Monday, 4 December 2017

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Retrospective

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Covers 1st to 4th editions
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay through the ages...
With news finally starting to trickle out from Cubicle 7 about the upcoming 4th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I've been thinking back a lot on my relationship with the game. I got into the miniatures end of Warhammer, 40k and their sister games back in the late eighties and even though I knew about the rpg end of Warhammer it seemed odd to me. Did you play an orc warboss on a wyvern or a high elf white lion?

Several years later I came across a used copy of the 1st edition rulebook, when I worked part time in
WFRP 1st edition original character sheet
a game store, and since it was cheap I thought "let's have a look". And well... a completely new side of Warhammer presented itself to me. Up until this time my main interest had been Epic, Necromunda, Space Hulk and Blood Bowl. While I had collected a small, rag-tag chaos army my real interest didn't really lie on the battlefield but rather in the more personal skirmishes (well, epic was en exception of course!). Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay finally showed me that personal, and real, side of the Warhammer world that had been missing from the tabletop game.

I started going back through old copies of White Dwarf to read all those WFRP articles that I had just skipped in years past. I tried to pick up as many books for the game I could find, although they started running dry right about then. What I really wanted to get my hands on was, of course, The Enemy Within - the greatest campaign ever written, according to some. It proved a daunting task so when Hogshead came in and started reprinting the old books and adding new ones to the lineup I decided it was time to actually play the game.

With me as the GM and two old friends and two newer ones we started playing The Oldenhammer Contract from the 1st edition rulebook. A few months ago I came across my old notes and charactar sheets from this game, and while I don't remember the names of the characters off-hand (and the sheets are back in Sweden) the group consisted of a halfling tomb robber, a human hunter from Middenheim, an elf wizard's apprentice and a human noble (I think). The Oldenhammer Contrat lead into Mistaken Identity and Shadows over Bögenhafen. The group did ok, but in the end actually failed the adventure, leading to some interesting and long-lasting consequences.

We continued with Death on the Reik (the module that I personally was most looking forward to run!) but only got about a third of the way through it before life happened. One of the players moved abroad for a bit and I changed jobs, meaning I didn't work with two of the players anymore. In the end we never picked it up again, although I know exaclty where we left off and still have the sheets. We could, potentially, pick up just where we left it. Especially considering it was a pretty good cliffhanger with the entire party having fallen prey to a sneaky ghoul!

I'm not sure how many sessions we played, but this was back when no one really had any commitments and I know we played a lot so perhaps 15-ish or so? One of the best "late" roleplaying memories for me mostly thanks to the great adventure material. While the rules could be odd now and then it didn't matter when the adventures and setting were so good!

Hogshead continued to re-release old material and made new stuff as well, which I managed to mostly gobble up, but in the end they ran out of steam before they had a chance to publish the re-worked Empire in Flames. Damn! Still, they had a good run!

Then, in 2005, Black Industries released the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay -
WFRP Tome of Salvation
probably the most popular iteration so far. It updated the rules, mostly for the better, and released a number of cool sourcebooks like Sigmar's Heirs and the Tomes of Corruption/Salvation. Something I wasn't all that keen on was the move to an Old Worlde more in keeping with the tabletop game. The cover art took a hit as well, becoming much more heroic and tabletop-ish. Both understandable moves from GW's part, but it made the setting a bit more plain. Or at least, it would have if we had followed it closely. I ran more of a 1st ed. style game anyway when we played.

And play we did! For the life of me I can't remember any of the characters, or even who exactly played, but we started with Through the Drakwald from the core book, which lead to the first part of the new campaign; Ashes of Middenheim. We played through it and had fun, although it didn't blow us away like The Enemy Within had done. It's certainly not a bad adventure, but neither is it a great one. The feeling I got was that Graeme Davis, who wrote it, was instructed to include as many different facets of the Warhammer world as possible in Ashes of Middenheim, as it would probably the one adventure all WFRP2 players bought and needed to introduce the setting to new players. It's an understandable approach, but one that rarely works (and will show up again in WFRP3).

As I flip through the adventure now I think it would have worked much better as more of a slow burn, with smaller adventures interspersed between the main chapters. I of course still have the old Middenheim book for 1st edition that could have been used for all kinds of cool stuff. Well, now-me is a better GM than past-me I suppose.

Having finished Ashes of Middenheim (with the heroes being successfull this time) we didn't feel any particular need to rush into part two, Spires of Altdorf, so instead I decided to run some of the updated first edition adventures from Plundered Vaults. Rough Night at the Three Feathers was my original, almost instinctive choice, as it is such a legendary adventure, but after reading Sing for your Supper I simply couldn't resist running that. This felt much more like the WFRP we know and loved and I remember the entire group having great fun with this adventure! Which was a good thing as it would be the last WFRP play for about five years.

Sing for your supper...
This was before I started logging plays so I don't know how many sessions we played but seeing as Ashes of Middenheim has eight parts I think ten sessions at the very least, probably more like 15. Looking back at it now I'm surprised we managed to get through all of Ashes of Middenheim and one more adventure, seeing as they were released in early 2005 and I moved to Tokyo in October that year. Again, times were simpler then I suppose.

During the first couple of years in Japan I didn't do any analogue gaming, but as the craving started I did manage to run some Dark Heresy games (where you could already see the WFRP rules engine starting to creak), and when the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was announced by FFG in 2009 I was eager to dive back into the Old World!

An Eye for an Eye!
This more or less coincided with us moving back to Sweden in 2010 and almost immediately I was planning a 3rd edition campaign with my old group. By now I had started logging games on BGG and started writing session reports on this here blog, so for anyone curious about our adventures in Stromdorf just go back and read! We started with the introduction scenario A Day Late and a Shilling Short, continued with the An Eye for an Eye (a really atmospheric little adventure!) and then straight into The Gathering Storm. Unfortunately the final third of the campaign didn't get proper session reports. I would go back and write them now if only I could remember the details, it's somewhat hazy. However, I intend to at least do a kind of wrap up of the campaign and my thoughts on it.

Suffice to say, we really liked what FFG did with the new system, at first. There were some quirks,
like going abstract with combat, but not entirely, which lead to some odd moments, but overall the chits and cards and dice really worked for us! The actions were fun, the magic system had a cool push-you-luck mechanic to it and the bits did help. Until they didn't. My problem with the format wasn't the bits and cards themselves but the pure amount of them!

If FFG had realeased the core box with bits and cards and then had a mixed line of books with optional card/bits to buy I think we would have continued playing WFRP3. What ended up happening was that every release for the game came with more cards and bits. And not more as in "add these new injury cards to the injury deck" but as in new types of cards and bits. This made the game bloat enormously and by the end of our campaign I simply felt drained as a GM simply by setting up and just keeping track of all. That. Stuff.

This bloat combined with the kind of mediocrity of The Gathering Storm actually killed WFRP for me for a bit. In fact, it killed roleplaying or at least game mastering for me for about a year. When I felt ready to get stuck back in I kind of overcompensated and only felt interested in small and tight games like Diaspora or Mouse Guard that didn't rely on large amounts of GM preparation. I still think it's a real shame WFRP3 ended up the way it did. The core system is good and spawned a lot of fun stories. As I went back now and read through the old session reports I was reminded of how much fun we had with it! Just look at how popular their Star Wars line of games is, and that is pretty much the same rules but with all the cards as optional extras.

I also think that FFG managed to find a pretty good middle ground between the original 1st edition feel and some of the more tabletop connected stuff of 2nd edition. The art was generally better, although I missed a lot of the, less polished, but more atmospheric art of 1st edition. All in all we played 13 sessions of WFRP3 which makes for about 40-45 sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in all it's different iterations, so far. My years of running Call of Cthulhu might come close to that number of sessions, but I still think WFRP holds the top spot as my most Game Mastered roleplaying game!

Which reminds me that there's been one player who's been a constant presence during all 45(ish) of these sessions and that's my old high school friend Anders. Come to think of it, he's probably my oldest friend that I still hang out with. Ha! While it migh have happened I can't recall him ever missing a session of our Warhammer adventures, which is pretty impressive all things considered. Here's a cheers for Anders and hopefully our continued adventures in WFRP4!

So... speaking of the 4th edition... let's segway into that. Last week we started hearing about some of the plans for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition by Cubicle 7, and I'm getting that jittery feeling I had both back in 2004, when 2nd ed was announced, an in 2009, when 3rd was announced! We will actually get two games, one set in the classic (now exploded!) Old World and one in the Age of Sigmar setting. However, as I don't really know much, or have much interest in, the latter I will focus on the former.

The covers for the boxed starter set and core rulebook. I love how the first shows the heroes casually laughing it up (and a ratcatcher with a wanted sign?) while the others shows them in full melee but at the same location. Great stuff! Also, check out how well the new cover lines up with the original - the guys behind Zweihänder made a comparison
C7 says the tone will be similar to the 1st edition, even the new cover invokes the original in a nice way, with rules based on the 2nd edition. To be perfectly honest I was hoping for more of a from the ground up re-imagening of the rules, but at the same time I can't blame them for making what is probably the smarter business decision - everyone seems to love the 2nd ed rules. I think they're fine but showing their age, and not in a good way. Still they did postpone it about six months (it was originally slated for release this year) to keep finagling the rules, which is a very good thing to me.

What is even more interesting is that, even though C7 first said they weren't interested in rehashing old material, they are going to release a special director's cut, anniversary edition of The Enemy Within! While I generally agree with not rehashing old stuff, some games and supplements are exceptions - WFRP and CoC spring to mind. Especially since players have been clamouring for a reprint of TEW since 2005 and that FFGs version really was a different campaign with similar themes.

As implied by the director's cut comment, the reprint will feature updated and or added content, which, I imagine, will most likely concern the last two parts of the campaign that are generally considered much weaker than parts one to three. Overall I'm very excited for these news. Generally because Cubicle 7 makes extremely well written and atmosphericgames, such as The One Ring, and specifically because I would like to continue The Enemy Within some day. As I mentioned above we could just pick up where we left off, although I think we might as well play from the beginning as I think most of the plot has been clouded by foggy memories by now.

Whatever happens I'd be happy just getting another 15 sessions worth of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to log and chronicle!
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Monday, 27 November 2017

New Angeles - First Impressions

The city falls.
Yesterday I went to my first JIGG (Japan International Gaming Guild) board game meetup since 2010 and it turned out there were still a couple of familiar faces hanging around, and a bunch of new ones of course. It was good being back and playing games! I started out playing a couple of games of Roll for the Galaxy, a game I own but have only played twice, and it reminded me of how much fun and how quick to play it is. When everyone knows the rules it's 30 minutes, tops, and filled with fun decisions. I think I might like it better than Race, for general play like this.

After that I set up New Angeles with four other players. No one hade played it before so there was a bit of a rules explanation and the first round was a little slow, but we were soon up to a decent speed. What I was expecting, or hoping for, were the fun discussions and arguments from Battlestar Galactica, but with less cruft that is only tangentially connected to this core, and... that is pretty much what I got, with a twist.

It plays over six rounds with each round being 3-5 turns. A turn consists of a new Asset being revealed, the active player poposing an action (clean up the streets, or fixing the broken power lines, or setting up hospitals etc) which can then have a counteroffer proposed by another player. The players with no offers on the table votes for which to go through and then that is implemented and the turn passes to the next player. This structure is interjected by events that are bad for the city in different ways, and Demands that are requirements that the corps need to meet every two rounds, to not be penalized with added Threat.

And here's the first brilliant part, Threat is a measure of how close it is that the US government steps in to take control of the city, meaning everyone loose (it's very similar to Archipelago). It goes up through certain actions, or inactions but mainly by not meeting Demand and doing actions in districts with Illness tokens. To win the game you need to make sure Threat doesn't reach 25 AND make sure you have more capital than your immediate rival. At the start of the game you draw a card to see which other player is your rival and it doesn't matter if someone else has more capital than you, if you have more than your rival at the end of the game you are one of the winners. There's also likely a secret Federalist in the mix who actually want the Threat to rise as a government takeover would mean the Federalist wins! Having personal victory conditions like this is smart as you can never really discount anyone.

Jinteki, for all your clone and biotech needs!
The second brilliant thing is having the Demand take place over several rounds. Instead of drawing a Crisis card every turn, like in Battlestar Galactica, you have this looming threat that you need to take care of together. The idea of the Cylon player tanking a skill check in BSG was cool, but usually only happened once per game as it tended to expose her. With more time to work subtly it's a very different thing here, and things aren't usually as black and white, or cut and dried, as in BSG. This allows the Federalist (or anyone else) to work more subtly toward his goal.

Did I forget to mention Investments? Yes, I think I did. This is a third brilliant mechanic. There will be three checks for Demand in a game and at the same time you check to see how well your investment faired. You get one at the start of the game, and one after each Demand phase and generally they tell you to do something that has a negative impact on the city for a capital gain. And since you win by having capital they are important, however going for them could make you look like a Federalist to the other players. Add to this that each megacorporation has different ways of making extra Capital (Jinteki by removing illness, HB by moving bioroids etc) and you have a nice murky soup of city planning, corporate greed and high stakes backstabbing!

I like the orange minis, and I can see that they were going for some kind of holo Deus Ex-like thing. However, all of them in the same colour makes it tougher to read the board state at a glance. Might have to paint.
Just as with BSG the game highly rewards a little bit of light roleplay and theatrics. When you have the right group of people interpreting what's happening on the table through the lens of the Android setting the game really takes off! The game I played yesterday wasn't quite there, but everyone was very involved and there were quite a few deals being struck, even outside the codified offer-counteroffer mechanic.

You still have a bit of a board state to take care of, but instead of the Raiders and Vipers of BSG you have Human First, Orgcrime, strikes and outages that all have more of a menacing impact on the game. While these negative elements rarely have a direct impact on Threat they do make it much harder to run the city properly and meet demand. This  makes it important to clean up now and then and this is usually when corps can make a killing or the Federalist can sneak in some damage.

I've talked about Battlestar Galactica quite a bit, and although there are many similarites, the tone of the game is completely different. Or should be completely different. I think it's easy to fall into the kind of pure co-op mindset of BSG when you play it, when in fact you should simply embrace greed and play as dirty as you can possibly get away with! Since capital, assets and general favours are all up for trade you can propose all kinds of interesting deals. Especially when twisting the other players' arms! You could play nasty and vote down an important action only to take advantage of the following crisis later to score some capital. Or, as I did, slowly push for actions that raised Illness in the city and then reap the rewards as I went in and quarantined the affected districts for a lot of points!

The two main critiques of the game, that I've seen, are that it is boring and repetative and much too long. Both of which I think are perfectly valid! It is not a game for everyone. If you don't find the setting interesting and don't like negotiatons it is going to come off as boring, with "nothing much happening". It's going to be even worse if you play it as a pure co-op. And if you think it's boring it's going to feel even longer than it is, and it already quite long. Battlestar Galactica used to take us about five hours to play because of all the fiddly stuff combined with all the discussions. The game of New Angelese yesterday took us a little bit over three hours which included lots of rules explanation and no player who had played it before. Which I think is a pretty good improvement! Then again, as the trend toward shorter games seem to continue I can understand how many would feel three hours is too long.

However, for old BSG ethusiasts like me and my group this is a great game and I have a hard time seeing how New Angeles wouldn't replace it. That's not to say I would turn down a game of Battlestar Galactica, it just means that New Angeles would be the one I reach for first when I'm in the mood for some intrigue and backstabbing.

As soon as I got back home I pulled out the Worlds of Android book and started reading again. I really hope we'll see some more games in the Android setting soon...
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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Jovian Chronicles Odyssey SEED - Part 4

Jovian Chronicles station assault by Dream Pod 9
On approach to Slumbering Eidolon.

We left our heroes just as they had helped uncovering a secret space station in close Jupiter orbit. Having spent some time at Joshua Station it was now time to recalibrate the linear frame and warm up those reactors! The time for blazing spaceships and darting exo armours has come...

SPOILERS for Odyssey SEED below!

En route to the secret space station, Slumbering Eidolon, the Thunderbolt class cruiser JSS Brave was joined by JSS Steadfast, another Thunderbolt, as well as one of the fleets newest ships - the Athena class destroyer JSS Sparta. The Athena class was commissioned by President Itangre herself just two years ago and the Sparta was the third, and latest, to slip out of drydock and into active duty. It was decided that a light escort would suffice with Angel flight taking on that duty. The actual boots-on-metal assault would be performed by specialist troops of the Skuld arm of the Jovian Intelligence Service. While regular JAF marines could no doubt do the job just as well, Takeshi wanted to keep actual physical access to the station to members within Nornor.

Dutronc's Pathfinder CT.
With the JIS presence already established aboard JSS Brave she was appointed as the taskforce flagship with Commander Bright at the helm. While the Thunderbolt class is not a spacious ship by any stretch of the word, there was just enough room to fit the 10 Skuld troopers, and their Decker suits, in the JSS Brave while Angel flight would make their way on their own power. The taskforce was given the name Torchbearer, as befits someone trying to shine a light at things lurking in shadows.

To try and retain the element of surprise the taskforce went into a close, but not abnormal, parking orbit around Jupiter. Being careful to keep it as close to the location of Slumbering Eidolon as possible while still not raising suspicion. After establishing an orbit the ships started doing many small but numerous course adjustments to slowly change the orbit so it would intersect with the target. Of course these were done with verniers only, to keep them from being spotted. The entire operation took almost 32 hours, but having surprise on their side, as all three ships came in on ballistic trajectories, made it worth it.

Spending 30+ hours in the linear frame of an exo armour can be tiring. Fortunately there's enough
Swede's Pathfinder.
room to detach for more natural movement in freefall while the onboard computer VI took over piloting duties. The three pilots shared stories and talked trash over tightbeam while slowly maneuvering for their attack run. Swede kept complaining that things weren't as they should as they hadn't had time to repair his personal exo armour in time and had issued a new one to him. He kept saying that it didn't smell right.

On a given signal thrusters burst to life and three warships and as many exo armours started the deacceleration to match the Slumbering Eidolon space station. The excellent thrust-to-weight ratio of the exos meant this wasn't really a problem for them, as they could come to relative stop in a matter of seconds. The larger ships, on the other hand, would overshoot the station and had to make their way back toward it. This was according to plan as the JIS troopers would launch from the JSS Brave as it buzzed the station. It also meant that the two Thunderbolt cruisers and the Athena could bring their main, forward firing, weapons to bear, should it be needed.

Taskforce Torchbearer arrive at Slumbering Eidolon.
Only a few seconds into the burn Slumbering Eidolon came alive with emissions across the spectrum to evaluate the approaching threat. Two Wyvern exo armours were outside near the station and they immediately raced to intercept the taskforce. Shortly after them another Wyvern made its way out of a hangar opening and followed them. A strong jamming signal had started broadcasting as soon as the burn started and a kinetic kill cannon mount gimbaled to face the approaching ships. As hundreds of different sensors tried to make sense of the scene, hundreds of others did what they could to jam and block them.

Sturmer's Retaliator.
As the Wyverns approached it seemed like they had various modifications compared to stock models. The most obvious being a large shoulder mounted cannon on one of them. Somewhat disconcerting, but at least there were only three of them. Commander Bright made the KKC a priority as it was the most obvious threat to the ships. The enemy exos could certainly be dangerous but as long as Angel flight were screening the taskforce they would have other things on their mind.

Ever the opportunist, Sturmer decided to take a potshot at the KKC with his railgun. Extreme range and a very hard target really made it a (literal) long shot, but sometimes lady luck smiles at you! Just as Commander Bright was about to open fire on the KKC a neat hole appeared at its base, severing not only a large cable truss but also parts of the mount itself. Even if the gun could still fire it couldn't move any more, rendering it for all practical purposes, useless! "I aim to please, sir" Sturmer commented to Commander Bright as he recalibrated for incoming targets.

Two of the Wyverns made passes on Sturmer and Swede while a third, the one with the shoulder mounted cannon, burned past and approached the incoming ships. Dutronc fired but couldn't penetrate the Wyvern's heavy armour while Swede and Sturmer couldn't get a hit in. All three of them commented on how well these machines flew. Sure, the Wyvern is a great CEGA engineering feat, but they usually didn't dance about like this! Suddenly a stabbing beam of energy dazzled across space as the lead Wyvern fired on the Steadfast with its shoulder cannon. The beam burned for a few seconds as it effortlessly sliced through the ships particle accelerator, resulting in a violent explosion as it detonated.

The beam cannon let loose!
"Angel flight, new priority target: take out that beam cannon Wyvern!", Commander Bright's voice was hard as steel as she issued issued orders in the CIC - that exo was packing capital ship class firepower. What should have been a routine operation, akin to chasing down pirates, had turned into an unkown. Were there other surprises waiting for them? More beam cannons?

While Dutronc and Sturmer had looped back to intercept the new priority target Swede had ended up in a furball with one of the other Wyverns. It was carrying a massdriver rifle, like the one which had turned his old exo to shreds a week ago. He should be able to out maneuver a Wyvern in his Pathfinder, but it just kept dodging in ways he couldn't anticipate. It took all of Swede's expertise and a fair amount of luck to finally catch the Wyvern in a bad position and get a shot at its thruster array which knocked it out of the fight. Just as it hit the Pathfinder was also hit by a round from the hypergolic bazooka of the other Wyvern!

There was a sharp intake of breath as the icon for Swede's Pathfinder winked out but Dutronc calmed down a little when the icon for ejected pilot started flashing instead. "Don't worry guys, I'm fine. That missile blindsided me, but I'm out doing my daily stretches now". Didn't anything faze that man?! "Angel 3, see to it that Bogey Bravo doesn't blindside anyone else. Oh, and nice shot Swede. How is your situation? Do you need immediate pickup?"

The conversation was cut short as the beam cannon fired again, badly damaging one of the drive sections on the Sparta and burning a jagged line up one of the wings. Dutronc told his computer to fire missiles at the target while he lined up shots with the particle cannon. The second shot seemed to hit the Wyverns supply of R-mass when a cloud of white mist extended around it as it escaped into space. The Wyvern tried to speed away, using what time it had left to move, but two more hits from the particle cannon put it out of comission. Commander Bright's voice sounded relieved when she congratulated Dutronc on the well placed shots.

Sturmer's voice crackled over the coms, "Swede, you're heading towards the station. Couldn't you just land on it? I'm sure the boarding party could pick you up."
"Kid, have you seen my relative velocity? I could expend all the R-mass this puny space suit has to offer and I would still hit that station at 200m/s. I don't fancy becoming abstract art. I'll need a pickup or I'll simply sail past and continue orbiting. I would prefer a quick pickup as I don't think this suit can take the radiation levels here for very long. Come to think of it, perhaps abstract art is preferable to radiation poisoning."

Mopping up.
With only one enemy exo armour left the three ships could combine fire, giving plenty of time for Sturmer to line up a shot and take it out. Dutronc proceeded to pick up Swede just as the Skuld assault troops launched from Brave toward the Slumbering Eidolon. Commander Bright was worried that there might be more surprises inside the station, perhaps enemy exo suits, and ordered Angel flight to assist from the outside with surgical strikes as needed. However, control of the station was soon established with minimal resistance. The military personnel present seems to have been all aboard the exo armours, however most, if not all, of the datacorese had been purged and the ones saved from destruction were damaged. JIS data techs would have to dig deep to get anything from this mess.

Mop up proved easy and Taskforce Torchbearer could withdraw while a JIS transport vessel full of techs docked to the station. JSS Brave stayed behind to coordinate efforts while Angel flight returned to the anonymous space station for debriefing. Things would be quiet for a couple of days and the three pilots kept talkinga about the odd flight patterns of the enemy exos and that powerful beam cannon. Then they were suddenly called to one of the briefing rooms where they again met with Commander Bright, Agents Thomson and Takeshi as well as Admiral Thorsen. All four of them were involved in a heated debate but went quiet as the pilots entered the room.

"Gentlemen, we have good news and bad news. We also have a new mission for you."

Which we'll read about in part five! This session was basically a big board game. I was a little doubtfull in how well it would run and how my players would experience it. It ended up flowing fairly smoothly, as we'd have practiced with the transport, and both players and GM had fun with it! In fact, I feel more positive to breaking out minis for a "board game" session once in a while than I was before. While roleplaying does take a bit of a backseat, it's certainly still very present. The whole thing of Swede blowing up again gave me a great opportunity to put him at the station together with the assault troops, and play out a simultaneous corridor and space battle. Unfortunately it happened a bit late in the session so we glossed over the station fighting. Great fit for Swede though!

Start of the battle.
The great thing about pulling out all the stops and use the hex map is that you really get a very different feel for the combat. If you ran it all abstractly I think there's a risk that it would feel just like personal combat, as it's harder to visualize the space environment without the vector movement and detailed damage systems. Still, we won't do it every time, but I certainly think it's worth doing when the outcome is uncertain and there are real stakes involved. I should be receiving all the stuff from the recent Jovian Wars kickstarter any day now and I'm looking forward to have painted ships next time.

Alright, that's about it for this session. Next (and latest) should be up in a week or so...

Friday, 10 November 2017

Jovian Chronicles Odyssey SEED - Part 3

Jovian Chronicles Jovian vivarium style colony by Dream Pod 9
Jovian vivarium style colony.
Time for part three of our space adventure saga! No cheesey drama this time around, just the cold hard facts. While fun to write now and then it makes an event that took 45 minutes to play take up an entire post.

Following from part two, let's see what happened next. As always SPOILERS for Odyssey SEED below.

Our three JAF pilots stayed with the now pacified Nighthawk freighter and her deadly cargo. Well, Swede had become Jupiter's latest artificial satellite and had to be collected several hours later by the escort when it arrived as command didn't allow Dutronc or Sturmer to leave the Nighthawk. The Thunderbolt-class cruiser JSS Brave soon arrived and a squad of marines outfitted in Decker suits proceeded to, more or less peacefully, secure the Nighthawk and her crew.

Instead of going back to their regular base of operations, in the Agrippa colony cylinder, JSS Brave laid in a course to a small, torus style space station that none of the pilots had been to before. Entering through the airlock they were immediately met by a young woman with asian features and a large bearded man, neither wearing regular uniforms but identifying themselves as Lisa Takeshi and Reginald Thomson of Nornor, the investigative branch of the Jovian Intelligence Service. Thomson, who seemed to do most of the talking, explained that things would soon be cleared up as he led them through the corridors to an anonymous looking briefing room.

Inside were their commanding officer, Noelle Bright, together with some unknown staffers and in the corner stood - holy shit - Admiral Avram Thorsen, commander of the entire Jovian Armed Forces! Not a man you meet very often as a lowly flyboy. During the following debriefing Dutronc spoke for the group with some additions or clarifications here and there from Sturmer and Swede. Commander Bright kept the pace brisk and when Dutronc had finished she nodded to Thomson to explain the situation.

The big and bearded, but soft spoken man, told the pilots about the ongoing investigation into a
Jovian Chronicles Thunderbolt class cruiser by Dream Pod 9
Thunderbolt class cruiser JSS Brave.
possible espionage threat against the Jovian States. JIS had been tracking a small group based on Joshua Station who at times relayed odd information requests to coordinates in low Jupiter orbit. They were able to intercept and, through a man-in-the-middle attack, relay different requests meaning they were actually waiting for the Nighthawk to turn up. They couldn't be sure on the exact time it would arrive, which is why the same squadron kept patrolling the same orbit. Basically the player characters were used as guinea pigs to verify that the ruse worked and to see if the freighter actually contained contraband or compromising information. As it turned out the Nighthawk was up to its ears in both.

Thomson went on to explain that this was an extremely sensitive investigation as there were signs that the group on Joshua Station might have had inside help from a person or persons within the JAF command structure. Swede noticed how Admiral Thorsen's frown grew even more grim at this point of the briefing. In fact, he seemed very different from his official persona. Using this low key space station and only handpicked personel was an effort to avoid having the operation compromised as it moved into a more tactical phase.

[Here we took a break to talk about how to proceed. As I mentioned in part one we had discussed the possibility of each player having two characters - one pilot and one agent/journo/PI - to, in a more "realistic" way combine the different play styles of the campaign. My idea was to basically have all the characters represent one large group but have them be active at different times and different locations, as needed. While I think this would have been cool in many ways we also felt that it could detract from the character driven play that is needed to bring a bare bones plot like this to life.

Mobile Suits Gundam Amuro Ray punching
Sometimes even Amuro Ray has to get his (non-mecha) hands dirty!
In the end we decided against it for those reasons, but also for reasons of verisimilitude to the source material. Look at Mobile Suits Gundam, or pretty much any other show in the genre, and the pilots are never only pilots, but fulfill all kinds of roles as required by the plot. Which, while not as "realistic", just seemed like more fun in a cinematic kind of way! So to not make them completely useless outside of mecha fighting I gave them a few extra skill points to spend on things like Investigation, Interrigation and Stealth. We simply retconned this as these particular pilots having had some cross-training and that was why they were handpicked for this mission in the first place. Anyway, back to the story!]

Still being in a delicate phase of the operation Thomson asked the three pilots of Angel Flight to travel with him and Agent Takeshi to Joshua Station where they would need assistance taking out the covert group directing the freighters into Jovian orbit. This was meant as a purely undercover op so a low key approach was needed rather than the mechanized boot of a marine assault squad.

After an uneventful trip to Joshua Station, together with Thomson and Takeshi, all five of them holed up in a small apartment located in in the central ares of The Cluster. If Joshua Station is the most lawless and cutthroat colony in the Jovian Federation (and it is!) then The Cluster is the most lawless and cutthroat area in Joshua Station. Wildly overbuilt and violating all kinds of safety codes The Cluster is a sprawl of urban development that seems to have grown organically over decades. The fringes are still fairly well lit with decent upkeep but the central parts are shrouded in a constant twilight as buildings and support structures block the light.

In the apartment on the sixth floor they were surveilling a small warehouse across the alleyway and a couple of stories down. The JIS would be able to delay the news of the captured freighter for another few of days, but time was of the essence and if it seemed like infiltration wouldn't be possible force might be the only option. The warehouse was the official locale of a small freight business, mainly doing business on Joshua Station and with private traders in the Belt and Venus.

The Cluster on Joshua Station (art by Chrislazzer on Deviant Art)
After two days, splitting the surveillance into shifts, the group had only ever seen three people come and go - two younger men and an older woman. There was always at least one person in the locale at any time and it seemed like the two men might actually live there. None of them were the actual owner of the company, a Venusian named Volondrius Ash, who even JIS hadn't been able to track down. It seemed apparent that a quiet infiltration to just get information was out of the question and plans to go in, guns drawn, were made.

They decided to go in when only the two men were inside and pick up the woman separately. It was all over in a matter of seconds as Thomson and Takeshi covered the back door, one storey down, while Swede put his considerable weight and muscle power into a kick that almost tore the door off its hinges. Swede was first through the door with his JAF issued laser pistol covering the to the right while Sturmer was behind him covering left. They found one of the men in front of a terminal, staring at them, mouth agape and hands in the air. Just as Sturmer went in to clear the kitchen there was a loud pop and he fell sideways into the doorframe. His laser pistol hummed and there was a shout and the clatter of dropped hardware. The other man had hid himself behind a refrigerator and managed to squeeze off a shot, but they were obviously taken by surprise.

Jovian Chronicles Decker suit by Dream Pod 9
A parked Decker suit.
Sturmer suffered a chest wound that would take a couple of weeks to heal properly. They picked up the woman the same day and all three were whisked away to the JSS Brave that had been assigned as a JIS and JAF joint base of operation during the investiagtion. Violent confrontations happens every day in The Cluster so even if there were witnesses it had seemed more like a "hostile takeover" than an actual police operation. Some things found in the warehouse proved disconcerting; the most apparent were the two military grade Decker suits located one storey down. They had evidently been served on a regular basis and were in good working order. Had any of the men had a little forewarning and reached one of the suits it would have been a very different ending to the assault.

The other thing, that would put a knot in the pit of the stomach on any JAF or JIS operative, was discovered when going through the computers and comlogs. The actual destination of The Nighthawk was a secret space station in an extremely tight orbit around Jupiter called the Slumbering Eidolon! Smuggled CEGA exo armours was bad, but this was starting to spin into a major solar crisis! The information on the station was very limited - it was a  Pleiades class research station and it got supply runs roughly every two or three weeks.

The time for subterfuge and sting operations was now over and Takeshi was discussing with commander Bright about how a full military assault on the station could look like. Sure, it might not be necessary, but when you have a secred research station to which a number of top-tier exo armours had been shipped to during the past year you didn't want to take any chances...

And it will be fun to read about how that turned out in part four! This session mostly revolved around cleaning up the fallout from the battle and hooking the player characters into the larger events that are starting to unfold in the solar system. It's not exactly logical to have some pilots join in as backup SWAT unit, but from a fun (and trope!) standpoint it simply felt like the best way to move forward. In part four we're back in space again!
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Friday, 20 October 2017

Jovian Chronicles Odyssey SEED - Part 2

Jovian Chronicles Damaged Pathfinder
Someone's in trouble.
I can't blame you for thinking our Jovian Chronicles campaign (or this blog, for that matter) was dead as a door nail, as the only session report so far was posted way back in March of 2016! Fear not though, we're just extremely slow burn players. In fact we played another three sessions over this past year which I'm just now getting around to chronicling. Thanks to Xander from the Jovian Chronicles group on FB for the kick in the butt to get on with this. :D

As you might remember our three pilot heroes(?), Pierre Dutronc, Leif "Swede" Ericsen and Harrison B. Sturmer had just interceptet an unscheduled cargo transport in Jupiter orbit, The Nighthawk. At first the captain blamed their current situation on reactor troubles, but when the ship suddenly started jamming the exos they knew something was wrong. Soon after two brand new Wyvern exos, seemingly of a CEGA design, broke their way out of two containers and started locking on to the Jovian exo armours...

Jovian Chronicles space skirmish
Opening moves.
Pierre Dutronc barked orders into his comms,"Angel 3, get away from that container. Swede, cover him!". Before the Harrison Sturmer could retreat, the emerging shape ignited thrusters and blasted past, knocking the Retaliator exo armour backwards and into a spin. The Wyvern was armed with a bazooka and fired several shots at Leif "Swede" Ericsen, who went into an evasion pattern.
"Are you ok, Angel 3?", Dutronc's voice was tense. "No worries, chief, was just taken by surprise. Returning fire now". The Wyvern had moved away from The Nighthawk at speed and put the cargo ship between itself and Swede's Pathfinder. Sturmer breathed out while his fingers danced across the command dials - a shot at this range would need his unfocused attention. Suddenly Dutronc's voice broke through his concentration, "They're still jamming my long range comms, but I'm pretty sure command would be angry at us if we wasted the pilots. Besides, I didn't become lieutenant to mindlessly blow stuff up. Go for engines or R-mass." Capturing an exo or two with pilots would certainly put his next promotion within reach, he thought.
Swede came out of his evasive maneuver and fired a couple of pot shots at the Wyvern while circling back to check what happened with the other container. "Angel 1, I can't see the vibro knife anymore, but there are large gashes near the hinges of the container. Please advice." Dutronc was intentionally keeping far back from The Nighthawk, trying to avoid the worst of the jamming and not wanting to be drawn in close to the heavier Wyvern, "Hopefully it stays quiet, but don't take any chances. If you see anything move out of there open fire." "You got it, chief".
Jovian Chronicles Pathfinder and Wyvern  face off
Face off.
 Finally targteing lit up green and Sturmer triggered his entire missile load at the Wyvern. Back in flight school simulations he had a penchant for using his missiles at first opportunity in impressive, but often futile, displays of pyrotechnics. Every time he got yelled at by the instructors for wasting munitions that were, generally, meant for slower targets than exos. But the missile salvoes in the action shows he had watched as a teenager were just too cool! Still, this time he knew the chances of an actual impact were slim, especially if the Wyvern anti-missile equipment was as good as the one on the Syreen, but the missiles were a distraction. A lopsided grin spread across his face as the Wyvern started blasting the missiles with it's head mounted laser array. It opted to detroy the missiles, rather than evading them, meaning it was travelling in a nice, predictable vector. Perfect. Sturmer squeezed the trigger and the Retaliator's arm mounted railgun spit two kilograms of tungsten carbide at the enemy machine.
There was no impressive explosion. No fire or smoke. There was just a bright flash and then the Wyvern's entire thruster assembly was a gaping hole with a debris cloud of shrapnel and R-mass around it. As if a vengeful god had simply snapped its fingers. "Whoa, great shot kid!", Swede's laconic voice sounded over the comms and Sturmer felt a surge of pride at the compliment from the older veteran. He opened comms to Dutronc in Angel 1, "It's drifting away from us, should I pursue?". "Negative Angel 3, I don't want Angel 2 alone with a potential bogey. Circle back and cover him as he approaches The Nighthawk. I'm joining you at 10 clicks out". "Ooh, I feel safer already", Sturmer muttered to himself while making sure the comms were off. Although he did like and respect his commanding officer, Dutronc could certainly be a little overly by-the-book at times.
Swede fired main thrusters once and slowly started his approach to The Nighthawk and the mystery container. That something was in there was clear, he was even positive that it was another Wyvern, question was why wasn't it moving. The big man streched and primed a plasma lance for potential close combat. "Still no movement. Did it malfu...", heavy automatic fire suddenly poured out of the container, giving the Pathfinder pilot no chance for evasion! Swede instinctively put his hands around his head as massdriver rounds shredded the machine around him.
"Swede! Answer! Leif!" Sturmer fired full thrust and could see the broken Pathfinder that was still drifting towards The Nighthawk. It looked crumpled and the right arm had been torn completely apart from a power relay detonation. The giant machine bumped into a container at an angle and started tumbling as it continued drifting, away from the ship. "Swede, are you ok?!" No answer. The heavily damaged container doors were pushed open and a second Wyvern emerged. This one carrying some kind of heavy massdriver rifle - nothing they had seen in the briefings on the new CEGA exo. More sensor equipment as well hinted at some kind of command version. 
Dutronc was on a steady, oblique approach towards the new threat, firing the particle cannon whenever he had a clear shot. "Er, Angel 3, keep your distance as I approach the target bilaterally for enfilade fire". But Sturmer wasn't listening. He had already ignited a plasma lance and using The Nighthawk as cover he maneuvered his Retaliator for a close combat strike in what he hoped would be the rear of the Wyvern. The plan almost worked. The plasma lance hit at an angle across the torso, but what would have cut a Syreen in two was not enough for the much more heavily armoured Wyvern. The enemy exo turned away from the blow as Sturmer flew past. The attack had exposed the flank of the Wyvern but it was still a non-disabling hit meaning it had no trouble levelling that big massdriver rifle and firing at almost point blank range at Sturmer's receding Retaliator .
As he pulled every evasive trick he had picked up during flight school, and some he had picked up through his favourite exo action show, Sturmer pushed the Retaliator to its limits. Fire kept pouring in from the Wyvern that trailed him and he had no time to line up a railgun shot. All the missiles were spent and one of the thruster cones was nearing critical temperature, a design flaw that the Retaliator was infamous for. "Pierre, I could really use a hand right now!", he shouted through the comms. "Er, yeah... just wait. Can you hold out just a few seconds?!". Suddenly a damage alarm started blaring as the Retaliator took a shoulder hit. No serious damage but the armour around the right shoulder was pretty much gone. "Make it quick, Pierre!" Sturmer shouted.
Jovian Chronicles space skirmish
The end is near.
The overheating thruster cone finally gave out and the second one wasn't far behind. Two more hits. One of them more severe this time. With only a few seconds of any real maneuverability left Sturmer started preparing for ejection when the incoming massdriver fire suddenly stopped. He had to override a number of alarms and manually take control of the visual sensors to see what had happened. The Wyvern was still floating in space behind him, but there was a large hole through its chest and Dutronc's Pathfinder CT were behind it with a plasma lance still ignited in its hand. 
"Are you ok?", he asked with a hint of tremor in his voice. "Yeah, I'm fine. I mean, my manevuerability is shot, but I'm in one piece. What about Swede?!". "Don't worry about him. His comms were crippled and I could only pick him up thanks to the enhanced sensor suite on the CT. He's fine. Would you believe it? He says he's going to take a nap as it'll be a while until we can reach him anyway!"
Sturmer's laugh came out almost sounding maniacal, "Well, that's him alright!". He released the ejection levers he had been holding on to and watched his trembling hands. 
"That," he said, "was nothing like the simulations."

This was the first proper test of the full combat rules in Jovian Chronicles and for the most part it worked out well. We made some smaller mistakes here and there, and forgot about command points, which would have changed a lot of things I think. With all the rules explanations the battle went on for about 45 minutes, which I think was ok all things considered. In total i think it ran for about five rounds of actual combat with Swede being crippled in the third round.

Speaking of that, Swede is a lucky man! That massdriver scored six hits that took out pretty much every system except the pilot. The players also learned the power of armour piercing weapons (both the Retaliator railgun and the Wyvern massdriver), the unreliability of missiles (at least versus other exos) and the potential damage you can cause with a well placed plasma lance.

I didn't intend for this to be a little short story. The plan was to just have an opening, but it kind of kept on going. Well, hope you enjoyed it. The adventure continues in part three!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Getting back into that Infinity Groove!

Instead of blogging I've been busy with a number of different games related projects. Some of them are too early to talk about but one that I have been focusing on is just lots of fun to share - I've painted a bunch of Infinity minis and played through the Red Veil intro campaign with my buddy Claes! Woop!

I think I've mentioned earlier that we split the Red Veil starter last year and were planning to use it as a way to get (back) into the game. It would be a completely new introduction for Claes and for me it would work as a kind of recalibration as my brain shifts from N2 to N3. Our initial goal was to paint the minis before starting playing, but as things weren't moving much I thought we'd flip it around instead and play first to get our inspiration for painting!

We actually played the first two missions back late last year so it took us almost six months to get to mission three. And even though I said we'd just go on and play with unpainted minis inspiration struck as I started re-reading the Red Veil booklet and I sat down to paint my two Yaokong remotes and my two Yaozao that have been in a semi-painted state for years! After that I went ahead and painted the complete Red Veil starter and I even built and painted terrain for my own Infinity table. A frenzy of Infinity related activity in May and June as it were.

I've told myself that I'll go back and take proper photos with a camera, but who knows when I'll actually get around to that! So phone pics are better than no pics. Let's start with the Remotes.

Yaokong Remotes for Infinity

I wanted to continue the kind of police-looking colour scheme that i started with my Guija and I thikn it worked out nicely! I even updated my painting method to make it easier and quicker to paint. These are of course magnetized so I can switch loadouts at will - even so I think I might get two more. They're just so cool! Some of the best old school Infinity models for sure.

Yaozao for Infinity

The Yaozao were super quick to paint, using almost only whites to make them stand out. Just wish I had posed them a little differently!

Yu Jing mecha for Infinity

Just had to take a family picture with my mech-engineer and her robotic buddies. Considering all of these minis are from the early years of Infinity it's amazing how well they still hold up! Of course, I won't be able to resist that new Guija sculpt forever... and then this guy can work as a O-Yoroi proxy until that gets a resculpt. Hehe!

Next up we have the Red Veil minis, which I finished in batches.

Red Veil Yu Jing for Infinity

Red Veil Yu Jing for Infinity

I started with the light and medium infantry. The new Zhanshi are a great step up from the old ones and they've certainly taken their growth hormons as the scale has creeped up a bit. Really like that there are two female and one male sculpt in this box, as it's usually the other way around. Part of me would like to get the SWC box, but another part whispers at me to just use Keisotsu instead.

The Tiger Soldier has also got a great face lift, although this particular sculpt can sometimes be hard to "read". It's a cool, very dynamic sculpt, but also a bit all over the place.

Red Veil Yu Jing for Infinity

Love painting the new heavy infantry! As you can see I've changed the colours I use for the HI compared to my old stuff. I liked the white recipe I used for the remotes so much that I wanted to use it for the HI, leaving the blue-grey armour for light troops and making HI white to stand out. The Hsien got a grey collar thoug, mostly for the back spikes to have something to contrast against.

The Zuyong is one of my favourite Yu Jing sculpts as it looks like he's peaking around the corner while communicating to the troops behind him. At first I wasn't sure about the relaxed pose of the Hsien, but after painting and playing with him I've actually come to like the cocky style of it. I also gave him a red faceplace, which I've wanted to do since I saw it on Tim's (of The Tau of War) Shang-Ji back in 2011! I think it really helps bring focus to the model.

Red Veil Yu Jing for Infinity

Last out was the ninja who was quite quick to get done. She's very monochrome since it's all just different shades of grey, but since it's a ninja I think it works pretty well. I have another couple waiting in the painting queue.

And here's a group shot!

Red Veil Yu Jing for Infinity

And another one with some additional friends!

Yu Jing for Infinity

As you might have noticed I've mixed Micro Art Studios' Urban War bases with Antenociti's Hex bases and they look similar enough for it to work fine. The Antenociti bases has the advantage of being thinner but doesn't look quite as nice as the MAS ones, and doesn't have as much texture. I thikn I'll continue to mix bases, and maybe add the tri-hex bases as well, as greater variety is a good thing.

Now, let's have a look at the terrain. I mentioned Test of Honour in my last post and that it has inspired me to build some proper feodal Japanese terrain. However, I also wanted to do this as it would cross over well and work for my planned Infinity table as well. I ordered some model bamboo and trees and other stuff but when I actually got it I felt it would just be silly to start with a completely new project before I had a playable table for Infinity.

So instead I set about using part of the material for building up my Neon Lotus based table for Infinity. What's missing in the pictures here are many more Warsenal planters (as they're awaiting flowers), the actual Neon Lotus paper terrain (as it's awaiting foamcore reinforcements) and a bunch of scatter terrain I just got from Zen Terrain. But you can see the kind of vibe I'm going for. Of course, the aim is to gradually phase out the Neon Lotus terrain in favour of stuff from Zen and other manufacturers.

Sakura trees are awesome for setting the mood! Oh, and I got a MAS ITS objective set as well that I'm slowly working my way through. I have enough built and painted now to be able to play Infinity Recon, which I think will be a good next step after Red Veil.

It's great fun getting things painted and built, but the best thing about this whole project has been that Claes has gotten more inspired and is now actively working with this minis. I hope to see the first brush strokes on his Haqq fairly soon...