Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Spectral Line: A Through the Breach Campaign Hook


            In the last days of the Black Powder Wars, General Hiram Beauregard Trask, considered by many to be the bloody hand of the Guild, had an idea that would ultimately lead to his ruination and the destruction of hundreds of other lives. Only a young lad when he fled with his family through the First Breach prior to its closing, he still remembered the riches in soulstones and fantastic artifacts they had left behind. An avaricious man by nature, he spent his life dedicated to returning and claiming what was lost. A permanent breach presented too much of a risk of invasion, he thought, but a device that could make the journey on its own had potential for short-term raids that could make any man rich beyond the dreams of the age. And thus, the bloody seeds of the Spectral Line were planted in history.
            The Wars gave him access to the soulstones he would need to power such a device. His troops had a reputation as looters and pillagers more akin to pirates and privateers than actual soldiers. His lieutenants were terrors, each infamous in their own right, granted a weapon imbued with potent magic that made them nearly unstoppable and terrible to behold on the battlefield. His forces devastated enemy civilian populations, leaving their armies to watch helplessly behind the walls of their fortifications while their farms, cities, and homes were looted and burned. And all the while, the plan smoldered away in General Trask’s brain.
            As the war was entering its final days, Trask’s engineers reported to him that, at long last, the device was nearing completion. Dozens of Guild Mages spent their best years exhausting their magical prowess and in many cases their lives in the construction of a locomotive capable of crossing the space between worlds. It was a fearsome steel and black-sooted monstrosity, towering over mundane trains and eerily lit from within by the pale green and white light shed by its soulstone engines. But you can only deny the Guild their share of the spoils for so long before they come to collect. When their ledgers finally started to come up light, three agents were sent to Trask’s army to settle accounts. His lieutenants took it upon themselves to send payment back to the Guild personally, in the form of the agents’ heads packed in a shipping crate. The army was then dispatched to bring in Trask, leading to a clash near Trask's personal fortification near Roanoke, VA that left both sides bloody.
Knowing that time was running out, Trask loaded his arcane monstrosity with all of his ill-gotten gains and activated the device, ignoring the pleas of his engineers to wait until further testing could be completed. Guild cavalrymen chased the locomotive as it sped away from the factory, peppering it with futile gunfire before the massive train vanished with a terrific crack and flash of light. It's said that half the men who looked through the hole ripped between the worlds were driven instantly mad from the terrors they saw through the breach, and many more were struck permanently blind. The last anyone heard of Trask was his mocking laughter as he leaned out the window of the locomotive, waving his hat in a mock salute, followed for a split second by the horrified, agonized screams of every soul trapped in that steel prison when it rocketed into the aether. None of them were ever seen again.

            What happened to Trask and his cache of plundered soulstones is the subject of much speculation and legend among the folk of Malifaux, today. Any attempts to recreate the Locomotive have failed, as the notes left behind by the engineers seem to be no more than the ramblings of madmen, so most sane folk who know the particulars of the story assume that the device simply exploded and destroyed everything onboard. The Guild is more than happy to accept this explanation, and Trask’s expedition is considered to be officially lost with all hands in the space between worlds. Expeditions to search for it are flatly discouraged. However, Travelers in the Badlands have repeatedly told tales of hearing the haunting sound of a ghostly train whistle echoing in the night despite being miles away from the closest railroad tracks. Rumors abound that one or more of the Lieutenants’ weapons have been recovered and used in scraps in and around Malifaux proper. The engines in the locomotive used up soulstones by the barrel when running at full burn, and Trask’s logs recorded his supply train as carrying enough fuel for three round-trips. Anyone who could find it would be instantly rich beyond his or her wildest imaginings, so expeditions still form from to seek the legendary Spectral Line in the wilderness. For the time being, however, none of them have found anything besides dust and frustration. It seems likely, however, that one way or another this horde of soulstones will be found if it still exists. The only question is how many more souls will be ground beneath the wheels of Trask’s locomotive, first.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Malifaux Musings Vassal Nythera Campaign League

A long time ago in a play area far, far away (Nebraska) my friend Phiasco and I played in the Lincoln Blood Bowl League, once of the best organized play groups in which I've been privileged to participate. The model was built around players being assigned an opponent during a week, working with them to set up a time to meet and play their game, and then reporting them back to the commish for accountability to make sure of no collusion. It was my favorite, and the recently released Shifting Loyalties Malifaux Campaign system allows for the possibility of doing it with Malifaux in the future. Problem: Phiasco now lives in Atlanta and I live in Virginia. Solution: Vassal!

Phiasco and I are looking to organize a campaign league for a small number of players to run the length of the Nythera event (starting in week 3 at the earliest, obviously, since we're already under way.) I'm hoping to get 6 people who are willing to commit to one game a week against a predetermined opponent with a strategy and scheme pool defined (IE everybody is playing the same game, with the weekly event in place, so everything should be roughly level.) To counter the somewhat reduced growth people would see from limiting the number of games to one a week, the factions will put in place "Emergency Resource Allocation," a home rule wherein factions will receive 1 scrip per vp they acquire in game (as opposed to 1 per 2 vp) and all crews start the campaign with a bounty of their choice pre-purchased. 

Rules are still being written and finalized at the moment, but I wanted to take people's temperature on them and start gathering interest. Players will be responsible for scheduling their game with each other each week, and I'm still determining what exactly will be the consequence if people can't get their game lined up. We're North American Eastern Time Zone players, so unless you want to be up until the odd hours, probably best to stay within the North American time zones. Skype will probably be required for communication during the game. Obviously you need Vassal. It's meant to be a fairly light-hearted league/campaign (IE not super-competitive) so if you can't get your game in during a specific week it will probably just count as a double forfeit with no penalty/benefit for either player. Repeatedly missing will result in removal from the league and replacement with another player. I'm open to discussion on this point, however.

Ideally, I'd like to have everybody using a different faction, so I'll keep this up to date with players and their faction as they sign-up.

Edit: I've added a second ten thunders crew. Essentially, if they play in-faction their games won't count for the Nythera Event. 

1. AWOL - Guild 
2. Phiasco - Ten Thunders
3. Asrian - Outcasts
4. Tawg - Ten Thunders

Hit me up with sign-ups on the Wyrd Forums Thread if you're interested, or to provide rules suggestions. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Nythera or Bust pt. 1

Seems like a lovely place to visit...

Today the details were released for Wyrd’s Fall 2016 organized event, in which players will battle to claim and profit from the discovery of a ruined city in the Badlands, Nythera. For the fluff heads out there, Nythera is sister city to Kythera, which the factions battled over back in book 1 due to it containing a portal to a realm of death. The living managed to seal it up and deal the Resurrectionists a blow there, but with the discovery of this sister city, the battle is on once again.

            On the Malifaux side of things, players sign up on the Wyrd forums for one particular faction that they will represent during the event. The factions will then battle it out on a map of the Badlands, fighting to seize territory for their side and defend their holdings from the enemy. Players will report their game results, and will be granted access to secret forums where the factions can plan their objectives for the week. It sounds very similar to the Dead of Winter event from several years ago which, ultimately, led to the creation of the Tara crew and the Kaeris alternate sculpt released earlier this year. This time around, the winning faction gets to be the 2016 Nightmare Edition Gencon crew, and second place gets the Miss alternate sculpt model. Cool stuff. I’m also intrigued by their integration of the Campaign system from Shifting Loyalties into the event, with players working towards constructing strongholds for their faction during the course of the event.

The campaign map, pre-violence.

            Excitingly, they’re also including the Through the Breach roleplaying game as part of the event. Fatemasters sign up to receive three one-session scenarios with characters responding to the Nythera events back in Malifaux city. Character generation will be skipped for this event in favor of pre-gens, which is a little bit of a bummer, but I understand why it will be necessary. In place of the destiny mechanic, each player will have individual goals that they will be trying to accomplish for their character. At the end of the event, the character which most-frequently accomplishes their personal goal will be made into a model for the Malifaux skirmish game! Awesome!

            I’m signed up for both sides of the event, so I see a lot of time spent on the other side of the breach in my future. My regular Wednesday Google plus gaming group is down for the Through the Breach stuff, though I’m going to have to figure out how to do it online, using Vassal perhaps. I am signed up for the Guild in the Skirmish game (natch) so I’ll be doing my best to earn us some new miniatures at next Gencon. “But Adam,” I hear you saying, “The Guild has already had a Nightmare Edition boxed set and two Miss models. Wouldn’t you rather see the Ten Thunders get something new?” And my answer is, frankly, no. We’re the Guild. We’re Law and Order. We deserve to get more Nightmare models, just in exchange for keeping peace and order in the city. And, frankly, that kind of seditionist talk is just the sort of thing that could get you thrown in prison or added to a work gang.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

For more information, head to the Event section of the new and improved Wyrd forums.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Theoryfaux: Are The Jokers Good for Malifaux?

Some Jokers just want to make the world burn.

I was playing a game that I wrote about recently, and started thinking about the Jokers in Malifaux. I asked myself if I thought that the jokers have an overall positive or negative effect on the game. Their rules in 2nd edition were adjusted to make them mirror images of each other when they flip out of the deck. The red counts as a fourteen of any suit and prevents the opponent from cheating when it comes out in a duel, and on a damage flip does severe + minimum damage and can a override minus flip’s “Choose the low card” rule. The black joker, by contrast, counts as a zero with no suit, stops you from cheating, and on a damage flip results in your doing no damage. So, heavy swings come to the game when you flip them out onto the battlefield. My question is, is this a good thing?
Now don’t get me wrong, the stories of a joker flip swinging a game are always entertaining, and there’s not much better than having the double negative defense flip on a model you were already writing off catch the RJ and live, to your opponents’ frustration. The trouble comes when the luck all swings in one direction, a probability whose likelihood is difficult to gauge without extensive statistics. In the previously mentioned battle report, I ended up flipping or cheating the Red Joker to about 5 duels during the game. My opponent did get three of them in return, but it can’t be denied that the Jokers decided that match for my side, and it made it rather difficult to gauge whether the strategy I’d put together was actually good or if I just got lucky. My opponent was detailing how his Amo No Zako and Hannah should have mauled their way through Francisco, denying me three points for bodyguard, and my Peacekeeper within the first couple of turns after our engagement. The trouble, really, comes from the ripple effect that the Jokers had on the rest of the match. If the Peacekeeper diedearlier, then Hannah would have been free to come get me. However, I would have moved Perdita to counter her directly, Abuela Ortega may have had more of an effect on the game, etc. etc. etc. Everything would have been different, and predicting how it would have turned out will just leave you running in circles. So, the ripple carries through the rest of the match and throws the game result into question.
The Black Joker effect can be equally devastating. You’ve crafted an amazing battle-plan. Your opponent’s fallen into your trap and you spring it, only to have Seamus’ focused flintlock shot do zero because of an untimely dose of bad luck. This is Malifaux, and as we all know, bad things happen, but do people enjoy seeing plans thrown out this easily by chance? I know I don’t, and not just when it happens to me. I hate when its obvious that one player’s deck is hosing them and I’m just going to roll to a win. Really poor black joker timing can exacerbate this even more. And, frankly, the worst thing that can ever happen is having both jokers come out on your flip, as it will typically result in A) Your action failing and B) You losing the red joker for that turn.
In terms of the actual mechanic of the game, what the Jokers do is introduce a level of chaos and unpredictability that might otherwise be lacking. By using decks instead of dice, the amount of randomness that comes into any particular action resolution is lowered. Counting cards is a thing in Malifaux. You don’t have to do it, but there is a certain benefit one can accrue by knowing that they’ve seen nine of their face cards flipped out, so it is fairly likely that they’re not going to like what comes out next time they make an attack. There is still randomness, but not as much as a d6 game has, particularly in games like Blood Bowl where you literally have a 1 in 6 chance (more or less) of failing every roll no matter how skilled you are at a particular action.  Add in the jokers, however, and the randomness level spikes. They’re still only two cards out of the 52, but in the major combat turns of the game (typically somewhere in the 2-4 range) you’re very likely to cycle through the whole deck and will thus, statistically, see them at some point. And when you do, their effect is greater than any other card in the fate deck.
How you feel about this probably says a lot about your personality and the attitude you bring to the game. If you’re fairly easy going, playing primarily for fun, or just flexible enough to adapt to the big swings on the fly, you probably are happy with the Jokers as they are. They come out like bombs, have a huge effect on the game, and can lead to amazing and fun outcomes. If you’re a planner like me, however, they can be extremely frustrating. We’re the ones that grab that black joker the first time we see it and hold it until turn 4, eating up a slot in our control hand simply to remove that statistical eff-you that’s lurking in the deck. The more control you can exert on the game, the more reliable your crew is and, ultimately, the happier you’re likely to be at the end of the game.

But then the Joker shows up, and your plan blows up anyways, and you’re just left cursing. 
Ultimately, the fact is that the Jokers are a part of Malifaux. I haven’t spoken to Justin in a while, but I doubt he’s going to errata them out of the game. So how can we control the chaos? The answer, I feel, is pretty well embodied by another article I posted previously discussing schemes that avoid interacting with the opponent. If you could execute a perfect strategy that neutralized your opponent and obtained your victory points, you would win and the jokers couldn’t do anything about it. This isn’t realistic, of course, but the more you can push your crews and strategies in this direction, the more consistent and independent of chance they will become. Ten Thunders is the first faction that comes to mind as having a lot of ways to do this, between Ten Thunders Bros., Low River Monks, and other cards that have abilities that can have huge effects on the game with very easily accomplished flips (Low-Rivers removing conditions and becoming very difficult to kill) or even without flipping a card at all (Ten Thunders Brothers blocking you from removing their scheme markers and then stretching their attack range to interact out to 4 inches on any card with the right suit). Scan your faction for examples of how to do this. All of them (well, maybe not as much the Gremlins) have something. In my current project, the Guild, my first thought is Hoffman’s stacking of constructs around himself to spike his cast up and make his spells (and any other constructs that can borrow his CA with power loop) essentially automatic. Finding all the ways to remove the influence of randomness from your crews’ outcomes is a short trip to it being consistent and, more often than not, victorious.

Until next time.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cowboys v. Monks: Squatter's Rights 50SS

Friday night I was in my bed, having ushered the three kids to their room after watching part of The Dark Knight with my younger step-daughter (before you get on me, I warned her it was violent and to let me know if anything bothered her, earning me a "Come on, Adam, I'm almost nine now" look.) Jen was working until midnight and I'm getting old, so I went to bed by myself. An hour or so later, I was nudged awake by my darling wife and asked to come downstairs. I zombie shuffled obediently after her, and my old friend from the Omaha/Lincoln area Jon was there!

If you want to see comedy, surprise somebody after waking them up at 1AM and then watch them try to put together full sentences.

We hung out over the weekend, played some board games (Firefly is fun), and on Saturday Night drug out the old TerraClips terrain and my Mats by Mars to throw down for some Malifaux action, thus inspiring this battle report.

50SS Squatter's Rights
Guild (Perdita) vs. Ten Thunders (Shen Long)

The Good Guys square off with the gray armies of the Thunders

Perdita-Trick Shooting, 7SS
Francisco-Wade In
Enslaved Neph.
(Bodyguard-Francisco, Make Them Suffer)

Shenlong- some upgrades (I don't know Shenlong, and when Jon starts doing the Shen Shpiel on his activation, my eyes kind of glaze over. Sorry.) 2SS
Sensei Yu-Wandering River, Disciple
Amo No Zako
Maybe Some Other Stuff
(Line in the Sand, Make Them Suffer)

I wanted to get my big impressive arch/wall assembled and out onto the board, and in doing so may have basically added the main determining feature of the board. We tilted it diagonally and had the Squatter's Rights tokens running through the doorway. On a podcast I don't remember (please tell me which, if you know), I had heard a pretty solid gameplan to push the Ortegas (including the newly inducted Peacekeeper Ortega) to the squat tokens and push Nino up to the far right flank so he could see down the line and use spotter. The terrain plus the two fifty millimeter markers in the enemy crew was going to make it tough to lock him out of all the strategy points, but I knew how quick we were and planned to get through the door and lock down what I could with the Peacekeeper and Frank. Perdita was going to be back a bit, as Assassinate and Deliver the Message were in he pool. I had wanted to include Brutal Effigy, Hunters, and/or dogs but Make Them Suffer pretty much nixed front-line minions for this game. I was informed after the game that Jon hadn't really tailored his list to the scenario, but rather just wanted to get these models on the board and see what they could do.

Things pretty much went according to plan from the jump, with the Thunders shifting around and dropping some scheme markers and the Ortegas hauling ass up to go jump on the squat markers and hunker down. Tactically, I think we both had pretty good strategies, though my decision to jump out and try to delete scheme markers near Hannah with the Peacekeeper proved somewhat questionable since she deleted suits off of his cast and made it impossible. Jon's trick of the game involved Yu floating scheme markers into position, at which point Hannah would copy the Performer's Seduction spell and blow the markers up to pass out negative flips for Amo to exploit.

Unfortunately, the Jokers basically decided this one for me. We figured that on turn 4 we had seen six of them already, and I think I had caught four of those. The Peacekeeper should have been dead on turn two from the double negative defense flips, but kept hanging on from Red Jokers coming out or his hard to wound/armor combination. The whole combat bogged down on the archway, with the Ortegas scoring for the strategy and the Thunders being more or less locked down. Any damage I did to Amo or Hannah would be immediately healed away by Shenlong after I did it, so I had to drop them in one activation with companion if I was going to kill them and never quite pulled it off. PK was reduced to scrap turn 3 by Hannah, but Perdita and Franc still managed to lock down the archway through to turn four. One of the more important activations was when Jon sent his performer to go get a second squat marker on the left side of the board (Nino couldn't see her, as his view was blocked by 50mm bases) but my Austringer one-shotted her with a timely Red Joker damage flip before she could get it. I managed to score one for Frame for Murder when Perdita got a shot off at a peasant (Jon happily let it die so he could resummon it, do an interact, and net a soulstone) but otherwise I was playing cagey since I didn't know until turn five what Jon's hidden scheme was. Nino's job was to lock out interacts, so he did that but accomplished very little else due to the wall. Abuela did even less, and has me wondering if she looks impressive on the card but is perhaps not as good as I thought. I should have, in retrospect, used "Enfrentate a Mi" to hop out of combat with Amo and kill peasants/performers for Make Them Suffer points, but I did manage to keep him alive for Bodyguard despite being in melee with Amo No Zako from turn 2 forward.

I think the tactics of the game were sound, but I have a hard time gauging the combat results due to the Jokers swinging things all over the place. I didn't catch all of them, but I caught more than Jon and often in critical moments. At the same time, I made some very poor plays at points (Flurrying on a defensive Amo when Hannah was right there, etc.) which I'm going to chalk up to the late hour and helped out the enemy. So, I'm happy with the game, but not overwhelmed with my crew's performance. Knocking Amo or Hannah down to their last handful of wounds and then watching it all get healed back was fairly disheartening. The terrain wall really hurt Nino, and in Squatter's Rights he's invaluable for locking down the markers, so I'll give him a pass on this one. Abuela, on the other hand, did a whole pile of nothing, making this two games in a row. I might give her a rest for a little while and see what else can use those seven points.

At turn five it was 8 to 1. Jon had a few things he could do on subsequent turns (we flipped high enough to keep going) to get some points on the board, but we were both tired and didn't think it would be enough to get the win even with some unlikely flip results, so we called it. Chalk another one up for the good guys.

And, of course, the remodeling efforts have continued. The redrock basing is growing on me, though it sill needs highlights. I like the gray hat on Nino a lot, and Perdita's silver bling pants and hat. Skin tones are still not quite where I love them, but it'll do for now. Also, gotta live your height 1 effigy being almost as tall as your height 2 master.

Who you tryin' to get crazy with, ese? Don't you know we're loco?