Monday, 19 June 2017

Blood Angels 3rd Company (ish)

Greetings Bunker Dwellers! Unless you have been living under a rock, blindfolded, with noise cancelling headphones and singing an old timey sea shanty, you will have noticed that a new edition of Warhammer 40,000 is upon us! With it has come something of an upswing in enthusiasm for the bolter-flavoured version of Warhammer among our little band. You see, the previous edition of 40k, (while I am sure was fine for many, if not most) had for one reason or another all but killed 40k as a game among us Beard Bunker-ers, it just wasn't an enjoyable experience for us. The more we heard about the new version, the more excited we became and now... it's here!

Knowing that I was going to be looking back at some older projects with a view to sprucing them up and getting them all new-40k-ified, it suddenly struck me that some of them are of sufficient vintage that I haven't really shown them here practically at all. As a result I have resolved to reintroduce some older-but-still-good armies, talk about where I'm going with them and what had gone before. We start with my favourites, my Blood Angels:


That right there is the best part of the entire Blood Angels 3rd Company. They're missing a few folks here and there (we'll get to that later) but the vast majority is right there. I'd decided from the off that this was going to be very much a tactical company, despite the Blood Angels somewhat creative reading of how the Codex Astartes works. Unusually for me, the army is led by a special character straight out of the rulebook: Captain Erasmus Tycho. There's a reason for this, and to find out what it is we kinda have to do that thing where someone plays harp scales and the screen goes wobbly.

My well loved copy of White Dwarf 139, a little foxed, bordering on badgered...

The year is 1991 and a twelve year old Jeff has just picked up White Dwarf 139 from WHSmiths. Although most of the issue is all about Space Fleet - the precursor to the excellent Battlefleet Gothic - there is an article by Andy Chambers and Tim Prow all about this new studio Blood Angels army that they've made. They go through inventing unit markings, deciding colour schemes to denote sergeants and the different tactical roles... and they roll up (yep, in Rogue Trader you randomly generated characters) a character using the existing "Blood Angels Captain" model. They called him Tycho and that random roll was where his combi-weapon, digital lasers and all the rest came from. I was hooked. No-one had shown me how armies were made before, I thought you just got all your dudes and a lego technic guy standing in for a giant and had a fight.


In later years we saw Tycho's story grow, all through the pages of White Dwarf, he was killed in a fight with a Ork Weirdboy but they decided that he survived and got disfigured. Sure enough when a proper model was made of him, there he was. We saw when he finally fell to the Black Rage in the defence of Armageddon. We watched a whole mini-series about this one dude and his army. It left something of an impression on me. Of course, being a callow, fickle youth, Space Wolves appeared and in 3rd edition I collected them instead, an army of 15 space marines and every special character in the range of course... But the Blood Angels never really left me, there was something about the tragedy of their situation, the nobility of Sanguinius and his fall. I liked that they were flawed, that they weren't goody-goody. Finally, about seven years ago. There was a new release with all new awesome plastic bits and I saw the sign. It was finally time to collect 12 year old Jeff's army.


I made a slightly crazy decision with this army. I chose a slightly simplified version of the colour scheme that Anja Wettergren had detailed in an 'Eavy Metal Masterclass article (this really is The Army That White Dwarf Built if you hadn't picked up on the theme!). This led to some hellish long batches being painted, the red alone is like 8 stages. But the finished results were that dark, dangerous looking red that the Space Hulk terminators have rather than the nineties dayglo orange. Very nice indeedy. The picture above is of the tactical marines of the 3rd company. If you check out the kneepads, they're all properly assigned to squads, very old school. I decided to have the Veterans of the army being the first Assault squad and first Tactical squad of the army. The Tactical Veterans were of course Sternguard. The Assault Veterans....


Of course became Vanguard Veterans. Joining them are the other fifteen Assault Marines forming what I tend to think of as the Ca-Caw Corps of the army. Almost two dozen lunatics dropping from high altitude transports onto you can really spoil your day and the Blood Angels excelled at it. We'll have to see how they fare in the new rules but the old playing experience of my army felt like this: deploy a bit of a defensive force to provide fire support, then as of turn two begin raining down nutcases from orbit to mix it up close and nasty. When those are your tactics, you really need some heavy friends who can help out. Good job I brought some:


A pair of Dreadnoughts and their attendant orbital taxis fit the bill nicely. In the picture there is also the fourth tactical squad's drop pod, they're the ones with all the melta weaponry so makes sense to drop them where they can do some hurt. Supported by at least one of the two dreadnoughts (the old way that drop pods worked) they were an unpleasantly adjacent problem for most commanders facing this army. I should mention, while I am going to talk about expanding this army later, very few things on this earth would convince me to paint another drop pod without having a long hard word with myself first. They are the most hateful things to paint.


All that close in stuff needs some boom to back it up and so here we have the big guns of the army. The Devastators, the Terminators (with the lovely, lovely Forgeworld pads) and the Land Speeder fire support. You may notice the helmets on the Land Speeders, Devastator rather than assault. This is part of my Blood Angel head-canon, there is no reason to consider a Land Speeder an assault unit except for it's speed. Given that the entire Blood Angels army is built around going fast anyway, this is not a unique feature. I see them as highly mobile heavy weapon support. I.e., as Blood Angel Devastators. Plus the blue helmets look really cool and I had loads of yellow ones in the army already.


Speaking of going fast, those tactical units up there need their taxis. No Blood Angel worth their salt is going to walk when they could be being hurtled there in a turbo-charged APC. The four razorbacks up there belong to the first three tactical squads and the command squad (later) and are ably supported by the Baal Predator. I've got a few variant turrets for the Razorbacks so I can swop out the assault cannons for more lascannons if I'm up against heavy stuff and a heavy bolter turret if I'm feeling cheap. I'd always planned to fabricate some round hatches with some sort of remote firing storm bolter to fit in the sockets for the razorback weapons and turn them into rhinos for if I needed the whole squad moving. Then the 40k malaise hit and the project was abandoned... time to go for it I think!


We've run out of the "normal" Blood Angels now and are into the nutcases. This merry band were originally intended to be deployed by Stormraven so there's another dreadnought and the assault marines to bail out and slaughter things. They're led by either Chaplain Lemartes or "Just Some Chaplain in a Jump Pack" depending on how I'm feeling. What's that? Over there on the left? Why yes, that is a second Tycho (I've got issues) this time in his "fallen" mode. I painted him to look greyer, older than his younger self (coming up next) and always intended to paint up a squad of non-jump-pack-Death Company to keep him company. They're upstairs, assembled, they just need paint. So expect to see them soon-ish too.


For his younger self I went a bit off piste for Blood Angels, most people paint the characters in blingy gold armour. But it's the one bit of Blood Angel design I wasn't keen on. I thought that just having his heraldry and artificer armour but in red would be a nice look. I think I'm right, what do you folks think? You'll notice that the torsos of his command squad are those blingtastic roman style ones off've the Sanguinary Guard. Their fancy jump packs went to the Vanguard Veterans, in fact, the whole army is basically comprised of normal tactical and assault marines with the occasional bits from the death company box and the Sanguinary Guard power weapons on the Sergeants. Really helped theme it. Of course, these days there are upgrade sprues and all sorts.


Backing up the captain are a couple of Sanguinary Priests - both conversions - and the Third Company's Chaplain. I'm pretty sure that the terminator armoured one uses bits from the Grey Knights. This army took so long to complete that they'd been released by that point! In practice I tend to think of the third company as having just one Sanguinary Priest who has a suit of terminator armour on standby if he needs it. I do the same with the Chaplain. I don't have both the jump pack one and the one on foot in the same army. When, inevitably I do a Terminator Chaplain it'll just be another outfit for him. Like a terrifying, dogmatic, murderous Barbie.


Finally we have these three, my Techmarine, my converted Librarian, and the new Captain of the Third: Machiavi. You see, when Tycho died, Machiavi succeeded him and the third company became known as the Ironhelms. There's no more lore than that so I invented some. I imagined Tycho's grief stricken First Sergeant, seeing him slipping into the pit of the Black Rage and having to take command. With no time to do any fancy painting he simply stripped the paint from his helmet to help quick battlefield recognition and went to work. He's refused to change it ever since and so the bare metal skin sealing the ceramite innards remains just bare metal. An Ironhelm. Or something, it's the nice thing about vague details in codexes. There's room for your own headcanon to take root. Speaking of which, I really must name everyone, in the intervening years I've gotten much more strict on every unit and character having individual personalities. Must retrofit some to the old army as I renovate it.


So here we are, full circle. I've hopefully done what that old White Dwarf did. I've explained my army, my reasons for making certain decisions. My motivations in collecting in the first place, my own little bits of lore (which I'm starting to like as an alternative name for what I was calling fluff). Going forward, I've got plans. Sadly they have to be somewhat small plans as the paints that gave this army it's exact colour have long since gone. I'll have to do best matching to do any more. But I really want to get at least a few things done:

  1. I've got a second half for the Sternguard to bring that up to full 10 man strength. Need to paint them. 
  2. There's a full ten man bike squad (well, eight and an attack bike) that I'm going to use to represent the sixth tactical squad. Again, headcanon, Blood Angels are fast moving, what's a bike except a faster tactical marine with an extra boltgun... can we all have one?
  3. Scouts! There's no replacements for the casualties my underwhelming generalship will bring. 
  4. I've got a box full of marine tanks (Land Raiders, Whirlwinds etc.) all primed red. Then left. So they need painting too.
  5. Ultimately, I'd like to add the fifth tactical squad and a second devastator squad. I'd like the whole company as I'm so close to it anyway. 
As you can see, the minute I get the keen to paint some more marines there are projects just waiting for me to get the brush on to it.

What do you think of them? Got any fond memories of ol' 139? Or a story of your own inspiration from elderly sources? A passion project from your younger self? Let me know in the comments. Would love to hear your stories.

Until next time gentle Dwellers

TTFN

Monday, 12 June 2017

Preparing Narrative Games

There are some skills that can never be perfected, only improved. Among these is the skill of running a narrative game. Ive been at it for decades now, probably since before I could spell the word narrative (nailed it last Tuesday) and certainly before I learned denouement (which I learned by googling it just now; totally thought I could spell it, but auto-correct showed me otherwise).

To cut the Ballistic Skill: I make no claim to being a master. With that out of the way

Last October I finished a long-running Battlefleet Gothic campaign, and two Beard Bunker readers (MajorTheRed and Malcus the Defiler) asked to know more about how I prepared it. Hopefully by answering that question, this post will prove useful reading for budding GMs curious about running their own narrative campaigns, as opposed to the matched play that so often dominates wargaming.


Urr nurr! Spehs urks! Is rusty trubbles.

Thing number one: whats the conflict?
All stories need conflict. Even in a story like The Martian which doesnt even have an antagonist Matt Damons character is in conflict with his environment. By conflict I'm not referring specifically to violence, but that the protagonist wants something and finds hurdles in the way. The story ends when the protagonists goal is either achieved or denied with enough finality to provide closure.

The main conflict in the BFG campaign was pretty basic: an Imperial colony was under attack by a large ork fleet, and Jon and Maiseys characters would encounter said fleet with only a reconnaissance flotilla and no chance of reinforcements. Whatever happened next was up to the two of them.


Is not enough spehs sheeps to fight urks' spehs sheeps.
Much narrative tension. Such wow.

For added spice, I added a second conflict. Increasingly Im coming to the conclusion that an essential ingredient in a good narrative is a conflict that cant (or at least shouldnt) be resolved with violence. Armed conflict against orks offers no moral or social complexity, but it does offer strategic challenge. For the social complexity, I decided that Commander Gereon Priscus, the executive officer on Jons ship, was an embittered man who felt he should be captain instead. He would therefore seek to undermine Jons authority without technically breaking any rules. Jon would have to win him over, or limit the spread of his influence by keeping the rest of his senior officers on-side.

Since one can never predict what players will do, I dont bother to plan what happens next. I simply set up a conflict, and let the players resolve it. Protagonists are meant to shape the story, and they cant do that if Ive already written it!

What is the pace?
Once you know what the conflict is, you need to have a think about how long the story should last. The length is, you guessed it, directly proportionate to the complexity/size of the conflict.

Anticipating story length can be difficult, particularly given that everything seems to take twice as long as it should (that might just be me, to be fair) but expectation needs to line up somewhat with reality. If your players are expecting an epic and you give them a short story, it feels underwhelming. If they're expecting something quick and punchy, they'll run out of steam with a meandering odyssey.

Either way, deciding length at the start forces you to decide when to hurry the players up and when to give them space. Should it be a single evening? Six evenings? Maybe one full day would be sufficient, or maybe it'll take twenty sessions. Whatever it is, the players should know before they even agree to participate.

With the Xephone campaign, I knew it would be a relatively slow story. There was an extensive cast of NPCs to meet and form relationships with, and a challenging objective that would take time to complete, so we agreed to play weekly sessions, with the expectation that it would take months to complete.


What do the players enjoy?
Obviously it's essential for a GM to write something they're excited to run, and it's just as important to be mindful of the players' preferences. If those don't line up, then don't invite everyone, or write something else. I knew that Alex (my other half) would love all the interplay between the landed-gentry-in-space that made up the fleet's senior staff, but she would also have been bored to tears by the space battles. Conversely Jon would be all over it like sexy lycra on Super Manatee, and Maisey always did love an opportunity to stare forlornly at impossible odds.

What is the tone?
Is it campy? Gritty? Derpy? Moooody? With the Xephone campaign I aimed for somewhere between Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett, with sarcy space butlers and toff-tastic naval officers enjoying five-course dinners while a string quartet scraped out Dvořák's finest offerings.

Create the world
Now you know what you're aiming for, the work begins. This is where I tend to get over-excited. Since 40K is a well-established setting, much of the work was already done for me, but there was still plenty to do. Firstly, since the whole story would be set in one star system, it seemed appropriate to have a map of said system.



Next, I knew it would be useful to know where stuff was on the planet's surface, and what Xephone Prime was like. To that end, I sat down and thought through both the climate and the culture, then I added all that information to the Beard Bunker's setting wiki, since it was all information that would have been freely available in the Imperial archives. I have to say, using a wiki to keep track of story world information has made it much, much easier for a group of people to collaborate on a setting. Wiki wiki wa-wa win.




Similarly, I thought through how the orks had attacked and how the invasion had gone thus far so that I could be consistent in what I told the players. This was also a stage where I had to come up with a lot of place names, because coming up with a place name on the fly is almost physically painful.


Prepare the NPCs
With the setting sorted, I began figuring out the NPCs. The Xephone campaign had an unusually big cast, because I felt it important to nail the sci-fi trope of getting to know the bridge crew. The added challenge was that we didn't just need the bridge crew of Jon's ship, we needed them for Maisey's ship, and we needed the captains of the flotilla's escort ships, and for any of these people to have a name, they also needed to have at least some semblance of distinctiveness.

I also wanted to flesh out life on board these giant flying towns, so went into... enthusiastic detail about the capital ships' innards.


  • The Intemperance, a dictator-class carrier, was the flotilla's flagship. Read about her and her crew here.
  • The San Celestine, a dauntless-class light cruiser, was the flotilla's only ship of the line, which made ork kroozers a touch intimidating. Maisey did an amazing job of using the San Celestine's manoeuvrability to stay out of harm's way. Except that one time when he failed, and then got lucky when a kill kroozer unloaded all its guns right up the San Celestine's chuff and whiffed its rolls like a complete space potato. You can read all about the San Celestine and her crew here.

TL;DR: plan your world in excitable detail, but don't plan your story.


The San Celestine

Okay now I've rambled on for longer than I'd like, so I shall sign off with a promise to, at some point, tell the tale of the campaign. With the new BFG campaign having started last week, there may also be some narrative treats in stall for y'all via Jon, but I make no promises on his behalf.

If there are things you feel I should have covered but didn't, do let me know! There might also be things you feel I've not covered in enough detail, despite the meaty length of this post. I'm happy to elaborate on demand.

~Charlie


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Scarab Occult & Tzaangors


It can't have escaped anyone's attention by now that the new edition of 40k is nigh. This is rather exciting news and the steady drip of information coming out each day is only causing further excitement. So in order to avoid the hobby equivalent of blue balls we have all found ourselves getting stuck into some painting to satisfy that particular itch.

I've got stuck into more of the Thousands Sons models. The Scarab Occult Terminators are now done, in the same method as the Rubric Marines


                                          



The other main troops unit was a blob of Tzaangors, which are Tzeentch tainted beastmen. These are painted a little bit different to the Thousand Son legionnaires. The metal work is intended to look much newer, but keeping the same red touches to tie them in. 




So with these I've nearly finished all the Thousand Sons stuff that I own. I have been lusting over the new Forgeworld Dreadnought thing that I want to include at some point. I also do want to get into some serious conversion territory and Tzeentch up a tank or two to match the armour style of the Marines. This will be a bit of a challenge as I've never really done any sculpting and all my conversion have been kit-bash type of things. So it'll be new ground for me, but it would be very much worth it as the current selection of Chaos tanks are woefully lacking.