Rockets and Rayguns

In the past two years or so, I really got back into tabletop and role playing hobby. While it was always a part of my life, and I was always reading and writing about it, for quite some time I wasn’t actually playing much of anything. It was a hobby “on paper”: one that I experienced vicariously through battle reports, podcasts and forum discussions. But that has changed.

I briefly got back into Warhammer, only to see it destroyed, and rebound really hard with Warmachine. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably also know that I have went through a Magic The Gathering phase (circa Dragons of Tarkir) which seems to be mercifully over now. I’m also part of a semi-regular D&D campaign.

You might have actually heard of it. It was briefly trending on reddit because our DM loves to make amazingly detailed terrain props. Due to DM prep overhead, and general state of “adulting” we finds ourselves in, we only have time to play once or twice a month (if we’re lucky). But it’s fun.

If you are wondering why I haven’t been very active on this blog lately, this is part of the reason. Other hobbies have temporarily superseded, and became more important to me than my blogging hobby. Among other things.

At one point I was even prepping to run my own FATE Core campaign. If you are not familiar with FATE Core it, is a narrative RPG system loosely based on FUDGE. I like it because it is a really solid implementation of FUDGE, that really rewards role-playing and pro-active narration from players. It allows them to take part in creation and shaping of the game worlds, but puts limits on it, by making it a resource based mechanic.

Players have FATE points they can spend to gain mechanical bonuses (+2 to any roll), or to narrate something into a scene. They gain said points by allowing their characters to be “compelled” by the GM and giving into their weaknesses, or flaws or by indulging their vices. In other words, they are immediately rewarded for “good role-playing” or for simply following the GM’s rails when he needs them too, with a resource they can spend to get their way.

It makes for a really dynamic, and interesting play, and something very, very different from the very encounter heavy D&D game we’ve been playing lately. So I really wanted to try running a short campaign. Alas, nothing has panned out as of yet. But I did get some nice dice and tokens just in case:

Fate Tokens

FATE Core Tokens and Dice

And of course, because I’m me, I have made tons of notes for the campaign setting. In FATE you are kinda supposed to get players involved in the world building process, and iron out the details during the first session. But, I figured it can’t hunt to jot down some ideas on paper, and to photo-shop some images to give players an idea as to what I was getting at.

The basic idea was based on my retro SF essay from 2010. I just expanded upon it to make it in a rough draft of a game setting. Below, you can find precisely that: a very rough sketch of the proposed setting, along with some of the mechanics and system tweaks I planned to include. The document was originally designed to be a player hand-out that would be distributed before a session, which is why I’m not breaking it up into parts the way I did with Ravenflight.

I’m putting the “living” document here for the time being: Rockets and Rayguns.

After the break, you can read the entire set of campaign notes, as it was in March of 2016 in the form of a blog post. As always, let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Warmachine Resources

If you read my last post from few months ago, you probably know I’ve been quite broken up by the demise of my favorite miniature game. Fear not though, I’m ok now. I have fallen in love with another tabletop game. The death of Warhammer ended up being a good thing, because it shook up the local gaming scene, and allowed me to branch out and try new games. New, vastly more affordable games, with tight rules and supported by companies that care about their customers. Right now, for example, I’m really into Warmachine which is absolutely fantastic. I probably would have never gotten into if it wasn’t for the hilarious failure of Age of Sigmar, so thank you Games Workshop for opening up my eyes.

Getting into a new game, which has a vibrant community and great organized play support feels great. Last time I was this excited about tabletop wargaming was my freshman year in high school when I first discovered the hobby. Only now I’m a grown-ass adult with disposable income that I can irresponsibly piss off on plastic army-mans (an on a completely unrelated note, could you guys please click on the ads a lot this month, please?).

I figured I might as well put together a list of useful Warmachine (and general wargaming hobby) things for future reference. This is probably more for myself, so that I don’t forget where to find these things, but perhaps some of you will also find it useful.

Printable Warmachine Resources

Steamroller is the official Warmahordes tournament standard which provides rules and regulations specifically designed for tournament play. While all these rules are optional, they provide a set of 8 game scenarios which are incredibly well thought out and balanced. For example, Privateer Press noticed that in high level tournament play getting the first turn gave players significant advantage, which is why Steamroller scenarios use asymmetrical deployment zones to even the playing field.

PP updates the rules every year. Here are the links to the recent sets:

The 2015 Steamroller Scenario rules are also available as a neat set of printable cards:

Steamroller Scenario Cards

Steamroller Scenario Cards

Each scenario comes with a two sided card, and there are extra, single sided cards for Steamroller objectives on the back page.

Steamroller also uses concept of scoring zones that need to be clearly marked on the table. People use all kinds of different markers, but I’m kinda fond of these printable templates by Warmachine Masters.

Zone Templates

Zone Templates

In case they ever decide to take them down, here is a mirror:

I’m not entirely sure who make these fantastic Wreck Markers but I really love them. Print them out on a thicker paper, or glue them to a piece of cardboard and you are all set:

Printable Wreck Markers

Printable Wreck Markers

These are split into two files by factions:

Sorry Convergence players. No markers for you.

Finally, here are the official printable Warmachine templates:

These will work in a pinch, but you are definitely better off with the plastic set.

Markers and Templates

The official set of Warmachine tools and templates is fantastic:

As much as I love the large 5″ precise movement tool in the Quick Measuring Set. That’s the one that has X edges: one marked 5″ for checking Stealth range, one marked 3″ for checking LoS in the woods, one marked 2″ for Reach and one marked ½” for melee range. It is extremely useful, except for measuring movement distance when you play an army with basic MOV6.

I highly recommend picking up this one as well:

The long edge on this tool is 6″ which allows you to use it for movement without actually having to bust out your measurement tape. The remaining edges are 4″, 2″ and 1″ respectively. Between these two tools you should have all the short range measurements covered.

We’re currently also using these Acrylic Flag Templates for Steamroller scenarios:

Warsenal Flag Markers

Warsenal Flag Markers

They are mounted on 40mm bases which, apparently works both for Infinity and Warmachine. The flags are fantastic, and they really stand out on the battlefield. I highly recommend the orange tinted ones especially – they look striking on green felt table.

Sometimes you need some proxy bases, either for proxying a unit, or as an objective marker (if you don’t feel like modeling one). Here are a few good sources:

All of the above offer standard Warmachine/Infinity/Malifaux base sizes of 30mm, 40mm and 50mm. The bases are flat, transparent fluorescent proxies. The Wyrd bases are fully functional and can be used to base your models.

Papercraft Terrain

I’m not very good at making terrain. Recently however I discovered that it is entirely possible to set up a decent looking table with zero skill and limited resources using papercraft terrain. It is a perfect solution for wargamers with limited time and limited budget. Paper buildings, walls and streets are cheep, easy to assemble and look perfectly presentable on the battlefield. For example, for our recent Warmachine game we have assembled this small town square:

Papercraft Terrain

Papercraft Terrain

Roughly, 90% of what you see there was made out of paper. My favorite resource for papercraft buildings is probably Dave’s Games:

The site offers a few free buildings, but the better ones cost actual money, albeit not much. I purchased several, with no regrets. Most ship as layered PDF files, which allow you to pick and choose from a wide variety of wall textures and ornaments.

If you don’t have cash to throw around, Wizards of the Coast have a small collection of fantastic papercraft buildings for D&D here:

In the picture above we used the FPM Roads files to create the cobblestone streets.

Here is some more flat terrain you may want:

Game Tools

One of the best purchases I have made this year was this particular tool:

LoS Tool

LoS Tool

It is a laser pointer that projects a line onto the table. It is perfect for checking line of sight in a game such as Warmachine where you are not allowed to pre-measure distances and so can’t use measuring tape to check shot angles. I have seen similar tools marketed directly to wargamers sold for over $50, but I bought mine at a hardware store for less than $5:

As for measuring tape, I’m still using a good old Stanley Powerlock 33-210:

Stanley 33-210

Stanley 33-210

I actually bought it in 1995 to play Warhammer Fantasy, and have been using it ever since. The tape is showing signs of rust in places, but overall it continues working quite well. The damn thing is nearly indestructible.

I’m very fond of Jumbo Dice like these:

Jumbo Dice

Jumbo Dice

No, not for regular rolling during the game. I usually set three of these on the side of the table and use them for tracking the turn number, and victory points scored by each player.

Warmachine is a very dice efficient game. You will only ever need five or six dice, so I it is actually a good idea to invest in a nice, good looking set. A lot of players use the officially licensed Warmachine dice sets, but the readability on those vary depending on the faction. Cygnar dice set for example is pretty decent, but the Retribution set is awful. If you are standing across the table from someone using these, you literally can’t see what they rolled.

Currently I’m using a set of Chessex Frosted Dice (5 clear and one smoke for damage allocation) to go with my Retribution army. That said, I’ve been thinking of upgrading to a fancier set like one of these:

Getting a set of six would cost $30-40 which is incredibly expensive for dice, but the coolness factor of rolling metal or stone dice may possibly make it a worth while investment. That said, metal dice are pretty heavy and may rip up felt mats and chip paint of terrain pieces if rolled too hard.

The other thing every Warmachine player needs are card sleeves. Unless of course you don’t mind getting your cards getting damaged, and having to replace them every once in a while. At the moment I use these hard top loaders:

They are slightly over-sized, but Warmachine cards are thick enough to fit snugly and stay in place. If you buy these for Malifaux you will need clear sleeves, because their cards are much thinner and much sleeker which makes them slide out of these. The hard top-loaders provide great protection and the surface is perfect for writing on them with dry-erase markers.

Online Resources

One of my (many) favorite things about Warmachine is that Privateer Press provides their own army building tool called War Room. The basic tool is free, but you do have to buy card sets for the factions you play. The sets are priced reasonably, and they get updated automatically whenever PP publishes an errata, or adds new units via expansion. It also gives you damage tracking functionality, so you don’t even have to bring your cards to the game (and if you do bring them, you don’t have to draw on them).

Army Building Tools

Army Building Tools

At first I was a bit skeptical of the mobile only nature of this tool, but after using it for a while, I can’t imagine living without it. Especially since it lets me list-craft anywhere, at any time as long as I can get to my phone.

For those who prefer more traditional approach, there is always Forward Kommander:

It is a third party tool and it allows for basic list building. It will also print out nice damage grids on paper. Unfortunately it is hampered by the fact that it’s someone’s hobby project, and so you often have to wait a while for new units to be added after an expansion comes out.

Hobby Tools

Finally, last but not least here are some of the tools I use to assemble and paint my miniatures. Despite being a long time Warhammer player, I never really liked their hobby tools. Their brushes are garbage, and their tools are way to expensive for what they do.

Hobby Tools

Hobby Tools

The most useful tool I have bought recently is the Xuron Spure Cutter. This tool does not necessarily get that much work done when working with Warmachine minis (which are metal, or resin that’s cut off the spure prior to packaging) but it is absolutely essential if you play stuff like Malifaux.

The difference between this tool, and your average hardware store set of pliers is that it is almost entirely flat rather than angled allowing for precise cuts where it matters.

The tool that does see a lot of use with Warmachine minis is a seam scraper:

I find that it offers better control than an exacto knife blade, and removes the risk of cutting in too deeply, or chopping off some important detail if your hand slips.

When it comes to brushes, lately I’ve been using Windsor & Newton Series 7 among other things. Here are some brushes I recommend if you need some new tools:

What are your favorite brushes and tools? Do you play Warmachine or any other war game right now? Care to share any resources? Let me know in the comments.


Age of Sigmar and the End of Warhammer

As you may know I’m a huge fan of Warhammer Fantasy Battles table top game. I have written about it on more than one occasion and I made a tiny web service allowing you to print custom paper movement trays / proxy sheets. I own not one, not two, but three armies for the game. That’s easily hundreds of dollars worth of miniatures. More if you consider most of my dwarfs are classic Marauder models that have been out of production for over two decades now. I have been playing the game since around 1995. I started with the 4th edition and I am no stranger to the changes in the game mechanics and balance. I endured the 5th edition Hero Hammer power escalation, and the subsequent global nerf and rule reset in the 6th. The most recent 8th edition has turned to be the last one.

RIP Warhammer Fantasy

RIP Warhammer Fantasy, 1983-2015. Never forget.

During the massive and aptly named End Times campaign, Games Workshop officially destroyed the Warhammer Fantasy universe. And no, that’s not a metaphor: the campaign literally ended in gigantic magic battle that resulted in the annihilation of the entire universe. But some gods did some magic stuff, and the universe would be reborn after the cataclysm. Only it would be new and different. This was supposed to allow Games Workshop to shake up the 23 year old setting, add new factions, create new alliances and do some clever re-branding (GW was always upset they could not trademark words like Elf, Dwarf or Empire). The 9th edition of the game was supposed to be all new and all different which was… Intriguing. As much as I bemoaned loss of two decades of lore and world building efforts, I was rather interested to see the brand new setting. Especially since I never used any special characters in my armies. My collection was not strictly bound to the Old World lore, and could be easily ported to the new setting if needed.

Dark Elves

Part of my Dark Elf Army. Still unpainted.

Unfortunately, the 9th edition never came. Instead, Games Workshop released a brand new, skirmish game called Age of Sigmar. The new game looks and plays entirely different from the venerable twenty year old Warhammer Fantasy. For one, it eschews the concept of unit block. In WFB the models used square bases (usually 25mm to the side) so that they could be arranged in ranks and columns. Square or rectangular blocks of roughly 20-60 troops would move together as one entity. You would usually place the entire unit on an appropriately sized movement tray and then slide the trays across the table. The units could perform wheel maneuvers to turn, or reform to change the number of ranks or do an about face. Age of Sigmar threw all of that out. It uses round bases and all models move individually, though units should stay in 1″ cohesion if they are able to.

Games Workshop did provide Age of Sigmar rules for all the Warhammer Fantasy models they currently sell in their online store. That said, all the game mechanics were re-tooled to focus on individual models, and low model count battles. Templates and guess range weapons are gone. All ranges were shortened to support smaller, more spread out armies. For example, Dwarf cannons in the 8th had a maximum effective range of up to about 70″. The same model under Age of Sigmar rules can only shoot 32″ and is vastly less effective.

The game replaces the 8th edition, but it does not seem to be interested in actually being a replacement of any sort. Instead it seems to be positioned to compete with with Privateer Press Warmachine (another low scale, low model count fantasy skirmish game) rather than with Mantic Games Kings of War (which focuses on unit blocks like WFB did). The new starter set has less than 20 models to the side, with powerful heroes being the main focal point of the battles and rank and file troops being just a filler. There is a dedicated Hero Phase in which powerful characters trigger their signature abilities. This is very similar to Warmachine which focuses on powerful Warcasters and their magically powered, clockwork Warjack machines – of which you only ever field a handful. Both games seem to favor small engagements with few powerful models on the table.


This is a legal Warmachine starter army. That’s all the models you need.

But Age of Sigmar can’t hope to compete with Privateer Press product (save maybe on model quality or pricing), because Warmachine is designed from ground up to be a competitive tournament game. It has balancing mechanics that ensure opponents will always play with equally powerful forces. WFB had a similar mechanic. Age of Sigmar has none. The rulebook for the game which is four pages long, and available as a free download from the GW website specifically encourages players to bring any models they want. There are no point costs, no unit size limits, no limits on optional upgrades. The only limit is how much you are willing to spend on the miniatures. The only balancing mechanic is the fact that the player who is outnumbered by 30% gets to pick a victory condition.

But that rule in itself seems inconsistent and easy to abuse, since you compare forces on raw model count, even though models are not equal in power. For example a player fielding 5 of the brand new, vastly overpowered medieval Space Marines accompanied by 3 special characters, each riding a dragon will be outnumbered by someone fielding a single unit of 10 rank and file goblins with no characters. Horde armies such as Skaven or Goblins that in the past relied on superior numbers to offset relatively weak core troops are now punished for fielding large armies. On the other hand players who field few special characters and no troops at all are rewarded.

If you wanted to make a small local tournament in WFB you could put out a flyer or a poster that said something like: “1,500pts, no special characters, no magic items over 50pts” and it would force people to bring balanced, characterful armies built around core units. The players would have to figure out how to build forces of specified size that leveraged the strengths of their chosen army while at the same time minimizing its flaws. They would have to think about unit positioning, protecting their flanks, synergies between units and leaders and etc.. In Age of Sigmar this is no longer possible. Since there is no point costs and no size limits on units, it is impossible to ensure any kind of balance.

Allegedly there exist these top secret, unofficial basic balancing rules released by disgruntled GW game developers through back channels, but even those don’t help much:

To put it simply, Age of Sigmar is not a competitive tournament game. Which would be fine, if that was it’s only flaw. I’m not much of a competitive player myself, and I much prefer casual play with friends than tournament play with strangers. But I do like game balance and structure, as much as I like my ranked up unit blocks and my movement trays. And I would like an option to play a tournament from time to time if I wanted to. Age of Sigmar does not support that. But if GW wanted to make a game that is strictly casual and non-competitive and friendly then so be it. Unfortunately the game is not designed to be either friendly or inviting.

Games Workshop products and lore has always been a tad problematic. Back in the day the Warhammer lore included monsters whose reproductive cycle involved kidnaping and rape. Their sculptors always had issues creating female models without objectifying and sexualizing them. But those were minor problems compared to the new rule set.

Age of Sigmar is a game that throws away the idea of good sportsmanship out the window and encourages players to hurl insults at each other in order to receive mechanical bonuses:

Yep, making the environment hostile, uncomfortable and facilitating abuse and bullying is a codified game mechanic. Abso-fucking-lutely brilliant, GW. good luck marketing this particular warscroll to parents whose children want to get into the war gaming hobby. Especially since the streamlined, simplified, non-competitive rule set definitely skews younger.

There is another rule that encourages players to give and accept bribes in exchange for in-game effects. Because adding a gambling mechanic into a core rule set is a splendid idea that will never actually backfire:

Some rules are simply straight up sexist. Anyone who can’t or simply does not want to grow a mustache can’t use this rule:

I can see this particular rule being used by players to body shame younger boys for not having enough body hair, or young girls for having some fuzz on their upper lip. Because making someone feel like shit about their own body is awesome, and sportsman like, is it not?

Some rules are just plain goofy. Bretonian players for example can get mechanical bonuses for rising a cup into the air, and screaming out a catchphrase:

Others are genuinely mean spirited, encouraging players to straight up mock people who suffer from mental illness:

I get what they were trying to do with these rules. They were trying to encourage players to have “fun” with their games. But you can’t codify fun as a game mechanic. People scream Blood for the blood god! when charging not because they will get a buff, but because its fun, silly and spontaneous thing to do. Codifying it as a mechanic makes it forced and awkward. Doubly so if the game tells you to do something you are not comfortable with: like insulting your friend, or mocking insanity. It is one thing to have a “mad count” type character in the lore, it is a whole other thing to encourage players to “pretend to be a crazy person”. It’s uncalled for, and it ignores the fact many Warhammer players may personally know people who struggle with mental illness, or may have one themselves.

It amazes me that no editor realized that these rules might not only be upsetting, but even damaging to the Games Workshop brand. But that’s sort of my general impression of the entire rule set. It seems to be hastily put together without much oversight. Its like none of these rules were play tested, or focus tested to see how they will perform in the field.

Many people are really excited for this new game. Folks in my Twitter feed and on reddit are already posting pictures of their models on round bases, and writing up first battle reports. Sadly, I don’t share their enthusiasm. Age of Sigmar is not for me. I like the WFB focus on unit blocks and core troops, I like my movement trays, I don’t like powerful hero characters that dominate the battlefield. I like balance and structure, and building armies using a spreadsheet and a calculator. The new rules do nothing for me. They are overly simplistic, and too goofy to be taken seriously. I also don’t feel comfortable playing or endorsing a game which encourages players to insult each other or mock mental illness.

Most of people in my gaming group share these opinions, so we will be sticking to the good old 8th edition. While it isn’t perfect, it is pretty damn good and we enjoy it. It’s sad that it won’t be supported by Games Workshop anymore. This means that it will be more difficult for use to replace damaged rulebooks, and near impossible to convince new players to join the hobby. But the bittersweet takeaway from all of this is that Age of Sigmar means Games Workshop won’t be able to ruin the mostly well balanced and sound 8th edition rule set. We can continue playing the game as it exists right now, without worrying about rule changes, power creep, getting our favorite units nerfed and etc..