Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Roleplaying for/as Dummies

It may well come as no surprise to you, the fictional readers of my blog, that I enjoy the odd RPG session.  ‘Odd’ being the appropriate word.  Very much from the character-driven style of playing, I tend to do strange and silly things like pretending not to know what my character doesn’t know and not stealing everything that isn’t nailed down.  This is because I place the emphasis on the ‘role’ part of the game.  The standard spontaneously violent kleptomaniac characters are not in my usual repertoire and tend to interfere with my style of play and how I enjoy the game.  But that’s okay, because I tend to play smart, vicious, petty-minded characters who can and will attempt to screw over characters they’ve taken a dislike to; and when the rogue who was just sent into the next room to check for traps comes back with three hundredweight of gold medallions and a suit of platemail armour and refuses to share anything… then I can pretty safely assume that my character is going to grow an immediate dislike of him/her.  Rogues, don’t test me on this.  I’ll irritate the hell out of you in an instant if necessary.  As an unrelated side-note: I tend to play a lot of Rogues.

But that’s just my take on the characters I play.  Indeed, it came as a bit of a surprise to me, being a generally shy and compliant little sausage (no laughs at the back), that when I rolled up a character and played him, he would usually be an acid-tongued, spiteful little prick.  I’ve tried to broaden my RPGing repertoire, but the current hurdle I can’t clear is that of playing a stupid character.  I understand that this could be construed as a bit of an ego-trip on my part, and I don’t want to come across as repulsively arrogant.  However, intent is rarely a guarantee of success.

The problem with playing stupid or low Int characters for me is the fact that as I am a character player, I’m somewhat shackled by the mental stat line.  The more mechanics-focused player has an easier time of it, I think, because they’re not as concerned about their character not acting on information s/he wouldn’t know and is generally fine to confine the character stupidity to the occasional int-check and then just get on with the rest of the game.  I mention this, because a little while ago, a few of the Overlords got together for a monthly Dark Heresy session (that is sadly on hiatus at the moment) and I randomly rolled up a character just for shits and giggles.  One of the odd things I like doing with some RPGs is rolling up random characters to see how plausible they are, or how I can tie all the character quirks together in a narrative.  Turns out, I’m a nerd.  Who knew?

The character I ended up rolling was a Feral World Guardsman called Drukk.  Not the smartest cookie in the jar.  Strangely though (despite the roll penalties) the intelligence of this character was actually fairly decent and this intrigued me.  So I went forward and figured out a backstory, justified his quirks and abilities and decided that I’d make a big concession to his upbringing and make the character illiterate.  After all; all your regular guardsman needs to know is which end of the gun fires lasers and not to wipe your arse on the Uplifting Primer.  Illiteracy was a hell of a lot more difficult to implement than I thought, especially because as a party we were usually given our orders as a written briefing (which I naturally refused to read!).  It was a challenge and it made things interesting.  The problem was, as a player, I was devising plans, spotting things and figuring out the situation, but couldn’t let my character do the same.  There was also the problem of NPC interaction.  Charisma tends to be low for the standard unwashed caveman and that tended to result in a lot of failed tests whenever I tried talking to people about anything other than how to kill a man with a pointed stick.  As a lot of the fun in an RPG is character interaction, I felt a little stifled playing as Drukk.  If I was playing more like my standard character, the mission could have gone very differently.  We could have kept our cover for more than the first conversation for a start…

So after a while I found that I could either jack in the usual style of playing strong on the character and opt for the more game-based approach, or I could start a new character closer to the type I can play.  I chose the latter.  Unfortunately, the hiatus started about then, so I haven’t had an opportunity to test him out yet.

But when I do, I bet he’s going to be an acid-tongued, spiteful little prick.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Slipshot Musings on Tournament and Tournament Players

One of the things that I have realised since going to tournaments a couple of years ago, is that the dreaded ‘tournament player’ or ‘competitive player’ is largely a myth.  Whether or not this can be put down to extraordinary luck on my part or not is up for debate.  But seeing as I still lose my fair share of games at said tournaments, I’m fairly confident in dismissing that hypothesis.   The fact is the majority of players at any given tournament aren’t tournament players.  This applies just as truly to NoVA as it does to softer comps like the Throne of Skulls and is something to bear in mind if you’re thinking about entering the tournament scene.

Particularly among casual players, there is the perception that the tournament players are a bunch of WAACs (Win At All Costs), but the reality is usually pretty far removed from this.  Not to say that there are no stereotypes that hold true.  Comp players tend to love the spam, for example, as it ties very much into the subject of a later post; that of Variety vs Redundancy.  This can leave their armies looking uninspired and boring to the casual or narrative-driven player, but they’re just being constructed under different criteria.  However, a significant proportion will play against that with some genuinely odd lists created to beat the list de jour and come up with some pretty damn interesting builds and tactics to do this.

But more to the point, only a small minority of players at a competition will fit into the competitive player mould.  And in any case, competitive should not be used as a synonym for ‘arsehole’.  Arseholes happen regardless of competition.  It’s my view that you are less likely to have unreasonable opponents in tournaments than you are to have unreasonable opponents in a random pickup game.  This is because you need a certain amount of wherewithal to travel, book a hotel and participate in any given tournament.  More so than just turn up at a nearby store with no codex and half a list written in crayon on the back of your hand.  Most competitions frown on that kind of thing.

The point I’m trying (and failing) to make is that everyone should give a tournament a go if you have even the slightest inkling that you might enjoy it (and provided that you can afford it, of course!).  Most of the time, you’ll be drawn against people just like you (yes, YOU!) and it’ll be little different to your average pickup game. 

On a final note, I apologise for the bizarre composition of this post, but it’s been a little busy around here and this entry was typed over two days, so the bottom half was written precisely when I forgot the gist of the top half.  You may think that remiss of me, and indicative of a half-arsed and scattershot approach to this blog.

Those of you who’ve listened to Overlords will have expected it.

So long, imaginary friends!

Friday, 23 September 2011

More Recommendations: This time for your ears!

Right then.  I may as well fling some more recommendations at the metaphorical wall to see if they stick.  As it was books this time, I’m thinking music.  Complement the visual with audio.  See where that gets us. 

TROPHY SCARS is the band I’m recommending to you now.  They’re one of my personal favourites (obviously).  But I’m only recommending their two most recent EPs: Darkness, Oh Hell and Never Born, Never Dead. 

I don’t get on with their old stuff.  They started off as one of your standard screamy post-punk bands, which to me just sound like noise.  They had their flashes of excellence, but there was too much unpleasantness for me to really enjoy.  Then they went hard for a jazz theme mixed in with all the rock, and it’s worked wonders.  I suppose the key to whether or not you’ll enjoy them lies with their vocalist Jerry Jones.  This guy has such a harsh rasp to his voice; it can really make a song ugly.  This can sometimes be a good thing, but not often, and I found with their earlier stuff that his vocal work very much worked against the quality of the musicianship quite often.  That said, he’s toned it down as of late and it fits very well with the tracks on the above EPs.  He can sing normally when he wants to, but his default setting is very much in gravel-garglingly gruff range.

Darkness, Oh Hell is definitely my favourite of the two EPs, being fairly heavy and dark in the songs and subject matter.  I could well go on a tear praising all of the songs on here, so I will.  The only track on list I don’t love is ‘Sauves-moi de l’enfer’, but that’s only an intro track.  It’s dark and atmospheric, but doesn’t really go anywhere if you get what I mean.  It does, however, lead into the next track well, and the next track’s a doozy. Nausea is my favourite track on the EP and indeed is one of my favourite songs, full stop.  It’s full of energy, strong jazz tones and engagingly apocalyptic imagery.  It’s very densely layered (as are all their songs, come to think about it) and is basically a monologue from the Antichrist.  Or something along those lines.  I’ll cover the other tracks very briefly, as my blogging time is running out.  Darkness, Oh Hell is catchy as anything and slows the pace of Nausea, but maintains the energy, working to a more definite and deliberate tempo and keeping the jazz influences.  It also ends with a cool protracted Twin Peaks sound bite, which actually drove me to buy the series (I’d heard of it, but never bothered to get into it beforehand).  Trazodone is the third track and is similarly excellent; telling a dark story about what I think is a drug addict burning someone to death in their bed.  Whether on purpose or by accident is left up in the air.  Sad Stanley is about the decline of a relationship and the final track, Time in Heaven, Forever in Hell details the aftermath.  TiH,FiH is particularly heartfelt and moving to me, and starts off with a fantastic guitar/piano pieces that compliment each other perfectly.  It’s up there with Nausea in my opinion.  Sometimes higher depending on my mood.

Never Born, Never Dead maintains to strong southern jazz motif establish by Darkness, Oh Hell but changes the mood.  By equal parts melancholic and romantic, this EP is all about relationships, seemingly through different lifetimes.  Very well structured and assembled, the tracks on display here all boast impressive density and variety of instrumentation, but never get overwhelmed with no particular element of the compositions running roughshod over others.  It’s technically very impressive and lyrically very affecting.  The tracks Never Born and Never Dead in particular can make me tear up on occasion; one being about a declaration of love between two people on their deathbeds and the other concerning a funeral from the perspective of the departed spirit.  Both are beautiful and I recommend them heartily.

Anyway, that’s it from me for the week.  Lunchtime’s up.

So long, my imaginary readers!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Rockin' the X Chromosome!

Well, a couple of nights ago I played a proxied Sisters of Battle army to give the new WD Codex a bit of a test drive.  There’s been a tonne of shit talked about this since (at least) the second part came out.  I’m not really on side with the hate of it though.

First, I’ll get things out in the open right away.  I’m not wholesale defending the ‘dex.  The production of it was poor, they didn’t seem to give it more than a cursory proofreading (resulting in many errors and problems with the rules) and there are many FAQ problems right off the bat.  I’ll get to them in a bit.  The Battle Report was also bad, which was a shame, as we haven’t had a good Sisters report since time (almost) immemorial.  The armies weren’t listed although we got photos.  The big problem is that even by just looking at the photos, you could tell that the list was, in at least one place, illegal.  I won’t go full in-depth on these points, as my podcasting colleague Dagmire has already outlined them in his ‘Letter to the Editor’ style complaint on the Overlords forum.  I advise you give it a look over when you get the chance.  It’s far more balanced than he is.

I will confess to being a bit of an optimist here.  These problems are significant, and I’m not overlooking them, but underneath these concerns lies what looks like a very usable list.  I’m not going to go through all the choices, though.  I really don’t know them all that well yet.  I looked it over and immediately started constructing a foot-horde list.  I was fairly pleased with the results.  In 1,000pts, I managed to cram in 56 power armoured bodies, which is an impressive number by any standards.

List here:
2 x Cannoness: Inferno Pistol, Power Sword
2 x Sisters squads (17): 2 x Meltaguns, Power Sword on the Superior
2 x Seraphim (5): Meltabombs on the Superior
2 x Retributors (5): Heavy Bolters x 4

All that came to 1,000pts exactly.  I like it when lists end on a round number.  Basically, the Retributors would hang back and provide suppressive fire/light vehicle takedown.  The Seraphim would provide backfield harassment and the two anvil squads of sisters would do all the real work.  The game a played was against a Guard list, featuring a couple of chimeras, a blob squad of guard, some autocannon teams, a meltavet squad, a hellhound and a bog-standard Leman Russ.  Setup was pitched battle and kill points.  So far, so crappy.  I was foot-slogging across a sparse board towards an IG gunline.  End result was a win for me.  I’m not sure how, though!

The two anvils were almost a waste of time.  One of them got the shit beaten out of them every turn and were finally killed on turn 6 after having achieved pretty much nothing and the other squad survived well, but only because all the IG shooting was concentrated at the first squad.  Maybe acting as a fire magnet was the point.  With a squad size so large, they’re bound to attract a lot of fire and the slow movement speed of the footsloggers hampering them significantly.  The approach of the two Sister squads did force my opponent’s vehicles into a retreat though, as the meltaguns in each squad are nearly impossible to get rid of at range with so many ablative wounds available. 

The Retributors took a while to warm up, seeing as their shooting can be quite spotty when you’re trying to take down vehicles (even with the Rending), but managed to get quite a tally for themselves by the end of the game, totalling a sentinel squadron a chimera, the Leman Russ and about 20-odd guardsmen.  Overall, I do like this unit, but they can be very brittle, and they take up an entire Heavy Support slot on their own, while Exorcists provide longer range and Penitent Engines have a higher potential for carnage.  Nevertheless, the squad much more multi-purpose than either of the other options and (provided you get the Faith off when you need to) good and effective at nearly all targets.

The Seraphim were definitely a bit of a wild card in my army.  I like Seraphim; they’ve got a great aesthetic going and the doubling up of their weaponry for shooting was definitely one of the nicest parts of the Codex for me.  As a unit, they were definitely designed for the short-range firefight.  I kept them pretty bare bones though and used them as throwaway units to cause distraction and jump on unsuspecting vehicles with their meltabombs.  I have to say, this tactic worked for me this game.  Landing them in difficult terrain next to the Russ forced it to move, revealing its side armour to the Retributors, which ultimately killed it.  I plan on running more of these girls for sure, probably kitted out for horde, as that’s what their Faith power is more geared towards (rerolling 1s to wound during the shooting phase).  I’ll probably be filling out the other Fast Attack slots with Dominion squads and playing around with abusing the Scout move (something I’ve never really got to do with the Dark Eldar).  The seraphim acquitted themselves well, with the aid of some deep strikes into difficult terrain to protect me from AP3 fire.

At the end of the game, I’d lost a seraphim squad and one of my Sister squads.  My opponent had lost all his vehicles and had a platoon sergeant and a couple of vets left, all of whom were in combat.  And they were not going to win those.  So the first game was a fun and interesting one.  I’m definitely curious about what can be done with Dex as it stands.  Who knows?  I might go for a Rage list!  Penitent Engines and Sisters Repentia.  Let’s try and out-Ork some Orks!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hopefully the first of many...

I want to be an author.

This is no secret.  I enjoyed writing short stories as a child, and that hasn't gone away, but with many other competing interests and a job playing on my time, I never managed to get my stories  much more than short.  I've tried to write a couple of novels; one of which I've given up on in its current form (but not the idea behind it) and the other which has grown and bloated a little.  If I ever finish it, the editing will be monstrous!

The name of this blog is, in at least part, a reference to the fact that I've never really finished a substantial writing project.  I'm perpetually thwarted as an author, usually by no-one but myself.  Nevertheless, every now and again, I'll dust off my brain and try to get some writing done.  This is the result of one of those sessions; an entry for a pre-heresy short story competition.  It's quite a challenge to get a full story into a mere 1,000 words and the editing was difficult.  I don't envy people who do that shit for a living. 

Seeing as the deadline for entrants was January and I haven't heard anything back by now, I think I can safely assume that I didn't win.  This means that it is now the ideal space-filler for my blog!  I can't think of anything to write at the moment anyway.

The alarms sounded at a deafening volume as the reinforced bulkhead slammed down. The panicked shouts of those locked out lasted a few seconds, but were soon silenced by the percussive thuds of weapon fire.

Proctus Cabe cast a quick eye over his men, crouched behind the barricades of the corridor. Their positioning was, as ever, perfect. He hefted his Projector to a firing position and released the valves. The Projector bucked softly in his hands as the chemicals flooded the firing chamber. After the initial surge, the weapon’s innards settled into a steady rhythm, almost like a heartbeat. Cabe opened his eyes and joined his men.

A jarring impact rocked the bulkhead, but it held firm. No words passed between the Proctus and his men. None were needed. They knew their jobs. Another thunderous crash resounded around the corridor as a dent appeared in the alloy of the door. Not long now…

They had only met the ceramite-clad giants hours ago, although ranged communication had been exchanged for days. A large black-grey ship had ripped into the system and headed straight for Cator. The Assembly responded cautiously, sending military scouts to apprehend the interloping vessel. None returned. The aliens eventually opened communication with the Assembly.

A stern, impassive face had swirled and settled on the com-screen of the Assembly and demanded their immediate compliance. The Assembly had refused. As a Proctus of the Internal Guard, he had been there, watching dumbfounded as the sheer arrogance and presumption of the alien had radiated off the screen. The face had registered a flicker of emotion, a brief dark shadow cast across its pale features, then it had vanished. The dark ship still hovered in near orbit. The Catorran fleet had massed around the dark vessel, readying themselves for confrontation, but keeping their distance.

The next day there was a new face, a new demand. Again, the Assembly refused. However, this time the response was calmer, more reasoned. The possibility of a meeting was put forward. The specifics took the best part of three days to finalise. Eventually, the arrangements had been made. A small diplomatic cadre was to make its way to Cator’s surface and meet with the Assembly for negotiations.

The diplomatic cadre was more like a war-party; each one of their soldiers towering over even the tallest of the Catorran representatives greeting them. The ground reverberated under their footfalls. Their leader had removed his helmet to reveal a scarred, pale-skinned face with gunmetal eyes and a darkness of intent. Three metal studs lined the man’s brow. From the moment the Proctus had laid his eyes on that face, he knew that there would be no peace between them. There would be no compromise, no negotiation. But he could not countermand the orders of his superiors, and he held onto a brief sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was wrong in his assumptions. The giants were escorted into the Assembly Hall. The Internal Guard were present in force, the Assembly clearly taking no chances. Cabe had been dismissed from the room as negotiations had begun. He had then immediately gone to assemble and arm his team. He knew they would be needed. Twenty minutes later, the alarms had started to sound. Cabe did not know what had happened, but it didn’t matter.

The last scene he had witnessed of the Assembly Hall before the emergency bulkhead had slammed down were of pure horror. The weapons of the metal giants were unsubtle, and he had seen the walls of the once pristine hall splattered with the viscera of his colleagues.

Another impact on the door, another weakness appearing in its surface. Cabe calmed his twanging nerves by concentrating on his weapon. Deep in its veins pulsed its liquid ammunition. Necroxin. A compound designed by Catorran scientists, a compound designed to consume organic material at a frightening speed. A single shower of it could reduce a whole grox to organic slurry in a few seconds. The rapid dissolution of nerve endings in the target caused severe involuntary spasms, rendering them utterly ineffective for their remaining few seconds of life. It was, without a doubt, one of the most perfect weapons the Catorran had designed, and Cabe knew it would reap a vengeful toll on these treacherous invaders. For although their armour looked impregnable, Cabe had seen the weakness of it. The bends, the joints. They were definitely rubber-derived materials and would last less than a second against the caustic properties of his projector. Nevertheless, he was under no illusions. He would die today. It was just a matter of making his death count.

Something slammed into the door again, the thumping sound soon overtaken by a raw metallic screeching as a ceramite gauntlet burst through the door and tore it asunder. One of the giants stepped through, his armour scorched and damaged, but intact. The Catorrans fired in volleys, their metal slugs bursting uselessly on his monstrous form. The giant returned fire, and Cabe saw his men explode into bloody vapour.

Cabe bellowed and brought his weapon to bear, dousing the scene in front him with lethal chemicals. The metal giant dodged sharply to one side and expertly backhanded the projector away with such force that it broke free from Cabe’s grip and sent both him and his weapon skidding across the floor. Cabe looked up through bleary eyes at his enemy, and he saw the necroxin at work. The armour at the giant’s side sloughed off him as the rubberized joints gave way. He saw the giant’s muscular arm revealed by the falling armour, its pale skin swiftly being eaten away.
But there was nothing under the skin. No muscle, no bone. Just metal. The giant approached him contemptuously and clenched his iron hand, drawing it back for a deathblow as Cabe tried to scrabble away.

“The flesh is weak.” The giant’s voice was harsh and cold.

The blow fell.

Cabe joined the rest of his men.

Any comments/suggestions/criticisms/mindless praise?
I'm open to all of the above.  Hopefully I'll stick some more stuff up on this blogspace, maybe even galvanising myself to write new stuff, instead of being a lazy attention-whore.


Monday, 19 September 2011

NoVA Report: Part the Third

And now we come to the third NoVA post, and the last one detailing my tactical ineptitude during my sortie to the Americas.  Well, one America, anyway.

This hefty dose of Bad Strategy was brought to you by the Blood Angels and the letter F.  This guy was running a heavy mech list.  Two Stormravens, two Landraiders, a couple of bare-bones assault squads for the transport discount and a big-ol’ hammer unit in the form of Dante, a 10-man assault squad and Sanguinary priest, all unpleasantly inserted deep into my backfield.

The game was Dawn of War.  It was kill points and I got my arse handed to me, all because of Dawn of War.  I got first turn and set up in my usual way for this setup, my Haemonculus with his Wrack buddies in a Venom in the middle of the board.  The Hellions were all in non-deep striking reserve and all my remaining vehicles were speeding onto the board in turn 1.  My opponent reserved everything.  I find this disconcerting most of the time, because there’s no clear focus for my forces in the early game.  Also with the NoVA mission setup, all the objective markers are evenly distributed (one in the middle of each quarter, one in the middle of the board).  The upshot is that I am very unsure where to put the Webway Portal.  In a sense, it doesn’t matter, as with an all-reserve list, wherever I put the portal, the enemy will just scoot round and appear on the other side of the table.  Or I could lay the portal in the middle and take my chances.  But then again, that’s not the mistake I made this game.  The mistake I made that lost me the game was one of caution.

Now, normally, caution is something I recommend in Dark Eldar players.  The army’s aggressive, but too brittle to be blindly so.  As an army, if you can squeeze a little more survivability out of your units it tends to really help you survive to the endgame.  And that’s what I was trying to do.  My vehicles sped onto the board, flat out; my Haemonculus planted the portal and, when nothing turned up next turn, got back on his ride and pootled around the board for a bit.  With no targets to aim at in the first turn, the rest of my vehicles just sped around my backfield, never venturing over the halfway line.  I didn’t want to be caught by his reserves when they trundled onto the board and I wanted to limit the amount of viable targets for his big guns.  This caution was what killed me though.

Dante and his goons Deep-struck in, totalling a Ravager with their meltaguns and inferno-pistols.  That zero-deviation deep-strike is one hell of a scary proposition!  My army was well placed to take the squad down though, as I was packing so many lace and blaster shots that the Sanguinary priest provided no protection for his squad and everyone was reduced to toasty giblets in short order.  Unfortunately, they were just a distraction.  And they did their job excellently.

The heavy armour rolled onto the board and started to bring down my vehicles left right and centre and I was soon left with no ravagers to return fire and my Blaster Trueborn were too far away to respond.  They would make their way across half the board and then be stranded by the anti-tank fire coming from the Ravens and Raiders.  The Blood Angels were playing it cagey for the rest of the game, with all of his vehicles hanging back on his board edge, the Landraiders advancing just far enough so the squads inside could claim objectives, but then adamantly refusing to move.  There was no way I could get my tank-busting equipment anywhere near where they needed to be, and the assault squad were not obliging and refused to leave their vehicles, no matter how nicely I asked.  That was about turn 3 or 4, and that’s pretty much how it remained for the rest of the game.  He didn’t have the anti-personnel fire to take down my Hellions, but he didn’t need to.  They were no threat to him.  They could contest objectives if they wanted, but that wouldn’t help the kill point issue.  After taking down all my vehicles, he was quids in for a win, provided he didn’t do anything stupid.  And he didn’t.  You can never rely on you opponent being an idiot.  He went on to win the bracket, and deserved to, in my opinion, because he was a sharp and canny player, not just because his final round opponent were Grey Knights!

End of line.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Although I talk about 40k a lot, this blog wasn’t going to be solely about that topic.  To this end, I’ve decided to fling various Recommendations at your faces every now and then.  And, last time I checked, the time is approximately ‘Now’.

These recommendations are a little bit of whatever, really.  From films, television, anime, music, books, whatever I like that I’d like other people to have a look (or listen) at too.  Feel free to ignore these if you’re only here for tales of embarrassing 40k-related shortfalls and unnecessary hyperbole.  On the other hand, if you do try out the recommendations, let me know!  Some interesting conversations can be had regardless of whether or not you liked them.  So, with all that prelude out of the way, let’s start with: Some Book Recommendations!

Three of them, all by the same author.  More of an author recommendation, I suppose.

Michael Marshall Smith

He is probably my favourite fiction writer currently and he specialised in two fields.  He does Sci-Fi as Michael Marshall Smith and modern-day crime writing as just Michael Marshall.  His crime stuff is good, don’t get me wrong, but (in my opinion at least) it’s not a patch on his more fantastical stories.  I highly advise you seek him out if you’re into slightly oddball scifi.  The three books I want to talk about are Only Forward, Spares, and What You Make It.

Only Forward was his debut novel and was my introduction into his writing.  It’s about a guy called Stark, and it’s easiest to think of him as a sort of detective, although he doesn’t really have a job as such.  It’s very much got a Scifi Noir feel to it and is genuinely hilarious in many places, sad in others and very creepy elsewhere.  It has a bit of abrupt turn from comedy to horror, but it works.  I won’t be summarising the plot or anything, because that would be counterproductive.  I loved it when I first read it, and it hasn’t lost any of its charm now.  The whole thing is delivered first-person, but in a very conversational style which I found fun and interesting.  He pulls a couple of nice little tricks with perspective that I really enjoyed, although I can definitely see why it wouldn’t gel with some of his readers.  I only have one problem with it.  The ending feels rushed and anticlimactic.  You’re going on at a good and quick pace throughout the book, with things building and building and then, bam, it’s over.  It’s standard novel length, I think (about 300-350 pages) but the end happens in about 2 pages.  There’s no real denouement.  It’s a bit jarring and feels underdeveloped and a little too tidy.  Don’t let that discourage you.  Really; don’t.  the book’s fantastic and that’s the only complaint of any substance I can give.

Spares was his second novel and it has a lot over Only Forward, although I do prefer the debut.  It follows many of the same tropes as Only Forward (big detective guy as main character, talking appliances, sudden shifts into the metaphysical) but is definitely its own story.  Again, its very funny, with a large number of touching moments and sad reflections and occasional dabblings with horrific imagery.  The big detective guy this time has more of the generic crime thriller name of Jack Randall, but don’t hold that against him.  He’s a complete drunken, drug-addled mess.  This brings me to one of the strengths and simultaneously one of the weakness of Spares for me.  Because the book is written from an exclusively first person perspective, when Randall starts tripping (and he does, often) things get weird and when he’s in The Gap (you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is), it can sometimes feel like he’s ramming random words together.  Nevertheless, it’s a small point.  I feel it shares a similar problem with Only Forward regarding the end.  It’s an improvement on the first book, but it doesn’t properly fix things in my opinion.  I still think the endings are the weakest part of his books, just because they’re too sudden and feel too slapdash.  Awesome book though.  Highly recommended, possibly even more so than Only Forward.

What You Make It differs from the previous two books because it’s a collection of short stories rather than a novel.  As with most short story compilations, you’ll get some that you (hopefully) like and some that (probably) won’t.  All are well-written, but apart from that, they don’t have too much in common with one another.  One of the things they do share though, is tone.  This is a dark collection of stories.  I read through them all a few years ago, and can agree that it a very good book and would advise others read it too.  But I won’t read it again.  There is very little joy to be had (at least during my read through; your mileage may vary) and it left me feeling drained and a little depressed.  Again, that sounds bad, but I do heartily recommend you pick it up.  It really is very good.  .  I will warn you: one of the stories here made me feel stunned and sick to my stomach.  It was the biggest reaction I’ve had to a story for some time, possible ever.  I won’t tell you which one; I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Anyway, that’s my Recommendation for the week. 

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

NoVA Report: Part The Second

So, from Bad Matchup and Bad Dice to Bad Strategy.

These games were more useful and less frustrating to me than the other two.  Of course, it’s always annoying to realise that you could’ve won but for one thing you were too much of an idiot not to spot but it’s simultaneously a bit of a relief when the mistake comes to you and you file it away for later.  Both my losses were attributable to single mistake in each game, and the snowball effect they started.  I’ll start with the first game.

Versus Tyranids.

I got so much flak for losing this one.  Nids versus Dark Eldar is a bad matchup for the gribblies most of the time.  DE are one of the few armies that can gain an Initiative advantage without cover tricks and are packing so many poisoned weapons that Monstrous Creatures have a very hard time staying upright.  Add to that the sheer manoeuvrability of the DE and you’d expect me to win.  But you didn’t count on my tactical ineptitude.  You should know better.

Part of the problem for me stemmed from the fact that I don’t know the Codex that well.  I knew the old codex well-ish and I know a bit about most of the new book.  That really wasn’t enough.  I knew the units, but I didn’t know the Psychic Powers and I didn’t know the weaponry.  There was one moment when I ignored a big squad of Termagants because I didn’t think Devourers were much better than Fleshborers.  That was dumb.  My army simply doesn’t have the resilience to survive mistakes like that and my Hellion were made to pay for that mistake.  But these weren’t the big mistakes.  The big mistake was using a tactic that I’d fallen into using all the time.  My list centres around Hellions.  Anyone who knows me in 40k will know this.  It’s a recurring joke at my expense. I <3 Hellions; as Dean (from the Overlords) put it.

In the 2,000pts list, I have three squad of hellions, all large.  I keep them all in reserve and set them to work when they turn up, either coming through the Webway or on the table edge.  I use the Webway a lot (I barely ever make a list without it) and I’ll write a brief tactica on it at some point, but it’s not relevant to the point at hand.  It’s the reserving Hellions that were the mistake.  I normally reserve these guys so that my opponent can get closer and I can get them straight into assault from the off and not run the risk of them being shot to death.  Or use them as a counter-assault to enemy tricks in my backfield or as close support to a threatened unit, etc.  Reserving them also gives me a chance to crack some transports early in the game so they’ve got a viable target.  Hellions can crack most transport vehicles in assault, but it’s not always easy, and its rarely ever reliable.  Having them on the table from the beginning just clutters up my deployment and provides the enemy with more targets.

But I was playing against ’Nids.  They don’t have vehicles.  Everything is a viable target for my guys, and the amount of mid-range poison shots they can level will make a mockery of most of the units they look at.  They should have been there, obliterating the alien menace in favour of the slightly different alien menace.  My opponent had two squad of Genestealers infiltrating as close they could around my initial deployment.  Stealers are undeniably represent a threat, but not necessarily a big threat.  That threat is commonly used to detract fire from the bigger threats in the list, and in that capacity, they worked brilliantly, because I flung far too much firepower at the Genestealers instead of using it to take down the guy’s Tervigons, or his Hive Guard (which are utterly brutal when it comes to my army because they rely so much on cover), or his Zoanthropes.  I was unable to do anything about those other threats in Turn 1 and they made their presence felt for the rest of the game.  Had my hellions been set up during deployment, then the ‘Stealers really wouldn’t have mattered.  The Hellions could have taken the squads out in a second, flat, with shooting and assault or (more cunningly)  I would have used my guys to surround the Genestealers, cutting off their movement and forcing them to assault the squad through cover, while I unleashed 30+ poisoned shots at his hive guard (averaging 10 wounds on a 4+ save?  Yeah, they’d be dead sharpish!) or at the spawning Tervigons.

I have more to write about this, but lunchtime’s over now.  Stay tuned for more!

Or, you know, don’t.

That’s good too.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

NoVA Report: Part The First

As listeners to the Overlords may well already know (and be healthily bored of hearing about)  I went to the NoVA 40k tournament in August and enjoyed about18 hours of 40k playing in the space of 2 days.  My brain was shredded by the end of it and I’d managed to pick up a cold from somewhere.  I was not worth talking to the next day.

Which was a shame, because I had to podcast then. Episode 63, if you’re interested.  I don’t advise you listen to it.  My brain was oozing out of my ears that day.  And that’s not as much hyperbole as you think.

Anyway.  Out of the 8 games in the tournament, I won 5 and lost 3.  One of those games was a buy due to an absent opponent and the ‘for fun’ game with a top-table Blood Angels player was a dead loss on my part.  So; 4 wins and 4 losses.  You always learn more from analysing your losses than your wins.  Unless you’re really shit at analysis or have a ego the size of Lake Superior.  And I only fit into one of the above categories.

What I said in my previous post (The Loser’s Guide to Losing) about categorising my losses holds true today, and I can class my losses in the tournament into 1 Bad Matchup, 1 Bad Dice and 2 Strategic Mistakes.  The Bad Dice was against the Blood Angel player in my buy game.

He was basically using Stormraven Powerbombs.  Two Ravens, one with Reclusiarch, Death Company and a Furioso Snippy Dread, and the other holding regular assaults, a Sanguinary Priest and a Death Company Snippy Dread.  The Death Company Raven stormed straight into the middle of my army, dropped the bomb and a lot of my guys died.  Being able to assault straight out of that thing with all the vicious filth a BA force can muster is one hell of a frightening ability.  Why did I let the Raven into my lines?  I didn’t.  I mean, I tried not to.  The first two turns of the game, I was pouring darklight into it.  About 21 shots over the two turns.  End result: 1 glance, 1 pen.  Neither of them doing anything to stop it moving.  I don’t like blaming game losses on bad dice, but this one I think is valid.  If we played that game again, my tactics would probably be unchanged.  I’d just need to roll better.  Once the death company were there, I was gone for the game.  I managed to kill them all eventually and down one of the Dreads, but it was all out of spite rather than tactical advantage and I lost handily.

Bad Matchup game was against Stelek from YTTH blog and he was packing far too many twin-linked heavy bolters.  10 Razorbacks, full complement of Long Fangs, some Thunderwolves, scouts and a bucket o’ Grey Hunters.  When I saw the list, I knew that it was not going to do much for my chances at winning.  My only hope was to take down a tonne of armour before he could fire back and gain some level of anti-tank advantage.  But he made good use of cover in deployment and my dice were only average.  So, in keeping with the Loser’s Guide, I set myself a new objective:  I wonder how many Hellions I get into horrendous and complicated assaults.  Banzai!  My guys accounted for themselves reasonably well, but not as well as I may have liked and one of the mobs flunked a multi-assault with his Long Fangs and got run down.  My Hellions should have won that combat (in fact they only lost it by 1 that fateful turn), but there you go.  Win some, etc.  If they had actually managed to crush the long fangs in assault like they were meant to, we could have had a game going, especially if I then went and parked them in cover.  Never mind, eh?

And now we get to the Strategic Mistakes…

Or would, if my lunch break wasn’t over now. 

Oh well. 

At least this gives me a subject for tomorrow’s post!

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Loser's Guide to Losing

I know, I know.  Every bugger’s been over this before.  I don’t think there’s too much grand insight I can give on the subject; it’s all chewed meat.  Nevertheless, I’ve got to write something.  Otherwise I’d just look silly.

I’m not a particularly good loser.  This dates back to whenever.  Never liked losing, and so I never went for anything competitive.  This was also partly because I have a natural pre-disposition to believe that I would lose.  And I hated sport.  And chess.  And in fact, I wasn’t all that keen on playing 40k either.  I’d make lists and more lists.  That was my thing, but that was the Asperger’s talking, I reckon.  Number and tables. Of course, times change, you grow up and you view things differently.  When I got back into the hobby I actually started playing the game fairly regularly.  I’m still not a great loser, but I’m definitely better than I was.  This is partly because you gain greater perspective, greater self control and partly that you’ve lost so many times by adulthood that it loses a lot of its sting.

It almost becomes habit forming.  You develop strategies and tactics to explain away the loss of soften the blow.  Well; I did.  Because, well, I felt I needed to.  First tactic was the “you’re going to win” gambit, which seems like a good idea until you realise how intensely annoying it is to be on the other side.  It lowers the expectations for the game, so you’re opponent doesn’t enjoy it as much if you lose.  Or it seems disingenuous and borderline dishonest if you win.  I trained myself out of that one.  Eventually.

Another thing I would do would be to play as the bad guys.  Sounds odd, but then (as I saw it) the bad guys are meant to lose, so you can sort of feel better about it.  It was predestined and you’re only obeying Hollywood narrative.  I realise that sounds a little sad, but I’m nothing if not embarrassingly introspective and, well, if can look at yourself as a teenager and think that you weren’t a pillock, then you’re still the same pillock.  I feel out of the habit of using this psychological trick, mainly because I would design armies around stories and homebrew narratives, and my protagonists were normally, if not good, then at least creatively neutral.  I still design armies based on narrative now, at least at the start.  I tweak them as I play or adapt the narrative to better suit how they perform, or what units I like using.  Anyway.  Going off topic here.  Back to losing!

Harking back to perspective, one of the great anti-temper tricks I began realising (shamefully late in my life it has to be said) was to take the games less seriously.  That doesn’t equate to being apathetic.  If I was apathetic, I wouldn’t be near bankrupting myself on this ridiculous hobby.  Not really much else to say on this one apart from the standard bucket o’ clich├ęs that’s normally deployed to combat disappointment.  Poorly, in most cases.

It also helps me to find a reason why I’ve lost.  When I was younger, it would equate to: “Well I’m just crap”.  But that’s an easy and slightly depressing way out of the question.  There are three main types of losses in this game from my current point of view:  Bad Matchups, Bad Dice and Strategic Mistakes.  Out of all of the above, the Strategic Mistakes is definitely the most useful, and the one that every losing player should strive for.  If you cock up, you’ll know why and where and you might (maybe) learn from it and not make the same mistake next time.  Doesn’t always happen though.  God knows, I’m a fantastically slow learner when it comes to my own idiocy.

Bad Matchups happen, and other than a redesign of the list, there’s nothing that can be done to improve matters there.  You can find some changes to make but they will, more than likely, open you up to marginally different Bad Matchups rather than permanently fix anything.  There is no ultimate winning army in the game, much as Matt Ward may be trying to make it otherwise (bloody Grey Knights!), and every list has a matchup that they would sacrifice a bullock to avoid playing.  That’s just how it is.  You just have to hope for the sake of your list and your blood pressure that your nemesis army isn’t de riguer at the moment.  Speaking of blood pressure, time to address the last type of loss.

Bad Dice happen.  It sucks.  And sometimes you want to grind each one of those treacherous plastic bastards into a fine powder.  There is nothing to be learned from a loss that is only Bad Dice related.  That’s why I try not to blame my losses on them.  It’s a copout and it doesn’t help me.  Sometimes though, it will happen and happen consistently and you want to break something.

The final thing to mention in this post ties in with a couple of the previous points I’ve made.  Learn to spot when you’ve lost.  Not just when you work out the scores at the end.  If you need to count score at the end of the game, then it’s been close.  Most of the time when you lose, it won’t be near the end.  Round about midgame most likely.  Or even the beginning if you’re particularly dumb or unlucky (I’ll let you decide which one).  The important thing to bear in mind is this: when you reach that point.  Abandon Hope.  It’s fantastically liberating.  It may sound defeatist, but it really isn’t.  Forget about winning.  Just concentrate on doing something fun.  Something stupid.  Something awesome.  Set a secondary target for your guys to knock down.  Even if they don’t do it.  Just clinging to the slim hope that maybe, just maybe, you can snatch a win out of this can often do more harm than good.  Especially in pick-up games.  You’re both there to have fun, not just to win.  In fact, I named my Dark Eldar army after this moment.  The Comedy of Despair.  It’s the ultimate in-joke I suppose.  The one that only you get.  Or would be if I wasn’t running my mouth off on the internet.

End of line.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Aim of the Blog

Right then.

I think I should talk a little about what I think I should talk about on the blog. (Recursion is fun!)

there will be a fair amount of nerditry present, of course, as that is a major part of my interest.  Massive 40K fan, so there's obviously going to be a fair amount of that stuff going on.  Not to mention other board games and tabletop stuff.  I should probably have a few recommendations in here for books, music, films, etc.  I mean; I'm no great arbiter of taste and quality or anything, but there are many media that I enjoy a lot, and it always feels good to share these things with complete strangers.

That line may need to be re-written at some point.

Occasionally, I may well rant about things.  There are more than a few 40K topics that majorly get my goat, so there's an endless seam of useless content present there to be mined.  Many things about news reporting and, in particular, the British print media irritate the hell out of me.  Not to mention some films and TV series that piss me off.  Which I, ahem,  will, in fact, be mentioning. 

Quality writing there.  Stardom is assured!

And finally, and potentially embarrassingly, I'll be getting some of my home-brewed fiction up on this thing, as the title of the blog comes from my inability to actually get a decent amount of writing done.  Actually, I'll rephrase that.  Getting a decent amount of writing finished.  That's my problem.  I tried to do a novel.  Two of them in fact.  One died after 40,000 words and the other is currently lying exhausted and dehydrated mere yards from the finish line at about 130,000.  I really should pass that novel some Lucozade and shove it forward a few more steps.  And with that tortured analogy (or, more likely, metaphor) at an end, I'll leave you, my absent and likely fictional audience, with the following sentence.

Ashes to Ashes was a terrible programme.

Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What the hell am I doing here?

A valid, but rudely phrased question there.

The truth is, I don't really know.  I kind of created this blog by accident.  I wanted to comment about a post on someone else's blog and I needed some sort of account to be able to do that and when I selected a google account, it forwarded me to a blog creation page and things just went from there. (Note to self: must make my reasons for doing things less circuitous...)

After fiddling round with the templates a presets, I came across something that looked reasonably good (although my idea of what looks good has usually been in stark contrast to the norm).  Then, after a couple of days, I decided to, you know, write something.  A bold move I'm sure you'll agree. 

And so, naturally, my first post should be about why I'm here in the first place.  My own little creation myth.  My own truncated Genesis, but with less allegory.  And less point.  And more swearing.


Told you there'd be more swearing.