Midas Flesh

Do you ever have those weird 4am conversations where you try to apply half remembered science to pop culture or folk stories? Like for example what happens to conservation of mass when Megatron transforms into a handgun? Or how real life dragons wouldn’t be able to actually generate enough lift to fly? Midas Flesh is pretty much exactly that: one of those “deep conversations” turned into a comic form. Or rather, an advanced iteration of turning that particular thought into comics.

You see, Ryan North already drew a comic about what would really happen if King Midas was real, and his foolish wish actually came true in a universe with actual real physics. He published those musings in his (rather popular) online comic strip Dinosaur Comics:

Dinosaur Comics

Original source: Dinosaur Comics #1355

By itself, this was merely an amusing idea – King Midas’s power being not just unfortunate punishment, but rather an unstop able, planet killing, civilization ending cataclysm. North kept toying with this idea after the web comic was done. Imagine, for example that some time after King Midas killed his home world, some extra-terrestrial civilization finds this planet sized gold nugget. What would they do with such a discovery? Would they use it for good or for evil?

This is precisely the plot of Midas Flesh. A galactic empire known as Federation discovers a mysterious planet that transmutes anything that touches it’s surface into solid gold. Unable to figure out the science behind the miracle, they decide that this discovery is deemed too dangerous to be made public. All mentions of the planet are expunged from official records, and military defense satellite array is installed in orbit to deter potential passers by from landing.

Few decades pass, and a small group of young political dissidents find information about it. Since each of them has a long list of grievances against the oppressive Federation regime they decide to find the planet and try to weaponize it somehow. It’s not that they are bad people, or are having some sort of Weyland-Yutani corporate greed episode. They are simply marginalized folks from conquered worlds, seeking a miraculous weapon that could help them defeat a powerful enemy against impossible odds.

Midas Flesh

Midas Flesh – First Encounter

This could have easily been a story of three white dudes. Or two white dudes, and a token action chick wearing skin-tight combat suit as it is often the case with these sort of concept driven SF stories. But it is not. The protagonists are two women, and a nerdy talking dinosaur. Because, of course, what else you would expect from a Ryan North story. To be completely fair however, the reptilian science geek is actually the least interesting of the three.

My favorite character is probably Fatima who happens to be a dark skinned Muslim woman who rocks a hijab, even under her space helmet. I love her design because it is a breath of fresh air – it’s just not something you see every day. In fact, I can’t remember last time I have seen a SF story which featured a female protagonist wearing a head scarf. Which is weird because I know several women who wear it IRL, but I never see it represented in the media. I can’t emphasize how bizarre it is that talking dinosaurs are more common in SF than Muslim women.

Midas Flesh Protagonists

Midas Flesh Protagonists

The great thing about Fatima is that she is not defined by the hijab. It is never even explicitly mentioned or refereed to. She is funny, spunky, outgoing person with a big heart and a very strong moral compass. She is a social butterfly who easily connects with people and has friends and acquaintances within Federation power structures even while she is working to overthrow it.

The group’s leader, Joey, is a pretty cool character too. She is the kind of strong, confident person who can make hard decision, give difficult orders and take on full responsibility for the fallout. Where Fatima acts as the teams conscience, unwilling to compromise her morals, Joey is practical leader ready to choose lesser of two evils if necessary.

Cooper, the aforementioned dinosaur is mostly game for anything. His quest against the Federation is the most personal one. He has lost most of the trio and he is motivated by vengeance at some level. Despite being overall friendly goofball, he is ready to use the Midas flesh as a deadly weapon if it helps the team to achieve their goal.

Compared to the heroes, the antagonist is a rather bland, military bureaucrat who turns into full blown, mustache twirling super-villain the moment he lays his hands on the miraculous super-weapon:

Antagonist Antics

Antagonist Antics

Fortunately, his antics are mostly peripheral to the main story. Most of the tension in the comic is derived from how the three protagonists come to terms with the deadly properties of the Midas flesh, and how they negotiate whether or not it is appropriate for them to use it. Which is a really interesting question: if you find a highly unstable weapon that can destroy an entire planet, should you use against your enemy? What if said enemy invaded and occupied your home world for decades? Would you keep it as a defensive measure? How would you ensure your allies don’t abuse it at some point in the future?

Despite being united by common plight and animosity towards the Federation, the protagonists do not see eye to eye on most of these subjects. They don’t even agree whether or not it is appropriate to deploy Midas flesh in self defense against a Federation battleship. This sort of character driven conflict is where Midas Flesh shines.

Deploying Midas Flesh

Deploying Midas Flesh Offensively

All things considered, Midas Flesh is worth checking out. The characters are great, the writing is witty and the art style is unconventional and evocative. The ending is a little weak, but personally I have no clue how I would end it either. So while it is underwhelming, it does not take away much from the core story.

Even if you don’t love it, it is only eight issues long. Comixology sells each issue for about $2 which is pretty affordable. It is published by Boom Box! which unlike Image Comics does not let Comixology offer CBR/PDF backups. So if you buy it through that service it does come encumbered with DRM and tied to the proprietary Comixology platform.

Posted in comics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Technological Convergence

I was talking to a friend the other day and I completely forgot the word for a photo camera. Being bilingual, this is not uncommon for me. Every once in a while I experience a brain fart where I just completely blank on a word in one of the languages but not the other. Some people are surprised that this happens, but it is basically the neural consequence of linguistic fluency. You no longer need to maintain a one-to-one parity between words in both languages and so it unravels. The benefit of this loss of parity is that you can now internalize complex idioms without the need to translate and rationalize them in the other language. The drawback is that sometimes your brain will decide to think in a mixed language word salad and you get stuck grasping for a word in a middle of the sentence.

In this case my brain decided that “My cousin bought a really fancy aparat fotograficzny to take pictures of the baby…” was a perfectly valid English sentence and it wasn’t until my mouth tried to make the appropriate sounds that I realized I suddenly switched language contexts. I couldn’t find “camera” so I went the descriptive route and said “the, um… picture taking… thing”. My friend tried to guess what I had in mind and said: “Phone?”

It’s funny, but seeing how it’s almost 2015, yes phone is actually a pretty good guess. After all, the only people who bring dedicated photo camera devices to events are professional photographers and elderly grandparents. So it stands to reason that my friend, who happened to be slightly younger than me associated taking pictures with the exact device that is used for that purpose most often these days.

I remember that when I was an undergrad, we talked about technological convergence as a fairly abstract concept. It was something we presumed would happen, though we were not exactly sure how. We also thought that Neo’s flip phone in The Matrix matrix was like the coolest thing ever, and we would have never considered putting a computer onto it because that’s not what phones were for. Little did we know that this would be the device that technology would converge on.

Think about it, you phone has now replaced and superseded most of the electronic and non-electronic devices we have used in the 80’s and 90’s. Let me give you a few examples:

The 90’s Year 2014
Device you use to take pictures? Camera
Camera
Phone
Phone
Device you use to check the time? Watch
Watch
Phone
Phone
Device you use to take videos? Camcorder
Camcorder
Phone
Phone
Device you use to listen to music on the go? Walkman
Walkman
Phone
Phone
Device you use to blast loud music on the beach or at a party? Boombox
Boombox
Phone
Phone
Portable gaming device? Gameboy
Gameboy
Phone
Phone
Device you use to record your voice? Dictaphone
Dictaphone
Phone
Phone
Device you use to cheat in math class? TI-83 Calculator
TI-83 Calculator
Phone
Phone
Device for receiving text messages? Pager
Pager
Phone
Phone
Device you use to check your email? Computer
Computer
Phone
Phone
Device you use to watch movies? VHS Player
VHS Player
Phone
Phone
Device you use to connect to the internet? Modem
56k Modem
Phone
Phone
Device you use to organize addresses and phone numbers? Rolodex
Rolodex
Phone
Phone
What do you use to organize your schedule? Pocket Planner
Pocket Planner
Phone
Phone
What do you use to write quick notes and reminders? Notepad
Notepad
Phone
Phone
Device you use to keep track how many steps you take in a day? Pedometer
Pedometer
Phone
Phone
What do you use to find driving directions? GPS
GPS Unit
Phone
Phone
What do you read on the bus / plane? Camcorder
Paperback Novel
Phone
Phone
Place where you keep all the store loyalty cards? Key Chain
Key Chain
Phone
Phone
What do you use to pay for your coffee at Starbucks? Cash
Cash
Phone
Phone
What do you use to make long distance calls? Phone
Phone
Skype
Skype

Ok, that last item is a bit of a joke, but not really. I hardly ever use my phone to make actual phone calls. The other day I actually had to do a search for the phone app because I stuffed it in some folder to make space on the first few pages for the apps I actually use all the time.

Here is another interesting thought: a lot of people today are very skeptical of wearable technology. Devices such as smart watches or Google Glass type eye-wear may seem silly and gimmicky right now. But in 1999 this was exactly how I felt about smart phones – all I wanted back then was a cool, thin, switchblade style flip phone like Neo had. I could not have imagined that mere 15 years later my phone will be several times more powerful computing device than my Gaming PC was back then. But here we are.

If you told me one of my students will bang out a the assigned essay an hour before the deadline on their phone while sitting in the quad, I’d probably be skeptical. Bu that happened, and mad props to that student because there is no way I could ever type that fast on a touch-screen. I guess what I’m saying is – right now our technology is converging on the phone. Younger generations are fully embracing the mobile lifestyle, and many use their phones as their main computing platforms(which does explain the surge of popularity for the large screen devices). But it is silly to think that phones is where it will end. This is just a stage in a much larger process. At the moment we don’t know where it will go, but we do know that screen size is a limiting factor. Decoupling computing from a touch screen and expanding the display into your entire field of vision does offer many interesting new possibilities. Especially considering that we are already getting pretty good at the augmented reality thing.

So wrist mounted computation brick, coupled with Bluetooth connected eye-wear as a primary display is not necessarily a far fetched idea…

Posted in futuristic musings | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Skaven: Clan Skryre Army

I have been playing Warhammer and collecting miniatures for close to two decades now. I got into the hobby somewhere around 1995 and have been in and out of it since then. I currently play three Warhammer Fantasy armies, and Skaven are my latest and ironically the most complete one. I have started it when me and my brother went halfsies on the Island of Blood box set. He took the High Elf minis, and I took the Skaven. Initially I figured I will just put them together and use them as a small 500-1,000 point force for pick-up games. The goal was to make it playable without spending any money.

Of course, as it always happens with Warhammer money got spent and I ended up with a 2,000 points. The good news is that this army is more or less complete. Unlike my ever-expanding Dwarf Throng, I don’t actually see it ever growing beyond this size. It’s compact, flavorful and diverse enough to handle most situations. It has all the unit types I like, and none of the stuff I don’t. I’ve been told it is a pretty fun list, so I figured I would share it here along with some pictures.

Please note that I am not what you would call a “competitive player”. When I design an army I usually pick units that fit a theme I like, and which seem characterful and appropriate for the army, rather than the stuff that will guarantee me a win due to a rule loophole. I tend to play with like minded people and we usually have a lot of fun with troop heavy, low powered pitched battles without any meta-gaming or dirty tricks.

Theme: Clan Skryre Field Research Team

The Skaven Clan Skryre is known for their Warlock Engineers which are essentially mad scientists who are also wizards. Skaven have a surprisingly advanced steam-punk style technology which is mostly powered by magic. Their main energy source is Warpstone which is magically “radioactive” substance – a crystallized magic that warps and mutates everything it touches. The instability of magic, and Skaven shoddy workmanship makes their technology highly unstable. Their war machines tend to kill as many allies as they kill enemies. But it works out in the end because Skaven life is cheep and plentiful.

Clan Skryre

Clan Skryre is known for unreliable, unstable, explody technology.

My army is a Clan Skryre Field Research Team whose primary task is to “peer review” the technological achievements of other races or factions. The review is of course done whether without the subjects consent and frequently over their dead bodies. To achieve this task, the Field Unit has been equipped with a lot of advanced Clan Skryre weapons. The secondary mission is to field test these weapons, figure out how they behave in extreme condition, note how often they explode, and how many friendly deaths they cause on a monthly basis.

Core

Let’s start with the core, which is the heart of every army. In case you’re interested, 48% of the total cost (points wise, not dollar wise) is spent on core troops.

Primary Field Research Unit

The unit consists of 36 Clanrats armed with spears and shields accompanied by a Poisoned Wind Mortar.

Skaven Clanrats

36 Skaven Clanrats with full Command Group

The models are the plastic Clanrats from the Island of Blood set. I specifically picked the models that had a lot of armor to represent their status and fighting capability. I painted them red and yellow which are the twp primary colors I picked for my army. This is partly because they are considered Skryre appropriate, and partly because I like how they look. I knew I would be painting a lot of brown, gray and black fur so I wanted their clothes to be distinct, and also to stand out on the table.

In most cases, this is the actual core of my army and this unit is typically joined by the Warchief making it quite capable in combat.

Unpaid Interns

They are also known as Skavenslaves but I don’t like to call them that. The unit is 60 model strong and contains a musician and a Paw Leader. It looks really, really intimidating when I put it on the table.

60 Unpaid Interns

60 Unpaid Interns

The models are also from the Island of Blood set, but hand picked for minimum armor. They all are equipped with spears and shields because I like to have an option to add these if I need them. In most cases I field them “naked” with just hand weapons to shave of few points. I pained their coats yellowish brown color to set them apart from the Clanrats. Their weapons and armor are old and rusted to indicate that unlike the paid researchers they get worst equipment available. The rust effects were done using Typhus Corrosion technical paint.

The open secret here is that this is actually the weakest unit in my army. These guys cost less, and perform worse than giant rats. But due to the unit size, the way Skaven add their rank bonus to their leadership and the “horde” rule they actually become somewhat formidable in combat. Opponents often get scared of this unit and try to thin it out from afar via shooting, which is great for me because it means they’re not shooting at units that actually count. The inters can soak up an incredible amount of damage without actually impacting their fighting ability (which is basically close to zero).

Senior Research Fellows

A unit of 30 Stormvermin with full command group. They are usually lead by Warlock Engineer Babag who typically carries Warp Musket, a Doom Rocket and sometimes some magic spells. They also have an attached Doom Flyer weapon team.

Stormvermin

30 Storm Vermin with Warlock Engineer.

The models are basic 8th edition Stormvermin plastics. They are armed with halberds and shields. The Doom Flayer attachment is a mini-chariot type thing which has impact hits and extra attacks. These are my heavy hitters and they are typically joined by a Chieftain with a Battle Standard for an extra “oomph”.

This unit is currently a work in progress. As you can see, I primed them but did not have a chance to paint them yet.

Stormvermin look imposing but not overwhelmingly so. They are only marginally scarier than the Clanrats and this is partly by design. I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket, and by presenting the enemy with two heavy hitting core combat units I force them to make hard decision. Ignoring either is perilous, and splitting fire between the two is ill advised because both units can soak up a lot of causalities due to their large size.

Lab Rats

A unit of 20 Giant Rats accompanied by 5 Packmasters on loan from Clan Moulder. The rats have been purchased on a Clan Moulder grant to research “better things to poke the rats with” technology.

20 Giant Rats

20 Giant Rats

The Packmasters are plastics from the Island of Blood set. You can actually buy them individually on eBay for almost nothing. The Giant Rats are actually vintage Marauder miniatures from the 80’s. The first rank with a lighter coat was actually painted by my brother ages ago when he was using them for Mordheim and I didn’t feel like re-painting them. I didn’t feel like repainting them so I just tried to match the color the best I could, though my rats are markedly darker. One of these days I will add some highlights that match the front rank.

Escaped Lab Rats

Four Rat Swarms on standard swarm bases. These are the smaller, inferior rats that are rejected from the grant program. The interns keep feeding them so they just follow the research teams wherever they go. Most of them think they are pets, though some actually think they are real Skaven and they even took to wearing tiny clothes and wielding tiny swords. This probably has nothing to do with the leak in the portable warpstone reactor under which they made their nest.

4 Rat Swarms

4 Rat Swarms

Some of these came in the Doomwheel set. I bought the rest on eBay in a bag. Someone was literally selling a bag of plastic rats for like a buck so I picked it up. They don’t look like much but they are unbreakable and can actually tie up the enemy units for a turn or two setting up some beautiful flank charges.

The Forward Recon Team

A group of 10 Night Runners armed with slings. Their task is gathering requirements for new projects, and also scouting ahead of the army.

10 Night Runners

10 Night Runners

They exist to annoy the enemy and take the heat of the core of the army. Their slings can do surprising amount of damage to lightly armored units, and they can easily block march moves or charges if they need to.

The models are old Gutter Runner plastics. My brother bought a box of them to use for Mordheim at one point and I inherited them later. He also managed to lose all the extra weapons that were in the set, which is why they have a mix and match type equipment.

Special

About 26% of my total point cost of the army is allocated into the special category. In most armies this is where all the cool stuff is, but with Skaven I did not actually feel the urge to max out this category.

Advanced Optics Research

Four Warplock Jezzail weapon teams. Their area of research is optics, and more specifically the “glass tubes what you put on guns so that you can shoot things far away”.

Four Warplock Jezzail Teams

Four Warplock Jezzail Teams

The models are vintage Marouder models that date back to (I believe) 4th edition. Back then the Jezzail teams had the pavis shields which is why they are not represented on these models.

Originally I have treated these models like a cheep version of the Dark Elf Reaper Bolt Trhower, but cheaper, stronger and less accurate. At short ranges this small unit is very deadly – especially to heavy cavalry. At long ranges however, their poor accuracy makes them rather ineffective. I’m currently working on obtaining models to double the size of the unit. Eight Jezzails should be a very formidable firing squad.

Maintenance Team

The field equipment maintenance team consists of four Rat Ogre janitors and two Clan Moulder Packmasters. They were brought on board in order to handle heavy equipment and carry heavy boxes, but they are also pretty formidable in combat.

4 Rat Ogres

4 Rat Ogres

Two of the Rat Ogre models (extreme left and right actually) are from the Island of Blood set, and so are the Packmasters. The second model from the left is an old metal Marauder cast from the 80’s, while the remaining one is from the last edition plastic set. I actually really like the miss-matched look this gives to the unit. I used my standard red and yellow color scheme on all the models. The Rat Ogres skin is painted with Bugman’s Glow and the scars and stitches are highlighted with Ratskin Flesh. I painted the Packmaster fur black to indicate their high status. I imagine the Clan Moulder only picks the largest and strongest Stormvermin for handling of large beasts such as Rat Ogres.

They are very intimidating on the field, that said they are a bit of glass cannons. They might look tough, but concentrated missile fire will cut them down real fast so they need to be deployed and moved carefully.

Meteorology Team

Ten Poisoned Wind Globardiers usually accompanied by a Warlock Engineer who study wind patterns. There have been some complaints that the chemical agents they use in their experiments are somewhat lethal if inhaled, so the entire unit was equipped with respirators just in case. They are sometimes accompanied by a Poisoned Wind Mortar

Poisoned Wind Globardiers

Poisoned Wind Globardiers

As you can see, the unit is still a work in progress.

The models are all current edition metal miniatures, with exception of the Warlock Engineer who was converted. The base model is a vintage Marauder death-globe warlock. I clipped his shoddy looking spear and replaced it with the high-tech looking Warlock weapon from the Island of Blood warlock. I also added the power-pack on his back from the same set.

This unit is rather versatile. Because their weapons ignore toughness they are excellent monster killers. I have also successfully used them to take down Imperial Steam Tank by simply drowning it in poison gas. The Warlock will sometimes have spells, but if I’m feeling especially nasty both him and the unit champion will be carrying a Death Globes.

Rare

Rare units compose 12% of my army.

Perpetual Movement Research

One Doomwheel used as a portable generator that also doubles as an excellent war machine.

Doomwheel

Doomwheel

The model is 8th edition plastic set, which in my opinion is the best looking incarnation of this model yet.

I have always loved the Doomwheel because it is basically the signature Skaven war machine, and the finest Clan Skryre invention. It is basically a giant hamster wheel used as a chariot. It has random movement, can easily spin out of control and it blasts warp lightnings at the nearest target (so usually a friendly unit) making it fun and hilarious addition to the army. Doomwheel related failures are always spectacular.

Advanced Ballistics Research

One Warp Lightning Cannon used as backup generator / heavy artillery.

As of writing of this post, I don’t actually have it put together yet, so no picture.

Similarly to the Doomwheel, I think the current edition plastic set is superior to previous incarnations, partly because of how intricate it is. This machine provides much needed long range support for my army.

Heroes

Heroic characters compose 15% of my army. You will probably note that all of my heroes are named after TV science personalities.

Project Leader, Chief Engineer Billnye

Billnye is a Warlord on foot.

Warlord

Warlord

The model is the Warlord from the Island of Blood set. I had to elevate him a bit by building up a pile of rubble on his base in order to make him fit neatly in the unit (his outstretched arms made it difficult to put him in a formation) so now he towers over his underlings. It is a really nice model, and it doesn’t really need much conversion work.

I typically field him on foot, with a halberd, tail weapon, poisoned attacks and sometimes a rat hound. I’m also considering building him a War Litter out of spare Skaven models.

Billnye usually hangs out in the Clanrat unit, and his sheer presence there is what makes people agonize as to whether shoot at him or the Stormvermin. He is pretty deadly in close combat against rank and file units, tough he usually struggles if challenged by tough heroes of other races.

Assistant Engineer Carrlsagan

A Chieftain upgraded to a Battle Standard Bearer with the Banner of the Underhive.

Battle Standard Bearer

Battle Standard Bearer

This is actually my most complex conversion in this army. I used a crouching body from a Night Runner set, and repositioned it so that it looks like he is resting his foot on a skull of a fallen enemy. The right hand is a banner staff from an old Mordheim set. The cross-bar with a rat perched on it and the tiny bell are from the Island of Blood Clanrat banners. The left hand and the shield on the back are spare parts from current edition Stormvermin box. The head was carefully clipped off a Clanrat unit champion from the Island of Blood set.

He is nowhere near as intimidating as Billnye, but then again he is not supposed to be. The Banner of the Underhive provides additional attacks to the already quite capable Stormvermin unit he usually joins.

Warlock Engineers Degrese and Tyson

You have seen them above in the Stormvermin and Poisoned Wind Globardier entries so I will not be re-posting pictures. Degrese is unmodified Island of Blood warlock, while Tyson is heavily converted (as described above).


This is my Skaven army. I don’t really have any more ideas for adding new units. Other than putting together one or two more large Clanrat units accompanied by weapon team attachments I don’t really see a point. And that in itself would be a bit boring. What do you think?

Army on the Table

Army on the Table

I will probably update this post at some point with pictures of painted and assembled models when I get them finished. As usual, questions and comments are appreciated. Do you play Warhammer? What armies? Do your armies have strong themes to them, or do you just pick whatever will win you games?

Let me know in the comments.

Posted in rpg and tabletop | Tagged | 4 Comments