Monday, May 20, 2024

Scenes from an Epic: 40,000 smackdown (Chaos vs Imperium)

 The long weekend for Queen Victoria Day gave the kids some extra time off school, and gave us a reason to ponder the scope of imperialism - and what better way to do that than by diving back into Epic: 40,000? As it's been close to a year since we ran Epic, we went slowly and I messed up a few special rules, but we had fun. We ended up calling a draw in Turn 3 (real life beckoned) but I think next game should go faster. 

No Legions Imperialis for us; we play the old 3e Epic: 40k rules. Some deride 3e as too simplistic but we find it offers plenty to manage, and allows satisfyingly grand tactical movement. This was a 2500-pt Planetary Assault battle, with about half my foe's army arriving via drop-pod. Scenes from the carnage follow. 

A worn, colossal imperial monument overlooks the field of battle

Center-frame, a shuttle prepares to evacuate staff from the Imperial Cathedral. 

My kitbashed Traitor Knights finally see action, sweeping Astartes dogs from a hilltop objective

Yes, that's better now. However, see all those scratchbuilt Dark Elder bikes and barges at top of frame?

A drop-pod landing by ~half a company of Marines shattered my Drukhari detachment, boo-hoo...

Battle rages elsewhere. "Is that Daemon Primarch Perturabo advancing on our position?" "Yes - and unpainted, too! Keep firing!"

In the Grim Darkness of the 41st Millennium, there are big stompy robots. 

A double-drop landing surrounds my primary Iron Warriors detachment, but I throw most of them back in a fierce shootout. 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Ruined Obelisk/Monument scratch-build

Deep in the Accursed Wastes, at the heart of a ruined city forgotten by all but the most learned, there stands a fading, azure monument to the glory -- or was it hubris? -- of an ancient, mythic conqueror. The arcane texts that frame that obelisk are said to recount his (mis)deeds ... or, perhaps, they reveal the only spell sufficient to keep the blood-soaked, Chaos-chosen ravager sealed in the Underworld. Centuries have passed ... and now it is time to renew the ritual, lest the lands drown again in blood...  

I just finished the newest scratch-built terrain centerpiece for my gaming table. I'm pretty pleased with this one! 

The statue on top isn't painted yet, but the obelisk/base is separate, so I can swap out different statues for different settings or scenarios. 

For example -- switch out the statue and some surrounding scenery, and now it's a monument to the cruelty of a long-fallen Dark Eldar warrior -- whom the locals have mistakenly assimilated to an early imperial Saint. 

This started life as a humble, semi-rigid plastic popcorn tub. I mounted it on a "foundation slab" of EVA foam, and then built up hand-cut foam blocks around the base.

I then cut up sections of corkboard to make the crumbling outer "veneer" layer, and added a plasticard slab to cover up some annoying modern plastic texture on top. 


Basecoated the whole thing with spraypaint...

Then stippled darker gray to 'texture' the lower layers, and drybrushed everything with ivory/bone craft-paint (drybrushing heavily on the cork layers). 

I used a gold-ink art marker to apply the 'arcane texts' along the sides, and then applied Army Painter "Magic Blue" speedpaint (their 1.0 version) to the off-white cork layers. A bit more cleaning up, grass tufts here and there, and I was done. 

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Back to the Fighter, after playtesting

 I got in some playtesting for my evolving ideas about Fighter stunts, maiming strikes, etc. Design is an iterative process; what I've got now is streamlined even more (so: apologies to anyone getting frustrated with how much things are evolving here!). But I think this is the version I like best so far. I'll spell out the rules themselves first, and then offer some discussion again below. 


Any character may spend their combat action to attempt a combat stunt, a maneuver that does not deal direct damage but otherwise disadvantages a foe (tripping them, disarming them, chucking flour in their face to blind them for a moment, etc.). A successful stunt may grant advantage to follow-up attacks vs. the foe, or disadvantage to their attacks (but the foe might negate that circumstance soon with an action of their own). To attempt a stunt, first discuss what you want to achieve with the GM. If they approve, you may attempt the stunt. 

The stunt mechanic: opposed 2d6 roll + HD/Level.

Combat Stunts: Roll 2d6 and add your Level (you may add a STR or DEX bonus if you have one); the GM rolls 2d6 and adds the foe’s HD. High score succeeds; defender wins ties. If you succeed, the stunt takes effect; if you fail, it doesn’t, but there’s no consequence beyond the wasted action. 

Time to apply damage across multiple targets!
Larry Elmore


(FYI: this is written with Swords & Wizardry core/complete in mind. The old core remains free, and the new Complete is here - affiliate link).

FIGHTERS have the following special abilities (Replace S&W’s Multiple Attacks and Parry). 

Attack Bonus: A Fighter’s attack bonus = +1 per level, capped at +14. 

Killing Blow: when a Fighter’s attack roll is a Natural 20, or when the combined attack roll (d20 + bonuses) exceeds the target’s AC by 10+, the target must Save or die. From level 14+, trigger the Save on a Nat 19-20, and if the Fighter’s level exceeds the target’s HD, add the difference to the target’s Save TN. 

Flexible tactics: when a Fighter’s attack roll hits, the Fighter may apply one of the following additional special effects, after rolling for damage:

+ Hit harder: add your level to the damage inflicted. [Alternate version that I like even better: multiply your rolled damage by 1d3. If you roll a 3, you over-exert yourself, and may not Hit Harder again for the rest of this combat]. 

+ Tempest of Blades: if your target’s HD = 1/2 your level or lower, you may apply the rolled damage to a number (up to your level) of additional targets within reach/range, which may not have HD or AC higher than the primary target’s. 

+ Free Stunt: follow up with a free Combat Stunt.

+ Maiming Strike: attempt a special Combat Stunt that can deal direct damage, as described below. 



Maiming Strikes for Fighters: 

Note that Fighters (and only Fighters) may attempt a riskier but more decisive kind of stunt called a Maiming Strike after hitting a target with a normal attack roll. A Maiming Strike is a stunt that deals direct damage, physically disadvantaging the target in a way that can’t just be shaken off, or which even nullifies a target’s special ability. Examples could include hacking off a giant scorpion’s venomous stinger, slicing an ogre’s wrist-tendons to hinder its attacks, impaling a cyclops’ eye to blind it, or hewing off an owlbear's left forearm to reduce its number of attacks or negate its bear-hug ability. 

Maiming Strikes are resolved like normal Combat Stunts (opposed 2d6 rolls, +Level/HD), but they add a risky consequence: if the Maiming Strike attempt fails, the initial attack's damage is canceled, and the Fighter is Staggered (off balance, distracted, and flustered) until they spend an action to recover. While Staggered, the Fighter suffers Disadvantage to their own attack rolls and grants advantage to attack rolls made against them. 

So, to spell it out really clearly: 

Maiming Strikes: Roll 2d6 and add your level (you may add a STR or DEX bonus if you have one); GM rolls 2d6 and adds the foe's HD. If you succeed, the target is Maimed as proposed to the GM. If you fail, you deal no damage at all on the attack, and you are Staggered until you spend an Action to recover. 

Globnaz! Try a Maiming Strike against that venemous stinger!
Art: Rodney Matthews



Ok. I like this version because it retains much of the spirit of what I proposed earlier, with streamlined procedures, while better fitting use-cases observed in actual play. 

At the table, I found that some of my earlier ideas (including escalating damage risks for failed Maim/Killing Blow attempts) just made such attempts to risky to be appealing. Against weak targets, a normal attack vs. HP remained the logical choice; against stronger targets, the potential consequences made trying a "hail Mary" stunt inadvisable. This newer version, therefore, makes regular stunts consequence-free (apart from wasting an action if it fails), and the consequence for a Maiming Strike is tactical, rather than, well, medical (you don't take damage, but you put yourself in a really bad spot - one that your team might be able to mitigate if they can pull you back to cover to give you a round to collect yourself). 

And what about that Killing Blow? 

I noticed that Swords & Wizardry Continual Light offers a one-sentence variant class to turn a Thief into an Assassin, giving them a killing blow ability of their own: once per day, if the Assassin has snuck into position where they could attempt a backstab, they can force the target to Save or Die.

Well, I thought, that sounds a LOT like a much simpler version of my Killing Blow idea. 

However, "once a day" didn't really fit with what I had in mind for the lethal Fighter. Additionally, the single Saving Throw numbers for Swords & Wizardry escalate significantly (technically they deescalate since they get smaller, but you know what I mean, I hope).  At lower levels, a targeted foe still has a pretty good chance of failing a Save. Once you get up to about 12 HD+ monsters, however, you're looking at Saves around 2 or 3 - which means that there is very, very little chance of a Save or Die effect working most of the time.

In other words, my Killing Blow effect is a lot less overpowered than it might look. 

DANG IT! Since I'm on the cover of the Basic book, there's barely any chance I pull this off even if I do trigger a Killing Blow with a Nat 20 ... why couldn't I be on the Companion Set?

So, I decided to marry some approaches. I gave the Fighter the ability to trigger a killing blow randomly, so that they always have a reason for excited hope as they roll the d20. But they'll also trigger a Killing Blow when they blitz way past the target's AC. The general idea here is that as fighters level up, they should get better at just obliterating lower-level threats. 

Since I'm suggesting an attack bonus equal to level for Fighters, but capped at +14, the higher levels from 14 on presented an opportunity to make the Killing Blow a bit more effective against weaker targets (but not peers) from that point onward. 

If I'm doing my math right, an epic level 20 Fighter still has only a 1:200 chance of one-shotting S&W's version of Orcus with this rule. (Cue Dumb & Dumber: "so what you're saying is there's a chance!?"). But that level 20 Fighter has a real shot at beheading dragons with a single hit - which is not bad, given what Level 20 is meant to represent. 

So I think this should scale well enough. 

By moving the Killing Blow to a randomly triggered event, I'm focusing stunt choice on more tactical maneuvers. I like this version of the Maiming Strike; it should still feel risky but not overly punitive.

Oh, and about Hit Harder: I vacillated between just letting Fighters add their level to damage they inflict, or giving them a small possible damage multiplier. I might be crazy but I like multiplying the damage by 1d3:
Rolled 1: no effect - 1/3 of the time, this choice is wasted!
Rolled 2: awesome, doubled your damage
Rolled 3: epic blowout, triple damage, but now you've lost this option for the rest of the fight.

This may lead to some pretty wild moments, letting a Fighter end a combat with one very lucky 8-on-d8 multiplied by 3-on-d3 (to me, this actually helps me swallow limiting the Killing Blow, because we're moving more fight-ending stuff back into the realm of the normal hp-ablation procedure, which is technically how the game is supposed to work anyway). 

Although these ideas are based on playtesting, now I guess I need to playtest the newest iteration again. Sigh. Any feedback is welcome, as usual.


When/Where/Why would these things help?

Well ... I think these offer a nice way for a contemporary gaming group (usually quite a bit smaller than many old-school modules actually envision) to run big old-school fights; still not loading up too much 'feat bloat,' still focused on the play instead of 'build choices,' and yet having a bit more survivability. It should definitely give you more to think about than just hitting again, but it leans a bit closer to allowing fast turns where the Fighter attacks and then exploits a bit more if it becomes possible. 

These do strain the power-balance a bit between classes - perhaps? (One of my initial motivations was to push back against the old linear fighter-quadratic wizard imbalance). Were I to integrate this as an actual hack to S&W, for example, I'd probably say that Clerics also get the ability to Turn not only undead but unholy/infernal foes, AND when they attack such foes in melee, they don't have to roll to hit - they just roll straight to damage. And maybe Wizards would get a 1d4 Usage die for Magic Missile, auto-dealing a little bit of damage until they roll that 1 (and upgrading to a d6, d8, d10 during level-up progression). 

Ok, I'm done rambling for now. Please let me know if you have any strong pro/con feelings. Happy Gaming!