Friday 30 June 2017

Why Flesh Tearers are the best army to paint

50% of Tactical Squad Cleos in the blank void of time and space.
It takes so little time for them to start looking like they should look. The two main colours on them are base paints: Abaddon Black and Khorne Red. Once those two layers are on you have something that looks like a Flesh Tearer. There aren't a whole lot of extra layers needed to make those colours look right (in my case, since my basic arse never bothers highlighting black, I just need to slather Nuln Oil over the red and do a quick tidy) before moving on to the details.

True, there are a lot of details. There are absolutely tons of things that need to be painted white and silver and bone and so on but the basic principle is that I have something, two or three layers into the painting process, that looks close to done even if its an illusion. The illusion of progress is actually a pretty good motivator.

P.S. I am well aware that if I don't highlight the black on my Death Company they will look terrible and I dread getting started on those units for that very reason. There will be a lot of experimenting and a lot of dissatisfaction before I feel I have it right but that's the price of pushing my skills. 

Thursday 29 June 2017

Across The Darkened City and competing canons

(MAJOR SPOILERS for Across The Darkened City by David Bartlett, the second story in Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor volume 2 and I do mean MAJOR, this is basically all about the big reveal of the story).
Doctor Who canon is really weird. On the one hand you have a series that has a profound love affair with its own past which produces sequels all the time. I'm posting this between the transmission of two episodes featuring a version of the Cybermen not used on television since 1966 for really no better reason than as a thank you to a lead actor who loves the design. On the other hand, there are few people who can claim Doctor Who canon has any consistency.

According to televised Doctor Who, not bringing in any later expanded universe material, the Doctor both built from scratch and stole the TARDIS; the Brigadier retired from UNIT half a decade before meeting Sarah Jane Smith at UNIT; the same author wrote the story that established the Doctor has only thirteen lives, co-wrote one that established that Tom Baker was the Twelfth Doctor and then wrote Davison's (therefore Thirteenth) Doctor's regeneration.

When you start subbing in EU material it only gets stranger: Peri has three or four different fates (two of them even produced by the same author for the same company); Ace has at least five; Sarah Jane dies in 1997, a decade before her own TV show begins where she is neither a corpse nor a zombie; Gallifrey is destroyed twice; the Eighth Doctor leads several contradictory lives.

So sometimes you just have to shrug and pick the explanation you prefer. You don't have to choose. I've nothing against The Sarah Jane Adventures but I also loved Bullet Time, the novel that kills off Sarah Jane. Sometimes, though, you end up with a clash where you pick a side almost on reflex.

Across The Darkened City is a two-hander in which Steven and a semi-functional Dalek are the only survivors of a spaceship crash. There's an abandoned Dalek transmat on the other side of a ruined, monster-infested city and if Steven drags the Dalek there on a cart the Dalek will chip off back to Skaro and give Stephen the co-ordinates for the planet he was abducted from (and where the TARDIS currently is). Its a pretty standard such shipwreck story where the Dalek elicits some sympathy and the two start working together in a way that suggests both are suffering some element of Stockholm Syndrome. Its a decent story and Nick Briggs does his usual excellent job with the Dalek vocals.

An element that comes up every now and again is that the Dalek is a special, superior form of Dalek that “needs” to survive and return to Skaro. Across the story its suggested that this Dalek has empathy and is preserving Steven's life for more reasons than sheer pragmatism.

The bit I like about the twist I'm about to describe is that the way this Dalek acts, with a degree of emotional intelligence enough to manipulate Steven into not just helping it but sympathising with it, is an interesting way to link the Hartnell era Daleks with the Troughton era version. This Dalek has been engineered to display the emotional intelligence the Daleks display in David Whitaker's two Dalek stories which makes it superior to the Daleks as imagined by Terry Nation (it helps that I am absolutely on the side of Whitaker in this particular debate).

Then it turns out this isn't just some random genetically re-engineered Dalek because in the final scene it gets put in a new casing, gets a deeper voice and turns out to be the Emperor.

Now, as unfashionable as it is to disbelieve that John Peel (not the sainted DJ) contributed anything of worth to the Dalek mythos, one idea I always loved (from his Evil of the Daleks novelisation) was that the Emperor was the very first Dalek, the one who shot Davros in Genesis. It made a beautiful sense to me that in a society of total conformity with no names and barely any form of rank (nothing seems to exist between mission commanders and drones) the only true distinction that could nominate an ultimate authority figure was killing the creator of your entire species.

He's the Emperor because he killed “god” and in my own personal headcanon I'm sticking with that. It just seems a bit more fitting than having the Emperor being another random Dalek experiment.

That's just my humble, of course. Its Doctor Who canon, do as thou wilt is the whole of the law.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

On the unexpected wealth of Dr Who/NCIS crossover fic

You know how sometimes you have an urge to re-read something you only vaguely remember? And I mean very vaguely, like you don't even remember the title.

Well, now we have the internet and nostalgia can get a but funny. Many moons ago I remember reading a very odd but very good fan fiction in which Fitz Kreiner (from the late-90s/early-2000s Doctor Who novels) gets dumped by the Doctor during the Time War and ends up living in the modern US, but here's the twist, as a side character in NCIS. I vaguely remember Torchwood turning up and Fitz hooking up with Tony DiNozzo but that's about it. I don't remember much else but I do remember enjoying it.

So it turns out that there are 146 stories that come up on AO3 when you search “Doctor Who NCIS”, obviously not a search term helped by the fact that “doctor” and “who” are both regularly occuring words but it turns out there are a fair number of stories legitimately crossing the two over.

A lot of them seem to have Abby Sciuto as a companion. Not that I blame anyone for wanting to write Abby Sciuto as a companion or wanting to write Abby Sciuto in general, she's probably my favourite character on NCIS and not just because Pauley Perrette is absolutely gorgeous. Okay, a bit because of that. Fine, a lot because of that, its not actually that interesting of a show watched episodically.

Moving on...

The fact that a lot of different writers have thought these two series have enough in common to mask them together is... oddly fascinating. Its not a pairing I ever would have considered (and this is coming from a man who, somehow, is of the opinion the Chloé Bourgeois/Alya Césaire tag is desperately underpopulated at only 29 works) and the very fact its occurred to so many people is oddly heartening.

And the Chloé/Alya things is totally going to be the basis of a post, I should think, its just too petty of a complaint not to get some entertainment out of. 

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Reconsidering the Bigly Marines

I swapped my Dark Imperium ones for a Space Marine Vindicator my friend Dave had bought and never built. I don't regret the decision, there isn't much about the DI models that inspires me. They are what they are: Space Marines but bigly and a little less baroque. Standing next to the best models my beloved Death Guard have ever had they didn't wow me.

However, GW just announced a new Primaris Captain model in Mark X power armour and here he is...
He has a lot more of the detailing that I like in Space Marines: cape, loincloth, tassels, toothbrush on the had, the works. Don't get me wrong, I understand why the comparatively new Primaris don't have as much ritualistic gubbins strapped to them as the classic Space Marine does and that works for them even if I don't like the way it looks. It does make more sense for senior officers to have the gubbs, they are still an Imperial faction after all, and so I like this guy a lot more than than the Intercessors and such.

I still don't see myself doing Primaris Flesh Tearers, though, so this fellow will end up a Black Templar. I think he's make a decent enough Marshall model (maybe used as a Primaris Captain, maybe as a generic one, given the larger scale of characters it won't look too weird as either). 

Monday 26 June 2017

Extra History: the best thing on Youtube

I know I've whinged about this before but the myopia of history education in this country really annoys me. As a child, I hated history lessons because there were only ever four topics: vikings, Tudors and the two world wars. As an adult, I found I actually loved history through shows like The Mark Steel Lecture, which introduced me to a much wider field of history.

Which brings me to Extra History, definitely my favourite series on Youtube and maybe my favourite thing on the internet.

This is a series on the Extra Credits channel which tackles historical subjects voted for by Patreon supporters. The videos are about six to ten minutes long each with main series of four to six episodes plus one- or two-part specials. Obviously, they're only brief discussions to a subject but that makes them absolutely perfect for someone who wants to experience a great breadth of subject matter, which I do.
It was Walpole...
There are so many series that have been about people and things I've heard the names of but had no idea what they actually. I'd heard of the South Sea Bubble and knew it was something about economics but was completely unprepared for a) the startling reality of this mad confidence trick or b) the existence of Robert Walpole, a man so corrupt and yet so brilliant you can't help but like him. In fact, in future series, the running gag of how Walpole was connected to everything has lead to the writers of this series playing “Six Degrees of Walpole” to see how many different subjects they could connect him to (and that they managed it with the First Crusade and the Japanese Warring States Period tells you something about the guy).

All I knew about Catherine The Great was the (totally untrue) horse story but not only did I find her fascinating but also her (supposed) husband General Potemkin, who turns up in episode five of her series. The same holds true for Ned Kelly, Hiawatha or Justinian and Theodora. Even more fun, at least for me, are the series on subjects I'd never even heard of like the Brothers Gracchi, Kamehameha the Great, Admiral Yi (especially interesting, that series) or Suleiman the Magnificent (who had the most petty way of addressing the Holy Roman Emperor you can imagine).

The series that has just started is about The Bronze Age Collapse, an event I had never even heard of or even imagined that something on this sort of international scale would be part of the Bronze Age world.

My favourite thing about the series, though, is that each main series ends with an episode called Lies. Whilst the main episodes are narrated with still art, Lies is presented to camera by the writers. These are the episodes where the writers confess to all the places they editorialised, skipped details for time, or just plain screwed up and got told so by the comments section (there is a downright parodic history in the series of not getting the British flag right, not that I blame them as the history of our flag is a mess where every change is heralded by a law that always has the same name), and, of course, this is also where you get Six Degrees Of Walpole. The reason I love these episodes (aside from Walpole) is that they're not only a fantastic way to introduce extra context that would be a distraction in the main series but also that they demonstrate how important it is not to take any one source as gospel. They even point that out in the show, that no source should be trusted absolutely.

So, if you have an interest in history, go to the Extra Credits channel, examine the Extra History playlist and jump in on the first series that interests you. You won't be disappointed. 

Sunday 25 June 2017

The Best of Batman #1

In my ongoing quest to prove that Batman is more interesting when he is not being played entirely seriously, I present the first in a series of fun moments from Batman comics. First up...
Batman assaults a fake Nightwing with an ornamental flamingo, All-Star Batman #8.

Its actually a pretty good use of Batman as a master of his own surroundings: he can place his hand on the best possible weapon n any given moment and in this given moment it just so happens to be an ornamental flamingo. 

Saturday 24 June 2017

MITB: would I be so angry if they were all men?

[SPOILER'S for last weekend's Money In The Bank pay-per-view, specifically the women's division matches]
So, to recap: the first ever women's Money In The Bank ladder match was last Sunday. It opened the show and is the latest in a line of gimmick matches being contested by WWE's female talent for the first time, or the first time after an absence of some years (I think there were Ironwomen matches before Sasha/Bailey but not for some time).

It ended, I kid you not, with Carmella's boyfriend / manager / hanger-on James Ellsworth climbing the ladder and throwing the case down to Carmella. Screwy finish, I probably wouldn't have minded. These things happen, it would hardly be the first time interference won a MITB match for a heel.

However... what we have here is a man winning the match for a woman.

I was livid. My best friend whose WWE Network subscription I was sponging off at the time, was livid. The cat next door was livid, though that might have been an unrelated issue.

Now, the best argument in favour that I've heard in favour of this decision is this: would I have been as mad about it if it were the first men's MITB and a manager had interfered on a male wrestler's behalf?

Well, the simple answer is “no”. The problem, though, is that I think this is one of those times where the argument is based on the idea of everything being equal when it isn't. Now, the WWE Women's Division is in a better state credibility-wise than it was two years ago. They've done a lot of gimmick matches and had them go well: Ironman, Hell In A Cell and Survivor Series Elimination off the top of my head. However, its still very fragile, especially for a first time match, which this was.

I'm not even saying I'm mad about Carmella winning. There's a long and honourable history of using the MITB case to elevate someone to a higher level. I'm not mad about Carmella getting a screwy win. She's a small woman in a division of much larger, more muscular women and she's a heel.

I just remember Santina.
This is Santina Marella. It is Santino Marella in a dress wearing a crown because he won a Women's Division (then the Divas Division) battle royal that was meant to celebrate the division's anniversary (I forget which one). The company brought in a whole bunch of well-respected and fondly remembered female talent for a massive match where hardly any of them got introductions and the match was won by... well, Santino Marella in a dress.

It was pretty much the worst thing ever. So, yes, there is a different tinge to a man getting involved in a women's match because it brings back memories of the bad old days, because in the past improvements in the division have been known to backslide when management decides not to take it seriously again, and because it is just plain damaging to Carmella as a performer to have her credibility overshadowed by James bloody Ellsworth (who I actually like, by the way, but who is hardly someone who lends credibility through his presence) when they clearly want her to be a top heel because SHE WON MONEY IN THE BANK!

Now, on this week's SmackDown, Daniel Bryan announced there would be another MITB match on next week's episode to decide a proper winner. Now, this smacks of course correction but, in my view, there can only be one winner:


I'm perfectly serious. The only sensible way I think this can work is if Ellsworth is banned from ringside (or placed in a shark cage above the ring because that never gets old) and she still wins. She should win dirty, by all means, but she should win on her own terms. Otherwise, if you give the case to someone else then the “first” Ms. Money In The Bank has to carry the stigma of being second choice to a bad choice but by keeping it with Carmella and having her win it under her own steam they can still run the same storylines they already had planned but build her up the way a main event heel should be built up.

I'm just tired of chickenshit heels who can't win on their own, frankly, I think they wasted months and months of Keven Owens' career on that and I don't want that thinking infecting the women's division.  

Friday 23 June 2017

Building a better Seth part I: Parts

As much as I love the look of the Gabriel Seth model I just haven't been able to get one that wasn't mismoulded beyond usability. Its the chainsword, one of those classic long, thin components that just doesn't do well in finecast. I've bought three copies of Seth over the course of the last year or so and each time the sword has been dreadfully mismoulded. What happens is that either the sword snaps when I try to bend it back into shape using warm water or that part goes well but the component then distorts again once the model is assembled, snapping from the tension of the bending and the glue.

So I've decided to just convert my own. Obvious question: what do I need? What are the essential components of Gabriel Seth? Well, here's the model I'm trying to imitate:
He has an angry slaphead, a two-handed chainsword, Flesh Tearers iconography, a distinctive iron halo design and a dynamic pose. Of these, the chainsword is essential, its part of his wargear and has special rules of its own as is some form of Flesh Tearers symbol, though it doesn't have to be in the same place as on this model since that would probably involve freehand beyond my abilities. I have plenty of upgrade set and Deathwatch Flesh Tearers shoulder pads for the iconography as well as a spare Eviscerator from the Space Marine Assault Squad sprue.

The slaphead is optional, I could use a helmeted head, but it won't be difficult to find if I want one. There's a bald head in basically every Space Marine kit, I just have to critically evaluate the ones available and choose the most angry looking. I seem to recall the one on the plastic MkIII armour set being particularly angry and particularly bald.

I actually still have the cape from one of the botched Seths I bought, so that at least will lend a certain authenticity to the model. It will also give him something of Seth's silhouette, which is a very important aspect of character design, especially as I intend to diverge very, very much from the original model with my choice of body.
A while back I picked up the torso and legs component from this Legion Praetor off eBay. It is by far and away one of my favourite designs in the whole of the Space Marine range and I've been trying to find a project to use it on ever since. It will be a less dynamic pose than the original but I think I can make him look suitably commanding, especially as he'll be accompanying footsloggers rather than more dynamically posed jump pack troops.

I also like the idea of having Seth posed in a way that suggests a degree of self-control. I don't see him as a frothing berserker, I prefer to think of him (and the Flesh Tearers in general) to be more like the World Eaters character in the novel The Outcast Dead: constantly on the verge of violence and so conscious of it that they are ridiculously self-disciplined in every circumstance other than open combat. So a more static, commanding pose suits my purposes more than having him running forward so fast he looks like he's going to fall over.

Now to build it. 

Thursday 22 June 2017

The process of reading fan fiction at work

Funny thing, technology.

Archive Of Our Own (henceforth AO3) has the option to download stories as .mobi files which can be read on a Kindle. Usually I download them in the .pdf and read them on my laptop but the other day I decided to give the e-reader version a try.

So, there I say, reading a fan written story downloaded from the internet onto my laptop and transferred by USB cable to an e-reader. The odd additional step, qualifier and lack of financial transaction aside that's exactly the same process as any other book on my Kindle. The most astonishing aspect, for me, is how portable fan fiction becomes under these circumstances.

Up to now my own personal stash of fan fiction has been a series of increasingly labyrinthine folders on my laptop divided by series, ship or whatever other method occurred to me at the time, sometimes in open contradition of one another. To be honest, aside from a rather sizable folder of Weiss Schnee/Blake Belladonna stories (shut up, I like me some Love Across The Barricades enemies to lovers action, add in the high probability of Jacques Schnee getting slapped and I'm in) there isn't much sense of order there.

The important here, though, is that its all on my laptop in a format my Kindle makes impossible to read because of screen size and the laptop is actually rather unwieldy. Now, I can simply save these files as .mobis and transfer them to the Kindle at need.

And there's a practically unlimited supply, for free. Payment will be offered, of course, in the form of comments and praise. This process feels, from my rather ostentatiously luddite perspective, very much like magic and anyone who benefits from magic without paying the price is rightfully doomed.

Plus, if the format of the one I downloaded to test the system is any indication they include the archive warnings at the beginning of all the .pdfs so I won't find myself reading something unexpectedly explicit in public. 

Wednesday 21 June 2017

The Fate of Konor and the Wrath of Cretacia

So, global campaigns. I've never taken part in one before and if nothing else its a good excuse to get to know some people down the local store club. I don't know if you have to register online with a particular army (I recall you had to in some other campaigns) but if I do I'll break the habit of a lifetime and volunteer to be on the good(ish) guy side with my Flesh Tearers.

The local store manager is talking about 75 power levels as roughly equivalent to 1500 points in the old money (I am rather a fan of power levels, I must admit). I've been having a lot of fun with the Flesh Tearers, though I haven't had as large a game as 75 power and I'm rubbing my hands together in glee at all the cool Blood Angels-y things I can try out in a larger game.

I actually think I might experiment with the Spearhead Detachment with its six Fast Attack slots. It seems very fitting for the Flesh Tearers, especially as it also restricts my Troops and Elites choices which is a nice reflection of how beaten down and undermanned the chapter is.

Also, I want to have lots of Land Speeders because so far my one multi-melta Land Speeder has proven itself a magnificent character sniper. It has a weapon capable of doling out massive amounts of hurt and the speed to whip round the flanks of the enemy to get into a nice position where their general is the closet target.

I also don't terribly favour tanks and heavy weapons so probably the army will remain rather speed-based with perhaps a Devastator Squad or two at the rear for fire support.

Now, just to work out a basic 75 power level list and get it painted up. 

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Why are Space Marine tanks STC?

It is actually a slightly oddity. Of course, its one of those oddities that exists for the simple reason that we're talking about a canon written in fits and starts over the course of decades by dozens if not hundreds of people. However, as time has gone on and Space Marines have become more and more special it has become a little odd that their tanks are STC tech.

So, bear with me here: as its always been explained a Standard Template Construct system was basically a massive fabricator that could create anything out of anything. Human colonies would set down on a world, the STC database would evaluate the resources at hand and provide the colony with the best version it of whatever it needed that could be created out of a series of standard schemata that it's AI could adapt to circumstances.

Nowadays, in the grim darkness of the even farther future, the STC patterns are revered as holy writ and there is a very real crossover between technological advancement and archaeology as tech-priests strive to discover lost STC data.
There are even whole bits of background about how the techno-archaeologist Arkhan Land found the STC schematics for what would become the Land Raider and Land Speeder. Further, there was a massive theological divide in the Adeptus Mechanicus when the Black Templars retrofitted linebreaker weapons onto the Land Raider as to whether it was heretical or not (read: a non-STC design or a forgotten STC design). The result of that debate basically boiled down to: “It works, therefore it must be compatible with a heretofore unknown STC or the Machine-God wouldn't allow it also half the chapters in the Imperium have adopted the design while we were debating and they're bigger than us.”.

The thing is, though, that Space Marines are the one place where non-STC tech was prevalent in the early Imperium.

The Primarch Project, the Astartes process, their power armour, their weapons tech and almost everything else was designed personally by the Emperor, the one being who could get around the Mechanicus because of their very convenient belief that he was the Machine-God personified. He was personally able to advance science and technology to his own design because his word on such matters was, effectively, considered itself to be an expression of the STC system.

So why are Land Raiders and Speeders STC designs? Why are Rhinos and all their variants based on the (Dark) Age Of Technology RH1N0 all-terrain vehicle?

Of course, but the I opened the post with the real answer and there's not really a way to reconcile it with modern canon. Though, there is a cheeky part of me that just wants to claim that the Emperor agrees with my complete disinterest in tanks and transport vehicles.

On the other hand, of course, being based on pre-Astartes STC sdesigns would explain why all Space Marine vehicles are actually slightly too small to accommodate the people they're meant to be transporting. 

Monday 19 June 2017

Why am I not a redhead?

I think I could take it if I was a redhead. The summer, I mean, and the heat. I have trouble with heat (and also shaving cuts) because simmering on the top of the genetic soup that is me, floating on top of the deep layers of Misc. Immigrant, is a great big gelatinous film of Classic English Redhead from my mother's side of the family.

Do I get to be one? No. I don't get the alabaster skin and the cute freckles and the hair like beaten copper. No, I just get to spend every summer one patch of shade away from heatstroke and clutching a paper towel to my face for forty-five minutes after every slightly too emphatic stroke of the razor.

So, here I sit on Sunday evening, determined to hit my goal of posting something every day to keep the creative juices flowing, except I'm too consumed by the horrible prickly sensation of so much sweat even after the fourth shower of the day that I can't think of anything to write except this self-indulgent twaddle.

Its not that I think I'm bad looking. I don't particularly mind my body or my appearance other than the nose. Its just that, well, redheads are basically universally gorgeous and that could have been me!

I strongly suspect I post something like this every summer but I am too sweaty to check. 

Sunday 18 June 2017

Flesh Tearers vs. Death Guard: let the 8th edition commence!

Yesterday, finally with rulebook and Index supplements in hand, Matt and I began the first in our first series of games for the new edition. This is our “getting to know the edition” series, naturally, I used my Flesh Tearers because they are my training wheels army (I haven't played regularly since the beginning of 6th edition). Matt, meanwhile, spent an hour or so gluing his Death Guard together so he could start the edition with an army he has no preconceived notions of (this actually turned out to be a good plan).

So, not our first game but the first outside of using slightly incomplete resources off the internet. Matt had the contents of his Dark Imperium box and I had the roughly equivalent power points Flesh Tearers force consisting of:

Librarian in power armour
Chaplain with jump pack
10 Tactical Marines
5 Vanguard Veterans
Land Speeder with multi-melta
Death Company Dreadnought

This worked out to 2 power points more than Matt's and so he got his underdog bonuses. We had a straight up fight with no objectives just to get a handle on things.

Result: win to me. I had both characters, the Dreadnought and a couple of Tactical Marines still standing at the end, Matt had one Poxwalker and his Plague Champion (who... just... would not... die!). We learnt a few things and we forgot a few things.

Things What We Forgot
Shooting pistols in combat is something you really, really need to remember you can do. The loss of additional attacks for charging affects Tactical Squads' effectiveness a lot more than you think it will so, seriously, remember that they have pistols and you can use them.

Cataphractii armour has a better invulnerable save than normal Terminator armour and the Lord Of Contagion is wearing Cataphractii plate.

You can't deny psychic powers if you don't have a psyker on the table. This is why I targeted Matt's Malignant Plaguecaster early on but we forgot this detail and so some of my psychic powers got denied in Turn Two out of the clear blue sky.

Morale at the end of the turn, not the phase, we did a couple of morale tests at the end of the shooting phase and just had to remember the result for later.

Things What We Learnt
Matt used his twenty Poxwalkers to roadblock my Death Company Dreadnought, a slow and interminable beating I took because my Dreadnought was not in a position to do anything useful by leaving the combat. Given how resilient the Poxwalkers turned out to be (it took me eleven turns of combat to whittle them down to one guy) I dread to think what they might have achieved if they'd reached my Tactical Squad.

Plague Marines: super resilient. Matt was trying to use them to take out my Tactical Squad at range but as I kept failing to kill him from a distance we quickly realised that it would just have been better for him to wade through the bolter fire for a turn or two and charge me. This edition is a lot better for designing units to do what they're meant to do and Plague Marines are footslogging attrition specialists.

My Land Speeder is now a character sniper. The speed meant that in about every turn I was able to ensure a character was the closest possible target for my multi-melta.

Also, Land Speeders are a lot more fragile than I anticipated at only Toughness 5 and 6 wounds. Definitely a vehicle that needs to avoid combat wherever possible.

In an edition where extra attacks don't just materialise out of thin air, chainswords are worth their weight in gold.

On the other hand, I'm not sure meltaguns (or any multi-Damage special weapon) are really that useful in a Tactical Squad anymore. They seem more of a contingency fallback than something you'll get full use of most turns.

Given how poorly it did in the one turn it was fighting my Dreadnought, I think the Feotid Bloat-Drone is more of an anti-infantry thing than anti-vehicle.

Area of effect is better than having buffs that only work for the unit a character is with. My Dreadnought managed to get Litany Of Hate re-rolls just from having the Chaplain nearby. Obviously, though, this is a thing to keep a ready eye and a ready tape measure out for.

I love my Chaplain's inferno pistol. It is a good pistol.

Bonus Background Fact!
According to the main rulebook's appendices, there is still a planet of the catgirls. This joke persists. 

Saturday 17 June 2017

The War Master (no, not Horus)

So, just to prove me wrong, the very minute yesterday's post published, Big Finish announced a new Time War box set featuring Derek Jacobi as the Master.

There are things, in any fandom, that you just can't let go of and for me one of those things was that RTD got Derek Jacobi to play the Master and Jacobi only got to play the actual part for a few minutes out of the episode. Not only that but those few minutes were absolutely amazing. The article on the Big Finish website calls him the Hannibal Lecter of Time Lords and that's a pretty apt description. In those few minutes between opening the fob watch and turning into Sam Tyler he portrays the razor edge balance between whimsy and murderous fury the Master exists in better than anyone since Delgado.

Also, I've always wanted stories that give some insight into how the Master works in their own adventures. This won't be the first attempt at it but it will be the most substantial.

Plus, its four hours of Derek Jacobi's voice which isn't anything to sniff at. The man has a gorgeous voice. 

Friday 16 June 2017

The 1st Doctor, Ben and Polly: a rare treat

Yesterday, this appeared in my Big Finish account and it occurred to me that this is the first time in a long time I've bought something from them because it was special.

You see, this box set contains two stories featuring one of the rarest casts in Doctor Who: the First Doctor, Ben and Polly. This crew only appeared in three stories on TV, all of which dovetail into each other rather directly. As a consquence, amongst all the hundreds and hundreds of books, comics, audios and short stories retroactively slotted into Doctor Who continuity this is a very rare set of characters.

By my count there's a novel (Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole), a recent Short Trips audio, this box set and that's about it. This particular TARDIS crew might be more than half a century old but its nice that there's finally some new material for them.
Hell, its nice that Ben and Polly are getting new stories at all, as screwed over as they got by circumstance on TV. Of their entire run of stories only one (their first) exists in its entirety. Others have been reconstructed for DVD release but as good as some of the animations are they still represent something of a barrier to more casual fans getting to know them. Plus, the fact that Jamie turned up and became the iconic Second Doctor companion whilst making Ben sort of redundant as the action man companion hardly helps them, either.

Also, their departure is absolutely crap, one of the worst handled in the entire classic series.

And The War Machines, that one surviving story with Ben, Polly and the First Doctor? It paints such a vivid picture of their dynamic that I've always wanted to see more of it. Unfortunately, The Smugglers never left much impression on me (most of the missing stories I've only experienced in audio left me like that, I should really track down the Loose Cannon reconstruction) and The Tenth Planet sadly has to have Ben fill in for the Doctor to the detriment of the Ben's character, in my view.

So you can understand why I've always craved more of this tantalisingly brief and under-documented cast.

I really should dig up my copy of Ten Little Aliens, I never did get around to reading it. 

Thursday 15 June 2017

What if I hate Doctor Who next year?

As we go on, I think its sensible to at least consider the idea. Now, we know nearly nothing about Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who. All we have are rumours, speculative statements and Mirror articles (but I repeat myself). We have essentially nothing to go on here. For my part, judging on Chibnall's precious work for the series, it could go either way.

His episodes have been an even split for me. On the one hand he wrote Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and was basically chief writer on the one season of Torchwood I actually like (according to RTD in The Writer's Tale, anyway) while on the other, well, none of this other Doctor Who episodes really grabbed me and I admit I've never been much drawn to his other work (I just don't watch much television, so it's nothing personal).

So, in as unbiased a fashion as possible: what if I don't like this version of the series?

You see, there isn't really an era of the show I actively dislike. There are personal bugbears, obviously, I'm a fan it would be bizarre if I didn't have a list as long as my arm of things I dislike but they're all ultimately annoyances peppering eras I generally enjoy.

I mean, I'm not fond of the Pertwee era's confused politics or the “fan pleasing” mythos obsession of seasons 20 to 22 but those factors aren't all or nothing deal breakers, you know? I love The Green Death which is a scriptwriting tug of war between left and right wing politics and The Mark Of The Rani which is almost a shopping list of where the middle JNT era went wrong.

If I had to pick an era of the show I actively disliked all I can think of is John Wiles' producership and I wouldn't blame anyone for accusing me of cheating. Even if we count the stories he comissioned and left for his successor to complete it only rounds out to half a dozen stories but, well...

His era was horribly reactionary towards women, POC and youth culture. He had a story in which mute brown-skinned aliens with Beatles haircuts turn into egomanical dictators who practice white slavery just because they gained voices in an era where the British Empire was granting its African colonies independence. He fired the series' female lead for daring to pick holes in a script that actually was hastily rewritten and just kind of crap then proceeded to introduce no less than three potential successors to the role over two stories and fridging the lot of them before settling on Dodo, the blandest non-character imaginable. Hell, I can barely even call it fridging since the amount of manpain caused by the deaths of Katarina, Sara and Anne doesn't last much more than a scene or so before being forgotten. Oh, and Wiles just plain doesn't like the idea of the Doctor winning for some reason.

But even here, even with all this, I have to grudgingly admit that The Myth Makers and The Massacre are really good. Yes, their endings are rushed as hell but they're both really good stories up to that point and with The Massacre you can literally just count that ending as a seperate “short trip” barely related to the preceding three and three quarter episodes.

So, I've never been in this position before and I worry that, frankly, it'll send me full Moffat Hate. I mean, I have a lot of issues with Moffat's Doctor Who but then I have issues with the show as produced by JNT, Hinchcliffe, Lloyd and basically everyone who has ever made this show.

The thing is, though, I see the hatedom that has grown up around Moffat as a person through Doctor Who and Sherlock and being so (their word) hateful and (my word) shit at criticism as some of these people scares me.

I get a lot of pleasure out of good meta analysis of Doctor Who (I just received my second Black Archive book in the post: The Evil of the Daleks, yay!). I even have pretty regular lunches with a friend called Tom where one of our main topics is discussing Doctor Who. I have another friend who, again, I talk to about Doctor Who and is very, very critical of the Moffat era but he's actually capable of articulating eloquent and sensible critique (the man is massively engaged with political philosophy and, that makes it very interesting to hear his opinions on the show).

It may sound trite, even hysterical, to say I fear the withering of my critical skills more than the idea that my favourite show will go through a rough patch. I just don't like the idea of all that comes with the “hatedom” idea.

So I propose this to myself: the TV series is already the smallest share of the Doctor Who I consume. There are multiple audio dramas released every month; I have decades of half-finished and untouched original novels on my shelves; AO3, and A Teaspoon And An Open Mind are right there with thousands upon thousands of original stories available for free; my DVDs are not going to dissolve under the influence of Chibnall being mediocre (though my copy of Robots of Death is starting to stutter from repeated use). So, if the worst comes to the worst that's where I'll be: catching up on novels and audios, enjoying the creative side of fandom.

I will NOT under any circumstances:

  • be writing screeds personally directed at Chris Chibnall on this blog or anywhere.
  • be writing screeds directed at people who continue to enjoy the series (I hate people who do that).
  • write any criticism of any episode I haven't at least seen relevant clips of.
  • ever use the phrase “remember when the series was good?”
  • watch the show just to suffer.

That last point, I feel, is the crux of the matter. I see no reason to put myself through an experience I will hate just to rant angrily about it. There's enough of that in the world. Oh, there are subjects I can do that with and sometimes there is catharsis in doing it but I'm not dedicated enough to my own suffering to waste nine to ten hours of my life on it.

(Anyone reading this with knowledge of my taste in women is, at this point, invited to shut the hell up).

So, I'm nailing my trousers to the mast on this one and saying I'm going to do what I have always said I would do if this or anything I enjoy ever stopped being fun. I'm just going to stop watching. I'll keep an eye and if a friend or writer whose opinion I trust says there's something interesting to see down the line I'll check it out.

To be frank, I have the skin and blood clotting of a redhead, a job with baker's hours and every day I have to see Theresa May (the prime minister, not the pornstar) and Donald Trump leering at me out of the newspapers. I've got enough suffering to be getting on with, to be frank.

Rant concludes. Peace. 

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Have video games learnt nothing?

Mario with a gun. Mario with a gun with his back to the camera looking back at us over his shoulder with a solemn expression. Brooding Mario. Edgy Mario. 2nd amendment Mario. Mario who, apparently, has been rummaging through Samus Aran's locker when she wasn't looking (Princess Toadstool will not be pleased, no “cake” for Mario tonight!).

In my day we had fire flowers and tanuki suits and we were glad of it.

In a really bizarre way this makes me worry about the future of Nintendo as a console manufacturer and, by extension, the future of console gaming (which, as someone too lazy to ever update his PC before it destroy itself, is an important issue). You see, I've been here before.
Between this and Super Mario Odyssey having Mario running around a realistically proportioned cityscape it feels like the Sega End Times again. We've got one game reiterating the mistakes of Sonic Adventure 1 and another trying to do Mario With A Gun, the very same psychology that lumbered us with Shadow the Hedgehog.

Of course, unlike Sonic, its not like Mario games are ever actually terrible. There have been some that weren't to my taste but overall you can be guaranteed a solid, polished gaming experience. So probably I'm just worrying over nothing. As disastrous as the Sonic Adventure/Dreamcast era was for Sega there were a lot of other factors: the untested newness of 3D polygon graphics, the lingering audience commitment issues of Sega having four different 32-bit consoles, the sudden jettisoning of the Sonic franchise's English-language background in favour of unifying the narrative around the Japanese storyline, voice acting beneath even the worst standards of anime dub.

Most of those problems aren't things Nintendo is going to have to tackle between the tech not being as raw and the Super Mario series basically having perfected silent storytelling (aside from the odd “It's-a me, Mario!”)... but still...

Mario with a gun? 

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Revisiting the classics of comics

I need to read more graphic novels.

The other day, for no real reason than there was a new edition that looked pretty, I bought a copy of Will Eisner's graphic novel A Contract With God. I've not read a lot of Eisner, just a few off Spirit reprints, and I don't want to insult the absolutely transformative work he did there but this finally convinced me I need to seek out more of his work.

Not only that but there are a lot of this medium's classics I have just never read.

Perhaps the most significant gap in my knowledge of the classics is Watchmen, which I should probably read before those characters get irretrievably ruined by being bootstrapped into the DCU. So that's practical. There's a lot of Alan Moore I haven't read but that's definitely a place to start.

I've never read Persepolis, though I got a copy for Christmas a couple of years back. Funnily enough, it was originally recommended to me by someone who didn't enjoy it. I don't remember why she didn't enjoy it but she did think it would be more my thing, being an autobiography from a cultural voice you don't hear much in the UK.

On a similar subject, I've often sen Joe Sacco's Palestine on library shelves and I think I should definitely check that out, again more true history of the Middle East.

I love Neil Gaiman's Sandman so it seems strange I've only ever read one collection of John Ney Rieber The Books Of Magic, which is basically the most well-respected spin-off the series ever got. Whilst I'm at it, Preacher is another of the great Vertigo series I've somehow never found time to read.

I've not read either of Frank Miller's Dark Knight series... PUT THE PITCHFORKS DOWN! Sometimes you read a classic because you expect to enjoy it and sometimes you read it just to know you've read it.

I have no idea what Daniel Clowes' Ghost World is about but people tell me it deserves a place on this list.

I'm told the Colin Baker era Doctor Who comics are a high point of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. Actually, what I'm told is that they're terrible Doctor Who but great comics.

I think that's enough to be getting on with. 

Monday 12 June 2017

Do Theresa May's talents know no beginning?

Theresa May (the prime minister, not the pornstar) has so far succeeded calling an early election that cost her party their majority, announced a coalition before it was properly negotiated and is even now announcing cabinet appointments ecen though you usually save a few to bribe your coalition partner with.

Her chosen coalition partner is the DUP: a far right Irish Unionist (that means pro-UK) party founded by former terrorists that is the most anti-choice party in government, rabidly anti-LGBTQ and climate change deniers. Sinn Fein has already started grumbling about this coalition, which is exactly the sort of tension you want to encourage in Northern Ireland. I mean, what children these days really need is the character building experience of bomb drills at school like what I had.

Elsewhere in the Conservative Party, press interviews are being given in which the sharpening of knives can clearly be heard. Not that anyone can blame them. There didn't have to be an election for another three years and any other leader who losyt the majority would have resigned out of sheer bloody pragmatic shame to spend more time with their index linked pension.

When this all started there were two theories. There was the generally accepted idea that the Conservatives wanted a more solid mandate for Brexit and to not have to fight an election after the Article 50 deadline just in case (you know, on the off-chance) Brexit completely fucked the economy. Then there was my theory where they were so completely unable to control the Brexit negotiations that they just wanted to throw the election and make it someone else's problem.

During the campaign, as May did seemingly everything she could to alienate her core voters (like the Dementia Tax), it started to make an awful lot of sense.

Now, she's holding on to power when any other politician would resign and willingly getting in to bed with the DUP who, even by Conservative standards, are utterly mad.

I guess what I'm saying here is: Has anyone seen The Producers

Sunday 11 June 2017

Delving into the Black Archive (The Massacre)

I have something of a soft spot for Doctor Who criticism. I love Philip Sandifer's TARDIS Eruditorum, Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke's Running Through Corridors, Will Brooks' 50 Year Diary and so on. A lingering effect of the show's sixteen year hiatus is that the fandom had a long time to go back and analyse and discuss and research the series' past.

The Black Archive is a series that started just over a year ago: novella length discussions of single Doctor Who stories from the full length and breadth of the TV series. Potentially overkill on the word count front but I thought I'd give the series a go. Looking at the titles available I went for James Cooray Smith's analysis of The Massacre which the back cover describes as “a serial of disputed authorship […] produced during a fractious transitional period” which is one of the biggest undersells you will ever read.

Now, one of the things I look for in these things is evidence that real, original thought is going into the analysis. Doctor Who being Doctor Who just about any story has a set of standard talking points. Smith takes two of the most usual talking points, the debate over the story's title and whether the Anne/Dodo ancestry thing makes any sense, and not only exiles them to the appendices but finds new and interesting things to say about them.

The main thrust of the book concerns what is actually happening on screen and what the various authors who contributed to the story intended to be happening. The entire footage of the story is missing, the photographic record is limited, the audio doesn't match the camera script, the script was significantly rewritten and the novelisation was written twenty years later by the original scriptwriter who admits to doing new research to write a revised version debatably based on his original script.

Its actually a pretty fascinating archaeology of who wrote what and how the different versions pile on top of each other to form a story that makes very little internal sense but is still usually considered a classic of the era.

There's also an extended discussion of the historical events the story is based on: the days leading up to the mass killing of the Parisian Protestant Huguenot population in August 1572. I've got some serious grudges about how history is taught in this country and a glowing example comes from the fact I learnt more about the French Wars Of Religion from a book analysing a 1960s Doctor Who story than I did from twenty years of formal education.

James Cooray Smith has certainly done a lot of research, not just in the BBC archives and legitimate history books but into the other film and literature that has dealt with the Bartholomew Massacre. Its interesting to see the variety of influences Smith either flat out discovers contributed to this story or claims as probable influences.

I certainly see myself prioritising any of these books about the historicals in future as well as Smith's return to the range for The Ultimate Foe this coming November. I mean, if there's any story that needs a deep dive into the archives to work out the hell is going on in it then its The Ultimate Foe. On that subject, I'm also looking forward to the next release in the series which will have Kate Orman, one of the greatest Doctor Who novelists of all time, writing about Pyramids of Mars.

Saturday 10 June 2017

8th edition, 1st impressions

Disclaimers before we begin: this is all based on one game in an odd format with no reference to points or power balancing. That said, these are impressions based on an actual game with full access to the rules and datasheets so I guess it might be of use to someone.

The format of the game was simple: come to GW on games night with an HQ, a Troops unit and “something cool”. There were four of us: myself with my Flesh Tearers (I didn't get my Black Templars, for that is what they were finished on time), Matt with some Traitor Guard (using standard AM rules), and two people who I shall refer to as Rugby Shirt and Baseball Cap out of respect for privacy and not knowing Rugby Shirt's name who had Khorne Daemons and Tau Empire respectively.

We divided into pairs: me with a Librarian, Tactical Squad and Death Company Dreadnought and Baseball Cap with Tau Commander, Fire Warriors and a Crisis Battlesuit Bodyguard Team vs. Matt with Command Squad, Veteran Squad and Rough Riders and Rugby Shirt with Daemon Prince, Bloodletters and Bloodcrushers. No scenario, standard twelve inch deployment, fight!

So, first eighth impressions:

The Good
Dreadnoughts are a lot more survivable. Mine ended up in combat with the Daemon Prince and Bloodletters. It died but it survived two turns and got the Daemon Prince down to one wound before it fell. The fragility of walkers has been a problem for a while and this has been very effectively addressed.

On that subject, the ability of small arms fire to wound anything came into use with the Veterans chipping off a wound from the Dreadnought. It took an entire squad (and Matt muffing his rolls for his meltaguns) but they took off a wound.

Multiple wound and multiple damage weapons got a rollout on all sides. The fact that multiple damage doesn't carry over between models balances it out nicely. Firing my meltagun at Matt's Veteran Squad was pretty ineffective as I was basically wasting two thirds of its power sniping off one model.

The ability to use pistols in combat is an idea I'm surprised hasn't been included before. It makes dedicated assault squads more effective for what they do and actually enhances Tactical Squads rather nicely, making them the all-rounders they were always meant to be.

Flamers are better. On paper they have much the same range they always did but, like other ranged weapons, if even a part of the target unit is in range you now get to fire with full effect. Obviously, they hit automatically which is more than enough compensation for losing the templates.

Supporting charges, or whatever the actual term is: great idea. It always seemed strange to me that a unit could be standing a few feet away from their comrades being minced and do nothing for a few minutes. Nice and fluffy idea, good mechanic that makes the opponent put extra consideration into considering their charges.

Chargers attacking first: unalloyed good, no problems there even if we kept forgetting that all chargers had to attack before we moved on to the alternate activation. Just a thing to get used to.

And, finally, as far as Johnny Number Blindness here is concerned, a To Wound chart that can be explained in simple sentences is worth its weight in gold.

The Middling
I am still not entirely convinced by the AoS-style leadership. None of us lost more than a couple of wounds to it at a time, the single D6 and generally high leadership on our units meant it was quite forgiving. Get back to me once I've had reason to test it out with my Orks.

Falling back from combat... well, I imagine it has more utility in bigger games. In our game all it really did, when we came to think about it, was deprive my Tactical Squad of using their pistols in the next turn. Probably the best use of the rule is to open enemy units up for a firing solution from more effective ranged weapons.

No firing arcs is ultimately good though I do miss the mechanic of picking enemy models off from the front of a unit backwards. Its probably for the best and means you don't get sergeants and such hiding in the middle of the unit which just looks... well, crap.

That said, the ability to effectively “hide” characters from all enemy fire unless they're the closest target is perhaps not the most logical idea (there would be times when you as a commander would want to target the enemy general) but the Rule Of Cool applies. You just want to get your general into combat with the enemy general and this facilitates that.

The Bad (or, The Will Take Getting Used To)
I think the relative ease of firing off psychic powers might be a bit OP. Again, am impression that will need a few larger and more balanced games, preferably ones where I don't have the only psyker on the table, to sort out whether I'm right or not.

Not getting extra attacks for charging isn't a problem but the brain has had years to program its cost/benefit analysis around the idea of charging as a force multiplier that it will take some adjustment. It has its bright side: it means combat units will be prioritised for combat instead of just charging everything in that's in range. Its a good mechanic that means units will be used more frequently in line with their background purpose but, again, a little mental adjustment is in order.

Overall, I was impressed. The game flows a lot more organically than I've ever seen it, there was very little rulebook flitting and no significant unbalances came up from four pretty diverse armies.

Quiet confidence is beginning to transform into moderately loud confidence.