstein clan play out as Mannfred and Vlad go to war at the head of subfactions, and playing the Vampire Counts or Von Carstein campaigns involves sorting out a civil war in Sylvania before taking over the world (TM). That’d be some top content for the old YouTube channel, don’t you think?

[WFB] Exegesis of Terrible Fiction: Vampire Wars, Steven Savile, Black Library (2008)

(The title is for Huge Ruined Scott. Consider this your content warning, dude.)

This post can be blamed on all the Mordheim: City of the Damned and Warhammer Total War I’ve been playing of late. The experience has confirmed that despite my recent less-than-entirely-negative reaction to Age of Sigmar, my deep-seated love for the ‘Forces of Death’ is rooted in the Old World, the cast of characters created or lovingly plagiarised to populate it, and the fine tradition of homage it established. (Even Kemmler, despite my previous storm-in-a-teacup peak-fake-woke-white-boi social-justice-necromancer ranting on the topic. Terror of the Lichemaster is a decent little railroad and whoever voice acted the old goon for Total War nailed it.)

Anyway, I’ve been spending some time in the Old World and it’s made me thirsty for trashy tie-in fiction that I’ve not read twenty times already.

Continue reading “[WFB] Exegesis of Terrible Fiction: Vampire Wars, Steven Savile, Black Library (2008)”

[Meta Gaming] Theory Thursday – "Does This List make me That Guy?"

Questions like these come up on Reddit at least three times a week, and those are just the ones I see. “{insert popular tournament list archetype here} – does bringing this make me That Guy?”

No.

Not in a vacuum, anyway.

I don’t care what it is. The latest Internet-approved tri-Riptide donkeyflop laswing with a Seer Council, dual Knights and go-faster stripes on the infinitely respawning Daemon Allies doesn’t make you That Guy in and of itself.

What does?

Powergaming alone

If you’re rocking up with that list and nobody knows it’s coming, you’re probably That Guy. If you’re putting it down on the table and someone takes out their motley collection of metal Guard figures from the 1990s which are barely even a proper army, if you squint and overlook the one missing platoon command squad, you’re definitely That Guy.

If you know for an absolute fact that anyone you might be playing that list against on this day, in this place, will be prepared for it and have something of comparable heft on their side, you are not That Guy. Congratulations.

If you have taken the time to find an opponent and arrange a game before you even write your lists, as God and the Studio intend, you are not That Guy. Not… yet. The thing is, being That Guy is a lot like actually winning games – it’s a lot less to do with list building than you think it is.

Being a helmet

Sadly, there is no defined and qualified list of helmetic behaviours. It sucks. I know. I’m autistic. I’d like there to be a list somewhere. There isn’t. I’m going to take a stab at it, but at least one of these is something that might only be a hot button for me. Bear that in mind.

  • Gamesmanship. Undermining your opponent either more directly (they hand you their list, you glance at it, stifle a snort and hand it back) or less (every time they get their game face on to make a decision, you ask them a well-timed question about something another of their units does). The outcome of a toy soldiers game is not worth playing mindgames on another human being. (Incidentally, I apologise for all the times I’ve pulled this one. I’ve been That Guy.)
  • Slow play/fast play. Playing noticeably slower than your opponent – stalling for time, especially in timed game environments, hoping to get the alpha strike and the last turn – is very bad form indeed. Playing faster than your opponent can follow – scooping up dice before they’ve registered the results, declaring your intent in a series of barked shorthands or worse, not at all, never stopping for anything that might be negotiable, hustling them to take decisions like whether or not to Deny the Witch? That’s also bad form.
  • Looking with your fingers, not with your eyes. Maybe this is more of a pet peeve, but I hate people touching my models even with permission. If break it, that’s on me and I’m allowed to be cross. If you break it I’m expected to eat that anger for the sake of the social contract and that doesn’t tickle me at all. This goes double for insolently flicking my dudes over when they die. (Nobody has ever actually done this to me, but I break out in a cold sweat thinking about it.) I gather that some scenes, like competitive Blood Bowl, are a lot more chill about this, and all I can say is that don’t fly with me. Unless I ask you to touch my stuff, don’t. Assume everyone is as uptight about this as I am.
  • “Gotcha!” There was a time when wargames were closed-information affairs: the exact nature of your list was a secret because there existed rules for scrying, scanning and so on. No more. Lists are open. Rules are open. Withholding key information until someone’s made a decision and then being all “no takebacks bro” is a sure sign that you are That Guy. That said…
  • Constantly reminding your opponents about a rule verges on being That Guy too, especially if it’s something like Stealth in Warmachine, where people often know  the shot will auto-miss but are hoping to catch something with the blast. This one is more forgiveable than the others – some people struggle to retain some rules, some people do pretend this state for advantage, and in general I would consider it good form to declare intent, issue reminders and narrate things like blast deviations, even if it does make you sound like a dice-rolling app on legs. This one is more about reading your opponent – if they seem heated, maybe don’t poke that inner fire too hard. Try asking questions rather than making statements – “you do know she has Stealth, right?” before the shot is taken is a bit less enraging than “Stealth” right afterwards.
  • Taking your eyes off the prize. Yeah, yeah, gaming is a social activity, I get that – but gaming is also gaming. If you’re more interested in the game on the next table over, whatever you watched on Netflix last night, the cute game store girl or telling me about your eighteenth level Paladin, you’re being a bit of a helmet. Maybe a skullcap or something. If you came out to play a game, play the game.
  • Hard tilt. This one is hard to cop to because it is my major sin of choice, but for the sake of honour and completeness it must remain. If you are still mildly traumatised from the unspeakable things that were done to your dudes in the last game, you need to recover before you hit the next one. If your single point of failure has been reached and you’ve already totally blown this game at the top of turn two, you’re either playing badly or being melodramatic, and in either case you need to breathe and think and ideally come back at this another day. I’m really bad at this, which is why I don’t play tournaments any more – the tension from the first game shorts my brain out and I totally forget how to handle myself in the next.
  • The Discourse. Off-colour jokes don’t fly when your opponent isn’t laughing and is squirming. There’s a time and a place for everything, even the dead baby jokes, but come on – read your opponent. If they don’t laugh, dial it back a notch and save everyone a boring argument. Likewise: tone policing. I get it; you don’t want to hear the word ‘rape’ five times in one sentence while playing toy soldier games. Doesn’t thrill me either. The thing is, when people are in mid game they aren’t always watching their every thought and word for every possible BadWrong they might say, and they aren’t going to be receptive to a hot button conversation right that minute. Distract, derail, move them along with the game, and unleash the Discourse afterwards, in controlled conditions. There’s a time and a place for everything.

The bottom line

Your list doesn’t make you That Guy. That Guy is someone you are, independently of the game mechanics. Failure to read your opponents, share desired outcomes in play, and uphold the social contracts: these are the hallmarks of That Guy. We are all That Guy sometimes, when our concentration lapses and our ill side gets the best of us, irrespective of what’s in our figure case today. It’s not what you play. It’s how you play it.

[Event Report] ArmadaCon 28 – Home Town Heroism, procedural megadungeons, and gross capitalism

They say that wizards can never go home.

Fortunately, as a card-carrying storygamer Swine I reject the shackles of class-based character generation, and can go where I damn well please, so I went back to Plymouth to attend ArmadaCon’s twenty-eighth instalment and do a spot of mega-dungeoning.

M’colleagues on the board have spent some time beefing up the gaming side of the convention, and politely asked if I wouldn’t mind hosting ‘something’ in the games-and-dealers room for the three-day weekend. Obviously my first idea was a through-the-ages Vampire chronicle (Dark Ages on day one, Victorian Age on day two, Final Nights on day three), but then m’colleagues pointed out that they had no idea how many gamers would be turning up, also that gamers buy day tickets rather than signing up for the whole weekend, and that putting an awful lot of work into something might leave me sitting around weeping into my Cappadocian clanbook. (I bought a copy of the first edition – which is actually for the game’s second edition – on the Sunday. It sits next to the Giovanni one on my shelf, feeling awkward about the future.)

Instead, I fished out my Tarot cards, Otherworld adventurer models, A1 sheets of graph paper and a motley assortment of monsters (mostly undead, a few North Star gnolls, and some Fireforge historicals to use as hierlings) and prepared to play some Fuckin’ D&D.

What this means in real money is that I had ten set-piece encounters and twelve PCs statted out, but the routes from set-piece to set-piece would be determined by Tarot flips, as would treasure and traps. Players could drop in and out, taking over existing characters or having a new one turn up trapped under a rock fall or something, and I would be quite chipper about killing PCs off since it’s a con game and that shit don’t matter. There was a story – something, something, expedition, something something vast tomb complex below a suspiciously Cappadocian hillside, something something midnight howls, panicking henchmen, people falling down wells and crevasses – but I wasn’t going to make a big deal of it. Mostly, the story was there to get people into play and justify the random appearances and disappearances of new characters.

Although I didn’t actually get to start until after lunchtime on both days (the sessions were down for a 10 a/m kickoff, but most of the folks in the hotel were there for the panels and regular fixtures, not for the games), I did end up running on both days (not originally in the playbook). Play was slow (they did eventually fill one A1 sheet with mapped tunnels) but entertaining, especially on the Sunday when a critical mass of about six players was achieved throughout the proceedings.

Final scores: 8/12 PCs dead, 2/12 PCs resurrected thanks to The Shop On The Borderlands‘ sponsored wandering wizard encounter, 4/12 PCs returned to surface via wishing well, 3/10 set piece encounters actually used, 3/10 sheets of graph paper covered in horrible scrawls, 3 requests to keep going regardless of time and only 1 player feeling it wasn’t his cup of tea.

That’s not bad. Next time I’ll tie it into the charitable causes side of the event and allow PCs to buy themselves back from the dead by bunging a few quid to St. Luke’s Hospice, which I wish I’d thought of at the start of the weekend rather than ten minutes after the doors closed on Sunday.

Currently playing…

It was World of Warcraft, for about a month. Legion isn’t rubbish. The new Demon Hunter class is suitably entertaining. Gold is easy enough to come by that I haven’t actually had to pay for the second month at all (the subscription was wrangled with an in-game token). As we move into the first patch the novelty is beginning to wear off and I am no longer spending six hours at a time “catatonically staring at a monitor” as one wacky bastard of a commentator has it.

At the present moment in time it’s Blood Bowl (PC version), because a new edition of Blood Bowl (tabletop version) is out just in time for my birthday and there’s talk of a Corehammer tournament early in the new year. Sadly my beloved Necromantic team hasn’t made the cut for the first batch of re-releases, but the Nurgle louts have, so I’m currently learning why Disturbing Presence is hilarious and why nobody needs two Beastmen with Leader. Assuming the Nurgle lads get some new models, I’ll finally make good on that insistent Nurgly itch I’ve have for a couple of years now, without doing something stupid like a whole new 40K army.

I have vague itches towards the World of Darkness and will probably muster the Dark Ages group for another one-off or two shortly after Christmas. These episodic ‘tales from Constantinople’ take a bit of adjusting-to, since I’m used to running an ongoing weekly or fortnightly campaign and can afford to have loose ends dangling between sessions. When it might be months between times, events must be more contained and discrete, and I’m still learning how to pace them and make them feel important while still maintaining the proper quotients of vampirism and player agency.

I also have vague itches towards Warhammer. No, not Age of Sigmar, stop that, back that truck right up. I mean Sixth Edition, the Silver Age of Warhammer, the one I and m’colleagues actually enjoyed playing. More on this as details emerge – at the moment it’s taking the form of “actually acquiring a Black Coach and redoing the movement trays and finishing the display army like I said I would two years ago.” Actual gameplay is being negotiated with the learnéd Dr. Shiny and something may occur in that vein before the year is out.

Currently reading…

The odd couple of Eddisons I hadn’t finished. Styrbiorn is excellent – austere and restrained in a way quite distinct from the lavish prose of his Zimiamvia novels. His extended obituary to one Philip Sidney Nairn, which I read purely for completism’s sake, is quietly moving and offers a glimpse of the late Empire and the standards for being a decent chap therein, but is of little direct consequence. I also started Diary of a Drug Fiend, which is a delightfully rambling little confessional but not hugely compelling, which is why it’s only ‘started’.

Currently hobbying…

You wish. The learned Dr. Shiny will be carrying out much of my miniature painting in the future, in return for the free practice of my trade upon the manuscript for his novel. I hate painting, Shiny’s good at it, I like editing and Shiny needs some done. You see how this works?