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Monday, 25 May 2020

Grimdark Future/Warhammer 40k: Additional Ideas for Multi-Edition Space Wolves

Primaris will never get to look this cool.
Back in late March I started nailing down my plans for what would be a multi-edition (nay, multi game!) Space Wolf army. With the recent reveals of Warhammer 40 000 9th edition and the general trajectory of the game, I've been less and less wanting to give Games Workshop money to the point I am genuinely considering either recasting or acquiring all my required bitz through a secondary market. Fortunately, getting Space Wolf and/or Space Wolf-like parts should not be too hard given the army's popularity, not to mention I still got access to a lot of the bitz I bought for my Plague Marines which included many loyalist bitz.

However, building an HQ/hero unit is going to be a bit harder. Hero units are generally agreed to require to be a tiny bit more 'fancy' than the base troops. Now obviously, Games Workshop sells old Space Wolf heroes like Rune Priests and the likes but, as previously established I'm not quite in the mood to dump money into GW directly and, beside, those are old sculpts redone in Finecast which mean there is a good chance they might come up all broken and full of air bubbles. As a result I've set out to see what I can use to kitbash my own Space Wolf heroes and special units which will look both coherent with the rest of the army as previously outlined while also looking distinct enough to be able to tell them apart.

Wolf Lord

As the head honcho (or top dog, if you will?), the Wolf Lord is basically required to be one of the coolest and fanciest model in the army. Now what form exactly he will take depend, as Wolf Lords can be equipped in a rather wide variety of ways. The pragmatic in me believes it is unlikely such a model will be a Terminator, as these are difficult to find all the required parts to build one 'whole cloth' and due to how Grimdark Future work I'd rather not turn a five man squad into a four man squad. This mean he is likely to be a simple, power armored Space Marine hero unit.
  • Kromlech/Bits of War has some of the most fancy-looking, Norse-themed not!Space Marine bitz out there in their Sons of Thor sets. Given a full set consist of five of each torso/leg/backpack this would provide the main starting point for the miniature. The rule of cool alone dictates the Wolf Lord needs to rock a wolf pelt cape.
  • Beyond that, the wargear of the Wolf Lord will heavily depend on what bitz I have available.
The key to telling the Wolf Lord apart will simply be his raw level of bling, since nearly every area which could be embellished with brassy colors will be colored as such, rather than the basic Space Wolf greyish-blue. Fitting of the cliché of Space Marines heroes, he will be bare headed.

Wolf Priest

The Wolf Priests are the Chaplains of the Space Wolves, as well as apothecaries but really they generally focus more on the first part. Their main visual 'shtick' is their iconic wolf skull helmet, where they replace the basic skull face of regular Chaplains with a wolf skull, because space wolves really like wolves.
  • The first thing I need is a bitchin' wolf skull helmet! As it happen, Pop Goes The Monkey has the Dire Wolf Helmets which are clearly meant to be wolf-themed Reiver helmets but I ain't using them for that Primaris bullshit. As for what the remaining nine helmets will be used if I got only one Wolf Priest? Scroll down below and you will see.
  • Next, this guy need a big mace. Or, in fancy 40k talk, a Crozius Arcanum. Kromlech has the Legionary Maces and these will do just fine.
Beyond that, a Wolf Priest is easy to tell apart because their armors are black, as are all Chaplain armors. As such, with the wolf skull and black armor this guy will be easy to tell apart. Oh and like the Wolf Lord, he will be built from Sons of Thor legs and torso to make him more 'blinged' but it will be slightly more understated than the Wolf Lord.

Rune Priest

Rune Priests channel the powers of the Warp like Thousand Son Sorcerers the spirits of Fenris. Given how powerful (even post-nerfing) Psychic powers are in Grimdark Future (one of the games I plan to use the army for), I just have to bring one into the army.
  • Unlike the other heroes, the Rune Priest would benefit well from one of the torso from Spellcrow: in particular, the one which show these runestones around the neck. Alternatively, sticking to the Sons of Thor torso, the one with the cape would work well.
  • In addition, I would probably use the shoulder pads from Spellcrow with the runic talisman, to further make a visual connection of runes=Rune Priest.
  • To make the character more Librarian-like, some greenstuff rolls or pewter cables plugged into the armor would help simulate the look of the various psionic apparatus which they have. I might also need to figure out some way to make a Psychic Hood.
Rune Priests have their own fancy styling and, if possible, I would try to slightly emulate the GW sculpt in some respect, possibly by using an older face painted with a big white beard to really go for the old shaman look.

Wulfen

This is where my list deviates both from 3rd edition (where Wulfen worked differently) and from established lore and aesthetic. The current look for Wulfen is completely banana and ridiculous: it invites ridicule rather than inspire fear. They are simply too silly, cartoony and over the top to look threatening. Instead, my version of the Wulfen will take cues from the Blood Angels Death Company in some regards: cursed warriors thrown into battle to tear apart the enemy rather than be driven mad and degenerate into monsters.
  • Remember the  Dire Wolf helmets from the Wolf Priest? The Wulfen with helmets would wear those wolf skull helmets as a nod to the Deathsworn of the Horus Heresy.
  • Spellcrow has bare arms with fur growth and clawed hands. While I wouldn't model these Wulfen as mutated as their 'canon' GW model, at least a few model per squad would have an exposed arm showing their mutated claws.
  • These warriors would be wrapped in chains around their arms, torso or even legs, hinting they have been let loose on the battlefield. In addition I'd probably model their armor to look slightly more worn down, with scuffed paint and muddy boots. Space Wolves may be savage but they still take care of their wargear. Those who have lost their minds would not.
With the proper red and white squad markings, their broken armor and chain wrappings these Wulfen would look suitably nasty and demented, clearly showing to friend and foes that these are no longer the Emperor's Angels of Death but now ravenous beasts.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Silent Legions or 'How To Do Lovecraft Right'

It's a known fact I hold a very positive opinion of Kevin Crawford's work in so much as his tabletop games are concerned. There's not a whole lot I truly know of the guy overall (and to be honest maybe it's better that way) but he's generally never failed to produce excellent games, especially in the area of his sandboxing tools. KC's work is generally defined, in my opinion, by a strong support and encouragement of GM to build things their own way and providing the right tools for it and nowhere is this more apparent than Silent Legions.

I've bitched about Lovecraft and his mythos before or, rather, why it's a bad idea to use it. Lovecraft's own work is something I do enjoy and find quite good but my issues with it exist beyond the man's original writing. By themselves, these stories are fine. The problem emerge from Lovecraft's mythos being held as some coherent fictional universe by his friends and future writers. To do so completely miss the point. Even worse: to use his mythos for tabletop is generally a terrible idea overall. When looking at the Lovecraftian universe in a vacuum (as in just HPL's story) there is a very clear understanding that we the readers are supposed to not know what horrible monsters and dreadful gods exist just as much as the protagonist is initially in the dark. Knowledge of things such as Great Old Ones and sorcery are limited to older text and personal journals, the kind of things which academic papers or (in the modern time) Wikipedia would not deem reliable. The mythos exist below the surface of accepted historical and cultural details.

The problem emerge when one decide to run Call of Cthulhu or any other RPG using Lovecraft's mythos. People who run and play these games miss the point entirely. They play with a group who knows what to expect. Even if we separate the player/character knowledge there's an implicit knowledge of the expected genre conventions and the overall, overarching mythos or, worse, a desire from the GM to actively reference it. This is a mistake and completely flies in the face of the original texts. There's a reason the better 'Lovecraftian' works of the past few decades have been divorced from H.P. Lovecraft's universe. If the entire genre is built on things man was not meant to know, then why is it that modern Lovecraftian works plays it safe and rely entirely on things the audience know and expect to see? Silent Legions offer a simple solution of offering sandbox tools and GM aide to build their own nightmarish reality.

Otherwise you end up with a group thinking the point of it all was 'tentacles and weird unpronounceable names'. Which I think does a major disservice to the work of Lovecraft.

Friday, 15 May 2020

"But Star Wars will be done my way! I don't care what you (Disney) have to say!"

Star Wars: once loved and adored as the modern mythology, now reduced to a punchline and cautionary tale of corporate greed, mishandling and misplaced politics from the people involved. What happened to the Star Wars we used to know? Well, it's dead and gone. At least as far as 'official' material is concerned.

"No, I am the correct line. Not 'Luke, I am
your Father', damn it!"
The thing is, Star Wars is the modern myth and Disney has no power over me as a tabletop Game Master. They can burn, they can destroy, corrupt and revise the lore as much as they want. As long as someone, somewhere, still has a copy of the original trilogy out there, Star Wars will live. We're not yet at the point where Disney can destroy people's old copies. I'm sure eventually they will be as insane as to remake Episode 1 through 6 and corrupt and twist every character but we're not there yet. I'm lucky enough to have been old enough to remember a time before even the Prequel trilogy, where my father rented the VHS of the original trilogy (in its old, slightly crappy French dubs) and sitting on the couch being blown away by that line. You know, "No, I am your your father!". There was a time where this was still something a kid would be able to watch without knowing it was coming. But enough of more of my 'premature old man shtick'.

You Can Run Star Wars Without $$$

As I was pointed out on MeWe today, there's Mini Six: Bare Bones edition. It's a slimmed down, free version of the Open D6 System, itself derived from the classic Star Wars D6 by West End Games. It comes with a stripped down version of Star Wars, or rather Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off. Why get a copy of Edge of the Empire or anything owned by Disney? You don't need it. What, do you need the 'lore'? The lore is available on Wookiepedia, be it the movies lore, the early WEG proto-Expanded Universe, classic Expanded Universe or the Disney garbage if you feel like a masochist. It's all written down by obsessive fans already.

Of course, in my personal opinion a more 'proper' Star Wars game would require a much more 'minimalist' approach to lore. This isn't me agreeing with the dickweeds at the modern Lucasfilm-Disney about canon. These people are idiots anyway. No, the issue is that while the EU has pretty good stuff its also quite messy. A GM is much better served by sticking to the movies and extrapolating from there, only adding any WEG/EU/whatever else lore if it benefit their game. The appeal of Star Wars originally wasn't in dozen upon dozen of metric tons of lore. I'm aware this may piss off EU fans and I understand, but the reality is there is such a thing as 'too much lore' when it bog downs your game or create arguments with players about what model of gun Storm troopers use or something along those line. To me, the most important lore elements are in the big lines, not the small details. So to recap, what you'd need:
  • An internet connection.
  • Mini Six (Free or a printed copy for about 3$).
  • Maybe a printer, some sheet, pencils and dice.
Now considering most people in this hobby have a ready accedes to paper, a printer, a computer and all that it mean you can basically run your dream Star Wars game for under a few $. I guarantee you whatever the hell you run has a good chance of being more true to Lucas' original vision. It's about the spirit of adventure and cheesy scifi-meet-western-meet-fantasy. Now, to be fair, the prequels had a very different focus and a lot more politics but I'd argue the prequels are material for a group more focused on RP than raw adventure.

Still. Not a penny spent on new Star Wars material. As for my players, I'd encourage them to play into the archetypes. Now obviously, trying to directly copy Luke or Han is a bad idea, but there are many, many archetypes out there in fiction. Not everything needs to be some fancy, fart-huffing deconstruction. Let heroes be heroes and villains be villains, not everything need to be 'deep' (or a faked attempt a depth). Sometimes you just want to have space samurai cutting off space villains with laser swords. There's nothing wrong with mixing your inner child with time-honored mythological archetypes: that's the very thing one should strive for in terms of style and tone.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Warhammer 40 000 Roleplay: Random Navigator

Navigator by John Blanche
The concept of 'Navigators' in Warhammer 40 000 is one of those which are most blatantly stolen from Frank Herbet's classic science fiction novel, Dune: deformed and mutated humans who alone possess the necessary abilities which allow humanity's ship to travel the stars. Unlike Psykers, the 'mutations' of the Navigators were the result of deliberate genetic manipulation in the past. There are hints in the lore, hidden in their physical description which seems to hint they were not only engineered to 'see the Warp' through their iconic third eye but also possess the ability to survive in environments too hostile for ordinary humans.

There is a strange logic to the mutations of the Navigators beyond the expected effects of inbreeding, hinting that as their power grow they become more and more suited to living in the depth of space and alien worlds. Of course, to the rest of the Imperium they still look like mutant and freaks. Just a type that's a tad too useful to ever get rid of.

Generating Name

Imperial Names are incredibly varied, nearly infinite in their variety: there are countless human cultures in the Imperium of Man, spread across all of the galaxy. An easy way to generate a name is to use the random generator on Behind the Names and click a few random different languages and cultures. Navigators are organized in 'Houses' and their last name is that of their House, indicating their lineage.

Random Navigator

1d6
Personality
1
Smug Asshole: The Navigator is all too aware that without his or her kind there would be no Warp Travel.
2
Aloof and Cold: The Navigator is cold and extremely detached from the matters of ‘mere humans’.
3
Haunted and Mad: The Navigator has gazed into the Warp and seen things. Now they cackle and mutter to themselves.
4
Arrogant Intellectual: The Navigator is versed in many esoteric and scientific matters and proud of it.
5
Grim and Serious: The responsibility of Navigation wears heavily on the Navigator.
6
Weary and Superstitious: This Navigator is weary of his or her life and only faith in the Emperor keep them going.


2d10
Mutations (Roll for each column)
1
Discolored Flesh: The Navigator’s flesh is pale, grey or even translucent and shows veins.
Scaly Skin: The flesh of the Navigator is scabby, almost scale-like.
2
Large Ears: The ears of the Navigator are unusually large and a bit ‘floppy’.
Elongated Face: The face of the Navigator is quite elongated.
3
Four-Fingered: The hands (and feets) of the Navigator are missing a digit.
Alien Joints: The Navigator limbs can bend at angles no human can.
4
Protruding Spine: The spine of the Navigator protrude heavily and they are hunched.
Elongated Limbs: The arms and legs of the Navigator are several inches longer than they should be.
5
Atrophied Eyes: The ‘normal’ eyes of the Navigator are small and near useless.
Noseless: The Navigator’s nose is small, almost non-existent.
6
Long Nails: The fingers of the Navigator end in sharp, black nails.
Toothless: The Navigator was born without any teeth and has a sloppy maw.
7
Swollen Neck: The neck of the Navigator is strangely swollen and wrinkled. This swelling continues down the chest.
Life Support: The Navigator is fused to a life support rig of some kind as their bodies have trouble with normal air.
8
Monochromatic Eyes: The eyes of the Navigator are completely black or white.
Long Necked: The neck of the Navigator has a few extra vertebra.
9
Toad-Like: The facial features of the Navigator evoke the features of an amphibian.
Slimy: The skin of the Navigator oozes a natural layer of goo, which smells awful yet protects them in vacuum slightly.
10
Masked: The face of the Navigator is hidden behind a fancy mask. Whatever is behind it must remain hidden.
Useless Legs: The legs of the Navigator have become useless and he or she crawls around in a mechanical chair.
If the Navigator is particularly old, roll one or two more times and ignore redundant results.



1d6
Warp Eye Covering
1-3
Bandanna: A simple bandana covers the Warp Eye.
4
Fancy Hat: The Navigator has a rather spiffy head dress hiding the Warp Eye.
5
Large Hood: The Navigator use a large hood to hide their Warp Eye
6
Cybernetic Shutter: The Warp Eye is hidden behind a cybernetic lid.

Monday, 11 May 2020

"Human Fighters Are Boring!" A rebuttal of the idea to nobody in particular

Well, this is going to come off as a bit rambling and somewhat oddly specific to a few people. I imagine anyone reading this blog who is more into OSR-related stuff and plays with older people doesn't deal with this mentality. This is very much a byproduct of Generation Y and Z that plays modern D&D, I've noticed.

I'm sure this is how this post will come across.
There's a bit of a stigma on the Fighter. Especially if its a 'Human Fighter'. The term is sometimes used as a joke by people who like the more fantastical aspects of D&D and fantasy RPG in general. Now I'm not going to shame people who play odd races and more exotic classes, provided that player does it well and in a way that doesn't hurt the game setting. This isn't what I got a beef with. My beef is with this idea that the 'Human Fighter' is a boring character. The idea on the surface has some merit, as it implies a very 'average joe' character on the most surface of level. The character is implied to be some guy (and its usually even more leveled at a guy) who has a sword and maybe a bow. He's that: a guy who is good with a weapon, in a party that usually include things like Tiefling Paladins, Dragonborn Barbarians, Goliath Sorcerers or Gnomish Hexblades or even more bizarre and nonsensical things. Yet in this parade of oddballs and freaks stand one man, an average man, a mortal man with nothing but his sword, his wit, his skill and hopefully a bit of luck.

One would think such a character actually has an innate cool factor. Yet apparently, the appeal of the 'everyman' character isn't what it used to be. To make a comparison to something which these people still find currently very popular, the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the 'human fighter' is Steve Rogers, Hawkeye or even arguably The Falcon (as he's just a guy with a bird jetpack). While some of these aren't the most popular of the Avengers, they're not exactly hated last I checked. Now I know people will bring up that Steve is a super soldier but really, his 'power' is that he was chemically given really good stats all around without being fully superhuman, if you really think about it. And a special shield. Steve is just a Fighter with really good stats all around and a special shield. He doesn't shoot fire, he doesn't levitate and he doesn't have magic. Yet, somehow, when you take these people who are fan of this you'd have to tie them to a chair and torture them to play a 'human fighter'. Pathetic.

I've come to realize the problem isn't 'exotic' races by themselves or even oddball classes. The problem is a fundamental inability to craft anything compelling, character-wise, without the crutch of a character's very state of being. Now I'm not saying everyone should come to a table with 26 pages of backstory, this is often quite useless in any game where you apply a modicum of Old School thinking and remove plot armor. However people have a certain inability to have a certain hook to their character which doesn't require a special exotic race and/or class. To prove my point I've collected a series of ideas, some my own, some found elsewhere to create a compelling 'Human Fighter' backstory that accomplish the following goals:

  1. It provide a fairly simple, yet efficient hook or 'gimmick' to showcase that the character's class lend itself to more than playing 'Mike the generic human guy with a sword' and to show that the class and/or race itself is not the backstory.
  2. It explains why the character is currently adventuring.
  3. It's simple enough to be usable to add roleplay flavor without forcing the game world to bend to an overly complex backstory should the game focus more on dungeon crawl, hexcrawling and/or sandboxing.
In order to do so and be relevant to the currently most popular RPG, I have built these basic character ideas from the Backgrounds as outlined in various Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition books. As an additional limitation, these Fighters will be assumed to be either Champions or Battle Masters as anything else is too 'fancy' and different from the Fighter of older editions.
  • Acolyte: A non-spellcaster disciple of Kord or similar non-evil gods of war and physical might. Big burly dude with high CHA who love history, religious songs and weird fighting techniques like hitting people with a sword's pummel. A bruiser but hardly a brute or an idiot, but possibly lacking in Wisdom.
  • Charlatan: An asshole walking around with very fancy, very polished armor and nice, clean weapons. Pretend to be some holy knight-errant, some prince of a faraway land raised by elves or some other fancy shit. Is really just a charlatan that's good at fighting, a mercenary who over-inflate his prices.
  • Criminal: The usual tough and morally dubious thug. He's a fighter and not a rogue, so that makes him some hired muscle. Alternatively, a bow-focused fighter who is a cold blooded assassin.
  • Entertainer: A professional actor, specializing in re-enacting the plays of the greatest warriors, heroes and demi gods of the land. Fell on some bad times and now is using his weapon and skills to fight actual monsters and not stage props.
  • Entertainer (Gladiator): Need no explanation.
  • Folk Hero: He's from the same mold as humble heroes, farmboys-turned-chosen one and shonen protagonists alike. Good heart, good guts and as dense as a sheet of adamantine master crafted by dwarven smith.
  • Guild Artisan: A smith and craftsman of weapons and armors who has fallen on hard times and, like the entertainer, has turned his skills to more practical goblin-slaying or whatever use. He knows how to maintain his gear perfectly.
  • Hermit: Perfect for the battle master, this guy is some weirdass hermit taking cues from wuxia, living in the woods and trying to master weird sword techniques. His techniques are peerless, or will be with enough practice.
  • Noble: Plenty of possible ways to implement this background, as historically speaking a fighter would have been from nobility.
  • Outlander: Not every guy-from-a-more-primitive-background is a ranger or barbarian. Like the noble this can be done in a variety of ways, from Conan ripoff to even something slightly closer to Aragorn-minus-the-ranger-class.
  • Sage: Not every scholar is a Wizard and not every area of research is safe. With both brain and brawn, this adventuring scholar knows how to fend for himself just fine. While this type of backstory work even better for a Rogue, whose to say this one doesn't prefer a more blunt solution to problems?
  • Urchin: Born in the mean streets, he rely on his raw skill and guts. Unlike other Fighters, he prefer to use crappier weapons rather than nice swords and armors. Probably a concept best reserved for games where Feats are available to further customize in some weird ways. Probably a battle master whose 'special techniques' who are actually cheap tricks like hitting someone in the balls.