Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Supply, demand and Bretonnia


So a couple of days ago, completely out of nowhere, the long-missing resin Bretonnia kits just reappeared on Game Workshop's webstore: Grail Knights, Questing Knights, Grail Reliqueae, Field Trebuchet, Battle Pilgrims, the Battle Standard Bearer and the Bretonnian Lord with a lance and Harry Hill's collar. We're still missing Mounted Yeomen (which is no great loss) and the Questing Vow Lord that looks like Sean Connery (which is) but they were never made in Finecast so that's not surprising.

By the time I got to the store the next morning to order some of the things, with the clear intention of ordering the lot, all that was still in stock were the Grail Knights and the Battle Standard Bearer. Harry Hill is now back in stock (so the “temporarily out of stock” tag seems legit) and you bet I'm ordering it today.

This is not the first time, even this month, that GW has been surprised by demand. The second End Times book came out last weekend, it had sold out on pre-orders within twelve hours and even a really big GW store like Reading could only get five copies on release day. Now a bunch of old models from a very minor army with the oldest and most out-dated army book still in service get a new pressing and sell out in a day. So I guess what I'm saying is this:

Can we please, internet, end this idiotic comment meme about how “No one plays Fantasy so why does GW support it?”, a comment exclusively written by idiots for idiots.

First of damn all, we have two separate examples of GW being surprised by demand for Fantasy products. I can understand why they would have under-produced on Bretonnia resins for all the reasons I just listed but The End Times: Glottkin was designed as a marquee product so that actually surprises me.

Now, I'm under no delusions of why the Bretonnia resins were resurrected and why they sold out so rapidly: Bretonnia is a huge part of Glottkin. They just got an enormous marketing push with a load of really cool visuals and background and the models were pressed to capitalise on that.

And they still sold out.

I guess I am just sort of gloating at gamers on the internet (one extremely irritating individual in particular) who keep insisting my favourite army is getting the chop. Proof has just been delivered that if given the product the fanbase will buy the product in enough numbers to not only justify but exhaust a production run based on a huge marketing push. Now imagine what could be achieved by replacing those resin kits with more highly-detailed multi-part plastics?

So yes, internet, people play Fantasy but they need different forms of encouragement than 40k players, who tend to be younger and more prone to switching between armies than Fantasy players. Once GW engages Fantasy players they'll lay down the cash. The End Times has been engaging (and creating) Fantasy players like nothing I've seen since Storm Of Chaos. I admit, of course, that it isn't as big a seller as 40k but the idea that GW has an entire product line they pour real cash into to zero profit is an insane claim given its usually voiced by the paranoid and delusional individuals who cry foul at the very idea that a corporate entity might have to make money to support out hobby. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

GW Reading "Create a Space Marine Chapter" competition

Games Workshop Reading's store birthday is coming up on 1st November and they're running a few events on the day, one of which is the good old Create A Space Marine Chapter competition. Simple idea: come up with a colour scheme, paint a Marine, write up a bit of background and present all it on the day. I'm not normally one for in-store competitions and the like but it occurred to me that this one could serve a nice little purpose for me.

You see, back in Third Edition when I started in the hobby I had a Chaos Space Marine army, a fallen Sanguinary chapter called the Blades Of Sanguinius. They looked, I will be frank, bloody terrible because I was nineteen, had no idea how to paint and had no patience. They wore pale red armour (Blood Red right over white undercoat, oh the days before base paints...) with Midnight Blue trim and not much else. They were technically Tzeentchian except I couldn't afford the metal models for the daemons and back then you couldn't give generic Chaos Marines the Mark of Tzeentch because it automatically turned them into Thousand Sons.

You know, every time I discuss the Third Edition Chaos Marine book I end up wondering why I have such immense nostalgia for it. I remember Chaos Lieutenants fondly, I liked that the rules actually allowed you to give your Chaos Lord a greasy sidekick.

Anyway, the thing with the Blades Of Sanguinius is I never really gave any thought to what they looked like as loyalists (except that they were red, being a Sanguinary chapter) so that's my pitch: design and enter the loyal Blades. I've got a good starting point in that they'll be mostly red, probably, and I've plenty of Death Company bits to make the model visually interesting. I just have to be careful not to make the colour scheme over-busy, which is the temptation and the trap of these things.

Friday, 17 October 2014

DC film slate 2016 - 2020 announced

Okay, big thing that happened the other day not involving the clinically mental (then again...) is that Warner Bros. announced the basic shape of their film slate going forward to 2020. There's other stuff on there and they insist further solo Batman and Superman films (and Batman and Superman films?) will also be added to the docket in time but the big news is we finally have a roadmap for the DC Cinematic Universe.

So, what do we have?

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Franchise we already knew about but the Suicide Squad movie totally crept up on me, don't know about anyone else. Its actually a pretty clever choice for universe-building purposes since a team of villains is by definition a team-up of characters from different franchises. This is especially good since DC has a horrible history of foregrounding bad guys in their films to the detriment of the heroes' development (i.e. every Batman movie since Burton) so sticking a bunch of them in a movie, developing them there and trusting the audience to remember them when, say, Ocean Master turns up in Aquaman might be an interesting solution to this problem.

After that there's Justice League, again as previously announced, but there in bright red is the big one: Wonder Woman and I only have this to say:

Please, DC, don't fuck this up. You are dangerously addicted to caution so please, for the love of God, unlearn the lessons of a lifetime, take a risk and make this movie as mad as it deserves to be! You are in the unique position of having the most established, most recognisable superheroine in existence so let that carry the concept and just make a good film. I do not want to be sitting through another Catwoman three years from now.

Moving on, The Flash and Aquaman. This Flash will not the be the TV Flash, not unnaturally as I imagine synching up the filming schedules for this and his two Justice League appearances would be a nightmare. Aquaman is Jason Momoa and I am very much looking forward to that.

Justice League 2... nothing to really say about that. Shazam I am excited about if for no other reason than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is confirmed as Black Adam (I imagine they'll call him Teth Adam for some reason). I just hope they remember to have a sense of humour about the property because I'd love to see a fun DC movie and I really, really don't think you can make a grim, dreary Billy Batson. Oh, wait, they did for the New 52 didn't they?

Then there's a Green Lantern film, most likely a reboot because nine years between films is a bit insurmountable even if Ryan Reynolds would still be interested at that stage. Someone somewhere (The Escapist's Moviebob, I think) floated the idea that the easiest way to distance a new Green Lantern from the failed one would be to go with John Stewart, both visually and in personality. That's pure speculation but it might be an interesting angle and the Justice League cartoon certainly means the character is known, perhaps the most recognisable successor hero in the Justice League stable.

And finally a Cyborg movie. Huh. I think this is going to be DC's Guardians of the Galaxy analogue, just with a little more caution but that's DC movies all over. It isn't that Cyborg is without cache, Teen Titans was a big cartoon and they appear to be using the New 52 make-up of the League with Cyborg taking J'onn's place so he'll be far from unknown to the audience. He's always been a “team” character, though. This isn't to say it can't work, it might even be liberating for the film makers to handle a character whose canon doesn't include any real limits on what he can do on his own. There are no Lois Lanes or Daily Planets here to be included as per spec, they can get really creative here. Part of me worries, though, that this might be on the slate just so all the individual Leaguers get “their” movie rather than as a risky yet creative opportunity.

Time will tell, it usually does. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

I cannot begin to process this crap...


The internet makes it hard to believe. Theist or secular humanist, and I've been both, belief in essential goodness lies at the core of it all, be it the goodness of an exterior deity or the belief that we as humans have it within ourselves to assume total moral responsibility for our actions. Hell, regardless of how I feel about God on any given day I want to believe the latter idea.

And the internet makes it so hard some days.

Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist video gamer blogger, has been receiving threats of murder and rape for some time now. The Escapist yesterday reported that she'd cancelled a speaking engagement at Utah State University following someone claiming to be a student threatening “the deadliest school shooting in American history”. Due to Utah's gun control laws allowing concealed carry permits the local police were unable to search for or confiscate weapons at the event and she cancelled the engagement.

The story itself is bad enough but then you get to the comment section and...

Some commenters accuse her of cowardice for this, accusing her of not believing in her cause enough to get ahead with her engagement. Her cause is feminist criticism of tropes in video games. There are causes worth dying for, worth risking the lives of others for, THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

Some accuse her of trying to create a gun control debate, having cited the police inability to stop people bringing guns to her talk as her reason for cancellation. I... I just don't know where to begin on that one. Its hard to be pro-gun when you're British because the number of firearms in this country that aren't either a) “working weapons” for pest control on farms or b) outright illegal is minuscule. Still, even in this country the phrase “school shooting” is one with a long and tragic history but, significantly, one that pales in comparison to the history of these horrific, genuinely evil crimes in the US.

Some have accused her of sending the threats herself to heighten her profile. Whilst I can't prove this one way or another given the history of other threats and harassment (she had to move out her home because of them) I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Then there's the whole #GamerGate mess that this sort of ties into... in some ways... and I don't have the damn energy to recap that shitstorm. I'll just say that in this specific instance no one had made a clear link between the threat and GamerGate but the vast majority of comments reference the issue.

I'm not naive, right? It isn't somehow unreasonable to believe that the response to this story should just be outright condemnation of the threat, is it? Whether a person believes the threat came from a random nutcase, a nutcase who affiliates himself with (note language, please) #GamerGate's politics, Sarkeesian herself or is in the nature of a particularly sick joke... whoever you place blame with the proper reaction is “This is sick and should not be.”.

Right? Because that really isn't the sentiment I'm getting from far too many quarters on this thing.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Talking of missing the point


Now there's a lot to say about how the original X-Men movie set the stage for modern Marvel movies and how it compares to Disney's largely literal translations of characters from panel to screen, both for and against either approach. It was a good film that wasn't afraid to make changes to the source material so that it could be a good film whilst remaining a relatively faithful X-Men story so I'm willing to believe that this poster...

was the work of a marketing executive who didn't understand what they were writing about. I mean, really:

TRUST A FEW. FEAR THE REST.

That's actually a really, really sinister message to apply to the X-Men, isn't it? And I say this because unlike most forms of racism portrayed in the X-Men franchise this is one I've seen in horrible action. The racism (and other expressions of prejudice) that underpin X-Men comics are, not unnaturally, ones rooted in the civil rights history of the US: the imagery of lynchings, segregation and the epic legal fight over interracial marriage. Its a specific cultural history of horrific organised violence and legislative support for oppressors.

Racism in the UK has a different, and in some ways more insidious, history. We've had racial violence and race-related murders, certainly, but nothing as organised or widespread as the lynchings. As bad as our far right has been and as repugnant as its organised members are there's been nothing as large or as active as the Ku Klux Klan. Segregation existed in parts of the British Empire but was never a legal principal in the UK itself. Interracial marriage has never been illegal here, though it has been subject to considerable social prejudices for centuries.

And that's our racial history in a nutshell: social prejudice. Skin colour, amongst other things like accent and religion, were used in the social construct of an imperial power to divide the world into us (the “rightful” rulers) and them (the ruled). I'm not kidding about accents, by the way, just look at any number of Empire-era films, TV and radio shows. You'll get your heroes speaking in a generic, received pronunciation accent, comedic but sympathetic supporting players speaking in regional British accents with foreign accents reserved for complete idiots and villains (sometimes both at the same time).

The long and the short of it is that British racism is usually a weird extension of class-ism. The thing is that someone's class can change based on their circumstances and so in some cases particular people are allowed out of the “them” category to become part of the “us”.

And here is where my personal experience comes in because I grew up in a time and a place where there was a lot of prejudice for groups (homosexuals and immigrants of East Asian descent in the main) but where huge exceptions were made to those prejudices for the ones your family knew. Your parents might be fine with that one gay man down the street but the rest of them? Perverts, probably paedophiles. The Indian guy who ran the corner shop? Good, honest working class guy but the others? Scroungers living off our taxes.

The sentiment there really was “Trust a few, fear the rest”, which confused me as a child and disgusts me as an adult and to see it reiterated in this poster is really shocking. Especially given that the film itself takes pains to demonstrate how justified Magneto's perspective is through the concentration camp scenes and in Senator Kelly's attempts to enact exactly the sort of identity registration that was the first step towards those camps.

The point I'm trying to make here? I don't know, probably that Bill Hicks was right and people who work in advertising and marketing just don't have souls, I guess.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Bad movies vs. almost good movies

You know something? I'm starting to think that a terrible movies are in some ways preferable to almost good ones just because when a film is an utterly misbegotten trainwreck that was never going to work it was at least not disappointing. I'm so tired of disappointing, of your Man Of Steels and your Amazing Spider-Mans.

Okay, examples, trainwreck first. M. Night Shayamalan's The Last Airbender was never going to be a good movie and I'm not even bashing Shayamalan here. He picked an unwinnable battle, there's no two ways about it. Any given criticism of the film as made, in retrospect, provokes little more reaction from me than “Well, duh.”.

I really mean that. I hate the film with a fiery passion but there are so few practical ways in which it could be improved given the restrictions of its production. The film is too short to cover the whole first season's plot, yes, but it was targeted at children so there were limits to how long it could be. The characters are anaemic compared to the TV versions but again we hit the runtime problem and the fact Avatar tended to slip character development as b-plots in larger stories. Its stupid that Earthbenders POWs find a quarry inescapable but the sea-platform from the show would have a huge expense in an already pricey movie. The “racebending” of Aang and the Fire Nation characters was dumb since Hollywood is hardly hurting for actors of Asian (especially Japanese) descent but some racebending was inevitable as there's just not a huge base of teenage Inuit actors to cast Sokka and Katara from.

I'm not saying this makes The Last Airbender better, it remains a bloody awful movie: its still too short; the characters are still pale imitations of the originals (Sokka especially), the quarry scene is idiotic and very easily read as racist; and whitewashing every character who wasn't a villain... how does someone even make a decision that idiotic?

Still, that it couldn't work is oddly comforting. I wasn't cheated out of a good Last Airbender film because no such film could exist, which brings us to the other side of the coin: the almost acceptable, the almost good. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: David Lynch's Dune.

Now, admittedly, this isn't a film that often gets called “almost good”. In general I've found opinions divide into two camps: you've either read Frank Herbert's Dune and think this movie misses every point going or you haven't read the original novel and find a 1980s sci-fi movie of varying levels of acceptable. I'm in camp number one, I love Herbert's work and I think Lynch took a great cast and a great design team and butchered the damn thing. Princess Irulan is reduced to a voiceover at the beginning, a walk on at the end and basically nothing else whilst in the book she's a fantastically important character and her eventual meeting with Paul should have so much more weight than it does.

But, my God, is the film beautiful. I think in terms of writing, the 2000 miniseries was a million miles ahead of Lynch but the theoretical perfect, Platonic Dune adaptation, in my opinion, is the 2000 writing team working for Lynch's designers.

The same actually goes for Man Of Steel, my recent favourite punching bag, which has absolutely fantastic visual design, great fight sequences and gorgeously shot set pieces. What it doesn't have is a screenplay that has any sense of who Superman is and what he's for; the tone is all over the place; Clark Kent has no discernible character arc which left me more invested in Jor-El and Guardian; David Goyer was having a Green Lantern day instead of a Blade II day when he wrote the dialogue; and the film seems to think its theme is interrogating our fear of outsiders but never gives anyone any reason to trust Clark. However, most every moment of physical direction is damn near perfect aside from that washed out colour palette DC films contracted during the Dark Knight trilogy and now seems incurable.

My perfect, Platonic Superman movie? Well, one that looks like that but has some damn sense of identity, to be perfectly honest.

Now, academically there's real value in looking at how these various pieces fail at their goals but from the point of view of an £11 ticket and an hour's walk to the cinema there's more to resent than with something I was dragged to thinking it couldn't work.

And, of course, with straight-up terrible sometimes history is kind and we get kitsch acts of insanity like Night of the Lepus, a horror movie about giant bunnies menacing the American mid-west. That's a film that could never, ever work to the point that I actually know people who dismissed seeing it as a fever dream or the consequence of accidental opiate exposure (well, they say “accidental”). Point is you can laugh at bad. Sure, with The Last Airbender my feelings were more akin to detached horror than amusement at what had been done to the source material but it wasn't the continuous cycle of becoming invested in the visuals and the action but being drawn out by the dialogue and narrative I felt with Man Of Steel. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

7th edition, 1st impressions

On Saturday my gaming group turned out to watch a little experiment: our first game of Warhammer 40,000 seventh edition. The players for our little drama were Matt's Lost And The Damned (Black Legion primary detachment, Imperial Guard allies) and Tom dusting off his Valhallan-themed Imperial Guard for their first outing since the second edition. I was on hand to hold the book, look up rules and read out the Tactical Objectives as they were rolled (which, being me, I rather enjoyed). Dave and Ian drank Irn Bru and ate pasties.

In most regards seventh edition is a warmed over version of sixth, which could be a very pertinent criticism if I was of a mood since it replaced sixth after only two years. I didn't play much sixth, only a few small scale test games in the store on release weekend, but I didn't hate it. I liked a lot of the improvements but I didn't feel it went far enough.

Now GW has obviously decided its time to go far enough.

Tactical Objectives are the big thing. In this game we used a scenario special rule (which I now cannot find) where the number of Tactical Objectives decreased each turn: six on turn one, five on turn two and so on. The D66 table is nicely varied with the first eighteen all being some variant on “Hold Objective X” and the other eighteen vary wildly from things like killing an enemy character, destroying a unit, destroying a building or even manifesting a psychic power. Its random, either the roll of a dice or picking a card, and a lot of people seem to hate that.

I don't. I love it. Best thing to happen to the game since I've been playing.

Random is good because random was what the game was missing. What Matt describes as “that 40k feeling” is the sense that the game is moving forward not because of your actions or your opponent's but because of pure mathematics. This is a side effect of the game having largely uniform movement rates, no arc of sight issues and the almost-universal possession of ranged attacks. Introducing random charge lengths was a good step but, as I said before, was not nearly enough.

This is enough. This is great. The Tactical Objectives system forced both our players to change their plan at short notice and the Victory Points score was 11-13 with Tom taking the win. At several points Tom, who grabbed some objective markers early on, was forced to choose between keeping a solid defence on those markers or making a risky dash for one of the other rolled objectives.

I really want to try this out which means getting back to working out exactly what Orks I have lying around.

In other notes vehicle damage is more forgiving, unless you have AP1 or 2 and score a penetrating hit the vehicle won't be outright destroyed so Hull Points work rather more as they were intended last edition.

I like the Look Out, Sir! rolls for characters and that the definition includes sergeants. This game saw Matt's Chaos Lord flinging Cultists in the way of lasbolts as he stamped towards Tom's Infantry Platoon. The Guard kept up a hail of frantic fire using the Front Rank, Fire! Back Rank, Fire! order which eventually brought down the Chaos Lord just as he was entering charge range.

Medals all round. Can't wait to try this out for myself.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Getting my chivalric hopes up again


While I yet draw breath, the lands bequeathed unto me
Shall remain untainted by evil.
Be they foul orcs, giants or mountain drakes
My foes shall fear my armies and my blade alike.
It is my sacred oath to lead wars of errantry and crusade
And to honour the duties of the King.
My love of the Lady shall be as a beacon, inspiring and bright
Even when darkness spreads its wings o'er the land.
All this I shall uphold as I become one with Bretonnia
Lest I join with her in death alone.”
- The King's Vow

That was presented as the final part of a two-page history of Bretonnia's King Louen Leoncoeur by Phil Kelly's in his Codex: Apocrypha article in this week. Its a well-written piece but what strikes me is how much of it is new, or at least new to me. All or any of this could be background from the fifth edition or earlier given a modern spin but even if it is this is what I take from it:

Two pages of a very short magazine targeted at advertising Games Workshop products was spend on advertising Bretonnia, an army with a two editions old army book and massive gaps in its model range. I'm not saying next week or even next month is going to see a new Warhammer Armies: Bretonnia, if for no other reason than I don't think there'll be a standalone army book until after The End Times wraps but I do think this means something.

Now you could say that this snippet of background took no time or effort for GW to produce. You would also be wrong. They paid Phil Kelly his wages for whatever time it took to write and edit this piece, they spent money printing it and used up 5.8% of their magazine on it. Small effort is still effort and there are probably better things one of your lead game designers and background writers could be doing of an afternoon than banging out two pages of fluff for an army you haven't supported in a decade and don't even offer a full range of miniatures for anymore. Something like, oh, banging out two pages of background to remind people this range exists because there are plans.

I'm not usually one to accuse GW of being completely mercenary but I do accept that as a relatively small company in a niche, luxury industry most of their activities are based in savvy marketing. You see, unlike far too many hobbyists on the internet I understand that if I want GW to continue making products they have to make enough money to stay in business. It is baffling how many hobbyists don't understand the very, very simple economics of this equation.

Ugh...

But, anyway, between this article and the huge amount of ink The End Times: Nagash spend entirely upending Bretonnia's status quo right after the Wood Elves army book spent a huge amount of its timeline introducing a Bretonnian civil war. People will read this, they'll be interested, they'll go to the GW webstore and find...

well, a tragically out of date army book, a complete lack of knightly characters to lead their armies and models for only five of the ten units in the tragically out of date army book. They'll see that and they'll ask: where my 8th edition book at?

I can only hope. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Thor be a lady (Thor #1)

First impression: I love the new logo. I also like the design of the new Thor's costume because it really is just a mildly feminised version of the gentleman Thor's recent clothes. She has a metal breastplate (no laughing at the back there!) and that's about it. Most surprisingly? The areas of bare skin on the lady Thor are the same areas that were bare skin on the male version. No cleavage, no bare legs, no thong, no swimsuit: just the same bare arms and lower face. Hell, this costume might actually be more practical because it does include solid body armour over the chest and neck and a buckler over her offhand. When was the last time you saw a female “version” of a male hero whose costumed offered better physical protection?

Hell of a lot better than this one, certainly...
As to what the new Thor is like as a character... your guess is as good as mine. She appears in the last two pages to pick up the hammer and we get a full-page reveal of that new costume I just enthused about for a whole paragraph. I've tried not to spoiler myself here because I wanted a surprise but on the evidence of the issue I don't know who she is (unless she's Freyja, which is sort of implied at one stage).

This isn't to say the issue didn't interest me. Male Thor in his fallen form is interesting and the mystery of why he suddenly isn't worthy hasn't been addressed yet except to say that Odin and the Warriors Three can't lift the hammer either. There's also a coming power struggle between the All-Mothers and the recently returned Odin as they issue conflicting orders to their subjects.

Hopefully issue two will tell us who this new Thor is, either in the sense of her literal identity or just some mission statement of “I believe this and its why I got this cool hammer”.

I do sort of hope its Freyja, though, especially after how Odin treated her as a subordinate in this issue. Gender swapping heroes like this is ultimately about lending extra weight (read: marketing power) to female characters in a traditionally male space. As much as recent retcons courtesy of Keiron Gillen claim sexuality isn't an issue amongst Asgardians we can't get around the fact that gender is otherwise Odin's treatment of Freyja and Sif's entire character arc make no sense. Given all that I can see the worth in Freyja turning her rejection, which I'll bet the rest of Asgard reinforces now the “true king” has returned, into a singleminded drive to prove her worthiness through the most direct route available: proving it to Odin using the only incontrovertible test divinely mandated by Odin. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Oh, sanding bases, my old enemy

So today I built the eight Knights Errant I intend to finish by the end of the month and this thought occurred:

I don't think any Warhammer hobbyist likes every part of the hobby. Some, my friend Dan for instance, find painting the models time-consuming and boring. Another friend of mine dislikes building rank and file models, again because of the time-consuming aspect. Commenters on rumour sites hate every single aspect of the hobby but that's their own bizarre psychosis and I'm happy to leave them to it.

Me? Sanding bases. I hate that there's this stage that no matter where I put it gets in the way of me finishing the damn model. I tend to sand the bases before spraying them black (always black, I hate white undercoat) because waiting a day for the PVA to cure before painting them is slightly preferable to doing it after finishing the paint job because then they can gather dust that affects the varnish's finish.

Luckily, this is a small gripe compared to the other possibilities. I like building the models, especially if I can add some little touches of extra personality to them with my extensive collection of spare parts. I actually really, really enjoy painting models now that I've got the basic skills down.

I may not love painting so much after trying to finish a whole lance of Knights Errant to my preferred standard but we'll see where we are once its done. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Forge World announces the Lost and the Damned

So Forge World have announced that they'll be bringing a new Imperial Armour book to Warhammerfest (aka Not Games Day 2014) and it'll be called War Machines Of The Lost And The Damned.

First off its nice to see Forge World doing something other than Horus Heresy for a change. Fair enough, its a cash cow and I don't blame them for milking it but there are more things in this damn hobby than yet another bloody set of variant Space Marine armour marks.

Second, given the nostalgia kick GW have been on recently with doing a unified Undead army and revisiting Storm Of Chaos I can hope that maybe we might see an old school Lost And The Damned army list in this one. The Siege of Vraks lists were nice but, given the nature of the books, very specific. I'd love to be able to take my old Lost And The Damned army out for a game. Well, I'd like an excuse to re-do the army since I am frankly ashamed of the laughable efforts I was willing to call a finished paint job when I was nineteen.

Don't get me wrong, the old LatD list swung wildly between unplayably bad and horrendously broken but there were some great ideas in there. In particular, I liked that you could take up to three Chaos Space Marine Aspiring Champions as an HQ choice and attach them individually to mortal units. Also, random units of Chaos Hounds and Spawn.

Mutants were hilarious in the shooting phase: up to thirty rapid firing weapons with the Gets Hot special rule. There were games where I blew up more of my own troops than my opponent. Heehee.

As I say, this is all nostalgic wishlisting but GW has recently started looking at some of the odd ideas they once considered unworkable and thought “That could be fun to bring back!”. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Hobby goals for October 2014

Setting out a few “things to do” for my hobby table over the next month, just some general goals and whatnot. Summer's over so my overwhelming lizardlike lethargy is gone and I can knuckle down and get some stuff done.

Goal 1: Finish a complete unit from scratch
Your general getting back on the horse sort of project. Just finishing something, anything, is a real kick after you've been out of the hobby for a while. Not sure what it'll be, I'll pop into GW this afternoon and see what jumps out at me.

Goal 2: Play a game
Again, not something I've had a chance to do recently as our group's usual host has been busy moving house. He's all set-up now so hopefully we can get back to our campaign.

Goal 3: Work out how many Space Orks I own
My friend Dan is just getting back into the hobby but he wants to play 40k. I haven't played 40k in years (I think my last game was the week 6th edition was released) but I did have an Ork army once upon a time that I'm pretty sure I never sold or gave away to anyone so I'm going to see if I can find enough models to have a decent game with. If nothing else the Unbound Army concept will help me if the results turn out to be... unusual.

Goal 4: Write a piece of short fiction
I like writing background and I have some new characters appearing in our campaign that I'd like to workshop a little. I mentioned them in the Bite Size Chunks post on Monday: a group of young journeyman wizards working for the Empire's intelligence service and I really need to work out who they are and how they operate because the group wants them involved in next year's campaign because they like the idea. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Maggie Stables

Yesterday Big Finish released the news that actress Maggie Stables had died. Stables had been a regular on their Doctor Who range as Sixth Doctor companion Dr. Evelyn Smythe from 2000 to 2011 as well as various parts elsewhere, including playing a minor villain in their first Doctor Who release The Sirens Of Time. Now, I never met the woman and had very little exposure to her work outside of Big Finish so all I can really say in tribute to her is this:

She can never be given enough credit for how her work changed the role of the companion.

Evelyn was the first of Big Finish's original companions and what was striking about her was how different she was: a middle-aged history lecturer who took no nonsense whatever, especially from the Doctor. And not just any Doctor, either, but the most notoriously acerbic and obnoxious of all Doctors: Colin Baker. She was a mature, intelligent, professional woman who the Doctor had to take seriously as an equal. Yes, Evelyn was very much in the tradition of the novel companions like Bernice and Roz but, crucially, she came with an actress attached.

Stables' fantastic and seemingly effortless chemistry with Colin Baker in those early audios not only transformed the Sixth Doctor into a fan favourite but showed that the series format could support the kind of companions the novels had introduced. Evelyn could stand up to the Doctor, tell him when he was wrong and sweet talk him when she needed to, usually using her famous chocolate cakes to do so. As a consequence the ascerbic and much-loathed Sixth Doctor became a much more likeable character because he was no longer just bullying his way across the universe but sharing his travels with a real friend.

In fact, probably Baker's most touching scene in the audios is in The Wrong Doctors as he comfort eats the last chocolate cake Evelyn made before leaving the TARDIS. Its a moment that would have been completely unbelievable from the Sixth Doctor as seen on television but summed up the relationship he had with Evelyn perfectly.

My point is that the mature, professional, no-nonsense Evelyn is as much a template for companions like Donna Noble and River Song as Bernice Summerfield ever was. Sadly, playing the role in a niche corner of the series as she did, Maggie Stables will never get the credit she deserved. In my view she's up there with the other great actresses who transformed what the companion role was during their tenures, right there with the likes of Maureen O'Brien, Katy Manning, Lis Sladen, Sophie Aldred and Billie Piper. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

Bite Size Chunks

Okay, there have been way, way longer gaps in this blog than five days but I feel a real need here to get some things in order before I get back on the horse. Writers' block is a real bugger for me so here's a list, not in any order and edited only for spelling, of disjointed odds and ends that may or may not become full posts in the fullness of time.

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For a start, I should mention the reason I haven't posted recently is because every time I go on the internet I get distracted by a Youtube playlist of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episodes. I don't think this series was ever shown in the UK so I didn't even know about it until two weeks ago. Oddly, as funny as the riffing of Josh, Mike and the bots is I actually found myself enjoying a couple of the films, especially the absolutely terrible Robot versus the Aztec Mummy.

When international copyright law next gets revisited (note “revisisted” not “repealed”, I do believe in copyright as a principle) can we just grandfather in something to make the whole of MST3K legally available? Even if they weren't really, really funny there are movies here that I'm pretty sure exist nowhere else anymore so it would be a service to history.

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Back in January I started watching Fairy Tail, a fantasy anime series about a wizards' guild. Well, 102 episodes later I'm still watching it and that's about seventy episodes longer than many other big animes have managed to keep me coming back. The characters are great and even the filler episodes do interesting things with them. I think there's even an essay in how the series uses fanservice, which is at least a lot more self-aware than the usual “Look! Tits!” approach.

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You know what my one wish for Ben Affleck's Batman is? For him to not use “the Bat-voice”. Yes, it was a cool innovation with Kevin Conroy in Batman: The Animated Series but being perfectly honest Christian Bale spent three films sounding like a drunk who's put his dentures in upside down.

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I have never seen Superman The Movie. I should correct this omission.

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I'm working on Warhammer background for a group of Empire Battle Wizards who work as spies and investigators. I might post some of it when its presentable. Why? Because everyone does Inquisitors in 40k and I'm just contrary.

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I picked up a whole bunch of early Red Hood and the Outlaws issues at the Oxfam shop and its a much better series than I was lead to believe. It has to said that I knew little more about this series than the duff sexual politics of that one scene from the first issue with Starfire and Arsenal. The thing is though that as the series goes on Starfire's attitude towards sex and Roy and Jason's attitudes towards her evolve in interesting ways. That infamous scene, in retrospect, is a more complex moment than it seems at the time. It isn't a fantastic series but it is, in all honesty, an entertaining one and one of the few places the fresh start of the New 52 was genuinely exploited to its fullest.

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On the subject of the New 52: apparently the Booster Gold: Futures End issue made it clear the pre-Flashpoint DCU still exists out there somewhere in the new multiverse and... um... well... I don't think I want it to come back. I've been banging this drum for months now that DC is getting better, that the fresh start is finally leading to fresh ideas and needed updates to old properties. They finally seem to be getting it right and now they introduce an escape hatch for themselves?

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Twenty years later and I think we exist in a socio-political moment (within my own liberal circle anyway) where I can admit this about my childhood: I thought She-Ra: Princess Of Power was better than He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I liked that she was a rebel leading freedom fighters on an already conquered world instead of a prince fighting from a position of power.

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I really need to watch Books Two and Three of Legend Of Korra. I think that like Xena: Warrior Princess and Frasier it might be a spin-off that will be better remembered than its originating series. I have to admit my reluctance to get into Book Two is probably down to the knowledge that Lin Bei Fong isn't in it much and Lin taking out two airships on her own in Book One is one of my favourite bits of animation ever.

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Also on the TV front I haven't watched a single episode of the new Doctor Who since Capaldi debuted in Deep Breath. Am I actually, finally, fatigued on my favourite show of all time?

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I actually feel a little bad when I read someone else bashing or when I myself bash Chris Claremont's writing style. As badly as that style has dated, as much as I think his more modern work needs more brutal editing it has to said his X-Men run got me into comics, got many other people into comics and were actually damn good for their day. Yes, I favour the writing style Peter David pretty much invented as a reaction to Claremont's exposition-heavy style but I'll never be able to separate Claremont from the birth of my love for this medium.

And that's it: a random selection of the thoughts going through my head right now just to get them out so I can work on them in the cold light of day and not just in my head. All or none of this might be interesting to revisit later. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Autumn

Today Google is informing the world that its the first day of autumn. They are, of course, wrong, at least if you're here in the South Of England. Newbury Agricultural Show was this past weekend and by ancient country tradition autumn begins the day after so on a purely local level Google is a day late.

But that doesn't matter and not just because its a ridiculous nitpick. The important thing is that autumn is my favourite season. I like the pleasant little bite of cold as we get towards winter that I can handle with a hot drink or a sweater. I love watching the leaves change on the trees day by day on my way to work. It s a romantic season to me because the very atmosphere gently encourages physical closeness.

There's also, I must admit, an element of relief that comes with the lowering temperature. I come from a family of classic redheads so high summer is a time of physical suffering for me. My dark hair and facial structure I get from my father's side (and their odd Chinese-German ethnic mix) but the fair skin and the non-existent resistance to heat comes from my mother's and the various levels of ginger they represent. Beach days are the worst day out for me, there is no SPF high enough. Walking through a forest on a cold autumn afternoon surrounded by the vivid reds and golds of falling leaves is a beautiful treat.


Its also a great time for getting things done. There's motive to stay in and finish a few jobs around the house, get on with my hobbies or some writing, but I don't feel confined to the house as I do in deep winter. Actually, I find myself being more social in this season, again because of that need for physical closeness the early cold brings on. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

10 Interesting Codex Space Marine Chapters

I got into this conversation with a guy in GW the other day about Space Marine chapters and he took a position I disagree with. You see, he insisted that there was nothing interesting in the Chapters represented by Codex: Space Marines and he far preferred the variant codices because he found the variants to be more interesting. “Vanilla” was the word he used to describe the Codex chapters. “Bland” also came up. I mean, all power to him, its his view and how he interacts with the background but I've always taken issue with the basic premise.

So here are with ten chapters I think have background just as interesting if not more so than bishonen space vampires, the 80s hair metal marines or heretics in skirts:

The Exorcists
A weird one to start. The Exorcists maintain three scout companies instead of the usual one because there's an unusual level of attrition in their training regimen. This attrition takes the form of strapping the scout down, summoning a daemon to possess the poor kid and then waiting to see if he can exorcise himself simply through the power of faith. They're masters of arcane lore though they aren't purely tasked with fighting Chaos, they're generalists like most chapters. They aren't like the Grey Knights where it actually feels weird to play a game with them against pretty much anything besides Chaos Marines and Daemons.

The Brazen Minotaurs
Ugh... look, this is complicated because these guys have a lot of conflicting background but I'm particularly going with the version in Labyrinth Of Sorrows. These chaps have a Greco-Roman vibe to them, some Macedonian bits (the 1st Company are called the Lion Guard) and what seem to be Jamaican accents. They aren't big on tactics and prefer frontal assault in pretty much all cases. They like axes and seem generally rather cheerful. To be honest I was disappointed when the Imperial Armour books had a completely different chapter turn up under a similar name but at least there are shoulder pad upgrade kits available through Forge World for what's actually quite a hard chapter symbol to freehand.

The Raptors
The Raptors have always been on the back foot. They were formed in the Second Founding from the already chronically under-strength Raven Guard Legion. Since then, through attrition and back luck, they've been under-strength and poorly supplied for pretty much the whole of the last ten thousand years. Far from being staunch codex-adherents they tend to be rather more pragmatic in their tactics, being used to making do with what they have. They're more willing to use camouflage on their power armour or take direct command of Imperial Guard regiments to achieve their mission goals (bit dodgy, that last one).

Visually, as you can see, they go for a more subdued palate than the usual bold Space Marine colour schemes.

The Sons of Medusa
Even for an Iron Hands successor this chapter is well in bed with the Adeptus Mechanicus. They're adherents to the Cult of Moirae, a banned and suppressed Mechanicus sub-cult which is an unusual form of radicalism in 40k. Its usually Chaos or nothing.

Plus that emerald green and white colour scheme looks horrible on one marine but looks absolutely amazing if you can pull it off consistently on a whole army.

The Relictors
A good one for people who like converting their miniatures. The Relictors have this habit of taking trophies from their dead enemies, usually weapons. Problem with this is that sometimes those weapons are tainted by Chaos and recently the Inquisition has started getting a bit miffed about this. They aren't quite a renegade chapter and they don't see themselves as anything other than loyalists so they're a little miffed with the Inquisition for poking their noses into the chapter's private business.

Admittedly the average Relictor looks a bit dull, the all-over grey isn't too inspiring but modelling them with Chaos and xenos weapons would make for some interesting variety.

The Mortifactors
The Mortifactors are morbidly obsessed with death: they cover the walls of their fortress-monastery in skulls and even measure the skull of every battle-brother to work out if it'll fill any inconvenient gaps in the d├ęcor when the time comes. If you have any Warhammer undead spare parts lying around you can use them to embellish your marines.

The Salamanders
With the Salamanders it all boils down to one thing with me: they are closer to humanity than any other Space Marine chapter. With most Astartes drama comes from how aloof from human concerns they are, how much of their own humanity they've sacrificed for a greater good. The Salamanders, by contrast, live amongst the civilian population of their homeworld between missions. They're connected to the people of the Imperium in a way that's hard to imagine in many Space Marines.

The Carcharodons (aka Space Sharks)
Polynesian Space Marines fighting Lovecraftian horrors in deep space. It sells itself. The Charcarodons operate outside Imperial borders in a self-sustaining fleet, going without resupply for decades. I love the angle but their armour is actually the real hook: the varying tones of grey is actually quite visually interesting even before you add in the Polynesian-inspired markings etched onto their armour. A good challenge for someone wanting to test their freehand skills.

They tend towards bloody boarding actions so there might be a case for using Black Templars rules so you can have chainsword-wielding loonies on foot without the need to take a transport.

The Mentors (aka Mentor Legion)
Okay, a living nightmare to paint but since their background suits them more to being an allied detachment than a full army that's not such a problem. The Mentors tend not to deploy in chapter or company strength but send squad level detachments to work with other armies. These detachments act as both advisors and observers, studying the tactical doctrine of the armies they fight alongside. That in itself is an interesting angle: Space Marines who don't see themselves as all-knowing in the ways of war but who are on a self-mandated learning exercise.

Still, you're going to have to paint a lot of white.

The other Minotaurs
Bully boys for the High Lords of Terra, basically. There was another chapter called the Minotaurs (who might or might not have been the Brazen Minotaurs from earlier) who disappeared in transit. The modern Minotaurs, who act suspiciously different from the originals, tend to deploy as a whole chapter to perform brutal attrition warfare, mostly against traitor or rogue Space Marine chapters. Their rules in the Badab War books even give them Preferred Enemy: Space Marines and wouldn't it be nice to have an actual rationale for all those Space Marine/Space Marine games you tend to get stuck with playing 40k?


(All images are, I believe, taken from GW publications or images of 'Eavy Metal paint jobs used for advertising purposes. If I have, in fact, used anyone's personal artwork I apologise and invite them to drop me a comment into the most recent post on the blog at the time they notice and the image will be removed). 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

You'll believe a girl can fly (on a TV budget)

Yes, I'm biased!
So news has hit the internet that a Supergirl TV show is being developed by the makers of Arrow for CBS. For the usual sketchy, probably not accurate plot announcement here's the Newsarama article.

Now, as keen as I usually am to rag on DC Entertainment's film offerings (for, I feel, legitimate artistic reasons) their TV offerings have traditionally been rather higher quality. I grew up watching Batman the Animated Series which is still held up as the defining take not only on Batman himself but on numerous other Bat-characters. Hell, DC still publishes that version of Batman in the Batman Beyond digital series. More recently, Smallville was a great modernising of the Superboy concept, albeit one that spent its opening seasons under the delusion it could beat Buffy at its own game.

Looking to the future the trailers and leaked pilots for Flash and Constantine are generating good buzz (haven't seen them myself).

Oh, and Newsarama insists that an I, Zombie series is already filmed for release before the end of the year. Now, I flat out loved the I, Zombie comic and I'm more stoked for that than Supergirl getting a series, but still...

Honestly, it does surprise me that this hasn't happened before. Smallville had a perfectly functional take on Supergirl and they tried to spin-off more marginal guest characters like Aquaman and the Legion Of Super-Heroes to varying degrees of abject failure.

I've no research on this point but think about it like this: apart from Superman himself and Batman is there a more recognisable superhero in the world than Supergirl? Plus “Superman... but a girl!” is an elevator pitch you can get out before the doors close.

Not that interest in the character is entirely based on her gender. If you take the more-or-less consensus canon of the character as read what she has over her famous cousin is that she's an actual alien. Superman's alien nature is entirely biological but she was raised on Krypton, she isn't culturally human as Clark is. Fish out of water humour and wry outsider perspective ahoy!

This might be nothing, of course. Lots of series enter development and DC is a little notorious by now for announcing such projects before anything is certain (the aforementioned Aquaman and Legion projects, as well as a Blue Beetle series that never happened). Still, DCE is making a lot of TV content now and aside from Gotham this is the biggest property in the running.

Colour me hopeful. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Black Templars fans and the fifth stage of grief

Necessary preface: I am a Black Templars fan. It was the stark black and white visual of Black Templars that got me into 40k; my first army was a successor chapter to the Black Templars; I was there at the front of the queue the day Codex: Black Templars was released and I picked up a hell of a lot of those splash release kits on the day. I like Black Templars, Black Templars are great, please remember this when I say the following:

Black Templars players really need to stop bitching about the army being folded into Codex: Space Marines.

I'm not saying it wasn't natural to be a bit pissed about this but its been a year now, folks. Perhaps it is time to let calmer heads prevail and admit that we, the BT fanboys and girls, benefited from this decision in many ways.

For one thing the fact that Black Templars were the only Space Marine faction not to get a 5th edition book is indicative. Space Marines are GW's moneymaker, any Marine release sells like hotcakes so the fact we went a whole edition without an update does point towards GW being out of ideas for them. And, really, who can blame them? Where was there to go they weren't already going with other armies?

I'm perfectly serious: the monk and knight imagery is the cornerstone of the Dark Angels and Grey Knights while the heavy close combat bias is explored with Space Wolves and Black Templars. Then there's the fact that most of the Black Templars' background and mechanics isn't about what they have but what they don't: they don't have discreet Scout Squads, they don't have Librarians; and in the 4th ed. book they didn't have Veteran Sergeants or Devastator Squads for some reason.

Their extras were the Crusader Squad and the Emperor's Champion plus some special characters, all of which are retained by the new list. As well as that we now get Orbital Bombardment on the Chapter Master; Honour Guard; free Iron Halos; Masters of the Forge; access to Drop Pods; Sergeant upgrades; Vanguard and Sternguard Veterans with all the trimmings; Ironclad Dreadnoughts; the Legion Of The Damned; Stormtalon Gunships; Devastator Squads; Thunderfire Cannons; Whirlwinds; Hunters; Stalkers; Land Raider Redeemers and Stormraven Gunships.

Oh, and Centurians if you can stop yourself from vomiting long enough to paint them.

Okay, maybe not all of those options meld well with your vision of Black Templars (they certainly don't all meld well with mine) but that's a whole list of stuff there we didn't have access to before. Things have changed, the replacement of the vow system doesn't quite work for me, I must admit, but I don't see where people on the internet get the idea the army is somehow unplayable or destroyed as a concept from this change. Space Marines are Space Marines, the mechanics don't change all that much between books because the stats are pretty much set.

You know what clinches this for me as a good thing? Being part of Codex: Space Marines means that we're 100% guaranteed regular rules updates. We'll never have to go an edition without a book and I don't foresee GW removing the army from the next book because it doesn't materially benefit them to do so.

And with that fact in mind there might actually be a hope for a proper Black Templars box set some time down the line given how... shall we say “mixed”?... the last set of offerings were.