Friday, August 26, 2016

Horus Heresy Review: Blackshield Reaver Lord

Background.
Possibly the best way to think of the Reaver Lord is the Blackshield analogue of the Legion Praetor. He is an individual, of somewhere near Captain level, that has left his legion and obscured his heraldry to pursue a brand new path in the wars of the Horus Heresy.

Strengths.
The Reaver Lord gets access to all the nice things that a Praetor of a Legion might. Plus, they get access to the unique Blackshields equipment like the Xenos Deathlock, Pariah armour, as well as novel items like the cyber familiar that would only be available to certain legions otherwise.

As such, the Reaver Lord is an incredibly customisation individual fit for almost any battlefield role. Much like the Praetor, it has to be said.

Weaknesses.
There are two principle weaknesses that army list builders need to think clearly about. The first is the points value of this character. He is unambiguously more expensive than a Legion Praetor (both at a base level, and in terms of some of the upgrades available) and has disadvantages such as no re-rolling of warlord traits. Secondly, the base equipment is worse. The lack of artificer armour is the most obvious of these. Compounding this is the lack of items like the paragon blade -- instead, there's a halo blade which on paper seems a lot worse for the points.

Builds.
The best way to think about builds is to consider (a) what battlefield role the Reaver will be playing and (b) what "Wrought by War" special rule the army might possess, and build accordingly.

Here are some sample builds to consider.

Reaver Lord, Xenos Deathlock, Jump Pack, Iron Halo, Power Axe (198 points).
This one could go with an Outlanders theme. The Xenos Deathlock will never trigger the lethal rule thanks to only two shots being fired and the jump pack enables the Reaver to get in to position easily. Switch out the jump pack for a bike if desired. Similarly, the power axe could be replaced with a power fist or thunder hammer to taste.

Reaver Lord, Iron Halo, Cyber Familiar, Thunder Hammer, Rad Grenades, Space Marine Bike (225 points).
Take with Chymeriae Attributes Option 1 for a very rude awakening for your opponents. Toughness of 6 coupled with an excellent save, rapid movement and rad grenades to reduce the toughness of your opponent is insane. It hardly matters that they're swinging late due to lower initiative, don't sweeping advance and have a lack of charge distance -- its all made up for. Very worth it! Take melta bombs to taste. Add in artificer armour if points cost allow.

Reaver Lord, Terminator Armour, Chain Fist, Digital Lasers (195 points).
A deep-striker for the Outlanders perhaps. Take a Xenos Deathlock to taste.

Reaver Lord, 1 Lightning Claw, Plasma Pistol, Iron Halo, Jump Pack, Digital Lasers, Artificer Armour (235 points).
A possible Orphans of War option to take advantage of the Preferred Enemy (Characters) rule. I don't know really, the Orphans of War option seems expensive to me really.

Reaver Lord, Artificer Armour, Rad Grenades, Melta Bombs, Power Fist (175 points).
Something of a character to hide in a large blob of other troops. Could suit a Death Seekers lord in some respects. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

One Hundred Planets

As my long term readers will be aware, we run a small home company that deals with roleplaying games and accessories. Yesterday, we released our new 105-page long title "One Hundred Planets". The pitch is below. I'm running an advent here as the profits from this enterprise directly fund the purchase of my copies of the Horus Heresy and provide you guys with the reviews and many of the other things associated with Warpstone Flux … which means my wife is a whole lot happier with me spending money on hobby goodness!


Descriptions of planets in a some resources can be limited. Perhaps a planet is randomly rolled on some chart or other and found to be an ice world. Sure, but that's usually not nearly enough to base a roleplaying session around without some serious work on behalf of the person running the game.

So, maybe its an iceworld, but its melting? Again, very nice, but why is it melting? What's causing it to melt? How about: its a melting ice world that a villainous commercial enterprise is trying to exploit for mineral wealth contained under the ice. This is now getting much better. Heck, there are almost plot hooks here.

One Hundred Planets takes the idea of having a much more detailed description of planets and combines them with plots hooks, physical data, and much more.

For each of our 100 planets, we give succinct details about the parent star of the system (based on real astronomical data), and physical data of the planet in question (its mass, orbital parameters, how long one day is on the planet, its surface gravitation, indigenous life, the number of humans on the planet).

This is followed by a thorough physical description of the planet. Most of the planets are rocky terrestrials in nature, but there is a huge variety contained therein. Whether they experience quakes, the ecosystems and the atmospheres of these worlds are all discussed within.

Under `Planetary History', a detailed sketch is made of the human side of the planet. Was it settled by colonists from the Empire?; does a Guild own it?; are there robots there? These and more are discussed and many include elements of science fiction, although where possible most have been strongly bedded in real world physics.

The political status of each world is briefly touched on: who rules it and what is currently happening are frequently noted.

Finally, for each and every planet, plot hooks are given. The median number of plot hooks for each world is two, but many planets have three distinct plot hooks to take advantage of. These, combined with the real world (nay: real Universe) data, are what makes this volume very distinct. They are ready made hooks for player characters to jump in on and have a purpose to directly associate with the planet in question. With little work, the person running the game in question should be readily able to adapt these to their own play styles and group dynamics to make for entertaining and interesting gaming sessions.

Finally, it is worth noting and highlighting that all of the descriptions contained within have been written without any particular game system in mind. This ``system agnostic'' presentation drive means that the contents of this volume can readily be exported to any given game system that the players desire.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mathammering Xenos Deathlocks

Preamble.
Today's post applies a bit of mathematics to the usage of Xenos Deathlocks that we discussed in the Horus Heresy Review on the Blackshields Rules. In brief, Xenos Deathlocks (which we will abbreviate to XD's from herein) are a type of weapon that some of the renegade space marines wielded in 30k when they went outside their command structures because of the Heresy. I really like this idea and concept. Hence, regardless of the outcome of the mathammer below, I really want to see people play these on the desktop just because they're cool. No other reason! In fact, you can see that I already convert some of my miniatures along these lines any way (with a slightly different narrative within the Alpha Legion of using reversed engineered technology).


Basics.
The Xenos Deathlocks are S=5, AP5 with assault 2 weapons. They have a half decent range for assault weapons at 18 inches as well, which is very nice -- nay attractive even, especially compared to a bolter at a similar range. But there's a price to pay for this -- not only in the points cost. They have the Lethal Exposure rule. Firing this weapon causes the unit using them to roll 2d6. If the roll is less than the number of shots fired by the unit, then one wound is taken with no armour save possible. (Overwatch is exempted from this).

So why take them at all given how downright deadly they look on paper? The answer is in the Deathlock rule. In the spirit of Volkite weapons, a unit that got hit and wounded by a XD weapon must take a leadership test modified (negatively) by the number of wounds suffers (fearless and stubborn units don't apply modifiers). Failure causes an extra 1d6 wounds that can have normal saving throws. 

So is this potentially amazing weapon worthwhile?

A trivial case.
Let's suppose a squad sergeant has a XD. He is targeting some space marines (of course!). On average, he scores 1.33 hits (from 2 shots), and of these, causes 0.89 wounds. A "typical" 3+ save in the 30k environment will reduce this down to 0.30 unsaved wounds (rounded). 

Its trivial here to see that the lethal exposure test is passed: one can never roll under 2 on 2d6, so the sergeant is always going to be safe.

How many extra wounds will the target unit take though? We will treat the enemy squad as having Ld=9 for this purpose. Hence the Ld test is taken at 8.70 for the 0.30 unsaved wounds caused already. Rounding, a roll of 8 or less therefore happens 72.2 per cent of the time. Or putting it another way: fails 27.8 per cent of the time. 

We will use this number to multiply by the 1d6 extra wounds to come up with an outcome. The average 1d6 roll is 3.5. Thus, 27.8 per cent of 3.5 extra wounds is 0.97. 

The target squad is allowed a saving throw which reduces this down to 0.32 extra wounds. That makes a total of 0.30 + 0.32 = 0.62 wounds from the two shots every turn. This is therefore rather powerful!

Complex cases.
Things get much more complex here when we have more than one shooter. Plus, there's the potential to take wounds of your own from the firing squad. In the table below, I summarise the outcomes, using the basic logic presented above in the trivial case. The final two columns are the number of lethal wounds suffered by the shooters, and the difference between the last two columns (or: how many wounds ahead the shooters are!). 

N(XDs shooting in a squad); N(Unsaved Wounds); Lethal?; Difference.
1; 0.62; No; 0.62
2; 0.92; 0.08; 0.84
3: 1.21; 0.28; 0.93
4; 1.68; 0.58; 1.10
5; 1.97; 0.83; 1.14
6; 2.27; 0.97; 1.30
7; 2.75; 1.00; 1.75
8; 3.05; 1.00; 2.05
9; 3.35; 1.00; 2.35
10; 3.64; 1.00; 2.64

As can be seen, there are a few critical turning points.

The first one is illustrated in the trivial case. There, there's no lethal wounds suffered as there's not enough shots fired for them to be lethal.

The next jump is around 6 shooters where the difference shoots up. The spread between 2 to 5 shooters is only 0.3 wounds, but the range from 2 to 6 is 0.46 wounds -- an increase of a factor of 1.53.
The jump from 6 to 7 shooters is also a big one thanks to the twin effects of increasing the number of unsaved wounds coupled with keeping the lethality relatively static. From therein, the difference increases steadily more or less; (although there is another minor jump at 11 shooters for the interested reader). 

Conclusion.
The best number of shooters for XDs is arguably 1. There's no risk to the shooter of dying from the shot. Plus they're still effective.

Beyond that, plump for 6 or 7 depending on the points available due to the rational transaction between wounds caused versus wounds taken from shooting. From therein, up to 10 shooters, the increase is linear. 

I hope this has been helpful. And I hope its accurate (I am human, and I do make mistakes, so please be kind in your comments if I have and you point them out! Thanks!). 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Horus Heresy Review: Blackshields Rules

Background.
This is one review that I have been putting off a little bit from doing. The reason for this is largely due to the myriad of ways in which they can be configured and how best to consider all of these options. We will start with the basics and then move on to the units as we might with a set of legion special rules. We will look at war gear later in a separate article.

Base Rules.
Rather than the usual Legion rules, the Blackshields replace these with a set of distinct rules - some better than others, and all nicely balances with positives and negatives.

Firstly is the option to select (or not) one of the Wrought by War. We will look at these below in turn. Some are really characterful and good, whilst others are … interesting and could be more attractive.

Strike from a Position of Strength gives a primary detachment a bonus to going first in any given game. This is a strong bonus and in line with some other factions (the Alpha Legion springs to mind for their Coils rite of war).

The Outcasts rule determines how they take allies. This is always "By the Emperor's / Warmaster's Command" for other Legions and Fellow Warriors for the Imperial Army or Mechanicum. The latter is intended to be illustrative of other outcasts. The real question of utility here is what the Blackshields are bringing to the table (in a literal way) that other legions are not? We will explore that a little more below.

Finally the Limited Resources rule means that they're outside the usual Legions and their re-arming possibilities. Hence they're not going to have access to certain one-shot items like drop pods. Further, they're not allowed to have more units with a vehicle type than infantry type. This is a nice balance to the above rules overall. But we will now turn to the different factions (or perhaps its best to think of these as different "Legions" of the "Blackshields" space marines).

Death Seekers.
Overall, this is something that approaches what the World Eaters already have. The Inured to Pain rule gives the most basic feel no pain special rule. This is, of course, very nice, but there's no way to boost it inside the Blackshields rules. No pinning and no morale checks is also very nice. The Lure of Battle rule means they always must advance to an enemy (or at least stay at a steady distance) on the table. This gives a very rageful special rule that can be very attractive.

All taken together, the Death Seekers are a very attractive proposition that would lead to a powerful force when combined with the other rules. Its a pity that there are no Drop Pods to take advantage of their bonuses, but a rhino will help to close the gap, as would a flier like a Storm Eagle or Caestus. I can therefore see these special rules as a really good and strong choice. It offers things that the Emperor's Children and World Eaters do not, and played well, can really do some damage. But why take them instead of the World Eaters? They're slightly more controllable (arguably), they're not "triggered" like some of their rules. Indeed, the involuntary movement could be taken advantage of: think of moving 0.5 inches backward and then 1d6 inches forward when failing a Ld check and one can see how this system might be "gamed" slightly.

Hence, I think this is a force worth consideration when built for close combat (hammer units) and backed up with longer range heavy support selections.

Orphans of War.
These marines gain bonuses to Ld when within 6 inches of fellow Blackshields, so long as they're above a certain strength. This is very nice as it represents marines helping marines out. But what is even better is the re-rolling of 1's to hit in assault and shooting with these marines as well. Amazing really! The penalty side of this is steep though. Failing a morale check removes 1d3 more marines than would otherwise be removed in an assault phase. For characters, its even simpler -- they have preferred enemy (characters) special rule which is very nice for fighting in challenges clearly.

No gods, No Masters counter-balances some of these strengths by ensuring the Blackshields cannot buy chaplains, agents and simply cannot ally with other Legions that do so (or, obviously, has a primarch within it).

Overall, the synergy here is very nice. One would want to take large squad sizes where possible and keep them reasonably close to one another on the board. Two blobs (a forward blob with a hammer unit and support units, or assault elements; and a rear blob with heavy weapons and specialist teams or tactical squad) might make a good pincer team.

With their rules, they're really up there with the Ultramarines, and Imperial Fists. Sure, they lack some of the other special rules like Tank Hunters that the Imperial Fists might otherwise gain, but they can certainly hold their own in this theatre. The Ld bonus is what sets them apart from the Fists though. Hence this is another force that is very viable if one wants a shooty and assaulty force to combine with other elements.

Outlanders.
This is where things start to get interesting for the Blackshields in my opinion. And I'm torn on them.

Void Reavers gives deep strike to half of the none transported units if desired. This is great, but an additional 1d3 models will die to mishaps (and they will no doubt happen over the course of a tournament).

Unsanctioned Weaponry gives the force access to Xenos Deathlocks if they could take combi-bolters. This is something that I desperately want to love, as the option to model things like Necron Gauss Cannons on space marines is so cool that I totally dig what is going on here. However, the Deathlock rules themselves are not that crash hot … I'd almost prefer volkites over them to be honest. And when I sat down to do the math hammer on them, I would probably only want one or two of them per squad at most due to the "lethal exposure" rule that those weapons have -- I'll try to post about them at another point. Hence they're not all they're cracked up to be, although I can certainly see that having them en-masse could be a unit wipe out every turn for the Outlanders at the expense of one of their own. Hence they're a little bit like killing oneself with a plasma gun. Worth it in some situations. More to come on this I think.

Finally the Shadow of Oblivion balances all these bonuses and means that once half casualties have been reached in terms of sheer number of units, then the rest of the team starts teleporting back away. This makes the entire force a big glass cannon and a risky proposition.

I really want to like these guys and model up a large unit of Xenos Tech armed marines. Heck, I've already done this anyway with my Alpha Legion (see particularly my Scouts with necron weapons). It makes them a real glass cannon in a lot of ways. I need to think about how to take a large blob of deep striking S=5 Xenos weapon teams in to play here though. I regard them as very attractive and very playable overall!

Chymeriae. 
By selecting one of three special rules, the Chymeriae can be as adaptable as the Alpha Legion in many ways and tailored to an enemy. In terms of background, they're supposed to represent marines that shouldn't otherwise exist: mutants (think: warp affected / Word Bearer cast offs), accelerated implantation programmes (think: Raven Guard), or engineered (think: Fabius Bile creations but done by a different apothecary). These Chimeriae Attributes all have bonuses to stats and negatives, as well as special rules.

Option 1 (bonuses to S and T coupled with penalty to I and other running rules) is a solid choice for survivability and close combat teams.
Option 2 (bonuses to WS and BS, negatives to Ld) is attractive for shooting armies, but I'd be really concerned that they're going to flee off the board very fast, so we'd need a way to counteract this on the board through other means. And I'm not really seeing the other means at this stage. I don't think I'd use this.
Option 3 (bonus special rules at the expense of -1BS) makes for a solid close combat orientated team.

I like option 1 the best of all to be honest, just for the +1 in toughness. This is amazing, and strictly better than what even the Iron Hands have.

Of course, this comes at the expense of Shunned and Distrusted which means no allies if they're the primary detachment. Period.

Overall, I think this is a very characterful option (and a strong option too!) for legions like the Word Bearers, Raven Guard, Emperor's Children and so on (even the World Eaters to a lesser extent) for allies. Well worth it if they can be utilised!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Alpha Legion Hobby Update: Prototype Despoiler

This miniature is probably going to be the last of my Hobby Update on the Alpha Legion. It is a prototype for a despoiler squad. For those not up to date with the lingo, a despoiler squad is a tactical squad who have given up their bolt guns for a close combat weapon. Explicitly, these guys have only a bolt pistol and a close combat weapon.

Many would question why one would want to do this. But remember: with a high capacity transport (plus assault ramp), there is a heap of attacks coming from such a squad. Even if they're not power weapons. On top of this, despoiler squads do not lose Fury of the Legion -- this can still be performed with bolt pistols. There's little not to like in my opinion when they have an appropriate transport.


This miniature is a conversion using pieces from PuppetsWar. The circular saw represents the close combat weapon. The intent here is that the Alpha Legion have invented (or stolen?) a new piece of technology that they are field-testing in some volunteer's armour. Since I've only got this one assembled thus far, he is being used as a counts-as squad sergeant with a power fist for the moment, until the rest of his squad is done and dusted.  


I'm very pleased with the painting so far. I've been working hard on the head region in the final detailing recently, but more attention is needed there, and on the bare metal scratches showing through the gleaming blue-green armour. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Alpha Legion Hobby Update: Master of Signal

One of the key ingredients of my Alpha Legion forces is the Master of Signal. This guys is amazing on the table top. Sure, we're paying some 100 points for a once-only large template weapon, but it is high strength and AP3. This makes all the difference for alpha striking (pun not intended) - especially when deployed against 40k armies. I have had great luck with this against the Eldar, as well as all flavours of space marine armies.

In latter turns, I use him to give BS=5 to heavy support or a tactical squad (fury of the legion at BS=5 is terrific to say the least, but krak missiles are also hugely valuable when they hit their armoured targets).

The miniature itself is a conversion that I've detailed previously, but wanted to originally run as a saboteur.  The painting at the moment is tabletop ready, but I've got more work to do with the highlighting and details. Some of the computer array on his wrist is approaching completion, and it reminded me a little of a mini-mac keyboard, so I wanted to try "backlit" keys. But now, I'm a bit "meh" on that idea and just went for yellow illumination with some red keys. 
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