Thursday 25 June 2015

Unboxing: Assassinorum

So we open the surprisingly heavy box and we find:

The weight of the box is in these really heavy duty card game boards.

These look really sturdy, and I'd imagine they will stand up to quite a lot of play. Despite the fact that they don't have 'jigsaw' lugs to join the boards together, their weight and size will help prevent the boards slipping hither and thither.

And a solid set of counters.

But the meat of things is, of course, the 23 miniatures. In value for money terms, this works out at just over £3 per miniature, which seems pretty good when compared [what I imagine to be] Games Workshop's pricing, and isn't too bad when considered miniatures more generally. But imagination is deceptive, especially when you are trapped in the past. 5 Chaos Cultists? £6. 10 Chaos Space Marines? £23.50. And so on. And, of course, in the Assassinorum box you don't get to choose which 23 miniatures you get for your cash. So what do you get?

Well, you get three sprues of Chaos Cultists:

A Chaos Space Marine Sprue:

A Chaos Sorcerer Lord/Terminator Lord Sprue:

And, of course, four individual Assassin Sprues (each standing on their own bit of scenery):

These are standard contemporary GW sprues, which means lots of bits and bobs, assembly required. To my mind GW have missed a trick here. If they had produced push-together miniatures, people could buy this game for casual gamers, and even dedicated hobbyists could be playing the same day that they buy the game. As soon as a game needs glue, clippers, &c., you've got a game that simply will not sell to casual gamers, and if it does, it will sit, unassembled and unplayed in a cupboard. I know that in recent years GW have sold push-together Chaos Space Marines, and so it shouldn't have been too difficult to find that compromise between accessibility (getting the game up and running on the day of purchase) and miniature quality (the taste of the plastic crack that keeps 'em coming back). Ah, but I'm not in charge of GW's strategy department - if I was their stores would at least sell FFG Warhammer licensed products.

But then I can (only just, admittedly) remember when all these shelves were Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest, and when White Dwarf were a general roleplaying magazine. But tell that to the kids these days...

We'll have to wait until I get back from my work trip to the States to get these little men put together and on the table.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Website: Winds of Chaos

Winds of Chaos is a 'dead' site, in so much that it doesn't seem to have been updated since 2011, and that was only an 'I ain't dead' post, the first since 2009. Nevertheless, the site is still up, and contains a wealth of resources useful for any WFRP player, and perhaps useful to any Warhammer Fantasy Battle player keen to put a put of 'narrative' and bring a bit of setting depth to their campaigns. You know, to make the miniature game the wargame/role-playing game hybrid that was the suggested by WFB1e (and, some time later, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader).

Probably the most useful content on the site is that produced by Dave Graffam - maker of fantastic paper model kits - under the tab 'Encroachment', including a 26 page expanded character creation booklet for WFRP2e. This is perhaps more than you might want, but it tells you something of the quality and depth of the resources. I also think that the WFRP Treasure Generator is a wonderful piece of work, useful in nearly any FRPG that requires a quick system of finding out 'what has it got in its pocketses'. In fact, the WFRP2e folder on my PC contains a sub-folder which I have called 'Dave Graffam's Excellent Resources', and I'm not sure I have any other folder whose title contains a superlative. So that says something.

The comprehensive set of maps of the Old World, by Andreas Blicher (based on work by Alfred Nunez Jr., with Dave Graffam providing some graphic design on the 'parchment' versions), are also a must-have for any WFRP GM.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Codices as 'Lore'?

The other day, I posted about the way that I have collected a bunch of obsolete WFB Army Books to act as a cheap source of information about the Warhammer world. Thinking now about the Warhammer 40K universe/s, does anyone have any opinions as to which are the best iteration of obsolete Codices, with the best being those that contain plenty of 'fluff', evocative art, etc. that could be used as - at the very least - inspirational material for 40K role-playing?

Kelvin Green, in the G+ comments on that post, said that while he was happy to draw on latter WFB material for his WFRP games, "40K is a bit different and I'd say my Rogue Trader game had more, er, Rogue Trader influence than anything more recent."

I was of the same mind, when (nearly 4 years ago!! Gah!) I picked up FFG's Rogue Trader RPG. But the additional books are so very expensive these days. I would love to pick up the Book of the Astronomican and the Warhammer 40,000 Compilation, to slot alongside my rulebook and W40K Compendium. Oh, and I dream of getting hold of the 'classic' Ork books: Waaagh!, Ere we Go, and Freebooterz, but my magic money tree is only of a modest size. That said, I understand that the FFG Rogue Trader supplement Into the Storm has some information on playing Orks, and the writer of that section, Sam Stewart, makes plain the debt he owes to the earliest W40K material

But back to my original question. Are any of the [cheap] obsolete Codices (or other supplements) a good place to go for W40K role-playing 'lore'?

Opinions welcome.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Army Books as 'Lore': Tilea in Dogs of War

A while back, once there were no more WFRP1e books to buy - that I could afford anyway - I decided to turn my compulsive book buying towards Warhammer Fantasy Battle 'Army Books'. I had spotted that the WFB4e and WFB5e Army Books were selling on eBay for a quid or two, often in batches. Obsolete in terms of rules, outdated in terms of setting, but not entirely useless to a WFRP GM interested in fleshing out the world.

Here, let me show you.

Excepting the 'gems', I'd guess I barely paid a tenner for these, all in. While WFRP players cling dearly to 'outdated' books, and sneer disdainfully at the new, WFB players ruthlessly abandon the obsolete, it seems. Of course, one way to understand this is that WFB players need to find opponents who share their rules, while GMs impose their rules upon hapless WFRP players.

Anyway, the 'gems' in this little collection are White Dwarf Presents: Chaos Dwarfs and Dogs of War.

In fact, Dogs of War is my favourite Army Book. It doesn't really matter how good, say, the Elf or Dwarf Army Books might be, as the material is so familiar, having been recycled and regurgitated so many times through each edition of the game. And the Empire? Well, any WFRP GM has better material detailing the Empire than he or she might find in an Empire Army Book. And that is even if I were to cleave to a higher fantasy conception of the Warhammer world than that of The Enemy Within. But Dogs of War? In Dogs of War I can find bits and pieces about the lands beyond the Empire, about Tilea, Estalia and beyond. There is so little 'official' material about these places; Brian Craig's Zaragoz, a brief mention in the WFRP1e rulebook's World Guide, a bit of material in the WFRP2e Companion, and so on, but where else? Dogs of War fills in a few of the gaps, and provides the bones, or at least a sketchy outline, of something that I, as GM, can fill.

The background of each regiment (not all of which are Tilean - there are details on Golfag's Ogres, Long Drong Slayer's Pirates, Al Muktar's Desert Dogs, &c.) and  is full of small details that could easily be incorporated into a WFRP game:

The fact that Dogs of War regiments are accompanied by all manner of 'special characters', not all of which are wham-bam! heroes or wizards, means that the book contains the foundations of very interesting and colourful NPCs - possibly patrons to the adventurers; the genius Leonardo da Miragliano (and his 'scientific' items), Lucrezzia Belladonna, a ruthless, politically powerful sorceress, Marco Columbo, 'discoverer' of Lustria, &c.

The history and social structure of Tilea is also discussed - and a timeline is provided - which, as the Tileans are notable explorers, includes passing discussion of other parts of the Warhammer world.

Of course, there are WFRP community developed resources detailing the world beyond the Empire, but more of that another time.

p.s. I notice that, in Dogs of War, Games Workshop asserts that such pre-existing terms as Grail Knight, Knight Errant, and, laughably, Skink, are Trademarks. In the contemporaneous Brettonia book, GW make the same claim for Chivalry! 

Assassinorum: Execution Force

Father's Day. 

The reason why I have no time to paint, and little to play, is also the reason why I receive an extra round of presents each year, including various bits of gaming paraphernalia from my spawn. Of course, if I didn't have astronomically high nursery fees, and the bill for food and clothes, I could spend my wages like they were water, but there's only so far such horrible, resentful cynicism will take you. So yesterday we took a trip down to the amazing 'new' Firestorm Games (honestly, it is a cathedral to gaming) and I picked out a shortlist of three games. My two children and my wife then voted, and it wasn't Relic (Talisman in Spaaaace!), nor was it Forbidden Stars (a W40K remake of the StarCraft boardgame), but Games Workshop's newest in-house foray into the world of self-contained games, Assassinorum: Execution Force, that they chose. My youngest liked the skull on the box. Ahhh, how sweet. 

Did you see a theme to my shortlist?

So, before I unbox this beauty, and weep at my hubris, thinking that the 23 miniatures represent a small, do-able task, lets see what the Old Testament has to say about Assassins. From the Book of Priestley, pages 170-171.

Verily, for here is written the truth!

I had a look inside the box on a recent trip to my local Games Workshop. I gently teased the manager by remarking that it reminded me of Space Crusade. Or perhaps I was just being a dick. But it does remind me of Space Crusade. Aside from being a self-contained 40K themed board game, it also has Chaos Space Marines, which in my imagination are indelibly linked to the not-quite-as-successful as Heroquest collaboration between Milton Bradley and Games Workshop. Space Crusade might not have been the first place that I ever saw Chaos Space Marines, but it was while playing Space Crusade seemingly endlessly that I saw that distinctive shape over and over and over again. 

I tell you what, that horrible cynic in me thinks that what might well have swung it when it came to my wife's vote is that Assassinorum can be played solo. Hah! Actually, being for 1-4 players playing co-operatively makes it a welcome change from the adversarial board games that populate my cupboards. I hope that there is something in the rules or mechanics to avoid the know-it-all (i.e. me) 'coaching' (to put is politely) all the other players, but I guess I ought to be grown up enough, what with being a dad and all, to play nicely with others. 

Expect a full description soon, as well as a play report. Even if there is just one player.  

Saturday 20 June 2015

Website: Strike to Stun

Over the next few weeks I'll be populating my links gadget with Warhammer blogs and sites. The first one that I should add is the venerable Strike to Stun. The forums are still fairly active - I ought to take a greater part in the discussions, though I have popped up from time to time - which is some achievement given the decline of forums in the face of more recent developments in social media. Such as blogs. And Google+. And, and, and...

Anyhow, Strike to Stun's Warhammer General Discussion (53 posts active in 2015), WFRP 1st edition (20 posts active in 2015), and WFRP 2nd edition (40 posts active in 2015) are all places of ongoing discussion of roleplaying the Warhammer world. There are also a number of less busy, but still active forums discussing WFRP3e, general roleplaying &c., and - and this is sure to be a topic of several further post - Zweihander, the clone-in-spirit of WFRP.  

Strike to Stun also used to have a website, a collection of useful downloads, including, if I remember rightly, a web-zine, &c. All that appears to be left - and I am happy to be corrected - is the forum.

Friday 19 June 2015

Career Compendium Web Enhancement

This is merely an addendum to yesterday's post, about the high regard with which I hold the Career Compendium. It was pointed out to me that there exists a web enhancement for the Career Compendium, correcting the entries and exits, and presenting them in an easy to consult 8 page booklet.

[This pdf is hosted by the WFRP blog Another Caffeinated Day]

Thursday 18 June 2015

More Than the Sum of its Parts - Giving it 160%

I thought that a suitable first post would be one that discusses one of my favourite WFRP books. It isn't the WFRP 1st edition rulebook. It is not one of the parts of The Enemy Within campaign. It is not even either of the Realms of Chaos books, which, if my shelf ordering 'system' is anything to go by, are WFRP books, not Warhammer Fantasy Battle. No, it is a book that exemplifies the way in which WFRP can be so much more than the sum of its parts.

More than the sum of its parts. That could describe WFRP, pretty much. It wouldn't be entirely unfair to suggest that it has a 'clunky' system, or that it has an undeniably derivative setting - complete with avaricious, drunk Dwarfs in the mountains here, haughty, magical Elves in the forests there, even jolly Halflings in an idyllic Shire (sorry, Moot). It would certainly be true that both system and setting were built on the foundations of a wargame, which, while Warhammer Fantasy Battle 1st edition (the White Box) did describe itself as a 'mass combat role-playing game', means that the foundations were built to serve a different purpose to that which they were eventually put. Despite all this, WFRP is a role-playing game that has had a much greater effect - indeed affect - on players and GMs than the combination of these ingredients would suggest.

My choice of book to exemplify the way in which WFRP can be far more than the sum of its parts will probably be surprising, given my grognardly ways. I'm going to talk about one of the polished, focussed books [over-]produced by Fantasy Flight Games during their brief tenure as the publishers of WFRP2e - the Career Compendium. In fact, it was the very final book produced for WFRP2e!

More than the sum of its parts? Yes indeed. This book is at least 80% 'crunch'. It shares much, at first glance, with the kind of books that other systems might call something like 'Player's Options'. You know, the type of splatbook that details new classes, powers, &c. In the Career Compendium, we find that 230 of just over 250 pages are dedicated to describing the mechanical details of careers. Yes, I know that strictly, if every bit of those pages were crunch, that would make for something like 92%, but...

But the Career Compendium is also 80% 'fluff', bebacuse the fluff is so thoroughly integrated into the crunch of the career system. The career system of WFRP is constitutive of the Warhammer RPG setting. Even if we strip out the wonderful 'fluffy' details, such as 'A Day in the Life' sections, and the adventure seeds provided for each and every career, we are still left with the mechanical nuts and bolts - the advance scheme, the skills, talents, trappings, entries and exits - which, alone, tells us a great deal about the world. This crunch does so in a way in which, for instance, the deliberately (and invaluably) generic system of Classic D&D's class and levels simply does not. Classes work best, I feel, as role archetypes, not concrete descriptions of a character's social and economic position. Now, in the OSR there are interesting exercises in revealing the implied setting of D&D, deriving this world from the class system, the level names, the random encounter tables, the treasure tables, &c. See, for example, the fantastic work done by Chris Kutalik. But this is implied setting, and relatively covertly implied at that. The diversity of games that we ran using Classic D&D and the like, and that we now run using Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord &c., suggests that these implications are easy enough to ignore. And easy enough to omit by ignorance, rather than design. There is no such possibility with WFRP - if you want to ignore what the system tells you that the world consists of, you have to consciously decide to do so. This is even true if you were to run a game of WFRP, based solely on the first edition rulebook and ignoring Chapter 7: The World Guide. Treat the Warhammer world as just another sample setting, and you will still find that the career system contains a great many assumptions about the way the world works and what it is to be an 'adventurer', assumptions that add colour to any game of WFRP.     

Wednesday 17 June 2015

So what is it?

This blog is titled "Freedom in an Owned World", borrowing the title of Stephen Baxter's essay published in Vector on the subject of writing fiction for Games Workshop in the late 1980s and the 1990s. I mean no offence by borrowing the title; in fact, a discussion of writing captures my ambivalence about gaming in the Warhammer [propriety] universes, using Warhammer [propriety] rulesystems. We live in an age of vibrant Open Source Roleplaying. Isn't there something terrifically attractive about gaming in your own world, or a truly shared world, using an 'open source' rule system shared by thousands of others? Engaging in a system of free exchange, with limited commercialisation driven by, and rewarding, hobbyists? Gaming with no barriers to sharing and even semi-professionally publishing the products of your explorations of the fantastic? Yes, there is! Undoubtedly so. The OSR is full of vibrant creativity.

But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Warhammer always reels me back in. In it's mild form, the pull back to Warhammer is the way in which its setting/s colour/s my non-Warhammer gaming. I make life difficult for my players and their PCs. I avoid any hint that playing an RPG is about wish-fulfillment - unless the players are masochists, or they want to play one. I present worlds in which it is difficult to see what 'doing the right thing' might be, and even then, whatever it is often involves doing 'bad things'. I write self-deprecating rants such as The Pathetic Aesthetic.

But this blog will be about the stronger form of this involuntary cycle of behaviour; about the times when Warhammer has caught my imagination on a steel hook and an unbreakable line, when it pulls and pulls until I find that I have the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition rulebook in my hands, and find that I am excited by the prospect of playing as I did in the early 1990s. This blog will be the place where I write about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st and 2nd edition, where, perhaps, I describe my exploration - as yet un-begun - of Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, and, who knows, maybe even find the time and space to dig out the old miniatures for some '3D Roleplay', as Games Workshop used to call it.