Monday, 31 March 2014

Crimson Slaughter: Part 3 - The Narrative Structure And Design (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

For the previous part looking at this book's lore, please click here.

Yes, we're doing a part three for this. Why? Because there's a major error which needs to be addressed. That error his how the codices are written to present their lore and the type of narrative they are pursuing.

True codices are written as a collection of lore elements and short tales, exploring the different aspects of the army, the units and the characters involved. The emphasis there is upon the force as a whole and presenting the faction as a well established entity within the universe. 
From day one the supplement codices abandoned that format, attempting to instead ape the structure of novels. Rather than exploring the units involved and giving a detailed idea of their full history, the book instead gives a few sections covering the founding elements of the army then spews out some truly dire literature. We previously covered exactly why this is wrong in the guide to writing wargaming lore, but it just keeps happening.

Something brought up in the comments section of the first part by grdaat was the idea of judging the book as a novel rather than a codex. As the writers are so hell bent upon refusing to write a true army book, why not. Let's hold it to those same standards and examine if it actually manages to be any better as a traditional story than an armybook. However, something else rightfully brought up was the fact the Imperial Armour books do the exact same thing as the supplement codices yet they seem to work. So before we get into that we need to really examine why they are a success, but the likes of Codex: Crimson Slaughter are failures.

Oddly what completely separates codices and Imperial Armour books comes down to two details: Length and focus. Okay, three if you include the obvious differences in talent between Mat Ward and Warwick Kinrade

Every one of the supplement codices are between one-hundred-and-twenty to one-hundred-and-fifty pages long. Even the shortest Imperial Armour volume has a good fifty to seventy additional pages, with said pages generally being at least twice the size of those in the physical copies of codices. What's more is that many such books are often divided into separate volumes. For example, due to the multitude of factions involved both the Badab War and The Siege of Vraks were covered across multiple books. In short: They have room to cover how the story progresses but also leave space to still give great detail about the armies involved.

The bigger and much more important difference though is the focus. Each codex is devoted to a single army. The Imperial Armour books, barring those exclusively given over to vehicles, are about campaigns. While the forces involved are described and detailed, the book isn't about them and is instead about the war they are fighting in. 
Details place emphasis upon battles, troop movements and logistics over the characters. While it doesn't ignore the commanders or figures involved, it's secondary to how the armies behaved and the arenas they fought in. The book advertises this from the start so when we get details about the armies, but when it doesn't fully go in-depth about them it's not as much of a disappointment. The same goes for the Horus Heresy books, which focus upon several of the Legiones Astartes at a time as the events of the Heresy progress.

Even ignoring those details the books are also not written as novels. The armies are the focus here still and the characters are treated as a part of it rather than the other way around. They are ultimately not trying to ape the same format as novels and screwing over armies in favour of a narrow focus upon a handful of people. 

This is why almost every supplement codex fails as an armybook, because they are not written about the actual army.  Instead they follow a handful of people the author has created, try to make everything about them, and end up creating a very poor representation of the army. This reached truly ludicrous levels with Codex: Sentinels of Terra and Codex: Clan Raukaan, where every figure involved was named or detailed by the author somehow. The end result leaves no room for creative freedom by players.

Still, let's even ignore that massive failing for the sake of this article and because they needed that to write a story. Let's instead examine it as we would a traditional novel. Guess what? It's just as bad.

The first thing it clumsily fumbles is story structure. Any novel will follow some variation of a three act structure. While there are definite variations on this, some having a short second act or such, certain elements will always remain. This is partially true here, but it's also horribly mishandled. While there is an inciting incident and specific turning point within the codex, the events on the space hulk and at Umidia, they are ham fistedly slammed into the narrative. The protagonist is only introduced late into the second act with little to no introduction, and the final act seems contrived at best. Rather than naturally ending with the chapter totally corrupt it just keeps going. By the time it closest out, what should have been the final act has been dragged out for half the codex.

There is also no logical progression from one event to the next or natural curve in the story to where they turn, instead we have spontaneous actions as the plot demands. The first part of this review cited the sudden illogical knee-jerk reaction of the Crimson Sabres to being reprimanded. That felt as if a massive chunk of the story had just been removed, but worse yet there was no effort made to draw the reader into just why it was happening. There were no brief sections with viewpoint marines or even a lengthy text box depicting the scene itself. This is especially bad as it's the main trigger of the entire story from here on, but there are also no points like this throughout huge chunks of the book.

When the Crimson Sabres lose all knowledge of their past thanks to their complete devotion to completing a campaign and wipe away their dishonour, it's supposed to be a moving scene. The problem is that the story simply cannot make something of it. The descriptions cannot fully convey the sheer impact it should have, there are no viewpoint characters to truly make use of this events. Like so many events here, it feels as if it was merely thrown in at the last second and information is stated rather than truly shown to the reader. While the codex informs us of the impact and we see it play out, it's so distant and involving that it cannot hope to work. 

It doesn't help that this is yet another example of the reactions being completely wrong and confusing. Their first actions by being mildly reprimanded cause them to erase their entire history and destroy vast numbers of irreplaceable relics. Now, when their determination to completely wipe away that failure results in an even greater loss, it only encourages them to become even more devoted to the Imperium over all else. Not even a single battle-brother thinks "Hm. That was curiously well timed." So along with being schizophrenic they appear to be brain donors.

There is absolutely no build up here and any kind of natural story arc are completely abandoned, with things only getting worse as time goes by. Then the codex suddenly completely shifts gears once Kranon himself is introduced, at which point the book flips from having no characters to being utterly character-centric. Suddenly jack-knifing from one style of narrative to the next, it makes everything which came prior feel like an extended prologue. When a story is supposed to be character focused, it needs to involve those characters from quite early on.

None of these elements are helped by the sheer laziness of the writing and willingness to fully commit to the ideas here. The first part cited the issue with Fabius Bile strolling by, solving a major problem, and then merrily going on his way. While he might be a walking plot device at least his actions make a degree of sense and solve themselves. The same cannot be said for the remaining Crimson Sabres. 

Yes, you read that correctly, there are surviving members of the original chapter.

Now, this reads as if the authors were unwilling to fully devote themselves to the idea of a chapter falling to Chaos, but at the same time it could have made the codex stand out. There have only been fleeting tales which have fully examined the idea of massive numbers of traitors and loyalists from the same force in open battle. The Dark Angels' hunt is more like a covert war and others were either told through short stories or brief conflicts.  The obvious way to deal with this would be through the remnants of the companies which potentially escaped their Fortress Monastery following being declared excommunicate traitoris.  Unfortunately it seems that would make too much sense.

After the entire chapter has utterly corrupted itself to the point where they have countless mutations, elements of the 4th Company suddenly decide they don't want to be a part of Chaos. No longer suffering from the voices in their heads for no apparent reason, and making no effort to do any damage to their traitor brethren, they turn around and head back to their ruined homeworld. 
No mention is made of the fact they will have to head via the Cadian Gate, which previously fired upon them. 
No mention is made of the fact they are fully aware the rest of their chapter has willingly turned traitor, and they are effectively ignoring them. 
No mention is made of even made of their problems just getting to a point where they can fly out of the Eye of Terror.

The entire event is one massive plot hole, it works only if you completely ignore everything from the last several sections of the book. What's more is that this whole thing has been set up to be a major fight, with the Captain of the 4th company promising to destroy the Crimson Slaughter. Then the book forgets about them. We never see them again. It's one of a small forest of plot threads which the book sets up and then never makes any use of. A basic tool of storytelling is to reincorporate as many things as many times as you can, but the writers here just keep starting things and then tossing them away once they are bored.

Oh, and then there's the sudden plot twist towards the book's end. It's suddenly revealed a daemon prince has been manipulating them for centuries until they become his pawns. Let's once again overlook that this is a Soul Drinkers plot which has been taken and re-used for who knows how many codices in a row now. Let's instead focus upon two things:

Firstly, the book manages to make this delivery both extremely predictable. Details are left there to make you immediately think "a daemon is behind this" with Chaos near constantly being the cause of the chapter's ruination. The daemons disappearing without warning on the space hulk, the origin of the voices, and even their homeworld's destruction were all suggested to have originated from Chaos. As such this twist is something you're twiddling your thumbs and waiting for, so when it appears it is to no surprise.

Secondly, despite being predictable it somehow comes completely out of left field at the same time. Why? Because it's suddenly revealed that the chapter's Chief Librarian is possessed by one. This is delivered without any indication or even a mild hint anything was wrong with the Librarian, yet it's delivered in the manner of a murder mystery. Furthermore, there are no suggestions that anything is wrong or a trail of clues for you to pick up on; yet another event pulled out of the authors' rectum.

Even the finale just peters out and stops rather than ending. Rather than going after the aforementioned daemon prince, entering some massive battle with the Crimson Sabres or even fighting the Dark Angels, they suddenly join in fighting on Cadia. There is no emotional link or relationship between themselves or the Cadian Imperial Guard, yet they are treated as the big climactic enemy and rival. This would be like the Eisenhorn trilogy concluding with a fight against a crime lord Gregor had never met before, after he has dealt with the actual antagonist.

So there you have it folks. Even when the book is taken at face value and judged as a novel rather than a codex, it remains a crudely scrawled abomination of penmanship. Every basic plot device is misused, the writers show no comprehension on how to create an ongoing plot and it fails to even accomplish setting up a basic antagonist. If it's not been made clear in the past, such supplements are a waste of time which need to be avoided. They're the worst kind of published works, the sort where you're almost thinking there's a Springtime For Hitler gambit going on with the writers.

I am being completely honest with you when the graffiti you read in public urinals is of a higher calibre than what is found in Codex: Crimson Slaughter. It is a mess of confusing, contrived story elements by people who clearly have no clue what they are doing. Every person who is reading this could probably do a better job than the people here, because at least you wouldn't be lazy when it came to such a book. Don't reward these people with your money, just avoid this one.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Film Review)

Of all the follow-up films possible, seeing Captain America's development since the Avengers was easily going to be the most interesting. Along with being a man out of his own time, he was the first Avenger and has a closer attachment to the American military. Tactics have changed, methods have developed, and the foe the United States is seeking to fight is completely unlike the Nazi Regime. Thankfully, all of these are emphasised in the plot.

Set some time after the Battle of New York, the film sees Steve Rogers still working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and initiating their more covert operations. Struggling to come to terms with this new way of war, he soon realises that operatives have become a target for a Soviet era agent: The Winter Soldier. However, there is far more at play than a simple rogue agent performing assassination attempts...

Effectively the superhero equivalent of a political thriller, The Winter Soldier makes a number of very bold moves within its writing. Among these is the suggestion that the United States' heavy militarisation could be doing more harm than good and how their efforts to seek out potential threats could be serving the will of others. Even in an era where much has been questioned following the decisions of the Bush administration and 9/11, it's still an interesting subject to approach for such a genre. A big part of what definitely makes this work is by only showing so much to the viewer. Rather than attempting to show this on some massive scale, it keeps its focus tight upon only a few specific elements - Mostly surrounding one specific first strike operation S.H.I.E.L.D. has on standby.

Along with this tight focus is the choice of actors. Anyone who has seen prior Marvel films will know that Chris Evans is the perfect Captain America, and both Scarlet Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson are solid choices for their roles. However, what truly works well is the decision to have the likes of Robert Redford taking a prominent place within the story, clearly channeling the 70s roles he is best known for, furthering this sense of a political thriller. Anthony Mackie also makes for a surprisingly good Falcon and there's no real problem with the cast themselves.

The balance between drama and humour here is definitely the best it has been at since the Avengers. In retrospect, Iron Man 3 felt as if it jumped off the deep end when it came to humour and making a joke of its subject matter, and much of Thor: The Dark World felt similar at times. Here though, while there are certainly funny moments and many scenes feel as if they're set up purely to end on a funny line, it still works. There's a great balance here between the two elements, and it really does set the standard to what other films should follow.

The issues instead begin to appear when it comes down to how the film uses them. Falcon for example is mentioned to be a part of a therapeutic group treating PTSD, but nothing ever comes of that. It really is just brought up and then never addressed. Similarly, Sharon Carter is introduced and mentioned to be a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. as she's built up to be something big, but nothing ever really comes of it. The one who comes off the worst is the Winter Soldier himself who, by the film's end, is very inconsequential to the plot and could have been replaced by generic hired muscle. It's almost as if this was an intentional misdirection on the part of the filmmakers similar to the infamous Iron Man 3 twist.

The problem clearly has not been from the actors' end of things, but the writing keeps trying to juggle too many themes and elements. Many of the ideas about politics and problems here are not pushed nearly as far as they should have been before we get to the action, and there are many points where it seems the mistakes of Iron Man 2 are being made. You know, where major plot elements and ideas seem only to be present in order to set up the next stage of the universe rather than truly integrated into the core plot. This is felt especially clearly with the frequent call-backs to other films, which are felt more keenly here than any other. This hardly kills the film, but it does prove to be a noticeable flaw which runs throughout it.

Despite this, when all else fails, the action holds up. While trailers have been showing off the vehicle combat and the sequences with the helicarriers the most, The Winter Soldier features some of the best hand-to-hand sequences in any Marvel film to date. While you catch a brief glimpse of this in the elevator scene, there are more than enough moments to show just why Captain America still has an edge of its own in terms of combat scenes. Especially when compared with the likes of Thor and Iron Man.

The real flaw here is more that the film just doesn't go that step further when it early could. What we get is truly great, truly well crafted and developed, but you can sense that something outstanding was just ready to break out. Should you see it? Definitely. While it holds up better if you have at least seen the Avengers, it's hard to really fault the film for what it accomplishes. Go out and watch it on the big screen, but don't entirely buy into the hype.

Friday, 28 March 2014

In Service To Shadows (eBook Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

Another story in the Damocles collection and following directly on from The Shape of the Hunt, In Service To Shadows sees focus turn from the White Scars to the Raven Guard. Several months on from the conflict on Voltoris, and the Imperial forces are preparing to make their presence known elsewhere. Some vessels are being deployed to distant battlefields, while others are pushing further into territory which has fallen under the influence of the Tau. Under the command of the Inquisition, Sergeant Talow’s units are sent to a world ready to fall to the xenos. However, things soon prove to be far worse than feared and soon the Raven Guard are facing enemies on all sides. 

Considered to be the canon incarnation of the Reasonable Marines, at least in terms of tactics, the Raven Guard fight via very different means than other chapters. Less prone to the bombastic last stands, charges or relentless advances, they are far more concerned with stealth and subterfuge. It’s a very interesting angle for a force of superhuman in power armour to go with, but the ideas present do help sell you on the idea.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

11 Video Game Reboots/Revitalisations We Need

I'm currently working with What's Up, What's On magazine covering a few major articles and releases for the next month or so. So if you want to see more, please follow the links.


A cult hit back in the early days of Playstation 2, Summoner has ever been the underrated fantasy tale. Combining an excellent, immersive world with great combat and fascinating narrative, it was in many respects the unrecognised Dragon Age of its time. The sequel only improved upon past elements, further enhancing the tale and giving an idea of bigger story at work. Unfortunately the series was never continued and the license has been left unused for over a decade now.

With plenty of realms still to explore from the barely seen Munari City to the nightmarish insanity of the Twilight Realm, any developer has a goldmine of ideas to work with. Potential for political strife with Queen Maia gone, a prequel following Halassar’s war for independence or even a story exploring the lost civilisations which litter the planet are all present here. All that is even before getting to the revelations dropped in the final game surrounding the gods and reality itself. 

Let’s just hope we can find a developer willing to devote their time to such a brilliant world.

Mordheim: The Video Game - Early Details And Potential Concerns

Wow, two of these in as many weeks. Games Workshop really is starting to farm out the licence.

Announced earlier today by Focus Interactive on their Twitter page, it seems that the classic tabletop title might be getting some much needed revitalisation. Having been released in 1999, then promptly left bereft of all support before actively being killed off last year, Mordheim was one of the titles from the Specialist Games' arm of the wargaming company. Taking place in the Empire's past, just prior to Magnus the Pious' re-unification of the fractured human civilisation, the game was set in a corrupt city of criminals, mutants and treasure hunters.

While only just announced plenty of details have been given to grab your attention, both for good and not so good reasons.

The good here is that the initial screenshots look fantastic. While not fully capturing the sketchy, gothic look of the original drawings from the rulebook they are none the less fantastic graphically. Each captures the feel of the damned city and resemble the gangs of marauding warpstone hunters, right down to minor details from older models. Seriously, check out the pistol wielding skaven's necklace and see if it seems a little familiar to you.

Along with a few bearing close resemblance to a few of the models, a few early screenshots have backed up the statement that the major death mechanic will be carried over from the tabletop. When a unit is killed in a skirmish they do not die outright on the tabletop but have a chance of coming back, often with a missing limb or weakened attribute. Sometimes with a strong one as well such as better toughness or horrific scarring which can inspire fear in a foe. The newsletter given out has also explicitly promised that a dead until will stay dead, resulting in that beloved XCOM ironman feel.

The screenshots also seemingly show the same rat skull wearing shaman working with seperate groups, meaning mercenaries are likely to be included with bands able to hire certain goons. Rather than just sell swords these included halfling cooks (who improved morale and served as scouts), sorcerers, foreign warriors and even figures of renown within the city.

Only a few factions have been announced thus far, namely skaven ratmen, human mercenaries from the Empire, Chaos afflicted possessed, and Sisters of Sigmar. That last one is especially notable as they were an exclusive faction to Mordheim, so it at least shows the developers are paying attention to the game rather than just translating things from Warhammer Fantasy. The game has also promised more factions but has yet to name them so we don't know who will be held in reserve for DLC or excluded entirely. Personally, my money is on Lizardman.

The final point of note from the newsletter is that games will place heavy emphasis strategy above all and require units to hunt through maps to find items and wyrdstone tokens. Again, it's just the same as the tabletop but that's what made the experience there so fun. Furthermore, it's also appealing to something of an XCOM approach, rewarding players who take their time to hunt down goodies and not rush in blindly.

The only problems here come in the form of who is behind it, well, potential problems anyway. The first is publisher Focus Interactive, who were also behind Cyanide Studio's Blood Bowl series. Those were games which were beloved and praised as a decent adaptation of the tabletop game, but also plagued with a vast number of problems. So while they were a hit they were also one which received some understandable criticisms. Now while Focus Interactive were not the people who made the game, they were the ones who approved its release in a somewhat buggy state. Still, that's only a minor concern and so long as it's playable and patches follow very soon after release things ought to be fine.

What's a bigger concern is the presence of Rogue Factor who, going from research, seem not to have created anything in the past. There is seemingly no record of them having previously existed nor having even handled secondary work on other games. On the one hand this means that there is nothing to really hold against them. On the other though, they're an untested and seemingly green studio who have just been given a beloved strategy heavy licence. Whatever way you cut it, this is still a reason for some trepidation.

Is it enough reason to throw this to the dogs and write it off as a failure? Definitely not. A lot of good things have been promised and there are is apparent proof in their newsletter that they are taking Mordheim's core mechanics to heart. However, it also means anyone interested should keep a close eye on news letters and get a better opinion before they start to celebrate.

Keep an eye on this one for future news. With luck we'll have a fantastic adaptation and it may even pave the way for a Necromunda title if it's a proven success.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Crimson Slaughter: Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

Welcome to Part 2 where we examine the rules. If you're interested in the a review of the lore, you can find it here.

From past codices you can probably guess what is going to follow. As is sadly the case with so many Games Workshop books, mistakes are not a thing to be learnt from and instead they are to be repeated over and over again. At least assuming they are not mistaken for recommendations for the next book. So what we have here is very little in the way of rules to cover the army itself and a crapola of stuff which will only work if you buy more of Games Workshop's books. Oh, and scenarios of course.

Now, to be completely fair to the book contains some of the first scenarios in a while which seem like they would be worth playing. This is mostly because the writers seem to have gotten them right - they're relatively straight forwards to use and stick with what works. Rather than attempting to completely revolutionising the entire battlefield, they instead add fun gimmicks to keep things interesting.

Storm of Spirits is the most visible example of a gimmick game, which is your common or garden Take and Hold style mission. You have two sides, a series of objective markers, and a few basic conditions like Reserves, Slay the Warlord and Night Fighting. What makes it a little different is the presence of the Spectral Hurricane, which the Crimson Slaughter player moves about the board at 2D6 inches per turn and causes 2D6 AP3 hits on any enemy within 12". It's obviously weighted in the favour of one side, but it doesn't list any points costs, meaning players can balance this out between themselves with the Crimson Slaughter being a smaller force to even out their advantage.

Securing a Legacy meanwhile is something which seems to have been redone from Codex: Black Legion, with an endless torrent of Crimson Slaughter marines fighting an heavily fortified foe. One side brings back completely destroyed units from reserve, the other can take all the fortifications they want for no points cost. In any other situation I would probably be criticising the decision to re-use things, but this is the first time they've tried to do it with something which was anything but horrible. 

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Silence the Voices, which is a not very well thought out mission where the enemy is surrounded. Not much to be said there besides the fact it's a poor attempt to do a mission we've seen done far better elsewhere, especially when it comes to dividing up armies and thinking out how to balance sides.

Now, these would actually be fine on their own but the book yet again needs to push Cities of Death and its other works in Echoes of War missions. Even ignoring the fact these really have no place here and should have been used for rules, you soon realise all of them are either repeating bad habits or just recycling elements from the previous missions. 
Several involve endless waves of attackers coming on from reserve as soon as they die, another involves natural Warp events appearing and killing stuff in the middle of the table etc. Within mere pages of the last missions the authors are already recycling previous ideas! This is the sort of creative bankruptcy joked about Games Workshop or featured in parodied videos, not some new low for them to steep to!

Things only get worse from here as we bump into an entirely new variant of padding for the book! Already we have entire pages devoted to needless missions and rules for other games which should be included in books specifically devoted to them, not taking space away from army rules. We have pages upon pages devoted to single images of models people have seen in other armybooks. This already wastes a good third of the pages which should be devoted to beefing out and making the army fun to play. 

What else have they added atop all of this? A full glossary explaining things already in the rulebook!

Yes, you heard that correctly folks, we have multiple pages giving detailed explanations on how Large Blast Markers work, what the Daemon special rule means and how Veterans of the Long War improves units. Despite Codex: Crimson Slaughter specifically requiring you to own BOTH the Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook and Codex: Chaos Space Marines, it wastes time repeating things already explained in them! Someone needs to tell these people that glossaries were well received because they let players quickly look up stats, not things they should have learnt within their first few months of playing!

Okay, with that all done, what does small modicum of army rules does the book offer to people who actually want to use the Crimson Slaughter as a force? 

Upon opening the Warbands of the Crimson Slaughter section, that one bit which actually explores the army's unique nature, you're hit with a double whammy of surprises. One good, the other not so good.

The first is that every model in your army counts as having the Fear special rule, from Land Raiders to Cultists. While this might sound fairly basic, just consider the state of 40k at the moment: Codex: Eldar reigns supreme and Codex: Imperial Guard is right around the corner. While it might be useless against most space marine forces and the likes, this is going to give Chaos Space Marines a major edge against the two most buffed armies available at the moment.

The second is that Possessed count as Troops here, but they lack the Vessels of Chaos special rule. Instead they have a D3 Mutation table which works differently for every unit you have in your army, bestowing upon them a different trait:

1 - Spirit Beacons: The unit, and any vehicle they are embarked upon, gains the Shrouded special rule.
2 - Beast Forms: The unit's type changes from Infantry to Beasts.
3 - Incorporeal Bodies: The unit's invulnerable save is increased to 3+, and they gain the Rending special rule.

All that looks great, so what's the catch? This isn't rolled per game. It's rolled per turn. Every single turn you need to look up each of your Possessed units and roll off for each one, noting down and keeping track of them all as you go on. 
Along with being yet another needless random result table, it creates a reason for players not to want to use the book's second greatest strength. Either they ignore the ability to take Possessed as troops and lose out, or they do and they're lumbered with semi-unreliable units which create large amounts of downtime and lots to keep track of. Oh, and you just know whoever bought this book wants to use Possessed in as many Troops slots as you can. The book is once again shooting itself in the foot by creating problems for those people.

Speaking of random tables we have the Warlord Traits this time, which are the expected mishmash of elements. Actually, that's being unfair as for once the book actually keeps things relatively concise. Rather than the usual problem of having two different rules trying to cover a very different role of leader, all seem to have been written with the intent of your Warlord being a front line fighter. Someone who you either throw into combat or send charging to use their rule to influence combat in your favour.

Malestrom of Torment for example causes all enemy units within 12" of the Warlord to suffer -1 to Leadership tests. Better yet, also -2 to any Fear tests. 
Murderous Hate gives your Warlord Hatred (along with re-rolls in melee against Dark Angels). 
Maddening Rage gives him and his unit Rage and Furious Charge (with the requirement to move in and attack any enemy within 12"). 
Merciless Slaughter gives them the Crusader special rule. 
Pall of Mist gives them all the Shrouded special rule.
Finally, Spectral Assailants gives the Warlord D6 Strength 3 AP- hits at Initiative 10.

The only really useless one is the last choice on that list, worth it only for fodder, but the rest are relatively well focused. It's probably the best handled Warlord Traits list we've see in a supplement codex to date because it doesn't try to cover every possible use of an HQ choice. Sure, it might limit your options but at least you won't be stuck with a shooty guy relentlessly charging the enemy because he didn't get the trait you wanted.

The only other things of real note are that specialist troops (Khorne Bersekers, Plague Marines and Noise Marines) are the only ones who can take Veterans of the Long War, and that one group can be upgraded as Draznicht's Ravagers. For 10 points this effectively gives the unit Preferred Enemy Whoever-We're-Fighting.

Finally, we get onto the wargear. Like the Warlord traits, these seem to have actually been written with some focus and intention to have the army be melee orientated than the usual mistake seen. The few which aren't intended to help kill things are either designed to get into combat faster or last long enough to kill something.

Take for example the Daemonheart. With the note that it cannot be taken by a Daemon Prince, it offers the wielder a 2+ Armour Save and the special rule It Will Not Die. Pretty reasonable for 30 points, and it's not something which completely overpowers the unit. It provides some durability, but you still need to be careful who you throw this one against, making it suitable for taking down mobs without power weapons or high strength values.

Another is the Prophet of the Voices, not so much an item as a mutation which manifests through the user's armour. It forces the user to only join units of possessed, but offers them Daemon, Fearless and Fleet as special rules. Again for 30 points you could do much worse, and it allows you to make the best use of the codex's strengths with your HQ choice.
For those who don't want their leader stuck with Possessed, there's the slightly less useful but considerably cheaper Slaughterer's Horns. These bestow upon an HQ choice Furious Charge, Hammer of Wrath, and Rage as special rules at the cost of only 15 points. Not bad at all and definitely a wise option for any low points cost games.

The actual weapons themselves consist of the Crozius of the Dark Covenant and the Blades of the Relentless.

The former can only be taken by Dark Apostles in place of their power maul, but strike at +2 Strength AP 4 (because it seems to be mandatory there's always one weapon which offers this per codex) with the type rules Concussive and Warp-medium. What actually makes it worth taking is the fact it offers Zealot to any ally within 6" of the Apostle carrying the weapon. Again, not bad for 30 points though it could have been tweaked a little in terms of attributes.

The latter, the Blades of the Relentless manages to be even more broken than Codex: Iyanden's Soulshrive. Well, sort of. Where that weapon could slowly build up its stats by killing everything in the wielder's path until it was a Strength 10 weapon, this one is slightly more evenly handed. Starting at the user's strength and AP3, it doesn't count as a power weapon.  However, the first kill you make with it bumps up the strength by +1, the third improves the weapon to AP2, and the fifth improves it by +1 again. The user keeps all these attributes and on its own this would be fine. Unfortunately someone decided that, should the carrier get a tenth kill, they get Instant Death as an ability. 

So yes, with the right equipment you can throw however is holding this into a squad of Whiteshields or gretchin and he'll emerge the other side capable of slapping about anything in his path. It's a little too cheap for 30 points and seems as if it would benefit from some serious reworking.

The last one is the Balestar of Mannon which can be taken by a Sorcerer. It allows access to the Divination dicipline and gives the ability to re-roll failed Psychic tests. The unfortunate thing is that neither the carrier nor the unit he's with can benefit from any modifiers to Deny the Witch rolls, making the Sorcerer something of a glass cannon against enemy psykers. Not the worst balance though and it's okay at 25 points.

On the whole the supplement codex is actually a big step up from past editions, but that's only thanks to the extremely low bar which has been set. What you get really isn't that bad and some players will find use for the rules in here, but it's hard to justify the hefty price tag for a couple of pages of rules and some truly dire lore. If you truly want an army of Possessed and don't mind the busywork forced on you by the random tables, you might want to get this one but it's still very hard to recommend. 

Now, let's change things a little by judging it by the authors' intention.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Sunday, 23 March 2014

How To Fix Kaldor Draigo

We're taking a brief break from looking at Supplement Codex: Crimson Slaughter due to a lack of time. We've already covered the main bit most other websites usually skip over, and as per usual the army rules are something even a semi-focused individual could fart out in five minutes, but they do take time to analyse. As such, it seemed best to return to another problem which has been long overdue a look: Grey Knights Grand Master Kaldor Draigo. Or if you know anything about Warhammer 40,000 lore: Mary McSue M. Suington.

Widely considered to be an embarrassment to anyone who actually cares about the lore, Kaldor Draigo is viewed as one of the worst things Mat Ward ever created. With little to no character beyond a long string of victories. Easily beating down M'Kar (Ward's favourite punching bag) single handledly during his first battle, the character's entire background is simply a list of increasingly impossible events or displays of power. This eventually culminated in two instances: 

First taking down Mortarion and his body guard on unaided, slaying them all and then bench pressing the daemon primarch down to perform open heart graffiti. Bare in mind, primarchs are figures second only to the God-Emperor in power and have acts which make Heracles' tasks look almost tame, such as Leman Russ crawling out of a volcano as an infant unscathed. After being fired into the planet. This was thankfully corrected by Laurie Goulding, who performed an almost superhuman act of writing talent of turning this event into something besides and embarrassment. Not to mention turning the Grey Knights back towards their puritan roots with them balking at the idea of using heresy, and making Draigo a likable character. Wait, that's unfair, he actually managed to give Draigo a personality.

The second was being dragged into the Warp by M'Kar and trapped there seemingly exiled to fight the daemons there. His every effort to escape only results in him being drawn back and tries to play it up as some tragic event where has no hope of scoring a lasting victory.This is despite slaying several of Slaanesh's chosen daemons, stealing the axe of Khorne's favoured Bloodthirster only to then reforge and purity it through his mind into a sword (don't think about that too much, it will only hurt to do so), and destroying the realms of two of the Chaos Gods. Yes, they reformed afterwards but the Garden of Nurgle apparently took an extremely long time to do so, suggesting he had some impact.

It's this second one which is still the most problematic to the setting, but I think I might have a possible solution, First however, for those who don't understand what the problems here are, here's quick run down on the place he was banished to:

The Warp is the realm of daemons in Warhammer 40,000, a place completely alien to anything in the material realm. Used by ships as a form of hyperspace, it's a dimension directly connected to the one the races of the universe dwell in and is directly impacted by its events. Thoughts, concepts but, above all, emotions give it shape and form into entities within them. 

As you can imagine, it is a place completely unlike our own in every possible aspect. There is no "up" "down" solid formations or even landmarks. Places such as the Garden of Nurgle are mere concepts which the religions around the gods have dreamed up, versions of their domains which have been numbed down or thought up in ways mortals can actually comprehend. The few brief glimpses we have been given through a daemon's perspective have been indescribable swirling masses of teeming daemons in forms of pure concept and energy. Each moving through some massive sea of pure information and light, sparking with emotion.

Whenever a daemon crosses over from the Immaterium, they are weaker and require a tentative connection to the Warp because of their nature as energy beings. Severing that or improving the barriers between worlds causes them to become banished. As they often become weaker over time without weakening barriers, because the material world is anathema to them as theirs is to us, many often possess the bodies of mortals.

You're probably beginning to see the problems. 

TL:DR version: Imagine R'Lyeh if it was submerged in burning napalm, then filled with countless sharks and krakens formed out of sheer hatred. If you can think that up, you're still a thousand miles off but you're on the right track.

Ward wrote Driago walking around in this place, without any problems, killing daemons as they lined up to fight him. The Warp as it is written is effectively described as a physical realm with a handful of minor differences and a slightly different landscape, with landmarks and locations Draigo can find easily. That's just the minor problems though, the fact he's not instantly dead upon entry is a much bigger one.

In Soul Drinker, the Ciaphas Cain books or countless other works, being physically flung into the Warp utterly obliterates a being on a mental and physical level. Cain himself was forced to use a teleporter and the split-second transition came closer to killing him than anything else in his career. For no apparent reason, this doesn't happen to Draigo, nor does it drive him completely insane from its sheer impossibility. Previously the only ways to survive were by having a daemonic influence directly protect them, various ritualistic wards which are specifically used in a Chaos portal, or a Gellar field to create an isolated bubble in the Immaterium. Draigo has none of these and is doing just fine without them.

Worse still, depictions seem to suggest the place is rather absent of daemons. Rather than fighting countless trillions of them with no way to combat them, they apparently rush him one at a time and in forms he can somehow understand.

Long story short - Draigo has been put in a realm which could instantly kill him, and the lore only works if you completely and utterly ignore all basic established facts about that realm to begin with. If even one is accounted for, Dragio should immediately be dead.
Every single issue relates to the Warp itself more than Draigo being in enemy territory or a daemon influenced realm. 

As such the obvious solution seems to be to have Draigo only think he is in the Warp but be somewhere similar. Namely the eldar Webway.

We know from lore that the Webway is patrolled and defended by various factions with eldar settlements even existing in its tunnels. That said, sections have been sealed off after having been overrun by Chaos or broken away somehow. Imagine if M'Kar held dominion over one of these fragments and he intentionally drew Draigo into it, not to kill him but instead to break the Grey Knight.

This would make sense as daemon princes are noted to frequently be the guiding influence over daemon worlds. Having one choose an area of the Webway would play to their hatred of that race and a desire to corrupt anything not under their control. Because of its corrupted state, it would allow for the presence of swarms of daemons to appear as is described fighting Draigo, yet it would remain alien enough for him not to recognise it. Better yet, as it was intended for mortal races to use and travel through, unlike the Warp it would be viable for him to actually be trapped there in the same manner as the original lore was trying to depict.

With no way out Draigo could comprehend and the place suffering from the same time displacement effects as in the Eye of Terra, M'Kar could trap Draigo in there for as long as he pleased. Forcing the Grey Knight to keep fighting until his strength of will was slowly eroded, set up in faux situations which seemed to depict him accomplishing great deeds only for them to have no impact. It would be enough to slowly strip the warrior of his will and sanity, a far better fate for someone M'Kar held such enmity towards than mere death.

Furthermore, the Webway itself was used as a method of travel to various gates, worlds and places the eldar had visited in the past. Even assuming that there were no stable Warp portals, the corrupted Webway gates and such could be used to periodically fling him out into the universe. Occasionally giving Draigo these fleeing hopes of escape, even seeing his battle brothers again, only to be slammed shut as the forces under M'Kar's command draw him back in.

This would keep the horribly mishandled attempts at tragedy the original story was aiming for but would sidestep some of the biggest issues. While it does not imprison Draigo in a more fitting place such as the Ghoul Stars or a daemon world within the Eye of Terror, it's the one with the most opportunities available. One with even less hope for escape with no chance of outsiders ever penetrating its boundaries or even finding release with M'Kar having now been obliterated. Plus it would add the additional horror of the warrior being tormented until he was corrupted.

This is just a personal opinion however, but given other attempts to solve this have ranged from "Draigo is secretly a daemon and doesn't realise it" to "The secret organisation no one knows about has built this up as propaganda for the downtrodden citizens" this seems like the best option.

Still, if anyone has any alternatives of their own please leave them in the comments. It would be interesting to see if anyone else has come up with any ideas to salvage this addition to the lore.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Shape of the Hunt (Audio Drama Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

If you have been listening to Black Library audio dramas for long enough, you'll know they ultimately fall into two categories: Brief introspective pieces on characters and certain events, or full bore bolter porn the likes books rarely see. Corax physically punching a Predator tank into submission for example. While The Shape of the Hunt certainly has its fair share of combat, it breaks away from this tradition, using the characters involved to instead give a surprisingly in-depth look at the White Scars chapter for an audio drama. 

Set in the aftermath of the Imperium's push to drive Commander Shadowsun's forces back into their domain, a Brotherhood of the Khan's sons race across the planet. Fighting their way through stragglers, ambushes and retreating enemy forces, Suljuq Khan and Stormseer Checheg have their sights set on one target: Shadowsun herself. Their task - to intercept the kill the tau commander before she can escape.

Five Real-Life Bond Villains

I'm currently working with What's Up, What's On magazine covering a few major articles and releases for the next month or so. So if you want to see more, please follow the links.

Easily the most ancient figure on this list, Emperor Nero’s many acts are infamous throughout history. While performing a lyre recital as Rome burned is considered to have been only rumour, and even funded a relief effort out of his own pocket, the Emperor was very quick to scapegoat others.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Heads Above The Crowdfunding - March

I'm currently working with What's Up, What's On magazine covering a few major articles and releases for the next month or so. So if you want to see more, please follow the links.

Heads Above The Crowdfunding returns once more! Looking through the likes of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, WUWO Magazine finds the most interesting projects for this month.

Eisenhorn The Video Game - Thoughts and Warning Signs

Well, here's something no one ever thought would happen.

Someone is adaptation Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn trilogy to video game format. Reactions have been skeptical at best and extremely pessimistic at worst, mostly the latter, and there is good reason for this.

Often considered to be one of, if not the, greatest series set in any Warhammer universe, it has a solid plot and great characters. Following the story of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, the trilogy depicted his initial successes and later downfall. Becoming far less of the puritan warrior he had begun as and descending into a staunch radicalist who freely used daemonic servants to do his bidding.

Now, the video game industry has seen a good deal of highly acclaimed literature adaptations of late. The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and similar episodic games are all extremely well known. The reasons we might be concerned is that the big successes, those previously mentioned, have all come from Telltale Games. They have constantly followed the same style of gameplay, stuck to the same genres, and most importantly stuck to to comics to adapt. These had visuals to work from, a type of story which could be easily turned into a video game because of that. 
Eisenhorn is a novel, its worlds formed out of words and stylistic descriptions, but there's even bigger problems beyond this. Unlike either of the examples above, the world was presented in first person. You saw everything through the protagonist's eyes and knew his exact thoughts. 

This cannot be translated into a video game no matter how skilled the team behind it.

We could also talk about how the choices would impact upon the game or the problems there, but this isn't the case here. No, what we have isn't a graphic adventure title like the successes above. What we have here is an action adventure game being developed for mobile by a studio with little to no experience.

Oh God-Emperor help us.

The reason to start running screaming for the hills is due to a number of things. Firstly, following THQ's bankruptcy, Games Workshop has begun doing what they did best: Whoring out the licence to whoever could produce them a quick buck with the lowest quality. That may sound harsh, but bare in mind the last developer who brought us a Warhammer game was the same one who spawned Ride to Hell: Retribution. What they created is as bad and cheap as you'd expect.

The others have done very little to engender much faith and the same goes here. Many have yet to create any game of note or, in many cases, an actual retail game with any critical acclaim. The closest we have gotten is Cyanide Studios who, much as we may love them, do not have the best of track records when it comes to quality assurance.

Unfortunately the developers behind this adaptation are no better. Pixel Hero Games is barely known, have done little to truly prove themselves and, to date, have only produced one game. Actually no, they've only produced one episode of a game - Spiral Episode 1. One which was released for free on mobile. While the developers themselves state it was highly acclaimed, and indeed Metacritic showed some positive feedback, it was also barely played by anyone. Few to no truly big name websites like Giant Bomb, Eurogamer or anyone else covered this so it's a little hard to truly gauge how effective the title was.

Even accepting the idea that they could get this right there are a large number of problems.

Foremost among these are the limitations of the platform, as mobile games are hardly seen as the highest calibre of gaming. They are often very limited, short and suffer from a multitude of flaws such as lack of controls or poor responses. In fairness though, what was seen in their gameplay trailer looked pretty damn good, so this is only a minor concern.

What isn't such a minor issue is that their upcomming game is not promoted as Xenos Episode 1, instead it's simply Xenos. The book covered several years of Eisenhorn's life and several major plot threads, all of which look like they would be condensed to hell and back. Admittedly this could be for a much larger game than their last installment, but Xenos is apparently going to see release sometime next year. This is nowhere near the development time needed for a game of such massive scale.

The other problem is budget and tone. The book features massive conflicts with armies as much as it does investigative work, and multiple action scenes which make the finale from Avengers look like a playground scuffle. It also has an extremely dark tone, to the point where Eisenhorn is forced to leave a woman suffocating and freezing to death in order to capture a murderer, something which would give him nightmares for the rest of his life. Bare this in mind as you see this other trailer for Spiral.

Oh dear. It just screams "Abandon all hope ye fans of Abnett!" doesn't it.

These would all be bad enough were this just a common or garden Warhammer novel being adapted like Blood Gorgons or Wrath of Iron, but the Citizen Kane of 40K? Pixel Hero Games will need to hit the million dollar mark to satisfy fans and all of this points towards disappointment. What's here isn't quite enough reason to completely abandon all hope, but things certainly look grim at the moment. There are countless things which could all too easily go wrong here and, with so much at risk, it's honestly hard to see anything which can do the source material justice being produced.

Expect more on this as news develops.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Star Wars: Honour Among Thieves (Book Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

Set during the Rebellion era, Honour Among Thieves is very much a back to basics story. Taking place between films while the initial war against the Empire was in full swing and Coruscant had yet to even be retaken, it examines the place of Han Solo during this time. Ever so much the rogue, he is tasked with the sort of mission an expert smuggler knows only too well – Find someone in the middle of dangerous territory, ensure no one finds them, and bring them back alive. Things unfortunately go awry very quickly when the person, expert rebel spy Scarlet Hark, cannot return. What she has uncovered is far too dangerous and valuable to merely ignore…

As you might have guessed from the cover, Solo himself is firmly the focus of the novel. Much more like the smuggler we saw in A New Hope than the commander of later films, a large chunk of the book is spent exploring the character’s initial thoughts at that time. His pessimism, attitude towards others and even lack of faith in either side. Most notable among these is the fact that, while he understands the Empire needs to be toppled, he believes that any effort by the Rebellion to take power will ultimately corrupt it into something just as bad. As far as he is concerned, he is looking for something much less complicated in life and does not see it as being his fight. At the story’s beginning, all he really wants is to remove the price on his head.