Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Scenery in 40K - why are we fighting in Sherwood again?

Ok, look at those two pics (concept art for Avatar) - just looking at them evokes the feeling of another world - the colours, the strange shape of the plants - similar but not quite right, the lighting. Instantly it transports you to another world.
You can see that this is an area of dense jungle, ancient in age (by the size of the trees), and is unspoiled by man.

This one, also from Avatar, gives pause - is it a strange natural formation? Some relic of a lost culture? A temple, a forum, a prison even?

This is just plain cool.

And here are the guard, waging war on... Colorado maybe? Meanwhile the dastardly Tyranids have invaded...

Louisianna bayou? Cairns? Lots of bugs there.

Now the purpose of this isn't simply to bash GW's scenery range but ask what we, as gamers and modellers, are doing to fix the lack of interesting scenery.
I don't mean things like an awesome objective marker or a detailed ruin, I mean thematic tables that evoke the alien worlds that exist in the 41st millenium.

Most tables I've seen can be divided into a few simple categories:
1. Scattered bits of trees and scrub, a few hills and a couple of random ruined buildings.
2. Barren moonscape of craters and boulders.
3. Aquarium plant jungle.

These all offend my sensabilities on different levels:
1. Ok, why are there the random remains of large buildings in the woods/jungle? Where's the remains of the roads? Shouldn't the buildings be overgrown with plant life?
2. Almost always red or grey.
3. Always green.

People take great pains to ensure a cohesive look to their army, it's one of the basic tenents of painting a large tabletop force really. But when it comes to th eboard all to often people neglect scenery as a chore, or just throw together a board with whatever is lying around.

What causes this? I have mentioned GW's fairly uninspiring terrain already, but I don't think it is to blame. For instance GW will only show the stuff it makes (now it makes it), and only carries a limited range as there are companies dedicated to making scenery so it would be fruitless to compete.
Similarly if they were to make unusual scenery it would just mean I'd add category 4 to the list above - default alien world made of nothing but ten lots of GW's alien scenery kit.

So why do people always resort to the generic woodland/jungle board? Personally I think it has a lot to do with ease of construction. Model train stores are one of the biggest suppliers for the wargaming industry, and as most model train layouts are based on Earth (plus a few in Wales) the materials are all very much like western Europre from the German brands and the London / east coast area for the UK suppliers (LNER being the most popular area). North American suppliers offer desert and winter supplies more readily, but it's all very terestrial.

So what to do with what we've got?

Looks like Earth, but the rather distincitve building makes it seem very far from here. Add a few more butresses and a millon skulls and it could be a 40k building.

Similarly the architecture here is not like that seen on Earth, with the impossibly suspended pillar and its style. Creating unusual or distinctive buildings is a simple way to make a battlefield out of the norm (and no, I don't mean assembling your Manufactorum and Bassilica kits as not-ruins).
The idea is to create a whole table theme rather than a table made of isolated pockets of terrain.

This may be due to my preference for narrative gaming than randomly rolling scenario. But even then having a table that... looks like something is preferable. Picture a table like my point #1 above - a buliding in each corner, a few knots of trees, a low hill slightly off centre... we've all seen them.

Now picture a table with a single building to one side with a series of low walls around it making a series of pens. Further afield are piles of machinery and large tractor wheels. Nearby is a water tower. The rest of the board is scrub and bits of farming equipment.

Battle over an abandoned (or is it? maybe that's why the defenders are defending!) farmhouse or a battle over... D3+2 objectives? I know which I'd prefer. Same mission but giving the table a theme makes the battle have meaning and a story without really trying.

It doesn't have to be as dramatic as a massive, detailed building - thematic terrain is pretty simple to make:

Behold the desert terrain of my super cheap creation. None of it is finished yet, but it gets the point across. The building is pretty standard, as is the water tower - but it gives the sense of people actually living there. The two plant pases on the far left and right are simply air drying clay stuck with pipe cleaners. The big racist head at the back cost me 20 cents.
The stuff in the middle is air drying clay and sculpted in an afternoon. In the pinkish clay there's a skull and eye (made by my girlfriend) and some mesa like rocks. The darker brown has the faded remains of an ancient civilisation - a worn statue and obelisk, and a sunken statue (with a seperate piece to show its hand energing from the sand.

The most expensive part of this is the building, which cost $16 from, though I bought the sets so it was even cheaper.

Not all alien scenery has to be so totally removed from the norm:

Standard green world, but the giant, twisting tree is very sci-fi. It could easily be made using a few small branches from the garden.

They do come in other colours people! Another idea is to try some different lighting - replace the bulbs in a couple of lamps with blue or green ones to give the battlefield an otherworldly tinge.

Also don't be afraid to try and replecate some crazy idea you've seen:

Floating rocks held down by chains? No problem!

There will be a third chain on the opposite side from the others. This is made from coathangers, chains from dollar store novelty necklaces, air drying clay, foam spheres from a sewing store, pollyfiller and a bit of trial and error.

It looks impressive, but game wise doesn't provide a game winning strongpoint or anything:

So even if you do create a green board don't be afraid to jazz it up - throw in some weird statues or some funky looking plants. And when setting out a board don't be afraid to sacrifice fairness by making an asymetrical layout that makes it look like your guys are fighting over more than randomly generated points - it's what I try to do and it makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Yet More De-Blood Angeled Terminators + Hybrids

Finally finished another pair of Terminators, so now I only have three left from the Space Hulk box.

Trooper Veteran Vinko "Vulture" Bodan. Her armour is partly black due to being a member of the Field Police.

Here you can see the Field Police badge on the back of the power fist. Field Police come under the control of the Chaplainry, and Chaplains are drawn from their ranks. They enforce discipline off duty, and in the field function as shock troops to secure landing zones and co-ordinate transports.

Trooper Veteran Thu "T.V." Vukasan. Converted from the thunder hammer Sergeant from the box, with a helmet from the normal terminator kit. I also moved his arm into a more action-packed striking pose. The script on his chest (ferox) means 'defiant'.

Detail of his shield. Arcus is latin for rainbow. The Crux is covering where a large blood drop used to be.

The whole gang all painted up, with a few extras.

Still waiting to be painted. You can see here that I have added helmets to the two Librarians and the power sword Sergeant (who is going to be a Captain).

I also recieved my Genestealer hybrids the other day, and they need painting up. It will be a bit of a shame as the Magus and the hybrid on his left are very nicely done. But the colour scheme doesn't match my genestealers, and their bases are not very inside a spaceship-y. The hybrids of course need arms...

Fortunately my brother used to collect guard, so we have huge quantaties of RT era guard arm sprues and weapons. Not pictured is the tons of 2nd ed pistol sprue and close combat sprue weapons. The Brood Brothers were normally shown with the Ork/Chaos weapons, but I don't have those and there work just as well. Pictures to come!

Friday, January 15, 2010

On the topic of the Shadowsword variants

The Shadowsword kit comes with six possible variations (datasheets on the GW site here). Each has various sponson options, mostly lascannons and heavy bolters, but a few have some specialist kit (noted ineach entry). I'm not discussing points as there is very little difference with upgrades, at least at an Apocalypse level. Here are my thoughts on them individually (in alphabetical order):


This beasty is one of the two that can carry 25 dudes (ten of whom can fire) but still has a nice big gun. The gun on the Banehammer has a good 60" range, Str8, AP3 and a 7" blast, so good for annihilating enemy infantry. It is also Ordnance so can be used against armour with some reliability.
It also features the nifty earthshock ability, where a 4D6 "size" (it isn't clear on diameter or radius, but most measurements seem to be diameter) area becomes difficult terrain, with one less dice for the test. It is also dangerous terrain for vehicles.

Quite useful as a mid line support vehicle - use the cannon to tie up enemy units and load the boot with heavy weapons or other support assets.

Rating: 7/10


The artillery version of the Shadowsword, the Banesword features the Quake Cannon as its primary gun. This beast fires a barrage 24-180" away. That's a Str9 AP 3 10" ordnance barrage. It's a 10" blast so even the guard can hit something, and if you feel insane you can still fire at things directly under 24".

Depending on the table layout you use the Banesword can be very, very good or very, very, mediocre. If it is a nice big table and you have some cover you can park this sucker behind some nice big cover and blow up scads of infantry and light vehicles with it - you're still hitting with a Str5 hit with the main blast, and get to re-roll the armour penetration dice don't forget.
If it's a long thin table or not much cover the long minimum range will hurt, as the main benefit of the Quake Cannon is its indirect fire ability.

Rating: 8/10 or 6/10 depending on the table.


The Doomhammer instantly wins point for being able to bring dooooom to your foes. Also, it has liquid hot mag-ma.

The other 25 body transport, the Doomhammer is a hybrid Shadowsword/minibus. The Magma Cannon fires 60", with Str10, AP1 and a 5" (large) blast. Again it is Ordnance, so the primary duty here is anti-armour - Land Raiders, other SHs, GCs etc.
However it bears the Imperial Guard's wonderful BS of 3. With the smaller blast it will be harder to hit a target at all let alone with the centre, unless you're firing at something big.

The Doomhammer has a few good parts, but suffers for trying to do too much without doing anything particularly well. Which is a shame as it has the greatest comedy potential.

Rating: 6/10.


The grand-daddy of them all, the original superheavy that isn't the Baneblade, the Shadowsword exists purely to kill armour, and big armour at that.

The Shadowsword's Volcano Cannon is the smallest of the guns to bear that name. It has a massive range (120"), but that generally doen't come into play. Its main drawcard is StrD - the only pure Guard vehicles to have it I believe. Compared to titan VCs, the Shadowsword has the smallest blast at 5" (large blast). Coupled with the IGs middling BS, it is a bit more risky than the Titan mounted weapon systems to score a hit.

The Shadowsword does have the advantage that it comes with integral void-shield busting lascannons, but the BS3 firing them strikes again. Basically only take a Shadowsword if you know there will be other SH vehicles to kill, otherwise there are things that kill tanks better for cheaper.

Rating: 8/10 or 4/10 if they don't have superheavies.


"It has All Power to the Weapons!! It has 30 shots!!!"

But, the cynic replies, it has Str6 and BS3. I have ranted against the VMB before, and this does not change when it fires more with a lower BS. The damage output is lowered by the BS to counter the high rate of fire so there is no significant change in kills.

Also, when firing 30 times you can't move. So the mighty assault vehicle can't move anywhere, and even if it does it only moves 6" a turn. You can assault out of it, but it's not likely to get anywhere anytime soon.

There is a popular idea of cramming 20 or so heavy weapons teams in the back. This often falls down as few people have 20 weapons teams, or if they do they need them for their squads. If you want to do something that stupid you'd better have the models to back it up.

Suffers similarly to the Doomhammer - an assault vehicle that moves slower than infantry (no run move), and a massive gun that's not very good at killing things. The best use anyone can come up with is a mobile pillbox. When the best use for a superheavy is as a bunker for other things that can actually kill things, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Rating: 3/10 - yes, I have actually used one in a game. It's great as a tank or movable building, but as a superheavy it fails miserably.


One of the oldest variants on the Shadowsword hull, the Stormsword carries no troops, just a giant assault gun.

The gun has a short range (36"), but a massive Str10, 10" ordnance blast balances that out. It also ignores cover so you can kill anything nearby with impunity. Good against all infantry and a large number of vehicles, the cannon only suffers that you need to get in close.
In that regard it is the inverse of the Banesword - if you play on massive boards you will need to flank march to get the best out of it, but on a close in board it will murder your opponents.
Downside is that the 10" blast doesn't care who it hits, so friendly infantry need to be wary of standing too close.

The default sponson loadout is a bit odd, with heavy flamers in place of lascannons, due to the Forge World version coming with them by default. You have to pay points to upgrage to lascannons, and to upgrade the hull heavy bolter to twin linked. However I'm not so sure that's a necessity (maybe the hull bolters) as the Stormsword is designed to be in the thick of it killing the bejeezus out of the enemy - the goal of any superheavy.

Rating: 9/10, or 4/10 on a sparse map.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

De-Blood Angel'd Space Hulk Terminators pt 3

Or part 4. Or whatever, look at the pics ;)

1st Lieutenant Aubin "Outlaw" Hawkins:

Company Sgt Gunnvarr "Gunner" Yadiz:

(I need to repaint the genestealer as it doesn't match how I ended up doing them)

Trooper Vet Jürgen "Curly" Ratna (1st Co Standard Bearer):

Trooper Vet Coeus "Eggs" Hellad:

Trooper Ver Teng "Target" Takis:

Technical Troopers Allison "Stone Cold" McKenzie and Ayden "High Voltage" Cass:

Chaplain Ilsa "Sky Pilot" DeSilva:

(I got rid of the skull head as I didn't like it)

Shoulder detail:
(the shoulder was badly cast and missing the Crux Terminatus)

The Marines are all undercoated black, basecoated Regal Blue, inked black, highlighted Space Wolf Grey. The stripe colours are Skull White, Golden Yellow, Blazing Orange, Red Gore, Goblin Green and occasionally Regal Blue and Hormagaunt Purple.
In addition to the helmet stripes the marines have the stripes on the back of their power fists. Additionaly the Lt and Sgt have personalised heraldry on thier shoulder guards (the Lt on his power fist also).

I've still got 16 more Terminators to paint...