Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Battle For the Monolith

It is the Space Year 1987. Long before his adventures in the wilder regions of space, Fateweaver Duu'ey of the Ad Hoc Craftworld, fresh out of Farseer Academy, is sent on his first mission: to investigate a strange monolith on the jungle planet Brytonn IV. An easy job, the space elf wizard thinks, until he detects an alien psychic presence on the planet...

We're playing Rogue Trader! The first proper edition of Warhammer 40,000! Neither Stuart or I have played it before! What could go wrong?!

Rogue Trader is a chaotic -- small c -- mess so at least three Eldar army lists and three different Genestealer Cult lists were published during its lifespan. I picked my Eldar from the list in White Dwarf #127 while Stuart's cult was from the Tyranids-but-not-really list in WD #145, so we're not quite authentic to 1987, but close enough.

The book does have quite an extensive section on generating scenarios but we decided to use one from Sci-fi Skirmish Scenarios by John Lambshead; after five to seven turns, whichever side was in control of the monolith -- not that one -- in the centre of the table would win. Nice and simple.

I was worried from the off as I got out my 13 miniatures and Stuart just. Kept. Deploying. Troops. We both had 1000 point armies but I was hugely outnumbered and we hadn't even started!

I expected a cagey, tentative start as no one would want to go for the central objective, and so it proved. The two forces inched -- ha ha -- forward but no one put their heads out. The Avatar, the bloody-handed god of war, must have been fuming at all this weak posturing.

Stuart sent some Genestealers around to his right and I, being well familiar with how deadly Genies are in second edition -- the best edition! -- sent the Howling Banshees and the dreadnought over to stop them. I was concerned that sending the dread over too was a bit overkill, but as it turned out the Banshees, despite being close combat specialists, had a very difficult time dealing with their opponents and it took the big war machine to break the deadlock.

The first major turning point came when the Genestealer Magus used his space magic to switch the allegiance of my Guardians overlooking the central square. Suddenly Fateweaver Duu'ey found himself surrounded by hostile enemies!

I had sent the Avatar on a speculative foray over to my right to perhaps assassinate the Magus but with Duu'ey surrounded and with more Genestealers on the way, I brought the war god back and charged the Guardians. While the Genestealers were immune to fear, the Guardians weren't, and they broke and fled, giving Duu'ey a chance to get to safety.

At the rough halfway point I had two units tied up with one enemy unit over on my left, and the Guardians gone over to the other side, so only the Avatar and Fateweaver Duu'ey were available to contest the objective. With the entire Genestealer army in front of them. Oh dear.

I decided to switch tactics and take advantage of the erratic jumble of rulesets that make up Rogue Trader. Eldar have a bespoke magic system that is nothing like that used by everyone else, so I used Duu'ey's Mind War power against the Patriarch. It cost me nothing to cast, so at best I could take control of the cult leader, and at worst I would chip away at the monster's power points, until it could no longer resist. All I needed was time.

The scenario has a variable length, between five and seven turns. The Genestealer Cult had the advantage in numbers and position, but if I could turn the Patriarch I could cause some trouble in the middle.

On this day, fate smiled on the Fateweaver.

The Patriarch turned, then literally turned, and charged into the back of his own cultists. This was a win-win for me; either Big Daddy would die, or his cultists would die, but either way that was two units tied up unable to claim the objective. I was still outnumbered, but there was a chance.

The Genestealers in the middle had been engaged in an inconclusive mêlée with the Avatar but withdrew -- Attack of Opportunity! -- to fall back and claim the monolith. Meanwhile the "combat specialist" Banshees finished off the Genestealers on my left with the help of the dreadnought, and moved into the middle. The dreadnought used its JUMP PACK -- because dreadnoughts in RT have jump packs, because this game is ridiculous -- to get there quicker.

At last, Duu'ey broke down the Magus' psychic defences and took control of the opposing space wizard. We ruled that although the Patriarch and Magus were not dead, the Eldar mind control meant that the psychic link between the leaders and the rest of the cult was severed, and so the cult turned feral. The Genestealers in the middle were confused and could not contest the Monolith, and everyone else was either engaged with the Patriarch or was stumbling around in a daze, so the only "Genestealer" forces that were in contact with the Monolith at game end were... two alignment-switched Eldar Guardians.

So the game ended as a draw by the scenario rules, but Stuart did also have a single confused Genestealer in contact with the monolith, so there's an argument that he may have had a slight edge, or maybe not, because the Genestealer was confused and not really in control of anything. I don't know. You decide!

We had a lot of fun playing the original 1987 Rogue Trader. We were expecting it to be baroque and difficult but there is enough shared DNA with later versions of 40K that it was familiar to us and it played quite well. There is a lot of randomness but for the most part it added to the fun; Stuart's Magus and Patriarch had some funky space magic, some useful, some not -- you can teleport a mile! -- and my Avatar and Farseer had random statistics, which resulted in a god of war that was more or less invulnerable but also comically unable to hit anything.

The rules are weirdly granular at some points but handwavery and vague in others. You have to take into account encumbrance, and miniatures can't turn during their move without giving up distance in half-inch increments, but there's nothing in the book about climbing or falling off buildings, not even in the detailed section on... combat in buildings. The game is designed to be run by a referee and I imagine a lot of the edge cases would be ruled on the spot by them, but it's odd looking back from the future, where this sort of thing is covered in the rules. There's a definite loose OSR type feel to the game.

So yes, good fun! It's basically a skirmish wargame and there are more recent skirmish wargames that I prefer overall, but it's clear why this game took over the world.

Arbitrary numeric score: 1987 out of 40,000.

Next up in the 40K Project: 1993's second edition, the best edition!

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Last Straw

As I may have mentioned before, Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite computer games ever. When the team behind that announced a follow-up, The Last Guardian, in which the giant-thing-on-which-you-can-climb is a friend rather than a foe -- although the Colossi aren't enemies as such, but that's a bit of a spoiler -- I knew I had to have it.

I waited, and then it was announced it would not be coming out on PlayStation 2, but rather the upcoming PlayStation 3.

I bought a PS3 for the sole purpose of playing TLG. I waited.

It was delayed so long that the PS3 release was cancelled and it would instead be released on PS4. In the mean time I had found other games to play, so purchasing a PS3 wasn't a total waste.

I was lucky enough to win a PS4 in a competition, and so I waited.

The game was released! I got it! I... got busy and distracted and didn't play it.

I got a PS5. Just last week a gap appeared in my life and I, at long last, booted up The Last Guardian.

I didn't like it much.

Oh dear.

It's not bad. It's fine. It looks amazing, most of the time, the music is beautiful, and the central gameplay idea is very clever; your big furry buddy Trico does feel like a real creature and the way you interact with it in order to progress through the game is for the most part well-implemented. I also have to give the designers considerable credit for basing a game around collaboration rather than combat; it reminds me of the sort of quasi-puzzle games you'd get in the Amiga days, and in fact I'm sure there was a game of that era which had a similar pet-and-puzzles premise, but I am old and fuzzy now and I don't remember.


The controls are borderline terrible. There's an attempt to go minimalist and simple, and the controls are context sensitive to an extent, but recognition of the context is a bit wonky, so you may be trying to walk along a platform but instead find yourself bouncing off a wall. The camera automatically rotates to point at Trico, which is a lovely touch except if you're trying to line up a precise jump. Basic movement seems to go from a single tentative step to a flat out sprint, with nothing in between, which again is not much good when you're hopping about hundreds of metres from the ground. Trico doesn't always do what you want it to do, which is fine because it's part of the central concept of working with a wild beast, but you'd expect your actual playing piece to respond to the buttons you're pushing, given that precise movement is such a big part of the gameplay.

The game also has a habit of taking control away to show off the more dramatic jumps, which I suppose on the plus side means you're not wrestling with the controls. In fairness these cut scenes are impressive, but would probably have been more fun if I'd been allowed to be involved.

I finished the game but I didn't complete it -- there are secrets to unlock -- and long before the end I knew I would probably never play it again. It would make a wonderful animated film but as a game it's a huge disappointment. I wonder if I just waited too long. Maybe it could never live up to my expectations.

Arbitrary score: PS3 out of PS5

Here you go, you can watch the beautiful production and my less beautiful struggles with the wonky gameplay:

Monday, May 20, 2024

Golf Bag Syndrome III

Here's a piece for an upcoming issue of Fight On!; the magazine that refused to die.

I'm very rusty, but it's been fun to draw again.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Yoo Hoo New Who

The BBC released the first two episodes of the new series of Doctor Who on Saturday and I very much enjoyed both, although I'm not blind to their faults. It's a bold and confident new start and the series seems to have regained some of its wild energy.

Ncuti Gatwa is great, but then all the best Doctors are Scottish. I'm much less convinced by Millie Gibson's Ruby, but it's clear that she's carrying the big mystery of this series, so let's see where the character goes.

Here are some disorganised thoughts. Not quite reviews, not quite analysis, and I don't know if I'll do more, but I'm enthused enough about the new series to write this, so we'll see.

There will be some SPOILERS, so beware.
  • "Space Babies" was a bit weird and a lot stupid, and a lot of fun, although it went a bit flat in the scenes without the babies.
  • There's some crashingly unsubtle but glorious social commentary. Russell T Davies is angrier than he was in 2005.
  • The Doctor was scared! This was explained with some technobabble, but it is still unusual to see the Doctor openly frightened.
  • There's a fair bit of 2005's "The End of the World" in here. The viewing window scene. The converted mobile phone. I get it. It's a soft reboot, so we're going to get some repetition.
  • There's a lovely Doctorish moment as he decides to save the Bogeyman from an Alien death.
  • Nanny seems to suggest that she's never seen the Bogeyman before, but later on reports that it turned up six years ago. Is that a script error? Or something significant?

  • "The Devil's Chord" was even more over the top and odd. Very bold and gutsy, although a little similar to "The Giggle", for perhaps obvious reasons.
  • The Doctor is scared again. Again, there's an explanation, and this one's better -- the Toymaker did kill him, after all -- but it's still a bit weird twice in a row.
  • Jinkx Monsoon is really good as the Maestro.There are some effective scenes in here, really leaning into the over-the-top campiness of the character, but there's also some successful horror too, like the hiding-in-the-cellar sequence.
  • The fourth wall breaks were lovely. I'm intrigued by this idea that the Doctor has broken the universe and allowed fantasy and magic to creep in. It's a big idea and I hope RTD and crew can pull it off.
  • There's not much of an actual plot, but it's done with such confidence and energy it almost doesn't matter.
  • There are some odd performance choices. Why does the Doctor have a chuckle just after saying that his grand-daughter Susan may have been destroyed at a cellular level?
  • The reference to Susan was itself a surprise. I'm pretty sure she's been referenced in the new series, but never by name. is that significant?
  • This is the second episode in a row in which the resolution is revealed via voiceover flashback, which feels a bit lazy. I've never liked this device, so maybe I'm overly sensitive to it.
  • Chris Waites and the Carrollers is an existing reference, but coming right after a line referring to "The One Who Waits" seems a bit suspicious.
  • The Maestro has been killing/eating music since the 1920s, so does defeating them reset everything, going back 40 years? I assume the rules of magic and storytelling are in place and everything goes back in its box -- literally in this case -- otherwise the Doctor is being a bit negligent by going off on his next adventure and leaving behind four decades of the "wrong" timeline.

In terms of recurring mysteries, why are the Doctor's memories of Ruby's "birth" changing? Who is the cloaked figure who was there that day? Why does Maestro recognise them? Is that the One Who Waits? Is the One Who Waits someone else? What's going on with the recurring appearances by the actor Susan Twist? Will the universe get fixed so it's no longer operating on fairy tale rules?

I'm looking forward to finding out.

Friday, May 10, 2024

I Love You, Doctor Sessan!

My print copy of Ruination Pilgrimage arived today, so I tested it out by making a character!

Doctor Sessan, itinerant surgeon:
  • Strength: 30
  • Agility: 37
  • Intellect: 39
  • Combat: 20
  • Presence: 28 (I rolled 666, which seems like it should be significant in this game!)
  • Body: 22
  • Fear: 29
  • Sanity: 37
  • Resolve: 29
  • Faith: 7
  • Sorrow: 2
  • Health: 17
  • Skills: Literacy 10, Mathematics 10, Surgery 20, Pottery 10
  • Vice: Wrath!
  • Previous job: Potter
  • Background: Caught thieving and pilloried. Has a thief tattoo on his ear.
  • Kit: Nice clothing, spyglass, blank scrolls, candles, 20 coins (double 10!).
  • Patron saint: Arevadah, Saint of Combat (which seems a bit optimistic given his combat score!)
  • Hat: classic Roman-style helm. (From JB's excellent random hats tables.)
I imagine Sessan was picked out of a life of -- apparently angry -- pottery and petty crime by a kind-hearted physician, who took the lad on as an apprentice. I feel like that 666 for presence should probably present -- ha ha -- as a slightly "off" feel. Maybe a whiff of brimstone about him.

Character generation was quick and simple. The full instructions are split across multiple pages and chapters, but most of the process is covered on page 2 and it's intuitive enough that there's not a lot of page-flipping. The only murky area for me was the patron saint; you are directed to a table later in the book to determine your character's saint, and there's a lot of data on that table, but I think all you care about during character generation is the identity of the saint. The other stuff comes up when you pray and conduct rituals for your patron. I think. Maybe. Ish?

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Friday, May 03, 2024

Warty Thou

I may have a problem.

This doesn't even include the two copies I own of the best edition -- second, obviously -- nor the army books.

(In my defence I only have two army books for each edition. Sort of. Ish.)

There is a plan behind all this, it's not just nonsensical collecting; although it is that too. Stuart and I plan to play at least one game in each edition, for fits and shiggles.