Wednesday 31 July 2013

Relics Demo Game

Some of you may remember that at Grumpy Old Wargamers Con, my beloved wife and I had a demo game of Relics.

I've then realised that it was so exciting and fun that I took about half as many pictures as I should have to do a decent battle report.

Orcnar, the faction we didn't play
So, we were lured to the table by pretty, pretty models, and then had many of them taken away for the actual demo game...

I want to own all of these later...
This was actually pretty sensible, as the models they left us were a good sized force for a simple demo game to explain the rules.

I chose to play Britanan, because I like puppets, I like Guardsmen, and both of these things bore my wife to death.

Yes dear, I'm aware you think that model is awesome...
The wife chose the Nuem, because they have crazy steam punk machines and are pain obsessed close combat lunatics. Given her Dark Eldar, I'm starting to sense a theme.

I was so enthralled by my awesome puppets that I totally failed to take many photos of Sim's models, for which I shall be undoubtedly mocked later. I set out a sensible gun line, and she advanced, using cover as best she could. She's notably gotten pretty darned good at it given her time playing Dark Eldar.

I ran my Dragoons up on the left, taking a couple of pot shots at the Nuem, before withdrawing and running them around to the right . . . unfortunately, my rifle line got a bit too close to the Nuem's stompy death machine.

Her remaining infantry and caster then took advantage of my being tied up in combat to charge in and finish me off in a brutal melee that lasted a long time, but ended up with the Britanan getting the stuffing knocked out of them.

So here are the winners, the crazy Nuem commanded by my darling wife.

Needless to say, the game was awesome, and we now have a big pile of Relics boxes lying about the house ready to be assembled. The mechanics are simple enough to understand (increase or decrease the number of dice you're rolling, you're trying to get doubles), and there's a nice tweak to list building (if you take more than a certain number of any one unit, the cost starts increasing to encourage diversification).

This also marks a new trend we're moving towards with new or more obscure games - we'll make sure we buy at least two starter sets so we are guaranteed another force - we can always lend out one of ours to someone else to play with.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Personal thoughts and a summary

So, over the past week or two, I've been posting my various thoughts on the Enter the Citadel event I went to at Warhammer World in Nottingham.

You can find my various posts here:

Questions from Bell of Lost Souls
Eldar Seminar
Apocalypse Seminar
Developing Big Miniatures Seminar
40K Ask the Audience
Black Library Seminar

Man, I have written a lot!

Personal thoughts

While the road works were super infuriating, we apparently didn't miss too much of the first seminar, and the sign in crew were super helpful in getting us signed in so we could get to the first seminar.

I didn't get to talk to anywhere near as many people as I wanted. While the seminars were interesting, it meant I had a lot less time to meet people at the event - once you took out the time for eating, and a couple of seminars running a little long, there wasn't long after one finished before you'd be off to the next one.

I did get to meet John Blanche, if only for a short bit of time. I didn't get to look at his book of artwork, so I'll have to hope he's at Games Day. I also didn't get to look at the gorgeous Inq 28 work in his display cabinet for anything like as long as I wanted.

He did have a look at my scribe, my beastman and my arbitrator conversion - the last in particular entrancing him for a while as he was working out how he'd replace the shotgun with a pistol... I'm very sad I cut short my conversation with him to go and listen to another seminar, and desperately hope I didn't come across as rude. I was actually super nervous, and it may have made me appear a bit short or dismissive. Here's hoping I didn't come across too badly.

He did mention that he has another gaming day planned with some of the Inq 28 community in the near future. I am sadly not rich enough to travel to Nottingham just to watch other people play (otherwise I'd have asked if it was OK), but I am looking forward to the pictures and the accounts of the day from possibly the coolest gaming group in the universe.

I also didn't take any photos outside the seminars until they were basically clearing up, which is a shame as there were a lot of lovely figures on display. Most of them were the staff's personal collections.

Sim went to some of the hobby seminars, particular the ones with Joe from the 'Eavy Metal team, over whom she has some mild fan girl tendencies. She seemed to have fun with them.

In the little time I had, I managed to talk to a wide range of people - Studio, Black Library and White Dwarf folk. Meeting Jes Bickham again was interesting. As is usual for most people, he remembered my wife but didn't quite remember who I was until she rocked up. We had chatted with him a short while at Games Day last year, and we bent his ear a little over the concept of a combined iPad and paper subscription to White Dwarf, although I suspect their margins on both are not necessarily low enough to justify much of a discount, he was kind enough to say he'd ask people about it.

I ended up chatting to Graeme Lyon a bit about his Iron Warriors army between two the seminars. Many of them were unfinished, which meant I had to go and sympathise - this blog does consist of about half of my posts going "this week, I failed to get what I wanted to done".  I am also a Terrible Person because I haven't gone and downloaded his work from Black Library yet. Anyone who remembers and likes Dark Future is clearly awesome.

We decided to go and take advantage of the glorious summer weather and sit out on the Bugman's Bar balcony. We ended up chatting with the various other people who'd had exactly the same (excellent) idea until everyone else drifted off. We were among the last five people to leave in the end. The social conversation in the evening with folk who share the hobby was as enjoyable as the 'event' part of the day. It even led to a couple of challenges being laid down for some point in the future when we can get back up to Warhammer World.

From a blogging point of view, I've learnt a couple of lessons about how much work it is to type up this much content, and need to plan better how to get it uploaded in a reasonable window of time after the event. I'll be trying those things out for Games Day this year, so we'll see if that works well.

I'm also going to try and avoid saying when my next post is going to be unless I have already finished and scheduled the next one. Saying I'll post again tomorrow and then leaving it for three days because of other commitments coming up irritates me, even if it doesn't bug a single one of my readers.

I wasn't sure what to expect of the event. I wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for the blogging aspect of my hobby, but I am incredibly glad I did. It was great fun and I will likely go to more events like it in the future. I think I will need to plan my time a little better if I want to get to talk to everyone I want to at an event, but clearly, the way to achieve that is to go to more events like it and practice!

Let us not speak of how my painting and modelling has suffered from all of this typing. I am definitely looking forward to sitting down with some miniatures in the near future, but don't expect to see any hobby progress for a while - I've got nothing done relating to this hobby outside this blog for weeks. Its time to start fixing that balance.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Malifaux: The University of Transmortis Unboxing

I was pleasantly surprised today to discover that my reserved copy of "The University of Transmortis" had arrived - and here I was thinking it wasn't due until next week!

Cybernetic zombies wasn't a hard sell, I must admit. However, regular readers will know that I'm a dirty Neverborn player (two games under my belt now!), so why am I buying models that look all Resurrectionist? Read on and discover the potential mayhem...

This is the first time I'd seen renders of the sculpts, and if I'd seen this before buying, I'd have been definitely grabbing it, rather than speculatively putting the money down as a bit of a gamble. I'm glad that in this case, one of my very rare moments of irresponsible has paid off.

So, this is everything you get. One plastic sprue, along with a bit of foam to protect some of the tiny plastic pieces. A rulebook. A little wallet with the stat cards and assembly instructions, and the bases. I couldn't see any way of going into further detail on the cards without copying the rules out, which I don't think is really on.

I was about to type "and no-one who reads this would be interested in plain plastic bases". And then I noticed that it looks like those bases don't have slots in them - a big complaint about the new plastic Ten Thunders models had been that the bases still had slots in when the models didn't have tabs... So it looks like that might be fixed going forward.

The little pamphlet of rules is lovely quality - flavour text and pictures run through it. This gives a good impression of the sort of thing you're going to be getting without photographing entire pages.

So, this is the sprue, photographed against the white foam so you can see it - my grey kitchen counter is not going to really give you the contrast!

Each of the four Iron Zombies included in the kit has all its parts in one of the four little sub-sprues. Sadly, Wyrd has still not learnt and some of those parts are unreasonably tiny...

I'm definitely looking forward to putting these horrors together. In addition to being usable as a Resurrectionist crew / models (there's a henchman and three minions in the box), they can also be used for a couple of different schemes where you're trying to save civilians / ensure civilians die, or trying to lure the other side into being eaten by zombies.

There's also a fun little one player scenario where you're being attacked by random zombies and trying to score victory points against the little swine. I don't yet have the points assembled to try that, but that's definitely a challenge to work up to!

Sunday 21 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Bringing 40K to life - writing background


This was the last of the seminars at Enter the Citadel, with a talk from Guy Haley (Black Library author) and Graeme Lyon (Black Library author and editor).

Who comes up with the idea for a story?

It can happen either way. Sometimes, an author will come up with an idea and pitch it to Black Library. In other instances, Black Library will ask authors for something to a specific brief. Guy, with his history as a journalist, is happy to write to a brief. His recent book, Death of Integrity, is based on three paragraphs in an Imperial Armour book. He very much wants to do the "Night of ?Vospis?" (but apparently quite a few other authors do as well).

How do you turn a background entry into a fully fledged story?

Drama comes from tension. The Death of Integrity is a joint operation by the Nova Marines and the Blood Drinkers - so you gain tension from the differences. The Nova Marines see themselves as offshoots of the Ultramarine Chapter, but have changed due to their isolation from the rest of the Imperium - which creates its own internal tension. You then get a further level of tension from two very different Space Marine chapters trying to work together.

How do you keep stories consistent with previous background?

"Highly trained editors." Recently, Black Library has undergone somewhat of a restructure. Games Workshop has now created a mega publications department, with all the writers in the same office. This helps keep things consistent. Everyone talks to each other. They can see potential overlaps or issues.

Some of their staff have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the background. For example, Laurie Goulding knows the Horus Heresy background incredibly well.

Guy Haley mentioned he's been playing for 30 years, and knows a lot of the setting backwards. He regards it as part of his job when he's writing to get it right. For his next, book, about the Eldar, he's read the last three Codexes, Gav Thorpe's Eldar series, and the Dark Eldar series. He likes to weave tiny things in.

Graeme then mentioned that he loved how Gav Thorpe had made all the Exarches speak in haiku. Guy hadn't noticed this yet, said a few affectionately terrible things about Gav and muttered something about redrafting an awful lot of dialogue. Something about writing a tactical briefing in haiku...

Do you try and stay true to the mechanics of the game?

They try to stay true to the mechanics of the world, not the mechanics of the game. They try to keep the right power balance of armies. They try not to make the army they're currently writing about too awesome when writing its background.

Is it hard to write things from an alien perspective?

Guy is still working on his Eldar book, but recently published Skarsnik, and writing goblins is very similar to aliens in terms of trying to write a non human mindset. For Skarsnik, he mediated this through human observers, which lets you get into their world from a sympathetic viewpoint. The closer an alien is to human, the harder they are to write. However, they've still been created from human experiences by games designers, who are humans. They work well as identifiable archetypes for a game, but you've got to find the people within the archetypes.

What can't you write about?

They avoid sexual violence and violence against innocents. You won't see it happen. In some ways, the 40K world is a strangely moral place, even if the government is fascistic.

Guy mentioned that everyone is the hero of their stories. Even the Night Lords have their own moral code.

What do you like best about writing for Black Library?

Tie in fiction has been historically looked down on. Most of it is non-canonical. A big example of this is the Star Wars novel "Splinter of the Minds Eye", created after Star Wars, but it doesn't match with the second film in any way. However, writers are getting to write canon for Black Library.

There was then a question about points of view characters, which got into a discussion of how they won't do a Tyranid point of view character, as they haven't worked out how to make that accessible and understandable given the complexities of the Hive Mind.

Guy mentioned he had done a short bit of Genestealer point of view in Death of Integrity, but this works because Genestealers are designed to operate on their own ahead of the Hive Fleets.

Do you use historical characters and cultures for inspiration?

Historical cultures do inspire the 40K universe, but Guy doesn't go back to these sources. You would end up with odd ancient Greeks, for example, rather than xenos. There is enough written about 40K now to research within the universe.

How do you deal with absurdities?

You can work with them. One of the commonly cited things that don't make sense are a certain Grey Knight and a certain demon primarch's heart. You figure out what's behind the text and develop that to make it work. There is an audio drama called Mortarian's Heart coming out soon, incidentally...

If something is removed from canon, do you have to remove it from your work?

In short, it hadn't really come up for either of them so they couldn't really comment in detail.

What next for the Horus Heresy?

There can be a long time in the game universe between books. The start and end of the Heresy of have been well detailed, but there is loads of room for new stuff in the middle sections. Dan Abnett is working on Unremembered Empire for the Ultramarines, covering what happens after Calth. They will keep releasing books for a long time yet.

Anything else you'd like to write?

Guy said he'd like to write something for almost every entry in the old Ork Freebooters book, mentioning Khornate Orks and Ork Genestealer Cults.

Do you ever plan to go into the 42nd Millennium?

You don't need to. You've got 10,000 years of history to play with. After M41.999 is your story to tell. There are loads of other areas to explore still - they will probably do the Scouring after the Heresy.

Do secondary characters ever take over a book?

Yes. It always happens. They take on a life of their own...

And with that, it was the last of the seminars - you can see I was flagging with what I was writing by this point... Tomorrow, I'll throw together a few thoughts on the event in general, and a few bits and bobs of comments and observations that don't really fit anywhere else...

Saturday 20 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Ask The Audience - We want to hear what you think about Warhammer 40,000

The "Ask the Audience" section of the day was something I'm not really convinced about. The premise was that the hosts (Jervis Johnson, Phil Kelly and Jes Bickham) would ask the audience a series of questions to get some feedback on our thoughts on 40K.

I'm not really sure the format worked. With a couple of exceptions, there were too many people to feel you could safely get into a debate with them without taking time away from others. I didn't take as expansive a set of notes on this one, as not every question was worth hearing the audience answers on. Still, where I bothered to note the answers, I'll mention them, as people might find it interesting.

What is your favourite 40K model?

  • Dark Vengeance Set
  • Deathwing Box
  • Tau Riptide
  • Wall of Martyrs
  • Wraithguard
  • Tau Broadside
  • Chaos Cultists
More expansions or more codexes?

This one got a more interesting debate. There was a discussion of expansions firing the imagination and applying across the brand as a whole, rather than just one army. One audience member mentioned an event called "Wolftime", which I haven't heard of before.

There was a mention that Games Workshop felt that too many people had been seeing 40K as simply a system for small, competitive games at a fixed points set, and wanted to move away from that.

One audience member said that they weren't a fan of the additional codexes, and they would rather see a core set of versatile Codexes, and was worried that they would get to the point where everyone needed two or three supplements to play.

Jervis responded that supplemental codexes will draw on a main codex. They are being designed so they don't have to be updated and can survive by themselves to avoid Games Workshop finding themselves in a situation where there is too much to update.

One audience member suggested grouping Marine codex supplements, so, say, the White Scars and the Raven Guard got a shared supplement as the "fast attack" Space Marines, and so on.

What do you see as the biggest threat to the Imperium?
  • Chaos
  • Tau
  • Necrons
  • Tyranids
  • The Imperium itself
  • Angry Squats

There was some discussion of the upcoming Farsight Enclaves books, mentioning that Farsight was, in many ways, a very sympathetic character, and that the upcoming book would give a very different perspective on the Tau.

What is the best thing about 6th Edition?

  • Flyers
  • Overwatch
  • Allies
  • Randomness
  • Return of older features / return towards Rogue Trader elements
  • Challenges
The panel then discussed that they wanted 6th edition to have a feeling of you being on the field of battle. The perspective on covers is low or next to the model. They are trying to put you into a situation of seeing a model's eye view, as if you're there.

What is the best thing about Apocalypse?
  • Datasheets / variety of datasheets
  • The scale and scope
  • The freedom and variety

There was then a question about what people wanted to see

  • Sisters of Battle plastics and codex
  • Genestealer Cults
  • Lost and the Damned
  • Xenos Terrain
  • A Tyranid model to put the Wraithknight and Riptide to shame
  • More factionalisation and customisation
A couple of these ones got some further points. It was mentioned that originally there had been a technical problem with developing Sisters plastics, but that Games Workshop would now have the technology to be able to do them.

There was also a mention of a pitch for "Codex: Evil Imperial Guard" which hadn't succeeded so far.

At this point, the Q&A had drastically over-run, so it ended rather swiftly to head into the next Q&A.

This article is one of a series I'm writing about the Enter the Citadel event...

Enter the Citadel: Here be Giants - Developing Big Miniatures

Once again, the session started with a few questions on the overhead projector to get things started.

What are the challenges when designing bigger kits?

The biggest problem is scale - making sure details on the model give it pace. You want to have a balance of big areas for painters to play with as well as detailed areas to give it a sense of scale compared to the other models. This can triple or quadruple the amount of time you're spending on developing a kit.

You've also got to make sure it fits in with the rest of the range. For the Riptide, it wasn't just a case of scaling up a Crisis Suit, you need to add more details.

If you're a converter trying to make something look big, one of the simplest tricks is to make sure it has a smaller head. Matt Holland referred back to the old comic book character Thrudd the Barbarian - his tiny, tiny head let you realise that he was massive, even if you weren't seeing him alongside other people. Without tricks like this, the eye assumes the scale.

What was the inspiration for the Riptide?

Big robots are cool.

Matt talked a lot with Jeremy Vetock about the model during the development of the Tau book. They talked about the nova reactor, which resulted in the asymmetrical reactor design. This helped them develop its background and battlefield role. If you know what various bits of detail are, its easier to sculpt them. It enables the suspension of disbelief so people believe it could feasibly work.

Jes added that the big chest on the Wraithknight was to fit in the pilot. Matt and Jes also talked a lot to avoid treading on each other's toes between the Riptide and the Wraithknight. Matt discussed with Jeremy about what to have the Riptide do other than just be a big Crisis Suit. They came up with the idea of a mobile reserve unit, moving quickly to fill a gap in the line of the Fire Warriors, taking out enough of the threat for them to cope, then moving on to the next threat. Simply sculpting a bunch of nice shapes onto the model isn't enough - you design knowing what they are and what they are meant to do.

The new kits also now give the option to either stick with an easy, fixed pose, or to remove the guide pins and make a more complex, animated figure. The designers spent some time on finding a single cool pose to lock each figure into, but gave the option to remove the pins to 're-animate' the figure.

How long does it take to create a figure like this?

Generally, around two years. Actual working time varies. It starts with around two weeks of concept work, and then takes between three to six months to make. This work includes making sure that the kit will fit onto the frames. They need to make sure it will work as a plastic kit.

More models these days are sculpted on computer, although Jes is a pen and paper guy.

How do you decide what models to make?

Dart boards and Star Trek style fights.

Really, it comes down to what you have ideas for. Both Jes and Matt wanted to include a shield on their kit (Riptide and Wraithknight) so they had to communicate a lot to ensure the two designs were sufficiently different. There are two races who have big walkers, the Tau and the Eldar, so in some ways, they were an obvious choice.

They did much better than expected - they couldn't keep the Riptide in stock. Jes acknowledged that this was a bit weird, in the sense of who genuinely thought "big robots won't sell"?

Are there size restrictions on what you can do?

They have to fit the frames into the boxes. The Tau probably don't want to have a bigger walker than the Riptide, so if they have a bigger model, it wouldn't be a walker. In Jes' head, the Knight Titan is about the line. They will put restrictions on themselves, but for the big walkers, the attitude was "why not?".

They need to think about the idea of a gaming board, and the scale of a Space Marine. Scale is an odd thing - "heroic scale", as its called. Games Workshop don't particularly fit to a scale. 28mm is not a scale. They are, theoretically, 1/56 scale.

But you have other challenges. Can you fit 10 Space Marines into a Rhino? Only if you really get your foot in and force it! They need to not reach the point where a model is unwieldy to move around. They have done drafts to get the size right. Who knows what the future holds with regards the size of models?

Jes made a little side point that "Marines are the right size."

Is there anything Forge World have done you'd like to do?

Some of Jes' old Eldar designs went to Forge World. They don't really find redoing something of Forge World's as exciting as doing something new. They don't want to tread on their toes, either.

How do you find inspiration for new units for established and restrictive ranges like the Space Marines?

Jes is not keen on doing a big walker for Marines, as that isn't how the army works. They would look to try and think of something else. They would look at the core archetypes for their range? Is a big tank suited to the Marines? Not really. They are a rapid reaction force. Variant APCs are something Jes would find more interesting in the Marine army. Jes has now 'handed over' Marines to younger folk.

Could Tyranids go bigger?

They could definitely go bigger. They could fill in the gap. The Trygon was kind of the first of the big miniatures on that scale.

How do you decide where to split up a big model?

Right at the beginning. They also start work on the frame layout right at the start. Some models are easy to find lines to break the model up, others, such as the Hellpit Abomination, are really hard. Plastic can only be so thick, and you can only have detail on one angle in the mould. You have to have those things in mind from the start.

Sometimes, they have to move details. Seals and ammunition packs can hide joins. They are designers for an industrial process, working within specific technical constraints, and that is part of the challenge.

Is there a concern that big models will dominate the game?

The models Games Workshop make are not just gaming pieces. They are also catering to collectors and painters. The designers aren't concerned about it at all. In many ways, that's the writers' problem. Also, you need infantry to look up to the big kits to show the scale. The big models are the icing on the cake - and big fancy models are cool.

There was then a technical section about injection moulding technology and sliding cores - quite frankly, I got lost... So, on to the next question.

Have Games Workshop considered magnetising their kits?

Not really. People are free to modify them to do so, but Games Workshop can't produce the relevant magnets in house - which is another component. They'd be left unable to control the price of the models. Its left as something people can choose to do if they want, but the kits aren't actively designed with that in mind.

What about 3D printing?

3D printing isn't there yet. The resolution isn't good enough for 28mm scale. The desktop machines extrude plastic, and that doesn't have the detail. Higher end machines which have more detail are very expensive. Games Workshop use them for rapid prototyping. Volume and price just isn't there at the moment.

Jes thinks it will take longer than five to ten years for it to become a real challenge, and even then, Games Workshop could easily adopt the technology. The technology might allow you to make an online purchase to print at home, or allow you to scan your face and have it put on a model. You could pick your weapons before your model was printed. It wouldn't necessarily be the end of the stores, either - you could go into the stores to get models or custom parts printed in store.

Do you prefer plastic figures or resin for hero models?

Jes likes the challenge of plastics. Not trying to make the character models compatible with the rest of the range frees you up a bit. Matt's Savage Orc was an example, where the ponytail and shoulder were one part.

Plastic is the best medium for reproducing the sculptor's work at the moment. Metal and resin shrinks and warps. You have different constraints for different models. Eventually, it is likely that they will go all plastic.

Jes then finished by mentioning that the flexiblity could also have some halfway houses. For example, his recent Farseer model does have a comparable neck fitting for the rest of the Eldar line. There's a range of configurations they'll be able to work with in the future.

This article is one of a series on my experiences at Enter the Citadel.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Bringing the Apocalypse

"I say Jervis, shall we turn 40K up to 11?"
"I don't see why not, Phil..."

Having found some breakfast at Bugman's, I managed to make the first part of this seminar, rather than coming in halfway through.

The set up was that the headliners, named as the guests on the promotional material, would sit on the stage on some nice leather sofas, while questions were taken by a chap who I never really caught the name of, but who radiated Corporate Enthusiasm. They 'warmed up' with a few core questions on a projector, before opening the floor to questions.

The only real downside from a practical perspective was that they had hung a lot of cloth around the staff canteen to make it look better (you just head in and eat how it is normally during Throne of Skulls events) - and the kitchen was still working, so the entire place became a huge oven. I'm not sure making it look a little prettier was worth the sweltering heat we endured as a result.

The people going to the painting and hobby seminars will have probably had a much better experience, as the room they went down to was the one used for the painting masterclasses, which has at least some pretence of air conditioning, and doesn't have a kitchen next to it!

Some of the answers to the questions here are very basic, but I'm going to include everything I noted down.

What is different with the new Apocalypse?

They've added new rules, and new scenarios. There are Unnatural Disasters, Finest Hours, the list went on. Formations have been included to give people benefits for placing your tanks / models in a certain way. They also wanted to focus on the social aspect of the game.

Phil is especially fond of the Master of Disasters. One is appointed at the start of each game turn. He was not allowed to include a rule to say you had to wear a special hat. The focus of the book was very much on arranging a big social game. Players should consider it a permission slip to go crazy. You can theme your battles, and destroy the world you're fighting on. You don't have to include these rules, it is up to you.

They've added Warzones - Armageddon, and shortly coming, Pandorax. These are campaigns from Warhammer 40K's background. There will be extra data sheets and so on, including bespoke stuff from those backgrounds. They allow you to take those backgrounds and form strongly themed games in the context of a particular bit of history or timeline.

Guy Haley mentioned in passing that the novel "Baneblade" was written about two years ago, but had been waiting for an appropriate release slot.

They said that one of the things they are trying to do with 6th Edition is to make it feel like you are there on the battlefield. This is one of the reasons behind having a Warlord. They wanted you to have a trooper or commander's eye view of the battle, not a God's looking down.

It was mentioned that Yarrick and Ghazghkull both have Finest Hours which continue while their nemesis remains on the field.

Is Apocalypse needed?
They strongly believe so. People were locked into the idea of 40K being fixed point value battles. The book needed to say "you can do this". It can take you where you want to go.

They commented it was scary how quickly people like to put things into a box of restrictions that the designers never intended.

The book talks about how to organise large battles and how to make it easier to do. Its a toolbox of stuff. It allowed Games Workshop to make the big models.

Warzones are "Codexes for Apocalypse". They focus on warzones, etc. They will cover a number of armies. Pandorax is a completely new warzone, while Armageddon is an existing historical one. They've tried to inlcude lots of flags and portraits to bring the campaign to life.

Phil Kelly and Guy Haley are working on another, new Warzone - working collaboratively with the Black Library to help write the background and setting. The idea is that in addition to the existing 'classic battles' of 40K history, they will add some new ones.

What are your favourite bits of Apocalypse?

Jervis likes Unnatural Disasters. He wasn't convinced with them to start of with, but the players loved it. He feels he learnt something from that. It lets you go a bit "Michael Bay".

Phil likes Datasheets. There will generally be a story and a theme to datasheets. Phil already had 25 Fenrisian Wolves and a fwe Thunderwolves, so he decided to buy enough models for the huge flanking wolf strategem in the book.

(My notes fail at this point, I think it was Guy's favourite thing): The warzones - they're like the Osprey campaign histories. He needs to be enthused to write, and the details in the warzones really help with that.

How do you make sure the game is balanced?

The trust the players. Not every game will be balanced. But an unbalanced game can still be an excellent experience - it's about the story. Balance is often actually equated with fun, and feeling like you contributed. Spectacular is not always balanced.

They then derailed for a few minutes as a discussion of how most players of Apocalypse are friends with each other, and in many way, the battle is a way of expression that friendship or relationship. This then completely derailed with the line "Their eyes met over the Ork Warboss"...

You have to come at the games with the right spirit. Groups of friends will arrange a game, and there will be a lot of discussion before the game about what's going to happen. The players should like and respect each other to ensure everyone involved has fun. It is not the only way to play teh game. It is not for everyone. They're not making this for a "market", they're making it to show other people how they (the Studio) have fun. They are sharing and showing that.

What about old data sheets?

There wasn't enough space for everything. New Warzones will include some old ones, plus some new ones too. Probably not 100% of the old datasheets will be produced, but most. They are not as likely to include as many of the old conversion from the epic range where there is no existing model. There will still be some conversions.

They appreciate Apocalypse for its effect on people's collections. People have moved to thinking of it as an army, not a series of isolated and separate 1,500 point 'things'.

In some ways Games Workshop treat 40K like it's "real".

It then moved on to questions from the floor...

"How much do you have to put in expected features, and how much are things you love instead?"
There's more freedom in Apocalypse, so they can put more stuff in there. You are working to a brief - you need to release rules for the Baneblade, for example, or some players will {my writing in my notes gets frantic and unintelligible at this point}.

"How much are you constrained by technology?" (In the context of someone who works in the computer game industry asking)
You aren't as constrained by technology as in computer game design. There's a lot more freedom in that respect.

"Why did you take the points values off formations?"
We wanted to give people a reward for focussed collections.

"What's in the new Pandorax Warzone?"
Dark Angels, Catachan, Grey Knights, Black Legion and Demons. It's about Abaddon's ongoing nefarious plans. There's a battle report on board a space ship. It runs from asteriods, through space, and into an Imperial space ship. There's a planet with dinosaurs on it. Space Marines, fighting, in SPACE! It was a surreal board to play on. There was a cargo lift carrying Baneblades into the fight. There was also a cross section with a little control room with a small kill team game - Dreadclaw versus the admiral, to decide who would control the main guns.

There's links to the other bits of background and story for Abaddon's cunning master plan. You can call on the gods during the battle - in this one (during the playtest), Khorne was called on an his sword blow killed nine fliers instantly. Phil said that this was probably a bit too powerful, so after this playtest they dialled that back a bit.

Will there be allied formations?
Yes, a few. Like the Heroes of Armageddon, which consists of Black Templars, Blood Angels and Imperials. It will be rare, though.

Did they work closely with Forge World?
Yes, and they were happy to help. They took some of the classics from Forge World such as some of the mainstream Titans. They got lots of advice from the Forge World people as they have a lot of experience of designing and building on this scale. Warzones will include additional Forge World products.

They then clarified - Warzones aren't supplements to Codexes. They are more like a smaller Imperial Armour book. Warzones are far more varied - including plants and dinosaurs.

"Where do you go to top up on inspiration?"

Guy Haley: Whisky Bar.

Phil: Sci fi books and films. Greek myths as well. He tries to incorporate that sort of thing. Archaeon's quests in Warhammer Fantasy could be seen to be influenced by the labours of Hercules, for example. 40K is more like Science Fantasy than Sci Fi. Space Wolves can be seen to be like Beowulf. In many ways, the old legens are The Stories, and those echoes are often repeated.

Jervis: Military history. For Pandorax, he got to do a map like the old WWII Naval Battles. Its an inspiration and a homage to what inspired you when you were younger - all ramped up to 11.

Guy again: 40K is effectively self sustaining now. He views writing for Black Library as similar to writing a historic novel - you need to research. He has a massive collection of the old Ork book and early White Dwarfs which he used for an Ork short story he wrote recently. You have to think about things like "how does Marine Terminator armour work". How does zero gravity affect fighting? He likes to add in some hard science fiction, and finds inspiration in many different places.

And with that, this Q&A came to a close. I hope to have "Here be Giants" written up in the next day or so...

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Sons of Khaine - Developing the Eldar

My beloved wife and I travelled up to a hotel near Nottingham last Friday night for Enter the Citadel, a day of fun and frolics at Warhammer World. The first seminar I wanted to attend was "Sons of Khaine - Developing the Eldar", with Jes Goodwin and Phil Kelly.

Sadly, Nottingham's attempts to install a tram network meant that we were late and missed the start of the first seminar. Yes, Warhammer World have widely advertised the works are causing problems - but we hadn't realised that the location of the work had changed since our last visit, and trusted our GPS. Trust and complacency are the enemies of success!

We came in just as someone was asking why the Wraithknight had not used the four legged 'centaur' style design of one of the old epic models.

Jes Goodwin said that this had been the opinion of almost everyone but him! He was concerned that it might not look OK in 28mm rather than the epic scale. In addition, from an aesthetic standpoint, Jes wanted to go with a 2 legged model. He didn't want to go with the most bizarre of all the designs for the first one. In addition, there was a side concern that a "centauroid-thing" had been used for the demon engine design, and they didn't want it to be too similar.

It was then asked how they playtest. We were told that the first stage is an internal studio playtest. They play games with the draft rules to check for the feel of the army. Is a shooting based army sufficiently shooty? Is a fast army quick enough? They are looking for a broad fit for the feel of the army. This is where most of the army wide special rules are tested and often set - whether that is the power through pain of the Dark Eldar or the reanimation protocols of the Necrons.

They then bring in 'external' people to do a second playtest. They look to get a wide variety of people for this - managers, tournament players and hobbyists. This is for repeated tweaking before its finally sent out. The process can be very complicated and frustrating, as there are so many variables. They typically use ten to fifteen people for playtesting, who are all Games Workshop employees.

This is a change from the past, when a group of players, including some American tournament players, were used to test things. However, it was never clear how much those outside the company were discussing with their friends or posting anonymously to the internet. By using employees, Games Workshop has a recourse if someone does post something to the internet ahead of release.

The aim with the new Codex was to try and make the best version ever - including the best bits of all the previous codexes as well as new material. Phil regards the second edition Eldar codex as the "defining template" for the Eldar. White Dwarf 127 was a seminal moment for Phil, and was the motivation for him to start to collect an Eldar army. Many aspects in the army were classic and he took a "If it's not broken, don't fix it" attitude with them - and thus kept some more or less the same from the last Codex.

The Eldar Codex as a whole needed a theme. The Eldar are fast, but the Dark Eldar are supposed to be faster. Matt Ward did a lot of work on the psychic powers, and also came up with the Battle Focus rule. Phil likes the rule as it makes them "elfier". He's Phil Kelly, so he's allowed to make new words like that.

A concept becomes stronger if it is re-iterated. The Crimson Hunter aspect has had less time to become established than, say, Fire Dragons. Harkening back to earlier versions both refines a concept but also matures it - like a good cheese. It would be silly not to use existing background and mechanics where they are working.

The question was then asked, as Games Workshop don't tend to progress the timeline or story of their games, how do you fit new things in? If you can tie in with existing things, it makes it better. They deliberately leave loose ends so they can come back to them later. Many Eldar subjects haven't been touched yet - Exodites, and a lot of models from the old Epic range. Why not use the existing resources rather than something else? Codex supplements and allies gives Games Workshop much more capability to do new things.

When asked how many iterations the rules go through in development, Phil said that it can depend. Sometimes they get it right first time - others go through multiple versions.

The 12" range of the Shuriken catapult was then brought up. Is it too short? Phil said that things are defined by their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Eldar are typically strength and toughness 3, even among many of their characters - they are defined by these weaknesses.

For the Shuriken Catapult - it is a weapon for the Guardian Defenders - a weapon of last resort. It's a thing that's being fielded in Guardian Squads because they don't have enough troops - the Eldar don't want to have to use them. They are a citizen militia, and they are equipped with a short ranged weapon for use in extremis. In order to match their background, they need to be equipped with a weapon that balances within the army - you don't want Guardians to loose that flavour by having a super effective weapon that means they're gunning down people like Space Marines, who are dedicated to war.

There was then a question asking what they wish wasn't there. Phil misunderstood the question and said he wished that they had available options for all the weapon options given for the exarchs. The question was more focussed on whether or not there was something that was historically present that they wished they didn't have to include but had to.

Jes joked "Eldrad" following up with an impersonation 'Whining on . . ."We're doomed!"...' (Emphasising this was a snappy joke - don't send Jes hate-mail - I can't emphasise the jokey tone enough in the imperfect medium of the internet.)

Phil then answered that he felt that it really hadn't ever gotten to that point. As an example, he mentioned that the Autarch was now finding his place. Whereas before they were potentially seen as a conceptually weak 'Exarch plus', now they were growing into the role of a dedicated commander and leader. They're still not as strong a concept as, say a Farseer yet, but he still thinks they should be there.

Discussion then moved on to how there is sometimes a conflict between the descriptive text and feeling of an army, and the rules, and how the games designers try and resolve that.

There are definitely clashes for balance purposes. The Farseer is an ancient psyker who can predict the future, but his powers are still generated randomly - because that's how things work in 6th edition - everyone does that. This is an artefact of the game system not fitting with the background.

There's also the issue of fitting with the 'meta' of the overall game. It is very hard to make a game fair if you're fitting in with the meta perfectly. Jes interjected that if you play perfectly by the meta, then half the time, the Eldar shouldn't actually show up the battlefield. He'd just have Phil fight you instead, playing his Tyranids.

There were three or four concepts that they wanted to do that they couldn't afford to this time around. They had to make the hard choice between Wraithguard or Jetbikes. Releases are designed around the plastic. Jes commented that he has grown more patient over the years. What you want will be in the next release, or perhaps the one after that.

Phil said he realises that he's not just designing this release, he's designing in the context of that year's releases, perhaps even that decade's releases. More releases for Eldar now would penalise the next army's release.

Jes said that if you look through his sketch books, you could have an interesting exercise in matching the dates of the concept sketches to the dates of releases. A short discussion led to the realisation that Jes Goodwin has drawings that are older than Phil Kelly. (This may be a lie. But I'm not sure. I think Jes is about as old as the Eldar...)

Another audience member asked if they felt constrained by the need to include models for everything in a Codex release in the wake of the Chapterhouse Studios verdict.

For clarity - neither of them directly mentioned Chapterhouse, or commented directly on the case. They were very careful to talk about the restrictions they are under in general terms rather than anything specific.

Jes spoke clearly with some emotion, simply saying "You don't want to leave anything trailing. It's horrible, but you don't have a choice."

Phil then interjected and said that in some ways, its a blessing in disguise. Customers will be able to get everything in a new book from Games Workshop. It put him as a games designer into a tighter, more streamlined place. He doesn't have to tackle so much by focussing on the release. Deliberately putting in entries to develop models later is clearly not a good idea. The faster release cycle is useful in that it reduces the need to to do that. He also commented that it is frustrating for the customer to - you want this cool unit or that cool unit you've read about, but you can't get it in a Games Workshop store.

Will new supplemental codexes bring new models? Maybe. You could speculate. It opens up the game. You don't have to wait so long. Codexes and models are no longer tied. The flexibility is increased.

This is one of a series of posts about my experiences at enter the Citadel. Expect more entries shortly, as I have a lot of notes to write up.