Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Psychology of Nurgle

Having written a general view of the Tamurkhan book, I wanted to write a more substantial post on the subject of its titular character, the Nurgle Lord Tamurkhan himself. It's an idea that has been germinating for a while and I wanted to devote the time time and space needed to do it justice.

I was interested in Tamurkhan, the character, from early on because he is a Nurgle special character and Nurgle has always seemed poorly represented by special characters. There were none at all in 4th edition and the Fifth edition Champions of Chaos there was only one, Valnir the Reaper, a hero level character who was effectively an undead Marauder. In the latest edition, while each of the other powers got a Lord level character of their own, Nurgle only has the relatively uninspiring Festus the Leach Lord, a low level Sorcerer. In Warhammer 40,000 there is Typhus a spectacular model that always seemed, to me, lacking in personality. With all that in mind, I was keen to see what Forge World came up with.

Tamurkhan is a fantastically (in both senses of the word) horrible concept. A giant, sentient maggot who eats is way into the flesh of a host victim before using its decaying body as a vehicle to drag itself around. In the game this is represented by a decidedly inconvenient rule that allows him to latch on to his killer and potential use him as a new host. This is decidedly nasty and interesting, but essentially from the outside. The concept of being driven around by your killer as your body rots is ghastly and even more so for Tamurkhan's first host, a Slaanesh champion, whose good looks and bejewelled armour slowly decay over time much to Tamurkhan's amusement.

The problem is that all of this horror is from the perspective of the observer. We never get a sense of the personality of motivation of Tamurkhan himself, he remains completely effusive. At heart he is a monster who does monstrous things because he is monstrous. And while there can be some mileage in this kind of nihilistic antagonist the best villains, in my opinion, are those whose motivations you can sympathise with or at least understand. The horribly misguided are much more interesting than the merely horrible.

This is a common problem for Nurgle characters in general and on the surface this is understandable. If given a choice of Chaos Gods to serve why chose the one who makes your intestines rot out of your stomach? It is for that reason that Nurgle followers are often presented as lunatics and death fetishists.

But I think that is a rather tragic misreading of the Chaos God. For a better understanding of Nurgle, we have to turn all the way back to Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned.
"The living know that they will die, and many know that they will live with disease or other torment, yet they drive that knowledge into a corner of their minds and keep it pinioned there with all manner of dreams and activity. Nurgle is the embodiment of that knowledge and of the unconscious response to it of the hidden fear of disease and decay, and of the power of life which that fear generates." (Realms of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned, Rick Priestly and Bryan Ansell, page 12)

This sums up Nurgle's and, by extension, his Champion's motivation. Essentially contradictory, like all Chaos characters, they are individuals who deny or even ignore their hideous appearance in favour of their hugely charismatic minds. Unwilling to face their inevitable decay they simply ignore it. Nurgle is less the Chaos God of decay than the God of human attitude to it, namely denial.

This is how we need to understand Nurgle Champions. Champions of Khorne are blood grazed slaughterers and Slaanesh self-indulgent narcisists, easy. Tzeentch Champions are more complex, but at heart they are weak or ambitious individuals looking to change their fate for the better. Nurgle, Tzeentch's opposite number, is about denying or fighting change. If Tzeentch Champions are the weak wanting to be strong, Nurgle Champions are the strong not wanting to be weak. This need not mean they are struck down with disease. Disease is simply representative of wider decay and collapse which is inevitable in all human activity. Nurgle champions have something, whether it is health, wealth, strength, intelligence or even family, that they desperately want to protect and are unable to do so.

This is why, for me, the most effective Nurgle character was the Death Guard Primarch Mortarion. Faced with a disease even his legendary endurance couldn't resist, he turned to Nurgle in desperation to preserve his and his legions lives, or some semblance of them. In the long run it probably went worse for them than death, but this is the heart of Chaos, entering into a bargain whose long term consequences can only be terrible.

This is why when I invented a background for my randomly generated Nurgle Champion, Rolf Hurtziger, I made him an embittered Mercenary Captain, cast down by Chaos and forced into a pact with Nurgle as no-one else would take him.

As for Tamurkhan, it wouldn't be hard to make him a more interesting and convincing character. At heart he is a physically weak and deformed being who needs to latch onto a host to survive. But each host has a limited duration as it inevitably decays around him. This is never really touched on in the narrative, in fact it says that Tamurkhan held onto the body of the Ogre Tyrant too long and this started to effect his mind. More effective would be to make Tamurkhan desperate needing an endless succession of new hosts in order to survive.

Physically feeble, totally dependent, parasitic and yet charismatic enough to hold together a disparate Chaos Horde, to me this is more interesting that a simple monster.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Tamurkhan - A Review

I managed to get my hands on a copy of Forge World's Tamurkhan book, on Wednesday. I only popped into the local Games Workshop during my lunch break for a pot of Gryphon Sepia, so this was something of an unexpected purchase.

To be fair, it wasn't entirely on a whim, I had been meaning to get the book sooner or later, I just hadn't anticipated seeing it in my local Games Workshop. As a Chaos Warrior player, the books interest is obvious, but my principle reason for forking out £45 was to get my hands on the new Chaos Dwarf rules. Back in the days of Warhammer 5th edition I had a pretty substantial army and was quite keen to dig it out again. Especially as the Forge World models so far released are not too far removed from their old aesthetic.

The book is presented as being written by Alan Bligh, with an original story by Bligh and Rick Priestly. This is as much of a credit as Priestly gets in the book and its hard to determine how much of his original idea made it into the finished draft before his sudden departure from GW. The rumours talked about Tamurkhan being the first in a series of "alternate future" Warhammer books, chronicling a time when Chaos finally destroys the world. Apparently, Tamurkhan was to be the first of four books each dealing with a different Chaos Champion, one for each God, in a different part of the world.

There was some resistance to this idea, notably from non-Chaos Players, because it put so much focus on Chaos. I am not sure I agree. Quite apart from the fact the Chaos is now considered to be three seperate armies, thus justifying three books, this concept hearkens back to the old idea that Chaos permeates every aspect of the Warhammer world; it's great unifying theme if you like. Given that Tamurkhan manages to cover Chaos, Chaos Dwarfs and the Empire, it's easy to see how the subsequent books could have given space for an ally and an enemy army in addition to Chaos. Imagine a book about a Slaanesh Champion making common course with the Elves to assault Ulthuan, a Khorne champion recruiting greenskins before rampaging across the Dwarf strongholds or a Tzeentchian champion allying with Skaven in an underground assault on Bretonnia.

As it is, Tamurkhan presents a pretty conventional narrative, in which a Chaos Champion rampages out of the north, recruits an army of suitably unpleasant allies, destroys a few opponents to prove his bad-assness and attacks the Empire where he is defeated. We've seen it before in a few different army books, Tamurkhan just takes longer to tell the story and its hard not to see it as a missed opportunity.

That said, Tamurkhan does a good job of translating its central narrative into a Campaign system and a series of scenarios. The campaign system is nicely open-ended, allowing for multiple players and a wide range of armies. Despite its official status as the story of Tamurkhan it's easy to see it being used to tell the story of any Chaos Warlord. The scenarios are a suitably quirky bunch and, for the most part, don't demand too much of players miniature collection. Whether or not I manage to mount a whole campaign, I can see myself getting some value out of them.

Also on offer are rules for building a huge Chaos Horde containing units from the Warriors, Daemons and Beastmen army lists. Although it's fairly easy to do this without the official rules, there are, nevertheless, a few interesting ideas here. Including Antagonistic units, who may prove unreliable, and the dangerous possibility of attracting the Scorn of Chaos and having to roll on a chart to determine a negative effect. The general is declared the Paragaon with a number of different types available depending on the Champions Mark of Chaos (or not) and there own special rules.

The core of the book, and its obvious reason for existing in the first place, are the new rules for the various Forge World models. These are divided into three sections, Chaos, Empire and Chaos Dwarfs. The first two sections are simply new units and characters for the existing armies. Chaos gets eight new options:
Sayl the Faithless (a Sorcerer accompanied by a Chaos Spawn);
Kayzk the Befouled (a champion on a rot beast who allows Chaos Knights to ride Rot Beasts);
Chaos Siege Giant;
Plague Toads;
Pox Riders (Plague Bearers riding the Plague Toads);
Bile Trolls;
and the Chaos War Mammoth, getting its own proper rules after being part of the Forge World range for years.
The Plague Ogres that Forgeworld also released don't get full rules of their own and so, presumably, should be used as regular Chaos Ogres with the mark of Nurgle.

The Empire selection is made up mostly of Special characters, including a Lord on a Demi Gryph (like a Griffin without wings), an Amethyst Wizard on a Dragon, a Mercenary captain and two hero choices that allow you to upgrade your infantry. The last option is the Marienburg land ship, a huge war machine and a nice alternative to the Steam Tank.

But the most important part of the whole book for me is the final section which presents the Chaos Dwarf army list. I was quite pleased with this overall. For a start, just about everything from my old Chaos Dwarf army has an analogue in the new, so using the list presents no problem. About the only thing left out is the old Hobgoblin bolt thrower. The new Dread Quake mortar and Shrieker rockets are just the old Earthshaker cannon and Death Rocket by new names, my Chaos Dwarf warriors can be used as Infernal Guard, which have options for Great Weapons and Blunderbusses, and the Bull Centaurs and Hobgoblins are included.

The list includes:
Sorcerer Prophets (Lord and Sorcerer Lord combined into one, they can ride a Great Taurus, a Bale Taurus or a Lammasu);
Heroes (Chaos Dwarf, Bull Centaur and Hobgoblin);
Daemonsmith (Level 1/2 Wizard);
Infernal Guard (Expensive infantry with Great Weapons, Blunderbusses or Fireglaives - a fire throwing halberd);
Hobgoblins (they can have daggers so can be represented by the old sneaky gitz models);
Bull Centaurs;
Shrieker Rockets;
Magma Cannon (a new short range cannon thing);
Iron Daemon (Steam powered, cannon covered land train that can tow the other war machines);
Dread Quake Mortar;
K'Dai (Daemonic constructs, no models as yet);
Hobgoblin Wolf Riders;
Siege Giant;
Hell Cannon (the same one from the Warriors of Chaos list).

I'm not sure I would want to build a whole army from scratch at Forge World prices, but I may pick up one or two of the newer items. I certainly think it would be possible to mix Mantic's Abyssal Dwarfs with the Forge World models comfortably. Also included is a small selection of Magic items and the Law of Hashut, which gives the Chaos Dwarf Sorcerers a distinctive quality of their own.

I'm not sure how balanced the army list will be, the Infernal Guard seem very expensive in points and some of the warmachines are more than a little extreme. Also, annoyingly, the Lammasu is allowed as a mount for a Chaos Dwarf Sorcerer Prophet, but if you want the rules you have to buy the Storm of Magic book. This feels pretty cheap given that you have to fork out £45 for the Tamurkhan book. At least the Great Taurus rules are included.

The book is extremely lushly presented, with a red leather effect cover, full colour throughout and illustrated in a suitably grim and moody style. However, the book is marred by a number of simple errors. For example, the Infernal Guard Champion is called a Deathmask, but in the army list it states that "the Overseer may be equipped with a pistol..." A relic of the earlie experimental rules where the champion was called an Overseer.

The special character Drazhoath the Ashen rides Cinderbreath. In the bestiary it states that Cinderbreath is a Bale Taurus, but in the army lists notes that he has a stronger breath attack and an enhanced profile. But is you compare Cinderbreath's profile to a regular Bale Taurus there is no difference.

Then there's the repeated references to the Chaos Dwarfs being usable as part of aforementioned Great Host of Chaos, but no rules to do so. Or the odd way that the rules for Blunderbusses are listed under Chaos Dwarfs, but the rules for Fire Glaives under Infernal Guard even though only the latter can use either weapon. Or the odd repetition of the generic Chaos Dwarf rules Resolute, Relentless and Contempt under the Chaos Dwarf bestiary and the general army rules. I could go on.

Six people are credited as proof readers at the end of the book, so there is really no excuse for this kind of sloppiness, especially given the price you have to pay for the book.

In summary a very lushly produced book that is let down by silly mistakes and a lack of ambition. What we have is a fairly standard Warhammer saga with the rules for a few nice models and some extra bits and bobs. Would I recommend it? I'm not sure it matters. If you want to play Chaos Dwarfs or use any of the associated Forge World models than these are the only rules you are going to get. I will probably get some value out of it and probably more than I would have from a standard army book. But, for the price I paid, I can't help feeling this was a wasted opportunity.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Dreadfleet - Second ship completed

I have finished painting the Bloody Reaver (queue joke about the bloody Reaver that only works if you can here my tone of voice) and boy is it a strange looking beast. I made the comment in my last post that it was the one ship in Dreadfleet that I don't think quite works and that's all the more apparent when it's finished and put together.

It's the front part that's the biggest problem. I get the idea of a floating castle protected by the hulks of wrecked ships, but what is going on with the weird rocky outcrop at the front. Is it a natural feature? Dragged along with the castle? Or has Noctilus bent the front half out of the water and, if so, why? And what is going on with the boney sea serpent sculpture thing, is it really just there to hold up the sail?

Speaking of sails, the ones sticking out of the castle don't work for me. They are just too big. I know the Heldenhammer's sails are bigger, but that looks like a real battle ship scaled up and exaggerated. By having the sails stick out of a castle it draws attention to how ludicrously massive they must be. For a start, where do you get that much cloth? And how do you stitch on a skull that big. Just the letters in "Bloody Reaver" must be several time the height of a man. Or is the whole thing another magical effect? Not to mention the question of why a magically transported floating castle should be wind powered in the first place?

Given that I spent my last post arguing in favour of less realism in fantasy, this argument could look hypocritical or even contradictory. However, this isn't really about realism, so much as whether something looks good.

I remember a similar argument when these were released:

Comments were made about the weirdly bulging muscles, the fur that looks more like dead leaves, the strangely flat 'hooves' and the utterly un-bull-like faces. Many responded that they didn't have to be realistic, that these were fantasy creatures and they didn't have to look like bulls.

But while Fantasy creatures don't have to follow the laws of physics, they do have to follow the laws of aesthetics. Put simply, those models looked rubbish. Yes Fantasy should depart from reality, but it makes sense to use reality as a base. Its not hard to take real world concepts like a well muscled man and the head of bull and combine them. But when your design looks nothing like any real world creature of thing they end result is just jarring.

The Bloody Reaver isn't as bad as the Minotaurs, but elements of it look wrong. Why the huge sails? Why the odd rocky outcrop? Why do the wrecked ships suddenly stop? Rather than being strange and uncanny it just looks a bit wrong, like too many odd elements thrown together. So, overall, not the best piece of design.

On the plus side is the most complex ship in the game by a mile and with it done and out of the way, everything else feels a lot more manageable.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Dreadfleet - One ship down

I actually managed to get some painting done this weekend. With the Heldenhammer complete, I got started out the monstrously fiddly Bloody Reaver. With these two painted I will have enough painted ships to try out the first scenario from Dreadfleet.

The Heldenhammer stands proud on the painting table
over the partially painted pieces of the Bloody Reaver

I've not painted a model ship before and am really quite pleased with the results. Lots of flat surfaces which are tough to highlight and the sail detail was a nightmare. It is so finally cast that you can end up burying it in plaint if you're not careful, a lesson I have learned for the Reaver. It's certainly not up to professional standards, but it is one of the best models I have personally painted.

The overally Dreadfleet aesthetic has been quite controversial, but I rather like the diverse little collection of ships. The Bloody Reaver is probably the weakest. The concept is good, a floating castle with a hull made up of the wrecked remains of its opponents, a properly undead ship. But the model seems to give up half way; quite literally as the rear of the ship is right, but the front end has a strange rocky outcrop sticking out to no good purpose. It isn't clear whether the boney lizard thing is a sculpture or a actual bones and the way the rock curves up is just odd.

But some of the other sculpts are wonderful. The Shadewraith is a marvel of sculpting and casting technology, Grimnir's Thunder is absolutely everything a dwarf ship should be and I love the use of the Elementals on the Flaming Scimitar. To my mind this is what fantasy sculpting should be. If I'm gaming in a fantasy world I want some evidence of that fact. This is why I never got into Uncharted Seas. The ships are perfectly well sculpted, but they seem too mundane and the ships of one fleet often look the same as each other but on a different scale. Not all the ships in Dreadfleet work, but there is imagination behind all of them.

I was reading this blog post the other day on old John Blanche art, and the author notes that the Warhammer world of old was often depicted as a truly unnatural place, where the laws of nature and physics don't work quite as they do in ours. For all of its tiresome obsession with putting skulls on everything, modern Games Workshop seems to be tapping into that idea in Dreadfleet. Everything from the ships, to the Islands, to the Sea Scape itself has been designed to be strange and uncanny.

Similarly, the background section of Warhammer Third edition states:

"Although similar to Europe in general outline, the Old World is larger..."

"The largest mountains in the Old World are the Worlds Edge Mountains which delineate its eastern edge - the tallest of these peaks climb almost five thousand feet above the plains below."

"The grandiose scale of the mountain ranges is matched by that of the largest rivers... Of these the Reik, Sannez, Grismerie, Brienne and Morceauz are so vast that they are navigable by sea-going ships for much of their length."
In a world built on this scale, a Battleship carrying a cathedral or a floating castle seems feasible. There are fantasy worlds that, although interesting in the own right, are essentially like alien worlds. They follow the same essential rules as our own, but are simply populated with alien races and cultures. Whatever you might say against the Warhammer world, it certainly was a truly fantastic place and Dreadfleet follows that tradition.

Friday 11 November 2011

Underwhelmed by Warpath

So after months of build up Mantic has finally released Warpath. One thing you can't say is that they've failed to generate sufficient buzz. The release strategy has a been a master piece of slowly released data. You might quibble over the final product, but not with the way the release has been managed. And yet I find myself unlikely to start on Warpath any time soon.

Regular readers of this blog (I think there may actually be some now) may have realised that I have a fair bit of time for Mantic. I applaud their ambition and am glad to see a company attempt to take on Games Workshop at their own game (in more ways than one). I have generally found their miniatures to be well sculpted and good value. In spite of this I have not invested in Kings of War, at least not yet.

The reason for this had little to do with the quality or value of the product and more that it felt like more of the same. After nearly twenty years of Warhammer, I don't have much enthusiasm for starting on another army of generic fantasy types, however, cheap or well sculpted. So far I have acquired Dwarf Kings hold and left it at that.

Warpath, however, was of greater interest. I have been a Warhammer 40,000 player in the past, but not with anything like the same dedication. I have one fully painted army and a few scraps of others. Also, Warhammer 40,000 is a much more distinctive setting and, while they share the same Fantasy in Space, concept Warpath does seem to be aiming for a different style. What we know of their humans is that they represent ruthless capitalists rather than excessively gothic, bigoted, religious fanatics. So, initial impressions were good.

I have not been put off, as some people had, by the discovery that the Orx sprues are essentially Orc sprues with different arms. This isn't exactly a selling point, especially as the Orcs sprue offers only three different bodies, but isn't a deal breaker either.

When Mantic first started out, they released their first miniatures with no game of any kind. Kings of War had a logo and that was that. The miniatures were co-opted for Warhammer, mostly, and any other game players liked. The releases trickled out steadily, Undead followed Elves, and then Dwarves. It wasn't until the last release that we saw any game rules at all. By this point all the major armies had several plastic boxes. When the Kings of War starter set appeared, it came with two substantial armies and was followed by army boxes that put Games Workshop's battalions to shame.

In contrast, with Warpath the rules were out months before the models. We know that eight armies are planned and we have a good sense of what's going in them. The first of the Forge Fathers and Marauders have been released, but so far there isn't much. It's at this point that Mantic have put out a starter box and two starter armies.

Compare and contrast the Kings of War dwarf army box with the Warpath Forge Fathers box. The former has 85 infantry figures and 2 artillery pieces, the latter 30 figures and 2 artillery pieces (admittedly, huge artillery pieces). The former is a really stunning amount of figures for the price, the latter is a decent deal. The story is the same with the Marauders. The Orcs get 84 figures, the Orx get 50 and 2 vehicles.

A good part of the reason for this is the inclusion of resin-plastic figures in the Warpath boxes. While the small number of releases so far mean would mean that including more plastic would mean much less variety. But the contrast is still striking and presents a very different idea of the game. Both are meant to be based around big armies, but while Kings of War makes a big army look achievable, for Warpath it much more of a challenge.

Putting it simply, I was expecting to be wowed by Mantics Warpath starter sets. So far I haven't been wowed. They look like decent value, but that's all. And to really grab me from the word go Warpath needed to be more than decent.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Too Many Projects

I have simply too much on the go at the moment, and with Warfare Reading coming up in just over a week it's set to get worse before it gets better. A quick rundown:

I managed to get all my initial figures painted, but then GCT released Aiko and Gorilla, and now I have two more to do.

Anima Tactics
I have generally been pretty good with these guys, getting them painted not long after purchase. But a general slowing of releases lulled me into a false sense of security and before I knew it I had five to do.

I got the Immortals boxed set at Salute for a ludicrous £10, only just got around to assembling it.

One model done so far. I like the colour scheme, but still a dozen to go.

I have two Masters plus warbands unpainted.

Horde of the Things
I painted my Fantasy Chinese army a while back, but I still have a Goblin army and another Fantasy East Asian army to do. Warfare Reading marks a year since I started this project.

More Warhammer
In spite of myself I succumbed to lure of new and cheap(ish) models and my Chaos army is set to get bigger.

Yes I am a mug, but I couldn't resist the little ships. One down, so far, nine to go.

Normans and Saxons
The real nightmare, I got these at Salute and so far have one unit a quarter done.

The curse of the wargamer is too have either too little money or too little time. During an unpleasant period of unemployment I managed to get my Warhammer Chaos army done (job hunting in the morning painting in the afternoon), but these days I only seem to skirt around the edges. It doesn't help that the lure of new models is always so strong and that lovely new model you picked up at the convention rapidly looks dull and lifeless next to the new shiny thing.

In some ways its like comfort eating. Frustrated at your lack of progress you compensate and indulge in new toys which makes the problem worse. Still, with Summer well and truly over and no more holidays to distract me, maybe I can get down to some regular painting.

That said, I am updating this blog right now when I could be painting

Monday 7 November 2011

Bushido - A Review

I've mentioned Bushido, from GCT studios before. It's one of the most recent of the 'Boutique games', a rather nice term I picked up from RobH at the Miniature Page, for the recent trend for small scale skirmish games with comparatively expensive but characterful models. Bushido is based in a fantasy version of Medieval Japan and its four factions take their inspiration from Japanese History and Mythology, but with a somewhat Manga/Anime inspired aesthetic.

I always planned to write a review of the game once I had a chance to paint some models and play a game. Yesterday my little brother and I tried out the game with my Temple of Rokan taking on his Cult of Yurei.

Master Ekusa

I have already written with approval at the GCT approach of producing starter sets complete with rules and dice. Each miniature also has a card summarising their stats and special abilities.

The rules don't really present any truly original elements, but combine a number of features I have seen in previous games. The basic activation sequence is reminiscent of Malifaux. Players alternate activating models and each one has two action points to spend. Actions can be simple or complex using one or two action points respectively. A slightly unusual rule is that models only carry out one action at a time, potentially acting twice in each turn.


In addition to the standard actions, which include the usual attacks, movement, charging and few special ones such as aim, is the Ki mechanism. This is somewhat similar to Anima Tactic's action point system. Characters recover a number of Ki points each turn and they can be held from turn to turn, though each character has a maximum reserve. Ki points can be spent on special Ki feats, which can be anything from special attacks, buffs or debuffs or healing effects. Ki feats can be simple, complex or free. The simple and complex feats require the spending of actions, but free feats can be used at any time, even when the model isn't active.

The combat system is based on a series of opposed dice rolls. Players roll a number of dice equal to a stat such as Ki, Combat or Ranged combat and compare their highest roll. In the event of a draw additional dice are taken into account. In combat an element familiar to players of Confrontation 2nd or 3rd edition comes into play. Players can assign dice to attack or defence. All dice are rolled together, but opposing attack and defence dice are compared. This adds a small tactical element to the combat phase.


In addition to stats and feats, each character has a number of key words corresponding to general special rules. These can be quite numerous and keeping track can be quite difficult, though Bushido is by no means the worst offender here (*cough*Malifaux*cough*) and, fortunately, most rules are only a sentence or two long.

For our first game, MLB and myself used only the contents of the starter sets, my temple of Rokan and MLB's Cult of Yurei. Rokan are martial artist monks, supported by peasants and lead by Master Ekusa riding on a turtle. In contrast the Cult is made up of Zombies and spirits and lead by the Necromancer/Puppet Master Kato. The match up ended up not being very fair. The Cult seems to be quite a fiddly faction to play, relying on fear rules and Kato's ability to raise new zombies and keep the others from dying. The Temple proved to be quite straight forward with two very strong combatants in the Martial artists Kenko and Yumi. The peasants are weak fighters, but use their bodyguard rule to protect the other monks, while Master Ekusa is a hugely effective disruptor able to prevent all hostile actions within a particular radius and having a nasty Ki-based attack that can prevent an enemy from acting.

One odd element is that are no stats for strength or toughness. Weapons can provide strength bonuses and number of wounds provides a kind of resilience, but these are, in practice, not as important as the number of combat dice rolled. The key determinant of damage is success level, the difference between the attackers die and the defenders. What this means, is that a character with a high combat stat will be generally good at fighting across the board and it is not easy to differentiate between a skilled but weak fighter and a clumsy but strong one.

Ichiro and Atsuko, Peasants of Rokan

There are a lot of distinct processes and rules to keep track of, particularly the keywords and MLB forgot about fear several times. However, most of the processes are quite straightforward and there are some clever mechanisms, such as turning the character cards to keep track of whether a character has activated. We will play again, but I suspect the Cult will prove more effective as MLB gets a better handle on their special rules.

One thing that is definite is that the miniatures are well sculpted and distinctive and the game world suitably different from other Boutique games. Definitely worth further investment of time and energy.

White Dwarf 157

This issue marks a definite break from the previous ones. A transition point on a journey, albeit a fuzzily defined one. The cover image was also used at the front cover of the first Orc and Goblin army book, which says something about the direction of travel.

I should emphasise that I have no knowledge of what was actually going in Games Workshop studio at the time these issues were produced, but my sense is that when I first started out collecting, miniatures were being produced and rules written without a clear sense of how they would be distributed. A number of experimental rules articles found their way into White Dwarf without much of a sense of where they ultimately belonged. At its most extreme, this lead to a compilation of White Dwarf articles being the official source for most Warhammer 40,000 army lists. Even when books were planned, for example Realms of Chaos or the Warhammer 40,000 Ork books, they often read more like a collection of articles than a single, coherent work.

By White Dwarf 157, this had started to change. Games Workshop started producing complete, coherent rules supplements with all the rules needed for a particular army. This often meant producing rules for models not yet released. This transition was a staggered process that actually began with second edition Epic released at the same time as White Dwarf 141. These supplements were boxes rather than books and covered two armies each, but they were the first attempt at a coherent set of army list supplements, where every supplement was in the same format. Warhammer 4th edition followed in White Dwarf 153 and Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition in White Dwarf 166. To me, this transition marks the beginning of modern Games Workshop, though there were still a great number to come.

I have written about the subject of rules distribution before and regard this increased coherence as generally a good thing, but there were definite drawbacks. One was the change in White Dwarf. New rules articles had been its bread and butter. As the army book started to appear, White Dwarf shifted from printing new and experimental rules to reprinting pages from just released or soon to be released army books.

The transition is very marked in White Dwarf 157, which, remarkably, has only four substantial articles, though this is probably because two of them take up over twenty pages each. The first of these big articles is the new Space Wolf army list for Warhammer 40,000 first edition. In many respects, this feels very much like a WD article of old. Lots of experimental new material, with no sense of where it would ultimately end up. It is also notable that the army card concept we saw in White Dwarf 145 had already been abandoned. Despite the article's retro feel, it was probably released because the Space Wolves were being developed for 2nd edition WD only nine months away.

The article itself is interesting read, but mostly because most of the key elements of the current Space Wolf army are already present - Blood Claws, Grey Hunters, Long Fangs and Wolf Guard are all familiar to modern players. It shows how strong a concept the Space Wolf army was.

The second article stands in stark contrast. The Grand Theogonist rules were reprinted straight from the Empire army book, enlivened only by illustrations of the new model. While it might have inspired a few new players, the article is of little real value as anyone likely to use it would need or already own the army book.

Following this is an 'Eavy Metal article on painting the Grand Theogonist and other models shown this issue. 'Eavy Metal was also changing. In previous issues it had shown models from the team's personal collections, whatever they were working on, or the works of other talented painters. But now it had become a showcase for newly released models.

The final article is yet another break with tradition. My first encounter, in this series, with a battle report. They had appeared sporadically before, the first (I believe) was in White Dwarf 107, but from 153 they became a regular feature. This sort of article made ideal White Dwarf content. Highly visual, it provides a good introduction to new players, a good showcase of armies and tactics for more experienced players and potentially ideas for players own game. Also, although Games Workshop printed a few compilation books and put some in army books, they really work better as magazine content. With rules becoming less important this article was a good way to fill twenty pages.
This report saw the Empire vs the Greenskins and highlights some new models. It also showed that the new spirit of organised professionalism hadn't quite reached army production as the Greenskins had only one unit of Orcs, despite featuring an Orc Warlord, and is made up mostly of Goblins, some in some not very viable units - there are only 5 netters and clubbers for instance. Meanwhile, the Empire fields two units of Knights, the new War Altar and a War Wagon.

This Battle Report is notable for another reason: the apparently accidental creation of a special character. Games Workshop had just released an Orc Shaman on a War Wyvern, but this was not a very valuable model tactically as Orc Shamans had to stay close to Orc units to benefit from their special rules. As a way round this problem, the model is recast as an Orc Warlord and equipped with the Crown of Sorcery, then a generic magic item making its user a level 3 Wizard. The idea stuck and Azhag has been a special character ever since. This in spite of a not very impressive performance in this battle. He got himself killed in turn 2 charging into the smaller of the two Imperial Knight units unsupported.

The rest of the battle manages to be reasonably interesting, as the Goblins put up a surprisingly good fight, putting a good part of the Empire army to flight. But in the end they get bogged down in unwinnable combats. The Empire general, then White Dwarf editor Robin Dews, concedes in his notes that he won mostly by look, though the limited choices available to Jervis Johnson, as the Orc General must have played a part.

So, very much an issue that marks a change from what went before. The magazine is glossier, with far more colour pages and more professional produced. But also seems to have less useful content than before.