I wrote last week about my renewed fascination with Warhammer 40,000. This week, I thought I’d follow up on that with a look at a side project I’ve picked up related to that topic.
In looking at the stats found in the data sheets in Index: Xenos 2, I found that I wanted the ability to customize the data sheet to reflect only the wargear that the unit actually had for that battle. To that end, I opened up a spreadsheet and hammered out a pair of quick templates–one for large monsters with stats that degrade with damage, and one for regular units. These looked pretty good, and printed in landscape mode with 2 pages per sheet they scaled nicely. With that done I began cloning and populating the templates with Tyranid units.
When I was about done with the Heavy Support section I decided that, since I know just enough about spreadsheets to get myself in trouble, I could do more. I revised my template to accommodate some cells devoted to calculating the points value of the unit in question. Because I am a geek who enjoys writing code, and because project creep is always a danger for me, this snowballed into the creation of a pair of templates that will automatically populate themselves with all the relevant data for a given unit type, will calculate the points costs of all the wargear for that unit, and will be easy to convert for the use of any other army in the game.
Here is an example of what it looks like for a Tyranid Hive Tyrant. I’m not quite done with the implementation for it (I still have to automate the other template, and there are a couple of things I want it to do that I haven’t figured out how to implement yet), but in general I think it’s turning out quite nice. I think I’ll post a link to a publicly accessible version of it when I’m done.
Warhammer 40,000 is a game I really enjoyed in high school and into college. I tried out Space Marines in the early days, but quickly learned that Tyranids held a lot more appeal for me. They with tough to win with sometimes (and the Hive Mind help you if you were playing against Chaos), but those discount Xenomorphs were a lot of fun to assemble and paint. Unfortunately, when 4th Edition rolled out, I had other priorities in my life, including young kids with very busy fingers. So I boxed up my bugs and moved on to less time and money intensive hobbies.
Last month, my brother called me up and told me that he was thinking about getting back into the game, so I closed the sale. We talked for an hour and a half about the old days and the fun we had, then decided we’d both get back in.
As it turned out Games Workshop had just released a new edition of the game, and boy is it different. The 8th Edition overhaul looks really good to me. It takes a lot of the more complicated aspects of the game and streamlines them–and this from the perspective of someone who completely skipped editions 4 through 7 (I’m frankly glad I missed the byzantine nightmare that I’ve heard 7th edition’s psychic phase had become).
One key difference that I noticed is that as of 8th edition they changed the way vehicles work; and now treats them the same way that it treats my Tyranid monstrous creatures. This is a good thing. In my experience with 3rd edition at least, the armor rules for vehicles tended to give a serious edge to other armies, assuming that someone playing those armies was clever enough to keep their vehicles out of reach of the bigger monsters like the Carnifex, which could tear them open like a kid at Christmas but only if they got close enough. Under the new rules, vehicles work like my monsters always used to–high toughness, good armor saves, and a lot of wounds.
With that said, the biggest difference for a veteran Tyranid player who hibernated through the last four editions is the army list. When I last played Warhammer 40k, Codex: Tyranids featured thirteen unit types, the toughest of which were the Carnifexes. The new Tyranids list in Index: Xenos 2 contains a whopping 42 strains of glorious, horrible monsters, many of which put the old Carnifex to shame.
As a modeler and painter first and a player second, this is looking like a good edition to me. I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my favorite “new” monsters: the Maleceptor!
I recently built a character for a friend’s Shadowrun campaign. It’s my first time playing Shadowrun and so far I generally like the system, but one thing that bugged me was the primacy of the katana.
In the core rulebook for the 5th edition, swords of all stripes from the roman gladius to the monstrous flamberge are all lumped together as a single weapon; except for the katana. For some inexplicable reason, the mighty and awesome katana does more damage and has better armor penetration than any other sword. This annoys me somewhat: if a rapier and a claymore are both similar enough to a tulwar or a jian to merit having the same game stats, why in the world does the katana stand out? It makes no sense in my mind. The katana just isn’t that different from other swords.
Pathfinder has the opposite problem. Between the core rules, all of Paizo’s official supplements, and all the third party content, Pathfinder has accumulated dozens of weapons with differences so minor and arbitrary that it seems like the only reason for it is to pad out the equipment section of the latest book.
It seems to me that a better approach would be to create a list of general weapons based on rough size and usage, and allow the player buying the weapon to customize it by adding certain features like hooks or back spikes.
I was running Trial of the Beast in Paizo’s Carrion Crown adventure path for some friends. The characters were working toward the endgame of that particular adventure when they encountered a rope bridge.
This particular bridge was a rickety suspension bridge that spanned a 200-foot drop to the river below. Like the stone bridges elsewhere in Schloss Caromarc, it lacked any sort of handrails (apparently the homeowner had some psychotic aversion to handrails). It swayed in the wind, required a DC 10 Acrobatics check to cross safely, and featured a summon monster trap in the center to summon an Erinyes if anyone tried to cross.
I’m sure that the idea was for the encounter to be a challenging fight, with the Erinyes sniping at them with her bow while they tried to cross this treacherous rope bridge. In practice though, the rogue’s checks were sufficient to disarm the trap almost before he knew it was there, and it looked as though the party would bypass the encounter with no trouble.
Alas, DC 10 proved too high for the cleric and the barbarian alike. Two hundred vertical feet later, the cleric’s unconscious body slipped beneath the river’s surface under the weight of his plate armor, while the barbarian struggled in vain against the current which drew him inexorably toward the 50-foot waterfall just downstream. The rogue, a kenku with the ability to fly, joined them on the following round in an ill-advised attempt to save the cleric’s life. Instead, he discovered that the current was too much for him, even without the extra weight of his armored companion. In the end, the rogue swam just well enough to endure the falls and drift downriver until the current lessened, the barbarian’s unconscious body washed ashore by GM fiat (his regular player was absent that night and I won’t kill a PC whose player is absent), and the cleric’s body was never recovered.
The arcanist, who could only watch in frustration while his friends died, walked away and didn’t come back.
What’s the point of this tale? Hazards can be hazardous.
One of the things I like best about roleplaying games like Pathfinder is that there is a clear and present danger: not only can your character die, but he or she can die stupidly if you do something stupid. Unfortunately, this goes hand in hand with one of the things I like least about the game: your character can die because of a single bad die roll. I won’t get into a discussion about monsters that have save-or-die effects right now, but this is where hazards like the bridge can be hazardous to the game itself, not just the characters in it. If a hazard can end the characters with one stupid die roll, then it doesn’t belong in a heroic game.
This is not to say that the bridge had no place in the game. The same goes for the 200-foot drop. For the barbarian and the rogue, this was an awesome thing to have happen. The barbarian plummeted into the river because of an unlucky roll, then fought the current valiantly for several rounds before succumbing. The rouge acted to help his friends—entering danger knowingly and heroically to wrestle with the angel of death before emerging alive, if not successful. Even in the case of the cleric—who failed a single skill check, fell 200-feet to sustain enough damage to render him unconscious, and died of drowning the following round—it’s not a big problem.
The problem was that a single, trivial challenge brought the campaign to a halt.
It’s difficult to say what can, or even should be done about this. As I see it, the principle goal of writing adventures for games like Pathfinder is to challenge the players without bringing the game to such an abrupt end.
I recently read The Silent Sea by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul and learned something valuable about writing from it. I’m not shy about spoilers so read on at your own risk.
The Silent Sea was a thoroughly entertaining adventure novel that follows the exploits of Juan Cabrillo and his mercenary crew. It had everything you’d expect of an adventure novel (everything I’d expect anyway) and was very well done overall. With that said, the storytelling had a key weakness. The plot depended upon a coincidence in the second act.
In the first act, Juan leads his team on a covert mission in northern Argentina, during which they happen upon the wreckage of an old airship flown by treasure-hunting brothers from Washington. Act two begins with Juan’s trip to Washington to inform the treasure hunters’ surviving brother of the fate of their expedition. At the end of this interview Juan is just leaving when another guest arrives—the Argentine major who led Juan’s opposition in the first act. The adventure proceeds from there as leads are followed, derring do is done, and the villain’s plans crumble around him.
This coincidental meeting between Juan and the Argentine major in Washington was the weakest point of the novel. The rest of the novel pulled me through quite efficiently, but this scene threw me out of the narrative. It took some time to get past the fact if the Argentines major and his squad of goons had an extra hour’s layover in Mexico City, the hero would never even have gotten involved in their plot.
Thinking back on other examples of the action genre that I’ve read or seen; I realize that this sort of coincidental connection is a staple. This strikes me as a problem: the meeting in Washington was the one event in The Silent Sea that kicked me out of a narrative that otherwise kept me turning the pages.
Thanks to Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul for teaching me this lesson.
Welcome to the website of N. H. Bradson, a writer of fantasy and science fiction. It isn’t much to look at right now, but I’m planning a number of regular features that should be entertaining for writers, readers, and gamers alike in addition to updates on my own work as a writer and a game designer. All of this begins on July 4th, so check back then.