7/31/2014

Icons of the Ashen Coast: The Devil and The Elven Baron

The Elven Baron believes the cults of The Devil are responsible for the death of his family members. The Devil is in no position to deny anything. 

The Devil was the main villain in the second part of my last D&D campaign. He had corrupted a respected dwarven merchant and had him unwittingly working for the hated enemy of the dwarves, the duergar! The players eventually tracked the devil down to where he was attempting apotheosis and, rather than simply banishing him, cleverly trapped him within a statue of his own master. It made sense that he would want to escape, and I had a couple of players mention they'd like to see him return as an Icon! 

Icon from game-icons.net and by Lorc

THE DEVIL
Trapped within a stone statue of his lord Mammon, the arch-devil of avarice, the Devil Vikair now plots his return and apotheosis. Secret cults work in the shadows, determined that this will pass and that they will know untold riches. 

Quote
'In gold and gem we trust. The blood price is such a small one to pay for such riches.'

Usual Location
The location of the vessel statue is ghostly Cutter's Isle. There it is guarded by the powerful wraiths that call it their home. Combined with the magical mists that protect the isle, the statue is safe from the hands of the cults that would release the Devil... for now. 

Unfortunately, the cults are everywhere. That rich merchant you just traded with could be a member, so could that nobleman suddenly come into his position through a vast wealth. Or they could simply be lucky with money. Perhaps it is the down and out, the one who has lost it all, that you should suspect? The members of the Cult of Mammon are everywhere, and are taken from all walks of life. It is easy to be paranoid. 

Common Knowledge
Some years ago adventurers defeated the Devil's plan to transform himself from a mere vizier devil into something much more terrible. The Cult of Mammon believe that this plan was merely stalled, rather than defeated, and that even now the Devil is metamorphosing within his prison. If they can recover the statue, they can help complete this transformation and be justly rewarded. 

The Cult is everywhere, but the cities of the duergar underneath the Coast are its strongholds. Some believe that every town has at least one coven that meets in secret within its walls. Most terrifying of all are the hellish servants of the Devil himself, many of which have secretly worked their way into positions of counsel for some of the Coast's most influential figures. 

Adventurers and the Icon
Many adventurers work for the Cult without even realising it, performing seemingly innocent acts that ultimately favour the Cult's goals. Others, particularly wizards and rogues seeking a quick route to wealth and power, are members themselves. None would risk stating it openly, however. 

Allies
The Red Dragon's followers will often work with the Cult of Mammon, although their shared love of greed means this usually ends in conflict. There are also rumours that at least one of the Wizards of Thrinn is a member of the Cult; whether the others are are aware of this, or if this is even true, is another matter entirely.

Enemies
The duergar elements of the Cult strive to conquer the lands of the High Thane of the Dwarves and take the vast riches that lie there. Before he was imprisoned, the Devil was working directly against the High Priestess. 

History
A vizier devil in service to Mammon, the Devil Vikair worked to corrupt dwarven trading from within, seeking to turn the greedy dwarves. This was just a small part of a greater conspiracy that involved replacing several high ranking politicians across the Coast with undead replicas so that he could secret their real counterparts away and, where possible, turn them too to the worship of his dark master. Yet even this was just the beginning of his plan to ascend to a greater form of devil and dominate the coast himself. He was defeated during his ascension by an intrepid group of adventurers and trapped within a stone statue of Mammon. 

The True Danger
Everything will be alright as long as the Devil's statue remains hidden and guarded. 

The Elven Baron was part of one of my players background in my 4e D&D game. The Elven Baron was his characters brother, and he was tasked with finding him so that he might return and rule the Barony. Evidently, he has succeeded - but things have perhaps not turned out how he might have wanted. 

Icon from game-icons.net and by Lorc

THE ELVEN BARON
The Elven Baron rules over the Elven Barony of Carrodale, a loose collection of wood elf communities in the eastern forest. He struggles to balance the needs of his people with his desire for revenge.

Quote
'This is not a responsibility I take gladly, but I will not question the will of the gods. I am their instrument and I will defeat this hidden evil; for the Barony, and for my family.'

Usual Location
The small elven settlement of Belrath Revar, the seat of the barony, deep within the Forest of Carrodale.  

Common Knowledge
The Elven Baron is a former paladin of Carriellana, the goddess of elves, music, and freedom. It is said it must pain him greatly to be constrained to a single place, even though it is amongst his own people. Far from being a free spirit, full of life, he has become reclusive, and is rarely seen outside the barony council chambers or his ancestral manor. 

He seeks the killers of his mother and sister, but is keenly invested in forging Carrodale into a great regional power. The elves, he says, have watched the Ashen Coast idly for too long. Enemies move against them, and they must be rooted out and destroyed before it is too late. 

Adventurers and the Icon
High and wood elves both live in harmony in Carrodale, although most settlements are predominated by the sylvan kin. Many are keen to see their Baron's ambitions fulfilled. A smattering of gnomes and halflings live within the forest, and are likewise called into the Barony's service. Paladins, elven and otherwise, are often in the service of the Baron, seeing it as an honour to aid him in his quest for justice.

Allies
The Barony is allied with the Kingdom of Thun and maintains close ties with The Lady of the Woods. The Paladins of the Order of the Platinum Shield would like to see the Baron as an ally, but many are unsure of his motives.

Enemies
Rightly or wrongly, the Elven Baron believes the followers of The Devil are responsible for the deaths of his mother and sister, and he pursues them with a vengeance. As followers of the evil gods, the Tenebrae Council is also a target of the Baron's wrath. 

History
Tragedy has haunted the noble family of Belrath Revar for so long many claim they are cursed. First his father was killed in a goblin raid, then his mother was murdered in mysterious circumstances, and his sister shortly thereafter. There is a dark shadow that hangs over the family.

Before reclaiming the Barony he was a paladin of Cariellana, wandering the world, bringing light and music wherever he could. 

The True Danger
Everything will be okay as long as Baron continues to place the needs of his people above his need for justice - or rather, revenge. 

So, what would your icon relationships be with the Devil or the Elven Baron? 

7/29/2014

Poisons of the 13th Age

When I came to 'poison' in my list of potions to make for 13th Age, I quickly realised it deserved a more thorough writeup than a single entry. This is the result. 


Adventurers, particularly those of a more amoral or mercenary bent, often make use of poisons. Poisons are usually ingested, but some very vile concoctions can kill merely through contact with the flesh and others might be a dust or gas. 

Rather than being bought by tier, like other potions, poisons are purchased with different effects in mind. Each effect you wish your poison to have increases its cost and if a incredibly deadly poison is desired the DM may determine that it may take some time to concoct, or that specialist, hard to come by, ingredients may be required. Whilst there is no limit to the number of effects you can combine into one poison this is, again, likely to substantially increase the time the poison requires to make and the rarity of ingredients.

When constructing your potion you will need at least one method of affliction (ingested, inhaled, or through skin contact) and one effect. 

In the vast, vast, majority of cases the victim will not willingly take the poison. In this situation you must attempt to conceal your vile concoction in such a way that it will afflict them. Common places are in a meal, or drink although the only limit is your imagination! The base difficulty for this is a hard environment appropriate roll. Making the potion more difficult to detect, such as making it tasteless, can decrease the difficulty of this check. A particularly ingenius method may encourage the DM to lower the difficulty also! The consequences of being spotted will depend entirely on how you're attempting to conceal your poison! It's possible you may get another chance. Of course, it's entirely possible it won't be spotted until after you've left the scene. 

As a final note, I encourage you to come up with exotic and interesting names for your poisonous creations! The deadlier the effect, the fouler name it deserves! 

Note: The prices indicated expect a party to club together when buying poisons, especially for the most terrible effects. Poisons can be quite powerful and game changing, not something you want being used too frequently. You may wish to reduce the prices accordingly if only a single player character has any interest in poisoning their opponents! Halving the prices in this case should be sufficient. 

Effects: 

Blindness - Victims of this poison will be robbed of their eyesight (in combat they are weakened and vulnerable). Saving against this effect is  hard (16+), and the interval taken depends on the amount spent on the effect. 

CostSave Interval
625gpEvery day
1625gpEvery week
3250gpEvery month

Colourless - Cost: 500gp - The poison is colourless and will add no tint to any other liquids it is placed within. It decreases the difficulty of the conceal check by 3. 

Deafness - This poison robs the afflicted of their hearing (in combat they are dazed). Saving against this effect is  hard (16+), and the interval taken depends on the amount spent on the effect. 

CostSave Interval
500gpEvery day
1250gpEvery week
2500gpEvery month

Delayed Effect - Cost: 50gp an hour - It can often be advantageous to have a poisons effect, or effects, occur at a later time. It is even possible to stagger effects, having a victim first suffer one indignity, then another, before finally succumbing. Each individual delayed effect must be paid for separately. (so for a poison that causes blindness immediately, then delusions an hour later, and death two hours after that, the cost would be as follows: 50gp for delaying delusions for an hour, and 100gp to delay the lethality effect, for a total of 150gp extra gold pieces)

Delusions - Whatever is in this poison causes terrible hallucinations and delusions in the victim (in combat they are confused) and will cause them to act unpredictably. Saving against this effect is  hard (16+), and the interval taken depends on the amount spent on the effect. 

CostSave Interval
875gpEvery day
1625gpEvery week
3250gpEvery month

Exotic - Cost: 2000gp - Rare, unusual, ingredients such as basilisk tears or gelatinous cube jelly make this poison incredibly expensive, but much harder to detect and identify. Conceal attempts with this poison are decreased by 8. The expense of obtaining such ingredients may be prohibitively expensive, but perhaps enterprising adventurers may be able to find them on their travels. 

Ingested - Cost: 210gp - This poison will afflict its victim upon being ingested. It will usually be foul tasting, however.      

Inhaled - Cost: 1050gp- Either as a gas, or dust, this poison can be inhaled. If in a glass or ceramic bottle it can be thrown as a weapon, afflicting d6 nearby creatures. 

Lethal -  Utterly deadly, this poison can kill instantly. Even if you were to survive, you may wish you hadn't. If the victim has less than the threshold hit points, they die instantly. If they have above this amount, roll the dice to determine damage - there's still a strong chance they'll die, but even survival will leave them significantly weakened. 

CostDeady To (HP or less)Damage Dealt if above HP threshold (average)
1050gp541d100
2125gp1082d100
4250gp2163d100

Odourless - Cost: 500gp - This poison has no detectable scent, making it harder to detect before it's too late. The difficulty of the conceal check is lowered by 3.

Paralysis - Seizing and numbing limbs, this poison is incredibly debilitating. (in combat, the victim is stuck)  Saving against this effect is  hard (16+), and the interval taken depends on the amount spent on the effect. 

CostSave Interval
500gpEvery day
1250gpEvery week
2500gpEvery month

Permanency - Cost: 1000gp - Making an effect permanent is a little more expensive, but often worthwhile. Purchasing this effect on top of the cost of the longest duration for the effect you wish to make permanent guarantees the victim a torrid time. (e.g. a permanent blindness would cost 4250gp; the base cost of 3250gp for the longest period of blindness, plus 1000gp for permanency)

Petrification - Cost: 3250gp - Turning flesh to stone is a terrible effect, but is at least reversible through ritual magic. Some of the time. As a bonus you get a realistic statue and if you're really lucky it won't be contorted in a death grimace. This poison will petrify a target with less than 216hp. Vigorous exertion can see off this effect; thus, if used in combat the victim must fail four hard saves before finally succumbing. 

Sickness - Cost: 100gp - Vomiting and diarrhoea are the unpleasant symptoms of this poison. Debilitating, in their own way.

Skin Contact - Cost: 850gp - Some rare poisons can afflict even upon skin contact. Careful handling required. 

Species Specificity - Cost: 1050gp - Only a foolish king has a food taster from a different race. There a lot of foolish kings. Poisons with this effect only affect the species designated at purchase (e.g. dwarf, human, high elf etc.).

Tasteless - 300gp - With no detectable taste, this poison can be safely sprinkled over a meal or a glass of wine. The difficulty of the conceal check is lowered by 3.

Unconsciousness - Causing a deep slumber, or perhaps a total blackout, this poison is a non-lethal alternative, particularly when combined with permanency. Saving against this effect is  hard (16+), and the interval taken depends on the amount spent on the effect. It may also be possible that the victim can be woken by other specific means - like a good, hard, thump or the kiss of a beautiful prince(ss). Entirely up to you.

CostSave Interval
625gpEvery day
1625gpEvery week
3250gpEvery month

7/25/2014

Space Wolves - Reinforcements!

I haven't forgotten my Space Wolves. Far from it - thanks to the recent rumours and upcoming releases they've been at the forefront of my mind! I've been working on about 500 points worth of new additions; although who knows what they'll be in the new Codex?

Harald Deathwolf and a selection of his company, ready for undercoating!
They've already seen action against the Imperial Guard and it was a pretty convincing victory. Pretty pleased with them so far! Can't wait to get them painted up. (although I expect I'll do so at my usual glacial pace...)

Harald Deathwolf himself!
The Wolf Lord on Thunderwolf is one of my absolute favourite miniatures, and the one that made Space Wolves an army I had to play around with, rather than just one I was fond of. It has so much character, and I think the thunderwolf sculpt is the best I've seen. 

As yet unnamed Grey Hunter squad!
Wolves and Tanks were the twin ideas behind my army, and I think the Razorback counts! I've kept the wolfiness low on it, as the Razorback is a (relatively) new design and I wanted it to seem fresher than the Rhinos.

I made sure all the unhelmeted heads in this squad were unique within my army, and the Mark IV armour will be a nice change to paint!

Predator Tank!
If the Razorbacks title of 'tank' is a bit questionable, I don't think this is! I always wanted a Predator, and now I have one! I gave it the blades at the front to break up its profile a bit and make it seem a bit more imposing than the transports.

Old metal model, given new life!
Finally, the 15th member of my Blood Claw pack! Armed with a flamer, he's an old metal model from the 90s with new bits!


7/23/2014

Icons of the Ashen Coast - The Corsair and the Dread Pirate

The Corsair and the Dread Pirate are both pirates, yet both the utter antithesis of the other. Their enmity is the stuff of legends. 

The Corsair grew out of a minor NPC in my last Campaign (who I had planned to build upon but unfortunately never got the chance.). This is where he might have ended up. I wanted to quite closely mirror The Prince of Shadows from 13th Age, as they both sit within the Thief archetype. Unlike that Prince though, the Corsair is well known and incredibly proactive. 

Interestingly his home, Rib, was the creation of one of my players very early on in the Campaign (possibly before it even properly started). It's a settlement built into the remains of an ancient leviathan, making a living selling magical reagents recovered from its depths. I liked it so much I wanted to bring it to some prominence and making it the home of an icon seemed like the perfect way!

Icon from http://game-icons.net/ and by Lorc

THE CORSAIR
The Corsair is a hero to some and a villain to others. His exploits are the stuff of legend, as is his greed. He has stolen from the crown, robbed the vaults of the Wizards of Thrinn and removed a single droplet of holy water from The High Priestess' chalice. Those with little see him as a bringer of justice, taking from those who have too much; cynics point out that he makes no attempt to redistribute his acquisitions. 

Quote
'I will seek and I will seek 'til it is rightfully mine, once again!'

Usual Location
The Island of Rib in the Gulf of Shattered Leviathans, or wherever he wants to be. 

Common Knowlege
The Corsair has, over the past decade, returned piracy to Coast and battles for control of the sea. Those who have seen him describe a man of advancing years, with a bitter countenance and piercing eyes. He guards his wealth jealously, and none have taken so much as a single coin from him and escaped with their lives. 

He leads an armada of pirates, thieves and cutthroats who operate throughout the Coast, taking items - some obviously valuable, many not - and returning them to his fortress at Rib. However, many see them as the first line of defence against the Dread Pirate's unearthly plots and the enemy of your enemy must surely be your friend; even if he has stolen the thing most precious to you in the world. 

What seems to be certain is that he has a goal and everything he has done is but a stepping stone on the path to achieving it. Whether that goal is for the good or ill of the Coast, who can say except the Corsair himself?

Adventurers and the Icon
Many adventurers view the Corsair as a criminal who must answer for his crimes. Others a force for change to be joined with; signing up to a ships crew or captaining one themselves; though that is a particularly dangerous path to tread. Others still simply like the cut of his jib and wish to emulate his exploits. 

Others work for the Corsair without even realising it, furthering his unknown goals as he watches from the shadows. 

Allies
The King of Thun seems to grudgingly allow the Corsair to operate out of the Gulf of Shattered Leviathans as long as he stands against The Dread Pirate. It seems clear, however, that the King would like nothing more than to rid his seas of the Corsair but doesn't have the resources to spare. 

Enemies
The truest enemy of the Corsair is the Dread Pirate - their fleets have clashed many a time. Indeed, the Corsair is forever interrupting the Dread Pirate's schemes and their enmity seems to go beyond simple rivalry. 

Almost every Icon has something they would like returned from the Corsair's possession though, if it could possibly be arranged.  

History
It has been 10 years since the Corsair stormed Rib, taking it from the clutches of the Dread Pirate, and in that time he has slowly but surely built his powerbase to Iconic status. 

The True Danger
Everything will be alright as long as the Corsair doesn't find what he truly seeks. 

The Dread Pirate has been a villain terrorising the Ashen Coast since I first really started thinking about it. I brought this miniature from Reaper Miniatures and knew I had to create a bad guy deserving of such an awesome model. Hints of his terrible plan only just began to filter through into my last game. Perhaps it will finally come to fruition soon. 

The Dread Pirate doesn't conform to any of archetype presented in the 13th Age icons. He's simply a being of otherworldy terror and madness. I think every game could do with one! 


THE DREAD PIRATE
The Dread Pirate Brinemurk is the scourge of the Ashen Coast, a villain of unspeakable terror whose mad pirate crews seek to bring forth otherworldly nightmares into the world and doom the Coast to thralldom.

Quote
'You are right to tremble before me. I find your fear quite... nourishing.'

Usual Location
The hidden Firemist Island, once a pirate republic, now a place where only the mad or the truly foolish, would dare to tread. 

Common Knowledge
The Dread Pirate Captain Brinemurk is the scourge of the seas, whose raids on ships and towns are horrifying and unpredictable. Madness follows in his wake, with many survivors simply unable to function in normal society again, left as terrified, gibbering, wrecks. Many of these survivors end up seeking to join the crews upon a dread-ship, hoping to find some strange solace in the madness within. More often they find a far worse fate at the hands of the Dread Pirate himself.

There seems to be no method in his madness, no reason behind his attacks and incursions. Perhaps none of the icons is as feared as the Dread Pirate, for even the dark gods have goals that are knowable by man, even if they are terrible to comprehend.

Adventurers and the Icon
Only the most insane, or stupid, adventurers would seek to ally with a mind flayer, let alone one as terrible as the Dread Pirate. Still, they do exist - often they are Sorcerers seeking to gain forbidden knowledge and power.

Allies
None of the Icons knowingly sides with the Dread Pirate, for he is evil and insanity incarnate. There are times when his raids might benefit them, but only insofar as they coincide with their own goals. Perhaps that is not a coincidence at all?

Enemies
All of the other Icons, although the Corsair has been described as his greatest enemy. His raids on the Kingdom's shipping and populace mean that the King of Thun would dearly like to be rid of the Dread Pirate.

History
There has been a Captain Brinemurk for hundreds of years, a pirate whose raids on shipping were tolerated. Tolerated because at least he was the only pirate, thanks to the influence of the Red Dragon. None could say for certain if this Captain was the same man or if it was a title handed down from pirate to pirate but he was known for his fairness (although not kindness) and love of gold above all else.

Soon after the Red Dragon disappeared, Brinemurk's motives changed. He seemed to forsake gold, and was openly known to be a being of cosmic horror. Perhaps this was Brinemurk's true purpose all along, and the Red Dragon was the only thing keeping him in check. Perhaps the original Brinemurk title has been usurped by this terrible being. None can say for certain.

The True Danger
Everything will be alright as long as the Dread Pirate cannot achieve his goals. However, how will anyone know what those are until it is far too late?

So, what would your character's relationship be with the Corsair or the Dread Pirate? Would you stand against madness or with it? Or does piracy offend your sense of law and honour?

Also the awesome icons are from game-icons.net and I first saw them used for iconic purposes at Tolrendor DM's Blog!

7/21/2014

Thoughts On... 13th Age Bestiary

Type of Hobby:  Roleplaying Game (Supplement)
Number of Players: 3+
Authors: Rob Heinsoo et al
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Price: £24.95 RRP



No RPG supplement excites me as much as a good monster manual. I'm certainly drawn to buy them whenever they come out for any system. I love flicking through the pages, searching for plot hooks and how and where I can use a monster in an adventure or two. I have so many that I'll never find time to use all the monsters I love.

That hasn't stopped me buying the 13th Age Bestiary, however. On the contrary, I've been waiting for my hardback copy with baited breath since I preordered it back in March. I've had the PDF, of course, but that's never the same.

If there was one aspect of the 13th Age Corebook that was disappointing, it was the section on monsters. Although they were mechanically interesting, information on them was limited to merely a sentence or two and there was no art representing them either. The Bestiary seems to have been in direct response to that, and the response is superb.

The Bestiary contains write-ups for 52 monsters, most of which have several variants, taking the total over 200. There's a lot of material here, all held together by the brilliantly simple mechanics that govern 13th Age's monsters and the open ended Dragon Empire. It's really good.

Monsters: You Can Never Have Too Many

The Bestiary fills in some important blanks that make up the staple of D&D monsters - ettercaps, chuuls and genies just naming a few. As expected from 13th Age, each of these contains a twist on the concept. Ettercaps are hoarders of secrets, though they still retain their affinity to spiders; genies are subject to a pact with the icons, able to interfere in the world for a time but that comes with the price of servitude; and chuuls are still lobster like aberrations, but they also lay eggs that can be cultivated into weird symbiotic magical items. All of this information is delightful and how much of it you use is up to you. It's nice to have these fresh takes on old ideas, allowing me the choice of presenting the 'classic' vision outlaid in various D&D sourcebooks over the years or put a new spin on things by taking some of the new flavour from these entries.

There are plenty of new monsters in the book too (at least to me), from the deadly and seductive jorgumo, the fourth wall breaking redcaps and clockwork zorigami, again, naming just a few. Each is just as brilliantly realised as these writeups for the more traditional monsters and they're all just as mechanically interesting. I particularly like the redcaps - there's something incredibly devious about the way their 'bad word' breaks the fourth wall (and I won't spoil it for you!)

Also unexpectedly slipping in is the 'twygzog' player character race, nestled within the entry for fungaloids. I wasn't expecting to find this at all. The idea of a humanoid mushroom prince cut off from the overmind is quite interesting, and has some nice roleplay potential. I'm not sure I'd play one myself but it's a cool option that players looking for a quirky and different race will appreciate.

You'll also find some expanded options for some of the most well known D&D monsters. Both white, black and red dragons get a lot of love, as do the drow. These are the kinds of monsters you'll be using again and again in your games, so having more options will never go amiss.

The monsters all show off how brilliant the way 13th Age handles monsters is. As a DM, I really appreciate how you only really have to worry about whether a monster is using its attack against enemies engaged with it or not. Letting the dice roll decide what else the attack does frees up my mindspace to think about more interesting things and improvise more entertaining descriptions. Having monster abilities trigger in this way also means that there's innate variety in the way monsters behave, and because it's inherently unpredictable it keeps players on their toes. I really like 13th Age's monsters.

Detail, so Much Detail!

Each entry is filled with wonderful detail. Completely opposite to the Corebook, each monster is given at least a few paragraphs of description before moving onto the individual monsters themselves. Even there, many of these monsters are given full writeups themselves. There's a lot to get your teeth into in these alone, inspiring adventure and encounter ideas.

Each entry also has a full colour artwork accompanying it and, although the art style is not to my personal taste, it's nice to have something to show the players to get their imagination going.

Alongside a description, monsters also come with advice on building battles (great when you're in a rush and just want to build a quick encounter), how they may or may not relate to the icons and a list of adventure hooks (again, great for when you're just looking for a quick idea to get the imagination going!).

Many come with even more than that, with quirky lists of sample loot and other esoteric elements. Ettercaps a list of secrets they keep, fungaloids come with sample environments, and death plague orcs come with example diseases and accompanying rules. Little bits of flavour fill this book from brim to brim, making each entry more than just a simple stat block and picture. You couldn't ask for more from a monster manual.

All this detail has really sold me on the Dragon Empire too. Seeing how its denizens live within it and add to it, as well as the myriad plothooks and ideas within this book, has really helped to set it apart and give it the depth it needed for it to interest me. It's still so entirely open ended that I could, if I wanted, do almost anything I wanted with it. And because everything is written in such an open way I can just cherry pick the appropriate ideas when I'm running something not set in the Dragon Empire.

How to Make a Monster

Right back at the beginning of the book is a set of 'Odd Monster Lists' that might come in handy. They're quite fun to read and, although quirky, are actually really useful. 'Monsters That Cloak Themselves in Lies' is a favourite.

At the end of the book is a great guide to monster creation. Working up from simply reskinning a monster, to tweaking one to be more suitable to your purpose and, the real meat of things, actually creating a monster from scratch. Here monster creation is broken down into two main areas - attacks/abilities that use the d20 and those that use the escalation die. The d20 section comes with a great list of triggers for effects to work from, including some of which that might not have occurred to me otherwise, like using the players ability scores as triggering numbers. (For example, to see if a player contracts a disease, see if the attack roll beats his ability score). I'll definitely be referring to this advice when I make my own monsters.

The Monsters That 13th Age Deserved

Artwork aside, this is everything I want in a monster manual. I've really enjoyed using the monsters I've picked so far and I can't wait to try a few more out. The amount of detail given means they're more than just stat blocks to kill the players with too, you can really build adventurers and stories out of any of these.

If this is the standard the sourcebooks for 13th Age are going to be hitting then I think the game is going to be going to some great places. I'm really excited.




7/17/2014

The Ashen Coast - Creating Icons for 13th Age

One of the first considerations you have to make when adapting your own setting to 13th Age is the icons. In an ideal world, you'd build the setting around your icons. They are, afterall, the driving force behind the game and can and should influence every aspect of the game world in some way. Adapting them to an existing setting requires a little more consideration.

Wade Rockett's superb article is a great resource for some general information on creating icons. In short, they've got be social (or at least have followers who are), goals (that the PCs can either assist in or be the foils for), and should exert their influence in the region(s) your game is set in. I think that's all really solid advice and well worth checking out.

The Ashen Coast


The Ashen Coast
The Ashen Coast is the setting that my last major campaign was played out in. It's a part of our group's much larger world that I have inherited and made my own. Named for the strange ash grey sand that makes up much of the beaches and dusts the cliffs of the region, the Coast is but one part of a land that once comprised a evil and villainous empire and although its dark past is now well within the annals of history, relics of that time can still be found throughout the coast and it’s culture.

The region stretches from the mountainous Duchy of Arromere to the north, home to Valgan’s Passage and the dwarven Thanedom of Isminak, down into the enchanted highlands and woods of the Duchy of Warrenchester before ending in the great lowland Kingdom of Thun. To the very south are the wilds of the Stonefang Plains, where various orc and other monstrous tribal and nomadic communities lie. Finally to the southeast, although never formally considered either part of the Empire or the Ashen Coast, is the Carrodale Forest, where the elven baronies are found.

Play with the Archetypes

None of that information helps me create icons though. How do I even begin picking icons? The best place to start is with the archetypes. Fortunately (and deliberately) 13th Age's icons represent the most immediate fantasy archetypes and tropes. There's a powerful wizard, an emperor of men, an elf, a dwarf, a thief and so on. So the first thing to do is think about your setting, and see if any of these archetypes fit powerful NPCs or organisations already in your world. Chances are, they do, even if those ideas are somewhat or even radically different to the basic ideas behind those archetypes.

In the Ashen Coast, for example, I didn't have a trio of dragons suitable to be an icon, but I did have a powerful red dragon that was known to terrorise the Coast. I also had a King who would easily fill the 'leader of men' archetype. I quickly wrote these down for my initial list of icons.

You can easily make your own mark on a setting by playing with these archetypes. Maybe the King is evil - or maybe there is no King, leaving a power vacuum the other icons are striving to fill. Working on a low magic setting? You'll probably not want a mage icon then. By simply altering the default assumptions of the archetypal icons you can create a set that's unique to you and your group. 13th Age is a game that thrives on this kind of experimentation - especially when done in conjunction with player input.

For my part, I knew fairly early on that my Elven Baron wasn't going to be much like the Elf Queen from 13th Age. He's the brother of a player from my last campaign, and has returned home to rule the barony in the wake of his mother's murder. He's also a paladin and torn between his responsibilities and his need to deliver justice (or, perhaps, revenge!) Yet, he still fills the 'elf' archetype happily, being as he is the leader of the elven baronies.

You don't have to have your icon be a single individual either - sometimes an organisation would fit perfectly. In the Ashen Coast, I don't have an Archmage or single powerful wizard (at least, not that's reached iconic level), but I do have the Wizards of Thrinn, who are a collective of wizards who practise magic from their towers in Arromere.

Of course, your icons don't have to emulate the archetypes either! On the Ashen Coast, the Dread Pirate doesn't fit any of the archetypes established for 13th Age's icons. 

Get the Scale Right

The icons in 13th Age's Dragon Empire are influential over vast distances, towering over mere mortals and achieving a near demigod status. Yours don't have to be. Icons, as influential, goal driven, characters need only fit their geography, as Wade Rockett points out. The important part is that they fit your geography - if you're planning a game set over a whole continent, the elders of a local village probably won't do. However, if you know your game is never leaving that village, then the village council members could be perfect. Of course, so could continental scale ones, if they still exert their influence over that village! Icons don't have to be larger than life, just influential and goal driven and able to exert that influence over your entire setting. You don't have to think big - this is especially helpful if you're converting existing material.

The King of Thun and High Thane of the Dwarves merely rule lands within the Ashen Coast, for example. Neither speaks for their entire species, as there's a whole world beyond the Coast. Maybe one day my players will venture beyond it - that's fine, I can come up with whole new icons if I need to!

Heroes and Villains

One thing I found, working on my icons for the Ashen Coast, is that I had a disproportionate number of villainous versus heroic icons. This was a result of my desire when initially fleshing out the Coast to seed it with as many plot hooks as possible, combined with a love of monster manuals. In the end I had:

  • The Red Dragon - a powerful, greedy, dragon with a fondness for pirates.
  • The Ice Titan - a force that wishes to seal the Coast away in glacial permanence 
  • The Devil - a devil sealed away by the players in my last game, now scheming for freedom
  • The Tenebrae Cabal - a cabal of worshippers of the dark gods, plotting the return of the evil empire - or worse - from behind the plague bulwark.
  • The Dark Knight - A Paladin, fallen to the dark gods, who has seen the prophesied end and would do anything to stop it. 
  • The Dread Pirate - A mad mindflayer captain, whose true goals seem unknowable. 
Of those, only the Dark Knight was a new idea - I intended to emulate the Crusader archetype from 13th Age. Compared to the number of heroic icons I had come up with (three - the King, the Dwarf King and the High Priestess of Vadomer) this was far too many. 

Looking at the icons in the 13th Age book, four are heroic by default, five are ambiguous, and the final four are villainous. While you can play with this (perhaps the world is overcome by evil) most of the time it's a good idea to keep a good balance. Some players will be more comfortable defining themselves by their chosen allies, others with their vilest enemies (and just as many will revel in the shades of grey between!) 

Finally, don't be afraid to have your icons straddle categories. Motivations are rarely so clear! In 13th Age many of the icons could be at least a little ambiguous, or maybe unexpectedly good or evil. Don't let the idea of heroic or villainous icons be a straightjacket. 

With that in mind I had to decide who to cull. In the end, I could only bring myself to get rid of the Dark Knight, who wasn't established, and was just my attempt to fit the Crusader in. I didn't need him - the more established Tenebrae Cabal filled the 'dark gods' niche. Still, it's only a minor upset to the harmony of the icons - and a lot of my icons have potential to fit in more than one category. 

Move Things Along

If your setting doesn't have enough potential icons then one idea to consider is moving the timeline on along some. By adding a decade or two (or even longer; be brave, move it along a hundred years!) of missing space you give yourself room to elevate an NPC who to icon status, or bring in new icons that have risen to prominence in the intervening time. 

The Corsair (filling the thief archetype) certainly wasn't at iconic power levels at the end of my last campaign. The Corsair was just a fairly minor NPC that I never quite got to do enough with. By moving things on a decade I gave him an opportunity to spend some time carving a niche out for himself as a pirate lord, opposing the Dread Pirate and being grudgingly endorsed by the King. 

Going one step further, if you're really wanting to mix things up, you could have a world changing event occur. Perhaps the gods walked the world for a time, siring icons as they went, or maybe a civil war erupts, giving some opportunity to rise to new levels of power; for good or ill.

Just How Many, Anyway?

There is no wrong answer to this, as long as you keep some balance. However, choice is no bad thing for your players to have. 13 is the game's magic number and, honestly, I like that level of choice (and I had a lot of potential icons). I think at least two icons per player in your game is a good number to start with. That gives your players plenty of choice. You don't want too many - you want the players to share some allegiances or enemies, as it helps tie the party together - so don't go completely mad. Sometimes you have to kill your babies.

Living Plot Hooks

Treat your icons like living plot hooks. Got an idea for a scenario, or campaign? One of the greatest things about icons is they let the DM know exactly what style of game and types of stories the players interested in. That doesn't mean it can't work both ways though! Turn your idea into an icon and see if any players bite! Chances are at least one will, if it's as good as you think it is!

Over the next few weeks I'll be showcasing the Ashen Coast's icons; starting with the Corsair! Along with their write up, I'll also discuss how I made them iconic, where they came from and what archetype, if any, they fit into. 






7/09/2014

Thoughts On... Dungeons & Dragons (5e) Basic Rules

Type of Hobby: Roleplaying Game
Number of Players: 3+
Authors: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford et al
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Price: Free

D&D - Reincarnated or Resurrected?



So, six years later, here we are again. And I mean that both figuratively and literally, for this edition of Dungeons and Dragons is both brand new and everything we knew. It's also free, in a basic set of rules that anyone can download. This is a smart move, I think; I know a lot of people have been on the fence, or even outright hostile, about this edition and letting people just look at what things are going to be like for free will at least let Wizards of the Coast put their hand on the table. So, go on, download them, have a flick through. You might like what you see!

What you'll find is an edition that has gone right back to AD&D 2nd Edition for inspiration, whilst in many ways being almost a complete revert back to the 3rd Edition. Aside from a few little touches, 5th almost completely ignores 4th Edition, giving it no legacy at all. That isn't to say that there are no modern features, but this is a game steeped in nostalgia.

I'll try to reference my current love, 13th Age, as little as possible, but in some places comparison between these two contemporaries is inevitable.

A Lot of Character

Character creation is largely incredibly familiar and full of surprising amounts of detail despite being a set of 'basic' rules. You see this immediately in the writeups for the races. There are only four in this document, the stalwarts of humans, dwarves, elves and halflings, but there's a lot to get your teeth into. Physical descriptions, descriptions of culture; there are even descriptions of how each race views the others. There's more to get your teeth into here in this basic document than there is in the entire 4th Edition or 13th Age core book. This is a game that desperately wants to reclaim the title of roleplaying game.

Still, I actually think there might be a little too much detail here, having five or more things you need to keep track of just for your race could lead to a little too much bookkeeping, or at least things being forgotten at the table. In most cases I love detail, but there's a lot of mechanics attached to these races.

The classes (fighter, cleric, rogue, wizard) are also very classic feeling and offer few surprises to D&D veterans. There's a nice customisation option available to each class, allowing you to take each one down a specific path (martial archetypes and arcane traditions, for example). It's nice to see each class have different options, but this does feel a bit limiting and reminiscent of the worst parts of 4th editions class builds. I'd like to see more mix and match abilities, like the talents in 13th Age, so that you can truly make your character your own.

I initially had some concerns that we had returned to the bad old days of the all powerful spellcaster, but a quick look at the math suggests to me that a fighter or rogue should be able to keep apace of the Wizard or Cleric, especially as those classes have returned to a more or less vancian system. That's an improvement over 3rd, certainly. That's not to say that the spellcasters aren't considerably more versatile and in that respect powerful; spells still exist to counter almost any situation the wizard might find himself otherwise deficient and with more spells promised in the Players Handbook, that might get worse. Of course, that same book is going to have lots more options for the humble fighter too! I'd have to see a party in play myself over a reasonable period of time to really see how it works out, but my first impression is that party balance is not as bad as D&D has been in the past, but not as good as it was in 4th Edition. However, that balance in 4th came in the form of class homogenisation, which many really hated.

There are some nice innovations in character generation - or at least, innovations for D&D. 5th Edition asks you to make some choices about your character's personality and history, some quite interesting, some less so.

I like the idea of choosing an ideal; something your character strives for, it's a nice idea that gives the player somewhere to go with the character right out of the box. It also gives the DM something to work with, something to tailor adventures and encounters to his players desires. That's really good.

I also like bonds, something your character is connected to in the background. They're like a very basic implementation of the Icons from 13th Age. It's another tool for the DM to work with, another important fact he can work into the story to help the player feel more connected. I'm always in favour of that.

Less interesting to me are the ideas of personality traits and flaws. Personality traits are just fluff that reminds the player to roleplay. It's useful for new players, but most experienced players are either going to roleplay character traits or they're not. And flaws seem out of place in an ostensibly heroic game, but that's just a personal taste thing.

The mechanic that drives all these myriad traits is inspiration. When you're inspired you can choose to claim an advantage on an attack roll, skill check or ability check.  A DM rewards inspiration when you play your character well according to the traits you've written down on your sheet. In this respect it's quite similar to nature and demeanor in old World of Darkness. I worry that this mechanic may simply reward more extroverted players and leave quieter players in the dark. Weirdly, you can choose to reward your own inspiration to another player, in lieu of the DM doing so. I have no idea when a player would willingly give up their own inspiration though - surely if a player is deserving of it, the DM should be rewarding it?

I like these things, even if they're not as decisive and exciting as the similar ideas in 13th Age. They just feel a bit forced in places, almost a little out of place or like an afterthought.

Tying these personality traits together are backgrounds. They do remind me a little of the old kits from 2nd Edition, but without any real mechanical benefit they're just a collection of sample personality ideas. Which is fine, but I'd like a little more crunch here.

Alignment is back, although it just feels like a strange concession to the past. Without the mechanical crunch of detect alignment spells, it's just a strange and outdated personality compass. I think they'd have been insane not to have included alignment, but it's something they seem almost frightened of implementing properly, which is almost understandable considering the controversy the idea has attracted over the years.

The last element of character generation to discuss are skills. They're terrible, and that's really the kindest thing I can say about them. They're pared down like in 4th Edition, but in an edition of resurgent detail they're utterly lacking. Nothing about this incredibly basic list excites me at all or makes me think 'Yeah, that would be a cool thing for my character to be good at!' After the exciting and liberating backgrounds of 13th Age I find it hard to look at these without total disappointment.

Lastly, although the rules for it are not available in the basic rules, multiclassing in the style of 3rd Edition has returned. I've always been torn about the 'take a level of this, a level of that' approach, as it intrigues me mechanically but narratively it's often a nightmare, especially if you feel you have a strong concept for a multi-classed character from the get go. It's a part of D&D history though, and it's tried and tested. I expect a lot of fans will be glad to see it back.

Equipping Yourself

There's an awful lot of things your character can buy in this basic document, covering everything from adventuring gear to the cost of boats. This is all classic D&D stuff and it's nice to see it returning, although the lifestyle expenses rule seems like an exercise in bookkeeping that most will skip. I've always liked the idea of making everyone keep accurate track of their money and, while its nice that this can be simplified down like this, by the time you're a high level adventurer whether or not you've spent 1 or 4 gold at the inn seems a little irrelevant. This is a problem that D&D has always had, however - and it won't stop me loving to hand out treasure to my players.

Your weapons and armour are the usual fare, with weapons being priced as seems historically accurate and given appropriate damage dice. The same seems to apply to armour. This is traditional. but now since being spoiled by 13th Age's abstraction here, I don't think I could go back. It seems absurd to me to have options that are simply not as good, putting players off taking what they think might be thematically cool. I suspect most players will simply gravitate towards the weapon that does the most damage. On the other hand, I wouldn't expect D&D to take such a radical step as abstracting weapon damage, as much as I might prefer it.

Running the Game

Throughout the basic rules pdf the rhythm of play is spelled out in very simple terms, and in a way I've never seen before -

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of their actions. 
This is of course, really simple. For new players though, ones who have never roleplayed before, this could be a godsend. All too often games designers write paragraphs and paragraphs trying to explain what a roleplaying game actually is, usually supplying long examples, but this just puts it in the most simple terms possible. I really like this.

Running the game otherwise is more or less standard d20 D&D, which veterans will be utterly at home with. It still works. By default though, Wizards of the Coast have taken the brave choice to make combat gridless. Not mapless, but definitely gridless. (although the grid is an option). This harkens right back to the 2nd Edition and earlier. However, the level of detail and reliance on exact distances in this latest edition of D&D might mean that the grid is still very useful - just as it was in 2nd edition, even when it wasn't a core part of the rules.

Another core mechanic, which I really like for its simplicity, is advantage/disadvantage. If you have advantage, you roll two dice and take the highest. If you have disadvantage, roll two dice, take the lowest. It's a useful tool for both the game designers in designing abilities and DMs, who can use it to simply adjudicate situations. Fighting at the top of the stairs? Advantage! Fighting whilst on a swinging chandelier? Disadvantage! Dynamic and simple, this mechanic is really great.

It's D&D!

Overall all there is to say about these basic rules is that it's D&D. You're not getting the full experience, as I'm sure the Players Handbook will come with the rest of the classic classes and races, but you're getting the core experience. And I like it, for the most part. I'd definitely play it if someone chose to run it in my group, and I think I'd have a great time. If nothing else, reading through the pdf was making me incredibly nostalgic and I expect that's exactly what Wizards of the Coast were going for. If you want to play D&D, you could do a lot worse than this. On the other hand, because it's just nostalgia D&D I could just pick up my old 2nd Edition or 3rd Edition books and play or run from those, and I'd get that same effect. A few nifty mechanics and problems fixed won't change that. Certainly it hasn't usurped 13th Age as my fantasy game of choice with this pdf because it simply doesn't feel brave enough or different enough. Personality traits and inspiration are nice mechanics, but I've been spoiled now by the One Unique Thing and Icons. Nothing in these rules come close to those as tools a DM can use to craft great, player driven, campaigns. 

Where 4th Edition D&D felt radical and new, this simply feels nostalgic. 3rd Edition felt like it was trying new things and fixing old problems, whilst staying true to the feel of D&D. 5th Edition does neither of those things - it just feels like a minor rules update to 3rd Edition - and I think that might be a problem for Wizards of the Coast. That game already exists; it's called Pathfinder.

7/05/2014

Five More Potions/Oils for 13th Age

I've once more delved into my old source books to come up with some new potions (and this time, oils!) for 13th Age! For even more potions check out the Vault of the 13th Age, which is a great resource for all things 13th Age, not just potions!

Potion of Heroic Action
This milky liquid makes the imbiber feel like they can take on anything - and often, they can. Peculiarly, the potion only seems to have any effect while the imbibers life is threatened. 

The Potion of Heroic Action allows the imbiber to roll two dice and pick the result they want during a battle (either the highest or lowest). This may be used on attacks, initiative and skill checks, but not damage dice. The number of times this effect may be used in battle depends on tier. Usually this potion is drunk just before or at the beginning of the battle, but it may be drunk part way through. Either way, its effect ends once the battle has finished, even if the potion's effects were not used.

TierCostNumber of Times per Battle
Adventurer100gp1
Champion250gp2
Epic500gp3

Potion of Levitation
(for an alternate take on this potion, see this version at 13thAge.org made by Kenderama)

This liquid defies the laws of gravity, floating to the top of any container it is within. It is important that the cork or stopper is very secure or else you may find your potion floats away into the sky.

Upon imbibing, adventurers find they are able to move freely vertically at about half walking speed. There is no height limit, but the imbiber must be very careful they do not manoeuvre themselves higher than they will be able to return to a safe position from before the effect wears off! The potion does not grant horizontal movement but this may be achieved through other means. (grabbing onto a rope, pushing off a wall etc).

The imbiber may carry objects or other adventurers beyond his own weight; the extra weight allowance, again, varies by tier.

Fighting whilst under the effects of this potion can be difficult, and any melee attacks suffer a -2 penalty. Additionally, due to the restricted movement of someone under the levitation effect, all attacks against them gain a +2 bonus. 


TierCostDuration of EffectExtra Weight Allowance
Adventurer210gp5 minutes50lbs
Champion425gp15 minutes200lbs
Epic850gp30 minutes400lbs

Oil of Fiery Burning
Every now and then an alchemist forgets the warning label for these volatile oils; with explosive results.

When this oil is exposed to air it instantly combusts, inflicting damage to d3 nearby creatures. The usual use of the oil is as a thrown weapon, like a grenade or Molotov cocktail. If used in this way, the attack is a basic ranged attack. The damage itself differs by tier. If the stopper is removed, a DC: 20 dexterity check must made to stop the flask exploding in your hands! 

TierCostDamage
Adventurer125gp2d6
Champion325gp4d8
Epic650gp8d10

Oil of Slipperiness
This oil is applied to any surface to make it very slippery indeed! If applied to an object it makes it impossible to keep hold of and if applied externally to the skin/armour/clothing it makes the bearer immune to grapples or hugs. 

Further, any attempts to bind an individual coated in oil of slipperiness are futile, as he'll simply slide out! This applies equally to ropes, chains, handcuffs, webs and any other bonds, magical or otherwise. 

Each bottle lasts until a full heal-up, or removed with a solvent (such as strong alcohol). The possible volume covered per bottle depends on tier.

TierCostCoverage
Adventurer175gp1 person, or similar volume of smaller objects (DM decides exactly how many)
Champion250gp3 people, or similar volume of smaller objects (DM decides exactly how many)
Epic425gp6 people, or similar volume of smaller objects (DM decides exactly how many)

Potion of Floral Harmony
Drinking this strong scented potion allows the imbiber to empathise with, befriend and speak to plants, intelligent or otherwise (creatures with the plant keyword) for a time. Like a Charm Person spell, this potion will not work if imbibed during combat or against plants that have rolled for initiative. If the plant is intelligent, the effects of this potion will function identically to that of a Charm Person spell. If it is not, it simply means the plant will not take aggressive action against you. 

The GM may also determine that several plants are affected at once - particularly if they are in a mob - if their total combined hit-points does not exceed the maximum.

The effect is dispelled immediately if the imbiber or his allies attack the plant.

TierCostMaximum Hit-Points of PlantDuration of Potion Effect
Adventurer350gp401 hour
Champion650gp961 day
Epic1,300gp1601 week

As always, let me know how you get on with these! Let me know if you use these or any of my other potions in your games! I'd love to know how you get on! For my last batch of potions, see here!

7/03/2014

Thoughts On... Warhammer 40,000 - 7th Edition

Type of Hobby: Miniatures Wargame
Number of Players: 2
Publisher: Games Workshop
Price: £50

The Latest Grim, Dark, Future
Comes in a fancy sleeve. Fancy.
I've been playing Warhammer 40,000 since the mid 90s and the second edition of the game so it's somehow very strange to be writing my thoughts on the seventh edition of the rules. Nonetheless, they arrived a couple of months ago after a very short gap since sixth of just less than two years. 

I don't think anyone was expecting a totally new direction after such a short hiatus, yet this is more than just a simple rules tidyup, with massive changes to the way the Force Organisation Chart works, alongside a new Psychic Phase and a new set of missions with variable objectives. 

Three Books for the Price of... Uh... Well...

It's impossible to let a Games Workshop product escape discussion without some talk of its price and the steep £50 price tag attached to these books certainly merits comment. It's only been two years since sixth edition and that book wasn't cheap. I think being expected to spend another £50 on the game, albeit in the form of three very pretty books, is a little cheeky. Worse, I think £50 is a very high addon to a game that, due to the high price of miniatures, paints and other hobby things already has an incredibly high price of entry. Still, this is par for the course for Games Workshop and most of us have come to expect it, even if we're not happy about it. I don't know what it would take to change this that wouldn't be incredibly destructive to the company which, despite it's flaws, I still love dearly.

One, two three!
For your £50 you get three books, each about the size of the Space Marine Codex. They're full colour hardbacks, which has been the standard for Games Workshop for some years now. They're full of beautiful pictures and artwork, which is something Games Workshop has always excelled at. If nothing else, you at least feel like they may be coming close to being worth the cost. 

Number 1 is 'A Galaxy of War' - this is the book that contains all the hobby information that was previously in the back of the rulebooks. It features an introduction to the hobby; the trio of painting, background and playing and finishes off with photographs of the 'Eavy Metal painted miniatures from the studio, which are always nice to flick through. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected, and I think anyone new to the hobby coming across it would be suitably excited by what they've gotten themselves into.

Number 2 is 'Dark Millenium', which contains all the background contained in the previous rulebook, along with some new stuff. It is, sadly, mostly reprinted but it's a perfect primer for someone new to the game and setting. 

Number 3 is 'The Rules', which is where most of the attention will go for the majority of people and where, shockingly enough, you can find all the rules to play the game.

The most interesting thing about the use of three books is the order they are numbered in. Hobby first, background second, and game last. This says a lot about how Games Workshop views their product, and how they'd like it to be perceived. While presenting the hobby aspects and the background over the rules is admirable, I wonder if there's a disconnect between what gamers actually want and how Games Workshop is selling their product. This seems especially relevant with the recent rise of pre-painted and/or pre-assembled miniatures games like X-Wing and Dust Tactics. Perhaps this reorganising of the content is a reaction to that, an attempt to sway things back the other way. 

The New Grimness

Lost in the warp since '98!
The single biggest change is the (re)introduction of the Psychic Phase. It's nice to see that it isn't just a copy and paste of the Magic Phase from Warhammer Fantasy Battles, although I wouldn't have blamed them if that had happened! Instead you're trying to get a 4+ on at least one of your dice for each warp charge point the power costs to cast (usually one or two). You generate the amount of dice you have to play with in your pool randomly, but also get a dice for each level of Mastery of your psykers. Powers can be denied in a similar way. It's not over complicated, but there's enough nuance there that there's potential for interesting decisions in game. That's all I ask for, really. It's certainly more robust than the rules were before, which I always felt never really did psykers justice. They're a big part of the 40k lore and its great to see them put back in the limelight. 

Alongside this new phase is a new lore - Daemonology. This is a twin faceted lore with both Santic and Malefic powers. The Santic powers are mostly for use by the Grey Knights, although most can take them at a cost and they're filled with buffs and powers designed to defeat daemons. They're cool, but not really interesting. It's the Malefic powers where things get exciting - and more than a little bit heretical.  The Primaris Power is 'Summoning' and is a foul ritual that allows you to summon forth heinous Daemons from the warp. The rest of the powers are similarly sacrilegious, with terrible effects. One even lets you sacrifice your psykers very soul to summon a terrifying Greater Daemon. What's fascinating about this lore is that it's not the exclusive domain of the evil powers; almost anyone with a psyker can choose to take these powers. I've seen many cry foul at this, but using evil to defeat evil (and the risk that accompanies this act) is a key part of the Warhammer 40,000 setting for me. It's something that was explored in depth in the brilliant Eisenhorn trilogy by Dan Abnett and being able to struggle with those same questions on the tabletop is going to create a lot of exciting games at my table. 

Another much talked about addition to Warhammer 40,000 is the Maelstrom of War missions. All the previous Eternal War missions are still there, but it's these six new missions that really add something interesting to the game. They remind me a lot of the old second edition mission cards. Using a 'deck' (you can buy an actual deck, or use the d66 table in the book) of objectives, which change throughout the game as you complete them. I'm a fan of the idea, as it creates dynamic and unpredictable games. Unfortunately, the execution isn't perfect. Firstly, the 50% of the objectives are identical, which is a real shame. They're the ones that deal with taking points on the table. A roll of 13 to 'Capture and Control' objective 3 should, in some way, be different to a 33 to 'Storm and Defend' objective 3. The Ork Codex has revealed that each race will, in time, get their own deck of Tactical Objectives so I'm hopeful that eventually this problem will sort itself out. There's also the risk that one player could get a string of objectives that he simply can't complete (either through them actually being impossible, like harnessing the warp without having a psyker; or because they're unreasonably difficult, like taking an enemies objective the other side of the board) whilst his opponent gets away with really easy objectives. Law of averages says this should even out over time, but it's going to be an occasional frustration. Again, I'm hopeful that the faction specific decks will fix this, but it's a problem that should have come up in playtesting and shouldn't be there in the first place.

Warhammer 40,000 has also done away completely with the Force Organisation Chart! Well, almost. You now have to choose between an Unbound army, which can contain anything you want (subject to some restrictions on the Allies Matrix), or a Battle-forged Army - which is subject to the old FoC and gets some pretty nifty bonuses. Firstly, you can reroll on the Warlord table of your choice (which are all much more useful than they have been previously!) and, crucially, your troops choices can hold an objective against anything except Battle-Forged troops. That's a great way to keep troops important to a list - especially seeing as everything scores again now. 

There's a lot of potential for fun lists with Unbound, although I think you need to be careful that the benefits outweigh the cons. As a Space Wolf player, I'm sorely tempted to put a Leman Russ or two into my army. Seems fitting and I miss them. 

Lost in the Warp?

Where have you gone?! 
There are notable casualties in this latest edition of Warhammer 40,000, however. Where have the Fortifications and Mysterious Terrain gone? I liked both of those things! Fortifications live on in Stronghold Assault, but taking them out of the core book still seems cheeky to me. Guess my Aegis Defence Line is just terrain now.

Losing Mysterious Terrain is an omission that I suspect a lot of (dull) people will be pleased about. My group will be coming up with our datasheets for these, I think. I felt they added a lot to the game, an air of uncertainty that was interesting to play around with. I think they needed more beneficial elements, and probably a higher chance to have nothing unusual happen, but the idea was solid.

A Billion Changes, Across A Billion Worlds

There's lots more, smaller, tweaks throughout the book. And some bigger ones - Lords of War are now part of standard games now. So bring that Baneblade. I like a challenge. 

Ultimately, though, the game is still the same sort of Warhammer 40,000 we've had since third edition came out in '98. Which is fine. I'm not sure it's worth £50, though. At least most of the changes are good, it's just a shame we've had to pay so much, so soon.

Oh well. Anyone fancy a game?