Ross Rifles is a brand new RPG from Dundas West Games that is still in development. It was the last game I played at BreakoutCon, and the first game of the convention that I had never played before. The session I was a part of was run by one its creators, Daniel Kwan. (Daniel is notable for his work running the RPG program at the ROM for kids, his podcast Curiosity in Focus.) Ross Rifles is like D&D, but the dungeons are the trenches of the First World War.
The quick start rules of the game are available now, but the game is very much still in development. The version I played at BreakoutCon has diverged a little bit from the game described in the quick start booklet, and I as I write this Daniel is play testing some new morale rules. They hope to have the game ready to be kickstarted at the tail end of the year. Still, the quick start rules capture the core of the game, which I suspect won’t change much over the coming months.
Ross Rifles is an apocalypse world hack. The quick start is a bit rough: I think it might not be easy to follow if you haven’t actually played the game. The booklet could likely be reorganized to better explain the game and how the various changes to Apocalypse World work. A brief overview of how the game plays and moves from phase to phase would be helpful. With Apocalypse World games you have your agenda and principles and all that noise. I think it’d be good to put some of that down on the page for people who want to run a game of Ross Rifles themselves.1 That said, the game’s rules are quite straight forward, and it doesn’t drift far from the core of Apocalypse World, so playbooks in hand I suspect most groups will manage fine.
Ross Rifles was fun. It plays like a good war movie. We began with our arrival to the front line. Players can play Sergeants, Corporals, and Privates, each described in their own playbook. The game will look similar to anyone who has played a Powered by the Apocalypse game. Some changes of note: characters have a harm track and a fatigue track, with 4 harm indicating death, and 4 fatigue indicating shell shock (which impacts your ability to things)2; each character can gain vigilance points they can spend to do particular actions or impact the fiction of the game (like call throw a grenade, call in artillery, etc); each character can gain ground that represents their forward position on the battlefield. Gaining Ground and moves you trigger by spending your Vigilance points are generally how you succeed at the missions your soldiers are assigned.
After settling in we were greeted by our commanding officer Stan Ho and tasked with searching for and retrieving the camera from a downed German spy plane which crashed in the No Man’s Land. This mission required a majority of our group to gain 3 ground, and that one of the players triggered the Fall Back vigilance move. We spent some time trying to get organized: cleaning our guns, studying maps, surveying the region from the ‘safety’ of our trench. There are moves you trigger while in this phase that might grant bonuses for the later phases. In our case, we mostly flubbed rolls and accumulated shock/fatigue.
Flubbing rolls also meant Daniel collected Threat tokens, which he could later spend to fuck with us, basically. This was one of my favourite parts of the game. It’s like the inverse of mission points in Night Witches. When a player rolled low they would sometimes be presented with the option of succeeding anyway if the DM gets a threat token. As he slowly collected tokens the tension around whether we should eat the set backs from our rolls ratcheted up.
We were ready for action and ventured out into No Man’s Land.3 The moves here are all about making your way forward unseen through all the muck and craters and barbed wire that pock marked the front. Our brawniest private began things by crawling over to cut through some barb wire blocking our path—and rolled snake eyes. So he was stuck under the wire, which remained uncut, and could hear the approach of two German stormtroopers. The rest of us tried to lay low and get in a good position to shoot the troops. (This time we rolled well.) We waited for an artillery strike to provide some noise and light and took out the troops. Our private managed to cut through the wire and we began our advance. My character managed to make it to the camera first. Success! Or so we thought: it was a trap.
We were now under fire, the third phase of the game.4 Here the game shifts to charging forward, trying to circumvent craters, barbed wire, and other obstacles, shooting at your enemies (as they shoot at you), and getting up close and personal with whatever weapons you have on hand. This part of the game was exciting and fun. It’s where the rest of our team managed to make all their ground as they ran to save me from the German machine gunners that had me pinned down and some storm troopers that were making their way to the crater of a plane I was hiding behind. A few of us took some wounds as we were shot and beaten, but in the end we prevailed. I was rescued and we fell back (and so succeeded at our mission).
We played through another short mission and called it a day.5 It was a fun session. I found it all really interesting, as well. I have to wonder if they’ll be able to some how transplant all that knowledge of its creators into the eventual game book itself. I don’t know much about the First World War, so the game felt compelling just from an educational standpoint. The game is very fast to get going. Unlike a lot of other Apocalypse World hacks, you don’t spend a lot of time up front building out the game world or the relationships between all your characters. The setting is set and your relationships are what come out of play. Daniel runs the game with children, and I suspect a lot of how it was designed is to make playing and running the game as straight forward as possible. I think they’ve succeeded quite well in that regard. I’m looking forward to where they end up going with this game.
Magpie Games does a good job with their pre-release versions of their games. They have a good structure I think everyone should copy. (You can grab their “ash can” editions of Velvet Glove, Cartel, The Ward, and Pasión de las Pasiones as PDFs to see some great examples of quick start rules.) ↩
In the game I played Daniel had merged the harm track and the fatigue track. There are now two spots for shock, and 3 spots for physical harm. When you fill up both your shock spots you now roll for shell shock. When you fill up all the harm you’re dead. ↩
The quick start rules call this part of the game “Over the Top” (of the trenches). ↩
The quick start rules call this part of the game “On Patrol”. ↩
I’m skipping over our side trip to find a European beaver to make our mascot because I don’t think it was really core to the main experience of the game, but obviously that was fun. ↩
You’ve got your hands on the ashcan of the full game, a preview of Cartel that’s got everything you need to sample the game before it’s released next year. — Mark Diaz Truman, Cartel “Ashcan Edition”, 2015.
Cartel is like D&D, but everyone is a drug trafficking Mexican gangster. The game is an engine to produce the sorts of stories you see in Breaking Bad and Narcos. Like other Apocalypse World games the mechanics look to push you towards eventual calamity. I suspect like Breaking Bad you would play a game where your hijinks are funny till they’re not.
The game doesn’t drift too far from the general the core of Apocalypse World’s rules, so for most players familiar with the rule set it should be easy to jump into. The genre the game emulates is a lot more accessible than some of the other (particularly niche) Powered by the Apocalypse games I’ve picked up. I think it’ll be an easy game to get into. You’ll recognize the archetypes the playbooks describe: the dirty cop, the naive spouse, the “cook”, etc. The most notable changes to the rules (that I picked up on, and really, what do I know?) is around how you gain experience and advance your character. I am a fan of the change: each playbook has thematic options for how you advance that encourage you to play your role. (And, when you get bored of your experience objective you can move in the opposite direction to cancel it out and pick a new one.)
When I first picked up the game my friend Gus brought up something that’s always on my mind with these Powered by the Apocalypse games: are they making light of a serious topics?
I’m not sure how I feel about a game that romanticizes the Mexican Drug War. Though I want to be a cleric of Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte when we play. … I find Latin American and American pulp narco-fiction to be pretty damn creepy and exploitative (El Marginal and Sicaro both, and also yeah Netflix’s Narcos) already, and I wonder how beer and pretzels tabletop can do better. This is sort of why I like my fantasy games and moral play to be a bit more removed - give me Carcossan cannibals, not Los Zetas. — Gus, 2016.
Moments after Gus asked the question fellow Torontonian and BreakoutCon organize Rob chimed in with a link to an old Gaunlet podcast episode where Mark discusses this very topic with Jason Cordova. Jason is a lawyer and had previously worked with people affected by Mexican drug trade. His initial feelings about this game were pretty strong (and negative). (This interview takes place a year after he first encountered the game, so his views had cooled a fair bit.) Their conversation on this podcast is really fantastic. It’s probably one of the best episodes. (So rare!) I’ve been looking forward to the game since listening to this interview.
These Apocalypse World games are at their best when they help the players navigate what might be unfamiliar territory for them. You can see in the playbooks and the writing and everything that orbits the game thus far that Mark’s really put a lot (of himself!) into this game: exactly what I want from my games that are “like D&D, but …”.2
I have so many half written blog posts I should finish. What’s the point of a blog if you don’t write anything, right? At least this post is more topical, now. ↩
My wife’s friend Devlin has been collecting and painting Warhammer miniatures for ages. So naturally we had to meet up to play a game. I let him know I could field just shy of a 1000 points of Death Guard (by using everything I own), and he made two possible armies to face me out of the models in his collection: one of Imperial Guards, one of Blood Angels. Evan let me know he could meet up as well, bringing as many Imperial Guard units as he had kit-bashed and painted thus far. This worked out neatly: Devlin wanted to play using his Blood Angels, so Evan could pad out his army with the extra units Devlin brought with him to The Sword and Board.
The last game Evan and I played had about 1000 points of units on the table. With this game we were each fielding 1000 point armies, so we had 3000 points of units in play. It was such a huge jump from what we had been doing thus far.
My army consisted of all my Death Guard units:
Causarius, Lord of Contagion (Warlord with the Living Plague Warlord Trait)
Putidus, Malignant Plaguecaster
The Noxious Blightbringer
5x Blightlord Terminators
7x Plague Marines
20x Pox Walkers
This was a full battalion, so I got 3 extra command points—which I mostly forgot to use while playing.
We were a bit confused about how a 3 player game would work. The rulebook doesn’t have much to say about how to set up a game with an odd number of players. We decided we would roll the dice each round (after the first) to decide the turn order. Otherwise we left the game more or less as-is. I picked what I thought would be a fun objective: there is one marker; units can pick the marker up and carry it around the board; they drop the marker if they are destroyed, the winner is the person whose unit is holding the marker at the end of the game. I thought this would encourage a free for all where we would end up attacking each other as we fought over the objective. (It didn’t quite work out that way.)
Devlin went first, fanning his troops out towards Evan and I. Devlin Death Company moved towards me and shot up my Malignant Plaguecaster, who managed to survive through some good luck for me and bad luck for Devlin. He moved a big Redemptor towards Evan’s troops and also rolled surprisingly bad, killing a handful of units. A unit of his Death Company dropped into the battlefield as close as they could get to the objective, which was set up on top of a floating island. The island wasn’t big enough for another unit to do the same thing, so he took control of the objective (more or less) to start.
I started moving my Death Guard towards the warp gate that would take them up to the objective—the trip would take my slow moving troops several rounds. I pulled one group of pox walkers away from the mass, sending them towards Devlin’s approaching Death Company and my Plaguecaster. With no other pyskers on the board my Plaguecaster could use his abilities without being contested. I made quick work of a few of Devilin’s space marines this way.
Evan began his turn by teaching us the true power of tanks. The punisher canon on one of the Lemun Russ’s decimated a Death Company unit advancing towards him. A posse of guard with anti-tank guns then proceeded to make short work of the Redemptor, leaving it heavily damaged with two wounds.
Devlin was worried he’d be tabled before he got to deep strike more units onto the board, but luckily rolled high and got to go first when we began our second round. (It probably took us over an hour to get to this point!) He deployed his remaining units onto the board—a Sanguinary Guard and The Sanguinor—behind my line of Death Guard. No one wanted to fuss with the tanks. He killed my Plaguecaster (damn it!), most of the unit of Pox Walkers who were nearby, and a few Plague Marines, but I still felt like I was in good shape over all.
On my turn I teleported in my Blightord Terminators and started my retaliation, wearing Devlin down more. I forgot that I also had a Lord of Contagion—the warlord of my army!—that I could have also teleported in at this time. I moved it closer to the table so that I wouldn’t forget it next time, and then promptly forgot about it again.
Evan advanced his troops and took out more of Devlin’s army with his tanks and heavily armed guardsmen. My Bloatdrone took another barrage of fire and was reduced to 4 wounds. Evan also managed to drop a unit near the objective as Devlin had lost the troops that were up there to my army.
We started our third round and tried to race through it quickly to see where things would go: Evan needed to run. By this point we’d been playing for at least 3 hours!
My terminators moved up on to the floating island and killed Evan’s guard, putting them closest to the objective. Devlin’s remaining units were tied up fighting the remainder of my army, and it would be impossible for them to make it up to the objective even if they could miraculously kill everything in their path. Evan’s army was still quite healthy, but he was also too far from the objective now that he had no more troops he could grav-chute in. So like the last game, I won more or less by default.
In hindsight we might have wanted to do turn sequence differently, perhaps some scheme where we alternated activating individual units. A three way game is quite odd: Evan described it like playing a game while also watching a game. The gaps between your turns can be quite long. I’m hoping we can all get together again.
I played far fewer RPGs in 2017 than I have in previous years. In the beginning of the year I ran a couple sessions of World of the Lost, and I played in a few random games locally and online, but I can probably count all the RPG’ing I did on two hands. This is something I hope to fix in 2018.
I did get into war gaming in a big way, starting with Warhammer in the summer and ending with Kingdom Death by the end of the year. These two games have kept me happy and entertained over the last 6 months. I expect that both Warhammer and Kingdom Death will remain regular fixtures in my life this year—if only because I’ve spent so much money on them both. I’ve found it much easier to meet and play both games, as neither requires anyone prep anything. (Well, besides all that modeling and painting, I suppose.) I still want to figure out how to mix up my Warhammer games with my RPG elements.
My RPG purchasing is still dominated by OSR books. This year many of those books came from individuals new to publishing, or whose imprints are quite small. I’m continually impressed by what people manage to produce. Daniel Sell went from making small zines to publishing two (really nice) hard cover books. Jacob Hurst also transitioned from zines to fancy books with the release of the two books that describe the Hot Spring Isles. LotFP only produced one new book, but what a book it was: we got Veins of the Earth! The indie scene puts the big publishers to shame with what they manage to accomplish.
Evan managed to kit bash another weird mini before we met to play a couple weekends ago. His army was now power level 25 (500ish points), which meant I had many more options in what I could bring to the table. It’s like we’re playing some sort of escalation league, but the escalation is based solely on whether Evan is in the city or not and has a cool idea for a mini he wants to build out of the garbage he buys at the Sword and Board.
I had 3 different ideas for armies I could run, but ended up settling on an army very similar to the original list I used when we played our first game of Warhammer 40K:
Causarius, Lord of Contagion
7 Plague Marines, including a Plague Champion
Evan’s army consisted of the following units:
Two Kastelan Robots and a Cybernetica Datasmith.
Some number of Imperial Guard
A commander that had this crazy sword
Probably some other units I’ve forgotten
Once again we used the Open War cards to set up our game. This time our objective was to kill as many units as possible, scoring points for the power level of the unit killed. (You got twice as many points for characters, vehicles, and monsters) The game’s twist was that all units could move an extra 2”, and advance an extra 1”. This was a huge boost for my incredibly slow Death Guard. Because Evan’s army was slightly more powerful than mine I also got to draw a ruse. (The one I drew let me redeploy one of my units anywhere on the board, so long as I was 9” away from any enemy unit.) I don’t think I could have asked for a better set up.1
The Plague Marines emerged from the warp and found themselves floating on an island of rock. The warp had left this land twisted. Below them stood the Navigator Endogaurd, but no sign of the robot they had been sent to retrieve. They opened fire all the same.
I decided to go first—having fewer units than Evan meant I got to make the choice. I began the game moving my Pox Walkers, and the Noxious Blightbringer travelling with them, up and around a large floating island in the middle of game board. I teleported my Lord of Contagion in behind Evan’s Crusaders, hoping he’d be able to charge them, and deployed my Plague Marines using the Outflank ruse mentioned previously on top of the floating Island in the middle of the table. This meant they could start firing right away. They managed to take out a few of Evan’s guard doing so. My Lord of Contagion failed to charge, and that was my turn.
Evan decided sticking around on the ground waiting for my Pox Walkers and Lord of Contagion to show up was a bad idea, so his crusaders and guardsmen made a bee line for the warp gate that led to the level my Plague Marines were on. His command squad shot up at my marines, killing one.
Causarius shook back into existence, the teleportatium sending him into the heart of the fight. He was covered in the gore of the Navigator Endoguard’s command squad when the Kastelan robots opened fire.
My Lord of Contagion advanced towards command squad Evan had left behind and then charged: they didn’t survive my turn. The Plague Marines were unable to kill any of the Crusaders with their guns, though did a little bit better in melee.
Evan’s Robot’s were now in murder mode and proceeded to decimate my Lord of Contagion. This put Evan up 14 points, as my Lord of Contagion is my most expensive model at 7 points, and scored him double as it’s a character. His Crusaders resurrected a model using their Act of Faith ability and proceeded to kill another one of my marines.
The Pox Walkers poured through the warp gate and fell upon the guardsmen. The vox caster carried the screams of the endoguard hundreds of miles away to the emotionless man who keyed in the coordinates for the orbital strike.
It was just my Pox Walkers and Blightbringer on the ground along with Evan’s murder robots. I could see how that story would end, and had that mob also run through the warp gate. We ended up with a big mess of minis on the floating Island, everyone ending up in a giant melee. My Pox Walkers net their first kills (ever), taking out 2 of Evan’s Guardsmen.
Evan’s Guardsmen all “affixed their bayonets,” which let them make melee attacks during their shooting phase, as well as during the actual fight phase. The units struggled to harm my marines, however. During the morale phase they would all run away. Evan used this opportunity and some command points to call down an orbital strike, a new stratagem from the new Imperial Guard Codex. All the units within 6” of the downed unit would have to make a save or take some mortal wounds: this included my Noxious Blightbringer, my Plague Marines, and my Pox Walkers, but also his Crusaders. By luck my units all survived, while his Crusaders were wiped out.
The commander became the vessel through which the Plague Marines poured forth their hatred for the False Emperor. His faith would not save him. It would not save any of them.
On my turn my remaining units managed to kill the commander, the last of Evan’s units on the floating island. Our armies were now split between the ground and this island. At this point I was now in the lead when it came to points, and Evan’s Robots wouldn’t be able to make it to me before the game ended. At this point we called the game: victory for the Death Guard!
My cousin Jana arrived just as the game got underway, and would help us look up rules and remind us of when we were probably making mistakes—despite never having played before. We’ll need to figure out how to get him involved in a 3-player game. ↩
The Sword and Board was busy with people playing Warhammer. Almost all their gaming tables were being used. We snagged an industrial desert themed one and started moving terrain around. We played in a 4’ x 4’ space as our unit count is still quite low. While we were setting up two more players arrived and borrowed some of our excess terrain to play a Shadow War: Armageddon game. Warhammer seems to be quiet popular since the new edition dropped. (It may always have been and I just wasn’t paying attention.)
Since we last met Evan had built and painted a cool robot to add to his Navigator Endoguard. Since most of the parts for the minis came from the Adeptus Mechanicus he decided to field them as units from that army. His armies power level was now 15, so I could field an additional Death Guard unit this game.
5 Plague Marines, including a Plague Champion
Who even knows what else?
We bought the Open War pack of cards, which is designed to randomly generate Open War missions. It’s probably more than anyone should spend on a pack of cards, but it was very convenient and generated a cool game to play. The mission we drew had us set up on opposite ends of the table, with 2’ between us. Our objective would join the battle on the 3rd turn, it’s location on the board determined by a die roll. (We used a cool robot Evan had built as the objective.) You also draw a twist with this card set. (The Open War mission in the book doesn’t feature anything like this.) We drew ‘restoratives’, which let us return d3 wounds to one of our units each round. Finally, because my army was underpowered compared to Evan’s I got to draw a secret ‘ruse’. I drew ‘Ambush’, which let me redeploy 3 units in my army anywhere on the board so long as they were 12” from any enemy unit and outside the enemy deployment zone. This let me advance my troops a whole foot up before the game began: this was really a huge boon for my slow moving army. With that we were ready to get started.
The Angarius Machina hurtled through deep space: its message was not safe for the warp. As its destination finally drew near it reflected on all the years it had passed in the silence of space. Why was it programmed to think at all? It only had one purpose, after all.
On the planet below the Plague Marines ambush was in full swing. Their presence a cruel coincidence.
Evan focused all his fire on my plague marines to start off the game. Between all his units I lost 3 of my marines.
On my turn my Poxwalkers and Noxious Blightbringer moved up and then advanced a further 6”. The Poxwalkers are a pure melee unit, so they lost nothing by advancing. The Blightbringer only had a pistol, so it needed to get closer before it could start shooting. My marines moved up and shot at Evan’s robot, accomplishing nothing.
They had been harrying the men of this planet for weeks. This ambush had been carefully orchestrated, yet they were the ones suffering all the casualties? These men had been emboldened by their victories over the Vectorium: they had the audacity to charge the Death Guard.
Evan begins by shooting my Poxwalkers with one of his units, killing 3 of them. His Rangers were within the range for their rapid fire weapons to shoot twice when attacking. They also attacked the Poxwalkers, killing all but one. My marines take another wound from his remaining units, which I assign to my Plague Champion. His units then charge my remaining Poxwalker and the Noxious Blightbringer. The last walker dies during the melee, my
Noxious Blightbringer survives unscathed. (At this point I forget that my Noxious Blightbringer can now fight as well: Evan remembers when I’m fighting on my turn and lets make the rolls for the phantom fight then.)
My marines shoot the units that are sitting on some dunes away from the melee, killing one of them. They then join the Noxious Blightbringer in melee. Between them and the Blightbringer they manage to kill 3 more of models.
The warmth of the atmosphere pressed against its cold exoskeleton. The ground came upon it quickly. The silence of space replaced by the tolling of the Toscin of Misery and the screams of war.
On the third round the objective crashed into the battlefield—and lands right on top of the dunes Evan’s troops were camped on. We were all scrunched up on that corner of the board, so it was a funny bit of luck that that’s where it ended up.
Evan’s troops in melee fall back. At this point the last of my plague marines die from a mix of gun fire and flame throwers—if I recall correctly. My notes from this point on are terse or missing.
Now out of combat, my Noxious Blightbringer moves up and lobs a grenade at Evan’s troops on the dune. (To little effect, but at least I remembered my dudes had grenades this time!) I then had the unit charge up the dune and attack the troops that were stationed there.
The Blightbringer watched as the men fled from his presence. The automata that fell from the sky cowered before him. Somehow he knew it was important, but the bloodlust called him elsewhere.
Evan’s troops that were on the Dune fall back from my Noxious Blightbringer, while his other troops move up and shoot. Lucky for me they can’t score a wound. His robot is more successful, but thankfully the Noxious Blightbringer has several wounds to burn through.
On my turn I lob a blight grenade at the troops that fell back, killing 2 of the models. I then charge the robot located at the bottom of the dune. (I wanted to tie up the robot and the tech-priest-commander-thing that controlled it.) Nothing of note comes from the combat, however.
The Angarius Machina watched as these machines and men fought back the Death Guard. Truly they were worthy of its revelation.
Once again it’s too late for me to win. Evan had more units left and would be able to claim the objective. At the end of his turn he couldn’t kill my Blightbringer, which I will call a minor victory for myself.
Our previous game was over quickly, so we started another game. We kept things much the same, simply rotating the playing field 90 degrees while leaving the terrain alone. Evan fielded the same army, while I swapped out my Blightbringer for a unit of Pox Walkers.
5 Plague Marines, one of whom was a Plague Champion
10 Pox Walkers
Knight-Adjutant—power maul, command shield
4 Knight Adjutant Command Paladins–3 plasma guns and one medipack and pistol
5 Navigator Houseguard–one with hotshot lasgun, two with volleyguns, one with vox-caster and pistol, squire with chainsword and plasma pistol
5 Navigator Houseguard–one with hotshot lasgun, two with meltaguns, one with vox-caster and pistol, squire with chainsword and hotshot laspistol
I had my Pox Walkers lined up just out of range of Evan’s troop’s weapons—by accident. My marines were set up on a building in cover. Evan’s troops were set up in a similar building across from me, with one unit held in reserve once again.
The marines eyed the Navigator Endosquad hunkered down in some ruins ahead. The men had fallen back upon the arrival of the Sons of Nurgle, but clearly the objective was of some value: they weren’t quite ready to just give it up.
Evan began his turn by grav-chuting some of his Navigator Houseguard behind my line. Thankfully their weapons failed to hurt my Plague Marines. (Disgustingly Resilient has saved them so many times.)
My (incredibly slow moving) Pox Walkers advanced, while the Plague Marines behind them stood their ground and returned fire, wounding two of Evan’s troops and causing a third to flee. As starts go I was off to a good one?
The Pox Walkers continued their march, as incautious as they were hungry. There was a frenzy when they saw the men, there steps quickening, but the Navigator Housegaurd held their ground and held them back with a rain of laser fire.
Evan moved his troops up to bring more of his weapons into range, firing on both my Pox Walkers and Plague Marines. I lost one walker and assigned one wound to my Plague Champion, but survived the round largely in good shape.
On my turn I moved my pox walkers once more, and then attempted a charge with them. Lucky for Evan they failed, just an inch short of reaching his men. (Thinking about this now, I wonder if they were in range: you need to be within an inch to fight, not touching bases.) I lost another Pox Walker to overwatch fire. My Plague Marines focused their fire behind them again, but failed to kill the remaining models in the unit.
The Champion watched as the Pox Walkers were felled by the men and their guns. He eyed the chest, the prize he had sent the Pox Walkers to capture, but the sounds of the melta-guns behind him claimed his attention.
The Navigator Endoguard to the rear of my Plague Marines continued to take pot shots with their big melta-guns, but were unable to land any hits. My Pox Walkers weren’t so lucky: the rest of the unit (8 models) fell victim to laser gun fire. They never got to fight! They got in the way, I suppose.
My Plague Marines again focused their fire behind them, which in hindsight was a waste of my time. With only 5 round in this game I should have started advancing on the objective. This unit moves so slowly I should have been on the move as soon as I lost my Pox Walkers.
The loss of two of their brethren stirred the Death Guard to move. This was their true purpose, the unrelenting march.
Evan focused all his fire on my remaining Plague Marines, killing two. He had nothing else to shoot at, after all. My Plague Marines finally start to move on the objective—no time to waste! I think it was likely impossible to move all the way up to the objective without some lucky rolls.
I can’t really remember how the last round went. We were in a bit of a rush to wrap up, as Evan needed to run. I have a note that he killed another one of my marines. And I know my Plague Champion didn’t destroy his entire posse of infantry, since I lost the game.
Perhaps next time the Death Guard will find their groove soon!
There is nothing they can do but watch as the Endogaurd flee with the chest. Had the psykers who sent them here known how their story would unfold?
The soldiers they could see poking their heads over the ruins in the distance were of as little consequence to the Death Guard as the objective they had been sent to secure. Still, they marched forward, their sense of purpose unwavering.
Evan and I met once again to play some Warhammer 40,000. Since our last game he did in fact end up selling his Tau army, replacing it with his newly built “Navigator Endoguard”—a heavily kit bashed squad of Astra Militarum. The minis looked great, though he lamented no one would notice just how painstakingly put together his new models were.
He fielded the following army, which (I think) are simply different Imperial Guard units (despite the flavourful names):
Knight-Adjutant—power maul, command shield
4 Knight Adjutant Command Paladins–3 plasma guns and one medipack and pistol
5 Navigator Houseguard–one with hotshot lasgun, two with volleyguns, one with vox-caster and pistol, squire with chainsword and plasma pistol
5 Navigator Houseguard–one with hotshot lasgun, two with meltaguns, one with vox-caster and pistol, squire with chainsword and hotshot laspistol
I returned with my fairly pedestrian Death Guard. I still need pick a name for their vectorium. More important, I need to figure out how best to play them. I ended up fielding two units, because I wanted to match the power level of Evan’s Army (11).
5 Plague Marines, one of whom was a Plague Champion (and the true champion of my army).
We set up a 4’x4’ battlefield filled with ruined buildings and walls arranged sort of like a town square. In the middle was a raised platform where we placed a treasure chest, the single objective we would fight over. We were fielding armies more suited for a skirmish game than 40K. Trying to chase and control more than one objective didn’t feel like it would work with our smaller armies.
The marines watched as the troops descended from the sky, their grav-chutes kicking in with a low hum. They quickly set up shop in an abandoned building to the Death Guard’s right and opened up fire.
The battle began with my plague marines marching toward’s Evan’s troops. My first round of shooting was completely ineffectual.
Evan deployed one of his reserve units using their grav-chutes, flanking my Plague Marines. A take aim order was issued, ultimately resulting in my marines taking 2 wounds they promptly shrugged off using their disgusting resilience power. This success was short lived: a second set of Evan’s Endoguard shot the marines, resulting in the loss of two of my Plague Marines in the first round. (And I really didn’t have that many models to lose.)
They could see the objective to their right, but the soldiers cowering in the ruins straight ahead were a far more captivating sight. The marines would have been on top of them if not for the gunfire pinning them down.
My Plague Marines advanced, but then failed to charge. (Evan’s overwatch fire was ineffectual at least.) I probably should have simply moved, shot, and perhaps risked a charge. I might have whittled down a few of his troops.
Evans troops started to move towards my marines, getting some of their fancier guns in range. My blightbriger was brought down by melta-gun fire, ending the round.
The first shots destroyed the Tocsin of Misery the Noxious Blightbringer carried upon his back, ending its incessant tolling. There was a moment of silence before the remaining shots incinerated the Death Guard.
My marines once again attempted to advance and charge, though my Plague champion would be the only model left by the time the unit reached Evan’s troops. The champion killed one solider, causing another to flee.
Evan’s soldiers fell back and wounded the champion with gunfire.
Slow and methodical murder was all the champion knew. His fists pulverizing the solider before him. He could see the terror in the men before him, one scurrying away covered in the blood and guts of his comrade.
The plague champion charged again, killing two enemies with its power fist. Still, I could see the writing on the wall. The troops that had previously flanked my marines advanced on the objective, capturing it. The rest of Evan’s troops fired on my plague champion killing it. And that was that.
The failure tasted like ash in the Plague Champion’s mouth. He could hear the guard all around him as his life slipped away. The objective was lost. His death couldn’t come soon enough.
I need to figure out more missions suited for smaller army play. The default missions in the book seem to assume armies with far more units than ours. I had started sketching out skirmish rules that built on top of the 40,000 rules, but since we were trying to learn how normal 40,000 worked we stuck with that. I suspect you could borrow parts of A Song of Blade and Heroes and cross them with parts of Warhammer 40,000 to produce a pretty cool games.
We had some time before Evan had to leave so we set up for a second game.
Causarius, Lord of Contagion, could hear the gun fire before he saw the ship. The plague marines of his vectorium had already engaged the Tau, the battle taking place around the wreckage of a downed Tau ship.
Evan and I played a low power-level game over the weekend: his battalion of Tau versus my Death Guard patrol. The goal of the game was to learn the rules for 8th Edition. I had “played” two games with Mythilli, if you could call what we do that. I had a rough sense of how the game worked. Evan had experience playing several other editions of the game, so he also had a vague sense of what a game of Warhammer should probably be like. We played at The Sword and Board, and were sandwiched between two other tables playing larger games of Warhammer than us. This was convenient: we occasionally bugged a table of Space Marine players about the rules.
My Death Guard consisted of the following units:
Causarius, Lord of Contagion
Putidus, the Malignant Plaguecaster
7 Plague Marines (one of which was a Plague Champion)
10 Pox Walkers
Evan fielded … an army I will list out here if he remembers what it contained.
Each of our armies had a power level of 27. This is the new system Games Workshop has devised to help you balance to armies against one another. It works well enough, assuming your troops aren’t overloaded with expensive weaponry. All the numbers involved when using power levels are smaller, and you are doing far less addition.
We played “Open War”, the first mission type described in the Warhammer 40,000 rule book. We marked out a 4 x 4 space on the table to play. Our objective was “Domination”, where you score a point at the end of each turn for each objective marker controlled. (As I would soon learn, my army was ill suited for this objective.) I deployed my plague marines on one objective. My plague caster was within close reach of a second. Evan had troops on the other two objectives. The game was set to run for 5 rounds, with Evan going first.
Causarius watched as his pox walkers collapsed before him. The Tau’s weaponry was impressive, wasted on these diseased horrors.
Evan’s drones were able to secure the objectives he controlled while his actual troops could move into positions better suited to engage my army. My pox walkers were the first victims to the Tau’s gun fire. I forgot that like my plague marines, the pox walkers were also “disgustingly resilient” granting them an additional 5+ save when taking wounds. Since their normal saves were 7+ (impossible to roll) I was simply removing them from the game as they took wounds. My pox walkers were all dead by the end of the end of the second round. I also forgot the Lord of Contagion granted a power area of effect ability to each unit in his aura, making the pox walkers even more deadly. Played properly they may have been a far more effective troop. The way I played them they were a distraction and then they died.
The plague marines laid down fire from their vantage point high above the battle field. They would hold their objective at all costs: they had nothing else to live for, after all.
I had foolishly placed one objective at the top of a building. This made it easier to reach for Evan and his Tau army (which was mostly composed of units that could fly) than my slow moving Death Guard. I deployed my Plague Marines on the objective, and there they remained for the entire game. (It would take two turns for my marines to climb down from where they were perched.)
The Malignant Plaguecaster Platidus watched as the energies of the warp ripped apart the Tau’s drones. This would provide no satisfaction: he ventured deeper into the battle.
My plague caster was a solid killer, but one unit spitting out mortal wounds wasn’t going to win this battle. The caster claimed an objective in the first turn, and held it till the 3rd. After I lost all my pox walkers it seemed clear I wasn’t going to be able to claim another objective. I decided I’d just kill Evan’s units instead. I moved the plague caster out to start dealing some death. (The problem with this strategy was that killing units didn’t actually net you victory points in the game we were playing.)
Causarius stalked the Tau leader, the giant mechanized armour staying out of the reach of his plague axe.
On his second turn Evan deployed one of his fancier Tau units behind my Lord of Contagion and Pox Walkers by using its deep strike ability. I had planned to ignore the unit and focus on taking one of Evan’s objectives, but with the death of my pox walkers, capturing the objective seemed unlikely at best. The Lord of Contagion moves so slow I spent the remainder of the battle chasing this unit down. I managed to kill its shield drone after a successful charge roll brought me into combat with the unit. In hindsight, I think I could have moved 3” around the shield drone using the pile-in rules, and then fought the model I was actually interested in killing.
The Tau secured their ship and their people. A shameful defeat for his vectorium. Thankfully Causarius had long since forgotten what shame felt like.
Evan easily won the game. Still, it was a lot of fun. 8th Edition is fairly straight forward a game. We both managed to muddle through without needed to spend much time digging through rule books. The game plays quite smoothly.
The tables at the Sword and Board are amazing. They have lots of cool looking terrain and scenery. The board we played on was some bombed out city scape. (It was much more evocative than playing on my floor with Mythilli’s toys as terrain.) They also have lots of used models and bits you can waste your money on. All in all it’s a great place to go play Warhammer.
I won’t get to fight this army again: Evan sold it all to the Sword and Board for store credit. He finds the clean lines of the Tau boring. So our next battle will be my Death Guard versus his kit bashed probably guardsmen.
The competition for my time and attention (and money) grows fierce as indie publishers and amateur authors continue to push out better books than the big names in RPGs. We are in the middle of an RPG golden age. I found it particularly challenging this year to narrow down the list of books I wanted to call out, and harder still to pick the three for that most special of distinctions.
This award exists in contrast to the Ennies, the RPG scene’s Teen Choice Awards. The Ennies are lovely, i’m sure, but they are very much a product of letting a bunch of randoms vote on what’s good. Sometimes they pick what you like and you think, “man, these awards are great.” Sometimes they pick something you’ve never heard of and you think, “what is even the point of this thing?”1
To be considered for an award a book must have been purchased by me in the previous calendar year. So the books below are all from 2016. (Remember 2016? All the famous people died and Americans elected Trump for their president.) That’s basically the only rule.
Jeremy Duncan was tasked with finishing up the art for a book originally done by Gwar’s David Brokie. That’s no easy feat. Brokie’s cover is amazing, but Duncan’s interior art ratchets everything Brokie was doing up to 11. I had previously described the art as “bright, colourful, messy, detailed, crude, psychedelic, cartoonish, gory and intense,” and reviewing the book today I feel the same way. It’s so vibrant and unique. I just picked a random image from the book for this blog post. I could have grabbed any. They are all so totally nuts.
This felt like a quiet release for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It was stretch goal for another adventure James Raggi published, No Salvation for Witches. While I liked NSWF just fine, I loved World of the Lost more in every way. It seems a shame it hasn’t garnered more attention and praise. World of the Lost is such a well engineered hex crawl. The book is so well organized. The layout is fantastic. Everything about the book is in service of a really interesting and evocative setting. It’s full of useful random tables and generators. Running an adventure from this book is easy. This is such a solid release it’s a shame its print run was so small.
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Excellence in Gaming Best God Damn Book of 2016: Patrick Stuart & Zak Smith for Maze of the Blue Medusa
I thought picking Maze of the Blue Medusa for this award would be easier than it turned out to be. There were so many great books in 2016. World of the Lost and Towers Two were both out before Maze of the Blue Medusa and both captivating in their own way. By the end of the year there were several more books that stood out, most notably Broodmother Sky Fortress. But the heart wants what the heart wants.
I love Maze of the Blue Medusa. The writing from Patrick is excellent. Like his other works it feels like a mix of game text and post-modern fiction. You can read Maze of the Blue Medusa and enjoy it as a book full of lovely writing, or use the book as it was intended to run a crazy adventure. The layout of Maze of the Blue Medusa is stellar.2 Everything about how the book has been put together is designed to help orient the dungeon master in the dungeon. Zak’s map that brought the project to fruition is beautiful, and the art of the map is scattered throughout the book. Finally, the book itself feeds into my love of a well made book. Satyr Press made the nicest book I bought in 2016. Easily. Maze of the Blue Medusa is everything I love about RPGs in one place.
Wait—what’s the point of this thing? Patrick’s won something 3 years in a row now. (I actually made an off hand remark about this very situation occurring last year.) We’re half way though 2017 and Veins of the Earth has come and gone, which made picking this years awards tougher. I can see into this award’s future: I can’t imagine not Veins not making my short list next year. That made me second guess my picking Maze of the Blue Medusa for awards this year. There is likely something structurally problematic in how I construct my long list. I’m always going to buy Patrick’s new book: I love what he does. So, he’s always guaranteed a spot in my long list. (Well, until he starts writing dreck.) I pick up all of LotFP’s adventures for the same reason, so they are overrepresented in my long list and have a better chance of making it to my short list. Should I penalize people for making good books, though? As I said last year, every scene needs their Daniel Day Lewis. In 2016 I picked up a lot of games from people i’ve never heard of, for systems I would have never played, so it’s not like i’m knee deep in the same people’s work, but this is still something to keep in mind. At the end of the day this award will always simply be a reflection of what I like. I mean, I named them after myself. ↩
I still think the rooms are a bit too wordy, but you can’t praise someone for their prose and then complain there is too much of it. ↩