Wargaming: Xenos Rampant

Wargaming: Xenos Rampant

Hey, wait, what, you can insert documents into basic WordPress blogs?

Awesome. In that case, here’s Xenos Rampant – futuristic wargaming in Dragon Rampant v1 (opens as .pdf).

Xenos Rampant is an unofficial supplement to Daniel Mersey’s Dragon Rampant, published by Osprey Games. It is designed to allow platoon-level skirmishes in a more advanced historical setting than the official Rampant games. You could probably also play historical 20th-century games (the World Wars, for example) using these rules, or even in the present day, although they are intended for battles waged in a science fiction setting.

It should also be noted that the existence or involvement of aliens is not a required component in such a game; Xenos Rampant is just the coolest title I could think of, and certainly more evocative than my working title of Future Rampant. Also, Lasers Rampant was already taken…

As this is a supplement, rather than as a standalone game, assume that all rules in the Dragon Rampant rulebook apply to games of Xenos Rampant, except for where specifically tweaked in this document.

As a further note, like Dragon RampantXenos Rampant is setting-neutral. You can use models from any manufacturer or setting, in any scale. Personally, I’ve messed around with models from Warhammer 40,000, Warpath, Afterlife, Necromunda, Gorkamorka and various game-neutral ranges.

Obviously, as an unofficial fan supplement, this is a completely non-profit project. Furthermore, any feedback from players is more than welcome, and will be incorporated into the next version.

 

(The header image is a bunch of science fiction cultists – probably Light Infantry or Militia Rabble in Xenos Rampant – painted by myself. The models are Frostgrave soldier bodies, Frostgrave cultist heads and arms and guns from Victoria Miniatures.)

Wargaming -Retirement and the Imperium

Wargaming -Retirement and the Imperium

Yes, it’s another semi-speculative article about the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Skip it if that makes your brain bleed.

A commonly-cited Imperial axiom is: ‘Only in death does duty end.’

This is often taken to mean that Imperial service is like the Mafia: once you’re in, you’re in for life. I feel it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Someone on the 40k For Grown Ups Facebook group asked if anyone retired in the Imperium and I started typing:

Commissar Yarrick retired once. It didn’t stick.

But yes, some parts of the Imperium almost certainly do allow retirement, if you live long enough to enter it.

After all, it’s a waste of valuable materiel to put a lasgun into the hands of a half-blind, arthritic, Dad’s Army soldier, when there are a new generation of Imperial Guardsmen just waiting to replace him. The Munitorum knows better than that. According to the Rogue Trader RPG, when discussing the immense level of redundancy amongst the crew of Imperial Navy ships, people are the biggest resource advantage that the Imperium has over pretty much every xenos species out there. As such, it is possible to discharge soldiers who are no longer combat-effective.

Also, the promise of retirement is a great incentive to do an awful job for awful pay. The Imperium’s had ten millennia to realise that faith in the Emperor might be fine and dandy for the fanatics, but the average Guardsman’s going to need something more tangible to look forward to.

Even when circumstances, casualty rates or poor resource management prevent the rank and file from ever retiring, officers almost certainly have that to look forward to. They’re often Imperial nobility, so they’ve got a place in society to go back to, as well as access to the funds to pay for their own passage there.

The same probably applies to officers in the Navy. The lower naval ranks probably informally retire into less strenuous roles than the labour-intensive duties most common on human voidships, or possibly even actual retirement within the bowels of the ship they call home, after training up their sons and daughters, and maybe later grandchildren, into the position in which they spent their life.

From a civilian angle, retirement almost certainly exists, although what sort of pension scheme awaits the unproductive elderly is more questionable. It should be noted though that workplace health and safety is horrifically poor in the Imperium: one of the Abnett novels makes mention of Administratum scribes having all sorts of face and neck tumours due to spending too long staring at unsafe cogitator screens. Life expectancy in the Imperium probably varies massively, and on some worlds or in some employment sectors, retirement might be nothing more than a dream.

There’s often mention in background (particularly in hive world societies) of semi-tribal work-crews where they’re as much family as they are colleagues. If that’s the case, they’d look after their elderly and infirm (unless the elderly go full-Eskimo Days and wander off into the ash wastes to avoid becoming a burden), and in return the elderly and infirm will look after the young and helpless, thus strengthening their society.

‘Only in death does duty end’ probably shouldn’t be taken too literally. A retired Guardsman can serve by growing crops to feed the next generation of Guardsmen, or by looking after the children of those who work in factories supporting the Imperium’s eternal war effort. A retired Inquisitor can serve by writing his or her memoirs, for the information and education of future Inquisitors and other Imperial servants (for example, Ravenor’s works are renowned by the characters in any stories written by Dan Abnett in the past decade).

That said, there are probably societies that execute those that can no longer serve, because the Imperium sucks as a society.

Finally, no, Space Marines don’t retire. Astartes don’t age at anything like the rate that humans do. Usually, Space Marines die in battle. Those that avoid dying are either still in tip-top working order and thus continue to serve on the front lines, or are so belaboured by old battle wounds that they become instructors for future generations of aspirants.

Wargaming – Why do all renegade Space Marines turn to Chaos?

Wargaming – Why do all renegade Space Marines turn to Chaos?

Here’s another bit of nerdiness for you. Skip it if the psychology of little plastic posthumans isn’t your thing. (Originally posted on my semi-defunct Tumblr some time ago.)

One of the assumptions that occurs in the Warhammer 40,000 Imperium is that everyone who turns away from the Emperor’s Light automatically falls to Chaos. This is at least partially because the wargame tends to divide human factions down the middle: Imperial and Chaos. If you want little human soldiers on your tabletop, they’re waving banners with the double-headed eagle or the eight-pointed star.

As ever, the setting’s deeper than that. There are many places that an Imperial citizen can go if they don’t want to be a part of Imperial society: Canonically, you’ve got mentions of your xenos-loving Tau sympathisers, you’ve got the various rebel enclaves that exist (even if just until the Imperium gets around to stamping on them) and you’ve got human empires that exist outside the Imperium’s borders, either due to a collapse of Imperial rule in a given area, or because the Imperium’s expansion since the Age of Strife has never actually reached them.

And then there’s Imperial society itself. You don’t have to be a loyal Imperial citizen to live in the Imperium. You don’t have to believe in the divinity of the God-Emperor of Mankind. You’ve just got to look like you do. So long as no one twigs that you don’t give a damn about a dead guy on Terra, and you go to chapel just enough that the preacher doesn’t get suspicious, you can exist as a quiet atheist for your entire life. (c.f. Christianity, heresy, and the casual nature of belief in many areas of medieval Europe, which is, of course, the analogue upon which the Imperium is built.)

Ever wondered where the mercenaries hired by the bad guys to kill an Inquisitor or an Abitrator or other representative of the Emperor come from in a theocratic setting? These are examples of Imperial citizens who don’t actually believe in the God-Emperor, or at least don’t associate it with the Imperial regime in the way that any ‘true’ Imperial citizen would do.

In short, humans are capable of not worshiping the Emperor without automatically embracing the Dark Gods.

Space Marines, though, they’re a different kettle of fish entirely. I think it’s supported in canon, although I can’t remember where it was written, if it is, but they have an inherent vulnerability to Chaos.

But the Adeptus Astartes are the paragons of humanity, the strongest in body and mind, right?

Not really.

Religious conversion tends to come along when everything in your life is falling apart. It’s a way of coping with trauma without going completely insane. This applies to Space Marines as well as it does you or I.

Humans can lose everything, but pick up the pieces and carry on. As already described, they can lose their faith in the Emperor quietly, without it ever affecting the rest of their lifestyle or sense of identity, and without feeling the need to turn to the Dark Gods. Astartes, though, are as inhuman in their minds as they are in their bodies.

They’re programmed from childhood through indoctrination and hypnosis to be obedient, to think of their Chapter, their primarch, their commanders and the Emperor above all other concerns. These are the anchors that hold Space Marines in loyalty to the Imperium.

When a Marine leaves his Chapter, for whatever reason, three of those four anchors are cut free. Only his love for the Emperor is left.

So long as that remains intact, I’d suggest that the renegade Space Marine will stay loyal to Imperial ideals, even if not to the Imperium itself. He will set himself up as a guardian for a remote colony, or set off on a combat-pilgrimage through a wartorn area, or hook up with the Inquisition or another Imperial body, or set himself a specific quest to fulfill his need to serve the Emperor without the usual chain of command to command him and support his emotional needs. (Yes, Marines have emotional needs, just like normal humans. They just tend to be a bit more combat-oriented than the average homo sapiens.) Potentially, entire Space Marine formations could go down this route without ever succumbing to the lure of Chaos. This is supported in canon in at least a couple of Black Library novels.

Most Space Marines don’t worship the Emperor as a god, possibly because their doctrines date back to the time of the atheistic Legions. If a Marine becomes disillusioned with the Imperium, he can blame the petty mortals that have corrupted it from the Emperor’s vision of the Great Crusade, and his loyalty to the Emperor remains intact and all is well and good.

Alternatively, he can blame the Emperor himself and decide that the Man In The Shiny Chair isn’t worthy of his loyalty. Similarly, if the Space Marine is from one of those Chapters that worships the Emperor with a religious devotion, there’s always the chance that, in the face of losing everything else in his life, he will also lose his faith.

Either way, that’s the fourth anchor gone. The Space Marine’s psychology drifts out of its safe harbour and into a storm.

However it happens, with that fourth anchor cut loose, the renegade Space Marine has nothing holding him to his old life within his Chapter. All of a sudden, there’s an emptiness within him that has never been there before. This is an emotional and psychological crisis that a Space Marine should never have to experience, and has no training or experience in how to cope; this is way beyond the scope of any doubts he may have expressed to his chaplains before his exile.

He needs a new anchor, something to keep his sanity in check. Something powerful, something that commands loyalty. Chaos is the most obvious one of those. He’s been trained from recruitment to hate Chaos, to revile the traitor and the heretic as being unworthy of life, and to fear the power that Chaos has over the weak-minded. However, the context of all this hatred is the binary opposition between the goodness of the Emperor and the evil of Chaos. The Emperor’s purity has already been violated in the renegade’s eyes, so how, in that case, can the renegade Marine continue to hate Chaos to quite the same degree as he once did?

It probably won’t happen overnight, it may take a hundred years or more, but that emptiness in the Space Marine’s soul needs filling somehow, and the Dark Gods are always out there, ready to accept his allegiance. His hatred fades to the point where Chaos simply doesn’t seem like the worst option.

And, the joy of this (from the point of view of a Chaos follower) is that it’s not the inherent weakness of humanity that turns Space Marines to Chaos. It’s the Imperium. The Imperium put this need for service and obedience into the Space Marine, and it’s that factor that leads to renegades falling to the dark side.

As is so often the case in Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium is a tragedy. It is its own obsessive need to keep the Astartes under control that spawns new enemies.

Wargaming – The End of the 41st Millennium?

Wargaming – The End of the 41st Millennium?

(Here’s another thing about me. I also play tabletop wargames and do some roleplaying. I am a nerd. Also, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol sucks. It’s awful. It’s a truly dreadful book, and you will never, ever get to the end of my chapter-by-chapter critique of it, because I abandoned reading it – something I almost never do – and shoved it back in the recycling box at work for some other poor sap to endure. You may, if I feel cruel, get the notes I did make.)

Dave Kay at the Scent of a Gamer blog posted an article commenting on the current state of play in the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop miniature wargame. In summary, it’s becoming pretty clear that something big’s about to happen with the metaplot and, thusly, the shape of the game itself. Games Workshop, the publishers, did something very similar a few years ago with the Warhammer fantasy version of the game, after its sales kept falling. There’s no indication that that’s been happening with 40k, but there’s been a definite bounce in fantasy sales since it was re-released as Age of Sigmar.

Anyway, I posted an overlong comment on that article, so I figured I may as well post it here as well, for posterity. Here goes:

 

If they’re running a Warhammer-style End Times event (and it’s looking more and more likely, with such stalwarts as Fenris getting popped and the major strategic shift that is the fall of Cadia, plus the constant rumours of primarchs – Magnus never left, so he doesn’t count), I’m torn between what I’d like to see in the rebooted setting.

Both old Warhammer and 40k have beautifully detailed settings, that have been written about and fleshed out over decades. WFRP is my favourite roleplaying game, ahead of even Delta Green, Call of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies, and I’ve bought nearly every book from the 40k RPG ranges without actually running anything other than a few campaigns of Dark Heresy.

But what to expect from the new setting? Will it be an advance in the plotline, or a complete reimagining?

A few thoughts of my own:

1) Advancement in the plot – The Imperium has never been completely static. Even aside from the Horus Heresy, there have been ages of expansion and change: the Age of Apostasy and the crusades of Lord Solar Macharius, for example. If 40k is to emulate the ‘hope’ theme of Age of Sigmar, then it needs to start a new period of expansionism, rather than its current state of slow, but steady, crumbling under relentless assault from all sides and within. Both of the post-Heresy hope spots that I’ve mentioned featured some great hero, Sebastian Thor and Macharius, and I suspect if GW go down this route, that hero will arrive again, essentially as the Emperor reborn in the Sigmar-Valten kind of way (but hopefully without him allegedly being murdered by his own side, and the skaven possibly getting framed for it, as awesomely Warhammer-dark as that was).

2) Revert to the Horus Heresy – This is a massive, radical change, but GW have started taking Forgeworld’s niche idea for running Astartes-heavy games in a historical period for 40k and turned it into plastic. With the two Heresy-era board games, they’ve essentially released multiple plastic kits in their main game range, and even released the first ever models of the Sisters of Silence, and the first Adeptus Custodes since the 1980’s, for a spin-off written and produced by one of their subsidiary companies, which can’t even be used without buying Forgeworld products. We’ve already seen how the Deathwatch and Genestealers got a ‘trial run’ of sorts with Overkill, before the full weight of the GW machine was thrown behind them in full army releases. Yes, I know there’s a long, long lead-in time that overlapped, but sales would still have indicated how much promotional effort it would be worth putting behind the new armies, rather than publicising X other release instead. But it does seem that the Horus Heresy has captured imaginations. It’s the single-longest serialisation of novels that the Black Library have ever done, which then spawned several other ‘in-setting historical’ Black Library series, including the epic Beast series. Space Marines are, and always have been, the most popular single faction within the game, despite being a minuscule portion of the Imperium’s incredible military power. Meanwhile, the Horus Heresy is about a civil war executed largely by, and motivated by the egos, agendas and prejudices of, Space Marines. It’s not impossible to imagine that the next edition of Warhammer 40,000 embraces the power armour love and sets itself back to the 32nd Millennium, where the Imperium was a more optimistic place, and is struggling to maintain that optimism in the face of not only the increasingly-Chaos-tainted enemy, but also its own desperation-induced militarism. Existing Astartes models in Mk VII or VIII armour could be easily hand-waved by rewriting setting so that that style of armour did actually exist back then, but was rare, and not releasing new models in those style of armour. Imperial Guard models could be rolled into the Imperial Army without much difficulty. The Adeptus Mechanicus rolls even more easily into the Mechanicum. The difficulty with a Horus Heresy reset is that, without rewriting large swathes of the non-Imperial side of the setting (which isn’t impossible, of course), certain factions would either cease to exist or be difficult to include. The Eldar would be different, probably something that combines the Craftworld, Dark and other varieties into one faction – something touched upon in the article as being what happened during the Warhammer End Times – even if those different factions had varying ideologies about how to cope with the new horror of Slaanesh’s birth. The orks would continue as normal, and have the Beast to look forwards to as well. Necrons have always been there, and can be rewritten to be waking up then as well. The Tau? A harder sell, but there’s no reason why they can’t be shuffled back in time (metaphorically) and reaching their interstellar expansion era at the same time as the Great Crusade. Tyranids and Genestealers? Grey Knights and Deathwatch? Adepta Sororitas? (Sorry, ladies, but at least you got Celestine for the Time of Ending.) The setting could be rewritten. The Imperial Agents list could well become a proto-Inquisition, set up to deal with the newly-growing threat of Chaos. And Chaos? The Chaos Space Marines are simply late-Heresy rebels who’ve given themselves over to The Eightfold Path.

3) Reboot from scratch – The 40k setting has had its time. Let’s rewrite it from the start. Keep certain elements: the Imperium, possible the immortal God-Emperor (or make it hereditary if we don’t want to remain stagnant?), the threat of Chaos, orks being a thing, eldar as a hangover from a previous great civilisation, but start the rest with a blank slate. What is the Imperium? Fascism was a thing in the 80’s, both as living memory from the war and post-war era and as a satirical swipe at Thatcherism and the National Front. And then the fascism of the Imperium became cartoony, bowdlerised. Compare the Imperium of the Ian Watson Jaq Draco novels with the way it’s presented in today’s Black Library novels: it’s not nice, but it’s filled with great heroes who fight against evil, so it’ll turn out fine.Even the Inquisition are heroic, even if only because Chaos is so much worse. But fascism has gotten itself a bad name these days. (Did I seriously just write that sentence?) Not dipping too deeply into real-world politics, but it may be advisable for GW to edge away from glorifying fascism (even satirically) for a little while, just in case the world does turn into a complete dystopian nightmare over the next few years. My alternative theme for the Imperium? Embody it in the Imperial Guard, who arguably got their name from the era anyway, and model it on the Napoleonic Wars. Expansionism, large armies of lots and lots of infantry models backed by artillery and cavalry (tanks, but also those rough riders that everyone loves but no one fields). Basically, take the aesthetic stylings of the Imperial Navy officers, and put them onto the infantry; remove the 20th-century fascism and replace it with 18-19th-century imperialism. Maybe have the Astartes as Roman-inspired, what with being Legion-inspired anyway. Perhaps get rid of the small Chapters and borrow the Legion-style of Astartes from the Horus Heresy era. Beyond that, I’ve no real thoughts. It’s possible my entire thinking in this direction would be satiated by a single box of Napoleonic Astra Militarum infantry that I’d never actually get around to starting an army of.

Personally, I’d like to see 2) or 3), rather than just a straight continuation – without drastic changes to the setting, it would turn the Time of Ending into just another summer campaign.

But the big change (again, -if- anything changes) is going to have to be the rules. The Warhammer fantasy rules worked pretty well, probably mostly due to the constraints of a regimental game. But 40k’s rules are a shambolic, bloated mess. I’ve ranted about this many times elsewhere (I think including in a comment on Scent of a Gamer), so I’m not going to go into great depth, but every time I pick up an alternate set of modern or near-future, or sometimes even fantasy, wargaming rules, I’m struck by how much better, more simply and with fewer rules in the rulebook, these games manage to replicate the things that the 40k rules also allow. Many of these games even have concepts that 40k has either never tried, or never managed to successfully implement, such as storming buildings, suppressive fire or explosive attacks that don’t need large discs of card or plastic to work out which individual models are hit.