2022/01/17

40k: HamWarmer 24.5 Update - v0.4

Here's another round of updated HamWarmer 24.5 PDFs. Testing will continue until I lose interest, civilization collapses, or I achieve perfect balance.

I'm reasonably happy with the results so far. Alternating activation makes the game feel much more dynamic. It's trivial to put together a list.

Patchnotes:

  • Units no longer collide during the Fight Phase, then mutually decide to flee in the Morale phase.
  • Tau do more Tau Things for the Tau Empire.
  • Psykers made slightly less scary.
  • Units can now Infiltrate on Turn 1.
  • Carnifexes move at a sensible speed.
  • Synapse ranges tweaked.
  • Many points cost changes.

And finally, here are a few pics from a test game.

The scenario pit the Imperial Fists against a Tyranid invasion force. Four groups of civilians were trying to escape a doomed spaceport. The Imperial Fists scored points for each shuttle or vehicle that successfully launched, and the Tyranids scored points for each civilian devoured.

Sneaky Genestealers attempt to seize an objective, but the civilians escape just in time, exposing the Genestealers to devastating bolter fire.


Meanwhile, Spore Mines rain down on the battlefield, inflicting a few superficial injuries but ultimately doing little to deter the Astartes.

A Lictor destroys one shuttle, but it is a minor victory for the Hive Mind. The majority of the precious biomass in the spaceport escapes... for now.

2022/01/15

40k: Tyranid Swarm Completed

The Tyranid project I started in late 2020 is finished.

The prospect of an upcoming game (in person! With a real living human!) spurred me to finish the last few squads in two marathon sessions.

Every model in this army was purchased second-hand. The vast majority (including all the 'gaunts) had to be stripped and repainted. Still, the final results are worth it.

The original scheme was inspired by Marco Schulze's Hive Fleet Ouroboros, as seen in Forgeworld's book The Anphelion Project.


120 Termagants, 3 Pyrovores, and 1 Tervigon.

20 Gargoyles, 2 flying Hive Tyrants (one based on the old Forgeworld kit, one in plastic), 3 Lictors, and 8 Zoanthropes (including 6 Alien Brain Larva from Trollforged Miniatures).

60 Hormagaunts, 1 Tervigon.

32 Genestealers, 2 Broodlords, 1 Carnifex.


9 Raveners, 1 Trygon, 1 Slitherer (Red Terror), 3 Venomthropes, 1 Toxicrene, 3 Biovores, 24 Spore Mines, 1 Barbed Hierodule.

3 Hive Guard, 6 Mucolid Spores, 2 Carnifexes w. Crushing Claws, 2 Carnifexes w. Quad Devourers, 2 Carnifexes w. Twin Venom Cannons, 3 Tyrant Guard, 9 Ripper Swarms, 20 Devilgants, 1 Hive Tyrant w. Venom Cannon, 1 Hive Tyrant w. Quad Boneswords, 1 Warrior Prime, 9 Tyranid Warriors.

Painting Recipe:

  • Black primer.
  • Airbrush chitin in Vallejo 71.023 (Hemp). Highlighted up with a few drops of green and white
  • Airbrush carapace in Vallejo 71.075 (Sand Ivory). Highlighted up with a few drops of white.
  • Ink with Vallejo 73.300 (Sepia wash).
  • Drybrush carapace with Pallid Wych Flesh.
  • Touch up chitin with a 1:1 mix of Pallid Wych Flesh and Castellan Green.
  • Tongues and biomorphs in Xereus Purple, Pink Horror, and a dilute layer of Flesh Tearers Red.
  • Teeth, eyes, and biomorphs receive a wash of Gloss Nuln Oil.
  • Base in a 1:1 mix of Vallejo 26.809 Industrial Thick Mud and Vallejo 28.807 European Mud.
  • Touch up base rims.
If you can't paint so hot, paint a lot.

2022/01/10

40k: HamWarmer 24.5 - Tau

HamWarmer 24.5 is my wobbly homebrew ruleset for Warhammer 40k games. Here's my take on the Tau faction.

Adrian Smith

Tau PDF (v.0.1)

The goal of this project, aside from simplifying the rules, is to make every army feel "right". Space Marines should feel like armoured posthuman warrior-knights. Tyranids should feel like a horde of ravening space bugs. Tau should feel like a combined arms force that bends (or outright breaks) conventions.

With HamWarmer 24.5, I'd like armies to rely on positioning and tactics to mitigate weaknesses. Screen. Redeploy. Use allies to tie up advancing units. Or, if that fails, just shoot everything before it gets to your lines.

As usual, testing is ongoing. Alternating activations makes Markerlights (and Tau shooting in general) much more interesting for everyone. Markerlight-heavy units tend to fire first (but can't benefit from their own Markerlights), followed by heavy weapons and seeker missiles, followed by everything else. 

I've also integrated some long-forgotten Kroot units into this list. Daniel Cockersell's sculpts deserve better.

If you spot any errors or omissions in the rules, let me know.

2021/12/26

5 More Stupid yet Robust Games for Video Calls

Back in 2020, I came up with a list of 10 games designed for socially distanced gatherings. Turns out that 2021 isn't much different. Oh well.

(And I doubt next year will be better, because it's 2020 too! Ah ha ha ha! Ah hah. Haaa.)

I used up most of my best concepts in 2020, but here are 5 more games to add to the list. They've all been tested.

Criteria

  • Will work over video chat.
  • Cannot require special items, applications, or elaborate preparation.
  • Cannot rely on the physical fitness of any participants.
  • Are not intellectually challenging.
  • Are sufficiently ridiculous that anyone who gets overly competitive will feel a bit silly, yet still retain a degree of competition.

Items
Each Participant Will Need: Several sheets of paper, a marker, and a pen.
Each Household Will Need: A ruler or tape measure, and an umbrella, rolling pin, or walking stick.

A marker is easier to see when held  up to a camera. Pencils will not work; they're too hard to see. The ruler/tape measure and umbrella/rolling pin/walking stick keeps people guessing and promotes interest in the game. Ooh, what have they got planned?

Participants
The games work with up to 20 people, though anything past 10 results in moderate chaos from time to time.

The person organizing the games should commit to them knowing full well they'll look like a damn fool. The organizer can participate in most of the games.

If you've got one uncle who flipped a card table when they lost a particularly close card game, or an aunt who hasn't had fun since 1952 and has no intention of starting now, these games simply won't work. Arguments should be fun, self-aware and performative, not actual fights. As with any game, you need a certain type of relaxed group.

douglasbot

11. The Folded Creature Game

This game depends on 1. The Category Challenge from last year's list and a separate piece of paper. It should be played before the items on the list are revealed or compared.

Depict the second animal on your list using a piece of paper. You cannot draw on your piece of paper, but you can fold it, cut it, or tape it. You have 90 seconds starting now.

Taking it in turns, show your animal to the group. Everyone writes down their guess. You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies your animal. Anyone who correctly identifies your animal also gets 1 point.

Notes
The joy of the category challenge is realizing you've put yourself in a terrible position. It wouldn't be as fun if the host gave everyone a list of animals. 

Moving your folded animal to assist the judge is technically cheating... but it also leads to lively debate and adds to the fun. Making noises is beyond the pale. You can also try this with the other categories (machines, foods, or musical instruments), though it will be more difficult.

 
12. The Hand Arrangement Game

This game also depends on 1. The Category Challenge from last year's list

Taking it in turns, arrange your hands so that they resemble the third animal on your list. You cannot move your hands once they are arranged. Everyone writes down their guess. You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies your animal. Anyone who correctly identifies your animal also gets 1 point. 

Notes
This game works well with the other categories (machines, foods, or musical instruments). It's basically shadow-puppets, but without the shadow bit. Everyone cheats and wiggles their hands; it's inevitable.

 
13. The Most Comfortable Chair Game

Draw the most comfortable chair. You have 90 seconds. You cannot write letters. 

Taking it in turns, show off your chair. Players vote on the most comfortable chair. The winner gets 5 points.

Notes
Vaguely based on the prize task in Taskmaster S4E7. Soliciting votes (by extolling the chair's virtues, by threats, or by strategy) adds to the hilarity of the game.

14. The Modified Portrait Game
This is a variant of 4. The Portrait Game
.

Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw a portrait of one person you can see on this video call. You cannot use your dominant hand. You cannot write letters.

You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies the subject of your drawing. However, if everyone correctly identifies the subject of your drawing, you get no points.

You have 30 seconds starting now.

Notes
The same suggestions and drawbacks apply, but this variant adds a bit of bluffing and deliberately misleading details.
 

15. The Spaceship Game
This is a variant on 10. The Monster Drawing Game.
 

Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw the spaceship I am going to describe. You have 2 minutes to draw the spaceship, starting from when I start describing the spaceship. I will not stop or repeat myself.

My magnificent spaceship has a spherical crew module and three windows. It has a hydrogen fuel tank and an oxygen fuel tank, and two rectangular solar panels, and one more window, and two round solar panels, and a long truss made of triangles. 

It has one big engine and two smaller engines. And it has a spare oxygen tank. And it has a spider-shaped antenna. And an escape pod that looks a bit like an ice cream cone. And the escape pod has a round solar panel. And it has a cube-shaped cargo pod on the end of the truss.

And it has a really cool name, painted on the side. It was sponsored by the USA and Russia and China and Australia, and it is leaking air, and it is crashing into the moon.

Hand your drawing to someone else to mark. You get 1 point for each criteria your spaceship meets. Arguing is permitted. Maximum of 20 points.


Criteria (1 point each):
[Read out loud and get people to put a checkmark for each criteria met, then collate the totals.]

Spherical crew module?
1 Hydrogen tank?
2 Oxygen tanks?
2 rectangular solar panels?
3 round solar panels?
1 triangular truss?
Cube-shaped cargo module on the end of the truss?
1 big engine?
2 small engines?
Spider-shaped antenna?
Escape pod that looks like an ice cream cone?
Total of # windows?
Really cool name?
USA flag?
Russia flag?
China flag?
Australia flag?
Leaking air?
Crashing into the moon?
Sufficiently magnificent?

Notes
Taskmaster task reference (UK S10E09). Pause while describing the spaceship to let people catch up. Really relish each word.


Final Notes

Designing games for video calls is tricky. The constraints make a lot of traditional games impossible. It's a fun challenge, and I'm sorry this year's list aren't quite as good as last year's. Still, more games means more options. Enjoy!

2021/12/21

OSR: 1d20 Ludicrous Taxes

My thoughts on taxes in medieval-ish settings remain controversial. So it goes. Here are some more taxes.

Paranatural (edited)
States traditionally tax things for two reasons. 

1. To discourage something, as part of a broader policy. The state doesn't want everyone to wear imported fabric when local fabric will do, so imported fabric is heavily taxed.

2. To raise revenue. Raising existing taxes is often difficult. Rates are set by tradition; adjust them and people might rebel. New taxes are safer. The state doesn't care how many windows you have. Windows are just a convenient measurement of building size, occupancy, etc... until people start making buildings without windows. 

The second method leads to ludicrous or counterintuitive taxes. If a thing is legible to a state, it has been taxed at some point. To make a setting weirder (but never as weird as real life), take a thing and imagine how a slightly disorganized state would tax it. The more legible, the better. Counting is very legible. Weight and volume are tricky. Emotions, names, etc. are next to impossible.

People will try anything to get out of paying taxes. I remember a vague quote I can't source that goes something like, "Since the poor cannot pay, and the rich will not pay, the burden falls ever on the middling sort." For more information (and things to argue about), see Seeing Like A State (Scott, 1998) and/or The Art of Not Being Governed (Scott, 2009).

1d20 Ludicrous Taxes

1. Distance Tax
Pay for perspective. The state is shrouded in a fog-like effect. Pay to wear an amulet that grants 10', 50', 100', etc. of clear air. Peasants navigate by ropes and painted floors; the rich display art on billboards. Amulets expire monthly.

2. Language Tax
The state wants polyglots. The more languages you can demonstrate, the less tax you pay. Monoglots have to wear a special hat (and pay for it, of course). With fluency in five or more languages, you are exempt from the salt tax and road tax, but have to spend an hour a week instructing the youth (who will lob spitballs at you with unnerving accuracy).

3. Sword Tax
To discourage violence and rebellion, swords are heavily taxed. Maces, bows, cannons, tridents, etc. are not as heavily taxed. Outlandish weapons proliferate. Desperate tax inspectors search for anything that could potentially be a sword, including cutlery, daggers, elves (around the ears), etc.

4. Gravity Tax
Pay up or float off. Your local Civic Mage pours some gravity into you every Thursday if you've paid your taxes. If not, gravity fades over a few weeks until you drift upwards like an untethered balloon. Peasants wear lead shoes and shuffle. Misers and the elderly bounce around indoors, eating off the top of wardrobes. Maybe the entire state is inverted?

5. Vwl Tx
Xpnsv. Brdn flls mstly n wrtrs. Xprmntl vwls.

6. Left Turn Tax
Inspectors on every street corner directing traffic and collecting coins. Continual urban smuggling. Pedestrians unaffected unless carrying more than 20lbs; relay chains sometimes employed on market days.

7. Stair Tax
A prosperity tax without the need for accurate records (in theory). Promotes sprawling buildings, or, where that isn't possible, ladders and bucket elevators.

8. Hat Tax
Hats (or at least some form of head covering) are mandatory (and vital, given the local climate). Arguments over what constitutes a hat, what materials are allowable, etc. dominate all discussions. Hoods are popular among the peasantry, as they are taxed as shirts. Among the nobility, enormous convoluted constructions or shoes with head-sheltering backs proliferate. Tax inspectors are fed up and have started attacking milliners in the dead of the night.

9. Height Tax
The state wants tall soldier-citizens. The state doesn't have the right to ask a citizen to remove their footwear. I'm sure you can work out the rest. Epidemic of broken ankles and bruised foreheads.

10. Frog Tax
The state hates frogs. If you have a frog on the premises, even a depiction of a frog, or even an item that could be mistaken for a frog by an overworked inspector, expect a very heavy fine. The Resistance operates frog farms, smuggles them into the homes of the loathsome nobility. Frog-hunting terriers are prized.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

11. Colour Tax
Another prosperity tax. How many colours can an inspector see when they look at your house, your clothes, or your place of work? Dyes and paints proliferate. Families choose a shade and slather it on everything. Arguments over hue and tone pit tax collectors against artists and dye-makers. Tax collectors carry painted wood chips for reference.

12. Travel Tax
To discourage emigration and searching for better work (and also to use up a surplus of strong dvangerworm cord). Citizens are assigned a home ring (iron, bolted to the foundations), and are physically tethered to it with cord. Can buy additional 100' lengths of cord for a fee. Cord colours and banding patterns change annually. Streets are a tangle. Doors have gaps. Nobles have carts with miniature houses and portable rings. Anyone without a cord is shunned or mobbed. Foreigners escorted from the border to their residence under armed guard. Lengths of cord lopped off as punishment for crimes. Maximum cord lengths sometimes tattooed on arms.

13. Nipple Tax
A convenient measure of household membership and livestock. Poultry is popular, as are snails. Mutilation doesn't get you out of the tax, but does inspire proverbs and epithets. "Nipplesnipper here doesn't want to pay."

14. Furrow Tax
Fields taxed by furrows, by walking along one end and counting the number of lines. Farmers plough in spirals, ovals, or curls. Same methodology applied to village road layout, with similar results. General cultural distaste for hard edges and terminating lines.

15. Clerical Tax
Polytheism is more-or-less mandatory, since different gods control crop growth, weather, metallurgy, commerce, travel, childbirth, etc. Each quarter, or for a special fee at any time, citizens select the number of gods they wish to invoke and pay the appropriate tax. Priests of various gods are jealous of their own portfolio, yet try to add more domains to increase revenue. Invoking a god without paying the correct tax sometimes attracts divine wrath, as the gods also get a cut (via state-sponsored rites and sacrifices).

16. Infernal Tax
Selling souls (or other services) to a select cadre of devils is culturally acceptable, but in return, the state demands its share. The devils like the arrangement (for both fiendish and economic reasons), and form a shadow bureaucracy. The state trades its share to the devils for additional benefits.

17. Pot and Bucket Tax
Any container that can contain the owner's head is taxed and stamped. Buckets, barrels, pots, and cauldrons develop elongated forms, narrow necks, or simply disappear. Massive wine and oil decanting stations on the border. Pans (with lips shorter than a thumb's breadth) are taxed as shields.

18. Sobriety Tax
Used to maintain the oligarchy. If everyone is inebriated, the sober have a monopoly on clear-headed decisions. Somewhat hampered by the need for skilled labour, the desire of the nobility to get drunk and stay drunk, and constant supply chain issues. Little streams of alcohol trickling from the rocks cause erosion. Burning braziers of herbs in public locations. Probably a bad idea, but all the reform-minded folks are absolutely smashed and can't agree on a course of action.

19. Shoe Tax
Foreign shoes are ruining the state's economy! Foreign nails, foreign leather, foreign fashions! Shoe imports are taxed, forcing most visitors to buy new shoes at the border and ceremonial burn their old footwear (or sell it to eager vendors). Nobles wear additional imported shoes on the end of their regular shoes and display dazzling cabinets of impractical footwear.

20. Tax Tax
A surcharge applied to a household or citizen's tax total, based on the number of taxes paid, the difficulty of collection, and the whims of the tax collector. A tax tax tax is applied to the tax collectors.

2021/12/17

OSR: Unsolved Magic Problems

The wizards of Loxdon College have systematized magic. The world of enchantment is legible, via the paradigm below.

Like any decent paradigm, there are exceptions, and these exceptions keep theoretical wizards up at night. Since Endon is an industrial city, theoretical wizards are mostly ignored unless their discoveries are marketable. "Theoretical" does not nessesarily mean "stays indoors and reads all day" (though it often does), but indicates that the wizard in question does magic for knowledge, not for gain.

Unbreakable Curses

Geas-type spells are simple; a blob of spell-stuff attached to the target's soul, watching, waiting, ready to detach or detonate if certain conditions are met. A thaumic parasite, similar to a curse. The stronger the spell, the more difficult it is to disentangle without damage.  Some curses vanish into the target without a trace. There's no differentiation between the target's soul and the spell, and no possibility of disenchantment.

Some theoretical wizards believe that the soul contains echoes of its past forms, and can (under the right circumstances) undergo a sort of reversion or back-transformation. 

Plot Hooks:

  • We need you to kidnap a vampire.
  • We need you to get rid of this vampire we kidnapped. The usual methods aren't working (and it's probably our fault).
  • Are you willing to take a powerful magical oath with paradoxical wording?


Warlocks and Clerics

No law forbids the study of divine magic, but tradition - and common sense - suggest that such research is unlikely to lead to a long and fruitful life. Putting a cleric in a prismatic centrifuge tends to attract divine wrath. The vague consensus is that the mighty soul-stuff of a great power is directly bonded to a chosen vessel's soul, or dispatches specially prepared spell-creatures at selected times. Some wizards believe clerics are merely delusional wizards.

Plot Hooks:

  • We need you to capture two clerics of utterly opposed deities so we can put them in a prismatic centrifuge at the same time. Any divine punishments should cancel each other out.
  • Some scruffy-looking undergraduate wizards with a butterfly net are following you, a perfectly sensible warlock, around Endon. They think they're being stealthy.
Tomas Honz

Druidic Slow Magic

Druids threaten to destroy towns, move forests, cause floods, or withold rain. Sometimes, but rarely immediately, the threatened effect occurs. It could be coincidence, but a magically induced coincidence is still worth studying. Some effects would require megathaums of energy to produce by conventional spells, yet the druids manage it without spectacle or side-effects. A series of small spells? A massive spell, so large and diffuse that it encompasses any ground-level observers?

Plot Hooks:

  • We need you to get in a hot air balloon and fly over the secret druidic hills during the summer solstice. 
  • We need you to rescue a research team. Their hot air balloon crashed in the hills.

Power Word Spells

The classic power word trio of stun, blind, and kill, are, to some wizards, the archetypal offensive spells. Power word stun is so simple and nonlethal that it's used as a sort of magical lab rat by experimental wizards. 

Efforts to breed other power word spells always seem to fail. The lineages are remarkably stable. Minor changes in duration or effectiveness are noted, but they're well within general spellcasting tolerances. Fifty years ago, Marneus Cleept claimed to have created power word flame, but the only copy perished with him (and his tower). Power word pain attracted some attention until it was discovered to be a lightly modified power word stun.

Plot Hooks:

  • We think we've invented power word forget. You can imagine why that might be an issue.
  • Power word kill appears to only work on creatures below a certain mass or level of self-will. Why should this be so? Take this stack of wands and try killing large and dangerous creatures. Record the results in this convenient red notebook.

Non-Existent Mirrors

Illusionists access the Mirror Dimensions through mirrors and octarine light. Reflective surfaces vary, but have included water, mercury, silver, gold, obsidian, and anything else that will hold a glossy finish.

Some theoretical wizards have noted that matter itself bends light. While observing the wandering stars pass behind the sun, the crystal spheres appeared to waver, as if observed through water. The same effect was noted on the edge of spheres of annihilation, particularly ancient and well-fed spheres. By carefully positioning eight spheres of annihilation (eight chosen more for tradition than mathematics) in a ring, it might be possible to bend a beam of light back on itself, creating a mirror-without-a-mirror. No one is sure what will happen, but it could create an unlimited source of raw magic, open a stable portal to the mirror realms, or turn time and space inside-out like a dusty pocket.

Plot Hooks:

  • Please bring us any spheres of annihilation you find. Will pay top dollar, no questions asked.
  • When we added the seventh sphere, flickering mirror duplicates of objects, people, and spells started appearing on campus. We aren't sure if adding the eight sphere will fix the problem or make it worse. Place your bets. Books close at midnight.

Thomas Mahon

Bonus Content: 1d10 Ways To Get A Bunch Of People Into A Place When Only One Person Is Admitted

Originally posted in a comment on this post.


1. Portable Hole
The old classic. Sew it into the lining of your coat. Party climbs inside with a deck of cards, a few pig bladders full of spare air, and a lot of hope.

2. The Back Passage
A variant on 1. People check for portable holes, you see. So if you want to hide it, you’d better put it somewhere nobody wants to look.

3. Dream Key
A silver key on a chain. Antique, heavy. Insert it into a sleeping person’s ear, turn it, and climb into their dreams. All you need to do is time your exit, avoid detection, and avoid the (very real) dangers inside your friend’s head.

4. Waxenbeans
Eat them to turn into a tiny wax figure of yourself for 12 hours, give or take. Let’s hope the monks don’t discard material possessions before it wears off.

5. The Sigils of Conjoined Destiny
You’ll need two logs, scaffolding, rope, paint, and very trusting friends. Rig the logs up like they’re going to strike a bell, except the bell is you (all of you). Paint the sigils (carefully!) on the ends of the logs, ensuring they’ll collide at the correct alignment. Place your heads at the impact site. Release. For up to a week, or until someone catches on and unravels you, everyone hit by the hammer will be one person for the purposes of... everything. It’s difficult to say if you have one body or several bodies, because you’re also subject to the same entanglement.
 
6. Reduction To Essential Salts
Requires a lot of trust a tolerably dry environment. Not anyone’s first plan.
 
7. The Lover’s Gate
One of those ridiculously forlkoric spells every hedge mage claims to know, but which most can’t cast. It’s an old spell, probably older than language. Calls a willing person to your side no matter where they are, provided you have mixed your blood with their blood (or the folkloric equivalent, if you get my drift). Has the baffling tendency to punch through wards, antimagic fields, glamours, and time itself, but only temporarily. The summoned person slowly feels themself drawn back to their origin. For the first few minutes, walking is easy. Then it feels like walking uphill. Then a run. Then a sprint. Then striving against a hurricane until they are torn away, tumbling, back to whence they came.

8. Living Tattoos
For two fat hogs and a barrel of red wine, there’s a man down Treacle Alley who will put you in a flask and tattoo you onto a person’s skin. You can run around in that warm flat world until someone draws you out with a lodestone. No refunds.

9. Dimensional Shivering
The Illusionists invented this once accidentally. You’ll need two full-length mirrors (and I do mean full length, unless you want to lose your feet), a source of octarine light, and ginger (for the nausea). Fold yourself flat. Your friend then rolls you up and slips you into a cigar or a belt. Unfolding yourself is a trickery process, requiring a quartz prism and octarine light (or, in a pinch, sunlight, though you’re likely to come out greyscale for a few weeks).

10. Thomas Contagion
Anyone who eats a piece of Thomas Infolded can, until their spiritual immune system kicks in, ingest other people, in the same manner as Thomas Infolded. Unless you can hover, you’ll also take on their mass and ailments. Imagine they’re standing on the soles of your feet, but upwards. When your body decides that this is wrong and kicks the interlopers out, expect a lot of mess and turmoil.

2021/12/10

40k: Deconflagrators, Trenchers, and Sump Pirates

Here are a few of the 40k projects I've been working on.
A Deconflagration Wagon and towed Surfactant Cannon.

The Deconflagrators

Fire is a constant threat in any hive or voidship. At the banshee wail of a conflagration alarm, citizens rush to the scene, some to help (by custom, by altruism, from fear of punishment, or for the sensible fear that their own dwellings may be next), some to loot, and some to watch. In organized districts, ancient companies of Deconflagrators arrive to smother flames in toxic foam. Sheathed in coolant-suits, they stride into the fire to rescue citizens, vital documents, or relic-engines. 

Some, corrupt or addled, set fires themselves, either to extort pump-tithes or from boredom. Some worship the Emperor Pyrolyzed in secret ceremonies. But most are hardy, true, and battle-scarred. Frostbite from coolant breaches fuse with blisters from combusting parchment and chem-stacks. Ears and fingertips go first. "A ten-finger jack" is their cant for novice, a "elbow-jack" for a veteran, as their skin all-over resembles the wrinked folds of an elbow.

A Ten-Finger Jack, two Elbow Jacks, and a Hydrant Imperialis.

Deconflagrators shun plasteel, synthrubber, and any material that melts with heat. Iron weave and ceramic are their allies. Some wear wax purity seals designed to burn and release prayers and healing incense. Some cast seals in precious tungsten. 

Positions are hereditary, but deaths are exceedingly common, so foundlings and by-catches are frequently inducted and adopted. Moral hypnoconditioning drives many mad; criminals hoping to escape their past behind an anonymizing helm and a reputation for selfless deeds sometimes find their refuge worse than any prison. Hardened gangers and degenerate mutants still give the Deconflagrators a degree of respect. They care not from whence the fire sprang, only that it dies.

Krieg-Pattern Mk. II Trenching Support Vehicle

Designed to rapidly create a deep and sturdy trench, the Krieg-Pattern Mk. II Trenching Support Vehicle (sometimes known as a Bullock) is based on the ancient Land Crawler chassis. The tempermental machine spirit of the bucket-wheel excavator must be constantly propitiated by Enginseers and lay-brothers alike, giving the entire machine a shrine-like aura in the minds of many Krieg soldiers.

With a single front-mounted heavy bolter and minimal armour, the Krieg-Pattern Mk. II Trenching Support Vehicle is not designed for front-line combat.

Necromundan Sump Pirates

Necromundan Sump Pirates do not exist. There is no law that specifies their non-existence (for any such law would have to refer, however obliquely, to the Sump Pirates), nor does it appear to be a custom or ancient rite. It is simply taken as a fact. Their appearance in an underhive settlement provokes bewildered panic, as if fairies and trolls had invaded the a modern Atheists conference. They can't be here. They can't exist. And yet, here they are, stealing your housewares and moveables, then clambering into the gloom. In their wake, explanations proliferate like fungi on a corpse. The survivors blame anyone but the Sump Pirates, who, of course, do not exist. 

These vehicles are still in the early WIP stages.
Sump Striders are the most common vehicles the Sump Pirates possess. Capable of climbing hive stacks, swimming through ash lakes or toxic ponds, or scuttling along buried roadways, these vehicles allow the Sump Pirates to raid anywhere in the hive.
The enormous Sump Strider is the capital vessel of the Sump Pirates. Some burglars loot upper stories with ladder and rope. The Sump Strider provides a more direct method of horizontal wealth transfer.


2021/11/15

Microfiction + Film Notes: Dune 2021

 

Take It To The Top

 "I'm sorry!" he squealed, holding his hands in the air. "It's not my fault!"

"What to you mean?" I said, doing my best to seem grim and resolved. In truth, my murderous rage had been replaced with a mixture of regret and pity. 

"I... well, there's no easy way to say this," he said, "but I automated my job a few years ago. The quarterly reviews are written by a program that takes your metrics and assigns them sentences from a lookup table. I know I shouldn't have done it, but it was..."

"Motherfucker!" I exclaimed, and he dove for the floor. When he cautiously stuck his head back up, I was already sitting, gun in my lap, giggling away. "You lazy bastard, I knew it! I thought you just copy-pasted old reviews."

"I did at first," he said, apologetically, "but this was quicker. You were a good worker, for what it's worth. Never had any complaints."

"That's because I automated my job years ago," I chuckled.

"That makes sense. Anyway, I wasn't the one who fired you. Not really. I got an email from the Department Manager saying we needed to cut staff, and I picked your name at random. Downsizing, the email said. I guess it's contagious because they fired me next. Look," he said, gesturing around the office. For the first time, I noticed the lack of decorations and the tragically overstuffed banker box in one corner. "It's my last day."

"Well let's go talk to the DM," I said. 

[Three Days Later]

"And it turns out nobody is responsible! Even the people who write the programs don't fully understand the programs. And what I want to know is," I said, waving an admonishing finger, "what you're doing about it! Is this the plan for your creation?"

God leaned forward, stroking His beard with one hand. "You aren't going to like this," He said, "but..."

Silicone Dreams

Silicone! Glass made flesh! A magical substance that bonds metal to glass, glass to plastic, plastic to cloth, cloth to wood, wood to metal. The alchemists dreamed of a universal solvent; instead, we created a universal glue. Secreted into every joint of a modern home, the connective tissue of whatever architecture is calling itself these days. Imagine a world where things had to fit together instead of nestling in a squamous bed of all-engulfing silicone. Cracks sealed, gaps filled, the home becomes a perfect capsule.

Lignin, that miracle polymer, made plants into titans. A few ambitious and temperamental bacteria eat lignin. Termites and cows don't; they're just sacs full of bacteria. That's how we got coal; the lag between lignin and anything that could eat lignin. We talk of rot as if it were some inevitable law, but rot is far more unnatural than rust. 

A tree can remain a tree only so long as it lives, pumped full of antifungal chemicals and healing sap. When defenses fail, rot sets in, and fungi have their day. But silicone will never rot, never be devoured by ambitious bacteria, at least not in the forseeable human future. Give it a few million years. Plastics and resins can burn and have some tasty-looking bonds; they'll be the first to go, but little pellets of silicone will roll around the world long after we are gone.

Or maybe, filled with regret, we will give bacteria a head start via directed evolution and turn them loose on the world. Silicone erodes easily but doesn't rot. Imagine a silicone beach bubbling between your toes. Squishy sand, immortal, vulnerable to light and time but not life. Silicone, reeking of acetone like a dying monk or casting off clouds of acetic acid, stimulating the appetite while remaining implacably inedible. All hail the glass made flesh!


Notes on Dune (2021)

Dune (2021) features concrete, the distant future, genetic memories, Navigators, and musings on human evolution. It had a 165 million USD budget and is 2.5 hours long. Dune is full of noise. Incredible, visceral sounds. Jumps from darkness to blinding light. It's not quite a hostile filmgoing experience, but I did feel like a pea in a tin can by the end of it. At least I could understand most of the dialogue. Cinematography by Greig Fraser (of Rogue One fame), using a lot of the same visual textures (for good or for ill). 

The Last and First Men (2020) features concrete, the distant future, genetic memories, Navigators, and musings on human evolution. It had a budget of [not much] and is 1 hour long.

The Last and First Men consists of a thrumming score, narration, an oscilloscope, and long black-and-white shots of the monuments of Yugoslavia. These monuments are famous on the internet. They're usually presented without context, mislabeled, or given entirely fictitious histories.

Is their use in The Last and First Men appropriate? I think so. The film is about deep time. Using decaying monuments whose meaning is largely forgotten, makes sense. It's hard to argue that they're being exploited for profit; the film grossed less than $10k at the box office.

The Last and First is a quiet, contemplative, hypnotic, arty film. As science fiction, it's as dated as its source material, but so is Dune

It's been a long time since I read the books and I don't have access to a local copy of the film, so these notes might be less coherent than usual.

Et tu, Brutalism?

Are the ships in Dune brutalist, or do they merely appear to be? Can a structure be brutalist without the context of the brutalist movement? Brutalism, as Kate Wagner says, is as much a "big mood" as a formal style linked to a particular period and to specific architects.

I don't know. It's not my area of expertise.


It's interesting that a concrete starship with crazing and pour layers and lumps of aggregate feels right - even intriguing - in 2021, but would have been completely ridiculous in the '70s. "You can't just film a retaining wall and pretend it's a space ship. Space ships are sleek and colourful, or if they're not, they're at least clearly technological."

Dune also has a peculiar blend of high and low technologies. Some ships hover as if by magic. Some require balloons. Some require wings. Some feel like they're steered by holographic controls or mind-links. Some have buttons and toggle switches like a '60s helicopter. It's all a bit odd. Why use flappy ornithropters or hot air balloons when the spice harvester scout pods hover like many indie developers without any visible means of support? The divide is not consistent; the high-resource Sardaukar use balloon-ships. What are the rules of this setting?

Low Gravitas Warning Signal

The film can't decide if it's using formal language or not. Some conversations are stylized, some are full of contractions and generic Hollywood filler dialogue. All the actors are competent, but there's a tiny nagging sense that they're winking at the camera and saying "we're in a film, isn't this all a bit silly".

This is odd because Dune is an immensely serious film. There's no comic relief. I don't mean Whedon-esque quips and banter, I mean anything that relieves tension and allows the film to build momentum again. The closest it comes is landscape shots. If you're going to go full serious, commit! Put the Opera back in Space Opera. Write dialogue that uses the English language to its full extent, and get some classically trained actors to deliver it. They're used to saying very silly things with gravitas.

Containment and Contentment

It would be interesting to see a film that contains its own sequels, in the form of flash-forwards and prophecies. We know how Dune plays out. Revenge. Blood. Triumph. Etc. We might not know the details (and some of those details are fucking weird, but the basic plot is clearly and unambiguously given to us in the first film. We don't need to see the love story; we've seen it. We don't need to see the revenge-murders; we can imagine them them. It's a retelling of the same story. We know how it ends.

It would be amazing (and impossible) for Dune Parts 2 and 3 and Maybe More to take a different direction. Dune (2021) isn't telling a story. It's portraying historical events. Any deviation feels like alt-history. Sure, scenes get cut and details get changed, but it's still Dune, in the same way that the Christmas Carol is the Christmas Carol. But they could do it. They could introduce a twist or two that nobody who's read the books or seen the other films expects. Give the Spacing Guild a subtle plot of their own. Introduce another Great House. Change Paul's attitude towards the Golden Path. Bring back Thinking Machines. They won't (the cowards), but they could.

It's also interesting that this version of the story cuts the CHOAM corporation, or any corporate aspects, out of the script. It's an entirely feudal affair, not capitalism-as-feudalism. There's still talk of profit and loss, but no directorships or all-consuming commercial power. Imperialism is fine as long as it's the right kind of imperialism. Resource extraction is fine as long as it's done by nice people.
 

Ambivalent Schemes

The Atreides are nice to the Fremen because they want to use them. Their strategy is subtler than the Harkonnen burn-and-oppress tactics, but they're not winning hearts and minds for their own sake. They want an army for ambitious political reasons; the Fremen could be manipulated to be that army. The film vaguely presents this as a good thing. Rebellion against the system is only intolerable until the system can utilize the rebellion.

"The Holy war is spreading across the universe like an unquenchable fire. A warrior religion that waves the Atreides banner in my father’s name. Fanatical legions worshiping at the shine of my father’s skull."

It's not their cause. It's just another move in the game of the great houses. Will the sequels address this in any meaningful way? Probably not. Critique the savior-narrative, but still go along with it, because it's fine as long as you feel guilty.

2021/11/08

Sci-Fi: Assorted Gear and Upgrades

Equipment lists are the core of many sci-fi RPGs. For some types of game, a gun is a gun and it does gun things. For others, the mechanical difference between a snub-nosed autopistol and flechette pistol can create interesting optimization problems. If a game is about gear, the gear should be interesting.

In a standard game, you're exchanging one resource for another. Money, time (in the form of rarity or difficulty of acquisition), weight, stealth. Bonuses to accuracy, penalties to damage. Flexibility or specialization. Optimization lies in finding areas where the exchange, or a series of exchanges, creates a favourable outcome at a lower than expected cost. 

Optimization is sometimes pointless; the problems a character is optimized to solve may not be the problems a group encounters.

Most games with gear lists have the basic/obvious tools covered. In long-running game lines (like Traveller or Fantasy Flight Games' Rogue Trader), the same tools might be published multiple times. I think Rogue Trader has three or four different "temporarily fake your own death" drugs; it's a problem-solving tool authors clearly thought players needed.

The tools below are systemless and should fit in any generic sci-fi setting. They're tools I think a group would find useful, or that I'd be pleased to see on a list, but that I haven't seen in a published book. This doesn't mean they're unique (I can't possibly have read every gear list), but at least they're interesting. If I was sensible and had the time, I'd turn this into a 'zine or something.

Vadim Sverdlov

Ranged Weapon Upgrades

Janus-Pattern Rail Barrel

Replaces the barrel of any standard chemical propellant weapon (or equivalent) with a stacked-core railgun, and the weapon’s magazine and/or stock with a high-density power cell. Sabots must be muzzle-loaded, but a single railgun shot when a target is expecting a low-velocity slug can provide an edge in high-staked engagements. Barrels are guaranteed for 3 shots (in atmosphere) or 12 (in vacuum).

Timeshift Scope

Uses proprietary Chrono-Shift ™ Technology to provide a visible superposition of all possible futures, weighted by probability. See where your enemy will be a half second before they move.

Note: prolonged use of Chrono-Shift ™ Technology may result in paranoia, degraded reaction times, headaches, nausea, sixth-finger syndrome, and glaucoma. Chrono-Shift ™ Technology is illegal in the New Netherlands. Speak to your local arms dealer to find out of Chrono-Shift ™ Technology is right for you.


Ammunition

Hammerton-Smythe Non-Lethal Agony Rounds

A mixture of red gelatin, calcite crystals, mild but highly soluble neurotoxin, and foaming agents. Hammerton-Smythe prides itself on realistic fatal wounds with consistently non-fatal effects. Our motto: “Experience Mortality”. Available to fit most shotgun-style chemical propellant weapons, or in a handy 3-shot disposable pistol.

Hexbound Bullets

Thanks to an exclusive partnership with Demon Lord Buxogspan Mulcifent, the soul of any mortal slain with a Hexbound Bullet will be sent to the Hell of Unlimited Scorpions* for a time period not less than one eternity.

*Unless otherwise engaged. Some restrictions may apply. 

Neon Tracer Epoxy

Everyone knows the adage, “Tracers work both ways.” If you’re going to be visible, why not be fashionable? Send a streak of neon goodness. Leave your mark on the battlefield.

Currently Available: Arc, Blood, Obsidian, Prismatone.
Discontinued: Blacklight, Faefire, Glitter, Spiral.

Fellaporter

Suitable for high-calibre chemical weapons or grenade launchers, the Fellaporter is a premium payload for the discerning bounty hunter. On impact, the round opens a 2m spherical wormgate to the paired receiver. Range is 1km in ideal conditions.

For best results, do not use a Fellaporter within 10km of any other active Fellaporter (or other wormgate device). Ensure receiving antenna has a clear line of sight to the target. Do not store Fellaporter rounds near bismuth. Do not look directly at the Fellaporter impact site. Ensure everything you intend to teleport is within 2m of the impact site. 

Kryo-Lok Kapsules

A three-part highly endothermic chemical mixture in a convenient delivery package. Freeze up to a litre of room-temperature water in an instant. Damage against conventional or armoured targets is minimal (compared to standard rounds), but unconventional targets are in for a nasty surprise. WARNING: do not damage a Kryo-Lok Kapsule. Remove the protective casing before firing. The manufacturers are not responsible for catastrophic cascades that may occur if Kapsules are loaded improperly, damaged, heated, or exposed to ultrasonic vibrations.

William Bennett

Ranged Weapons

Tuneable Ray Gun

Now with 7 settings!

1. Radio. Send an aggressive morse code message, track a target’s speed or distance, or temporarily jam a comm-link.
2. Microwave. Gently warm something polar. Scramble badly built electronics.
3. Infrared. Gently heat something.
4. Visible Light. A handy flashlight.
5. Ultraviolet. Illuminate suspicious stains,
6. X-Ray. Extensive exposure may cause mild burns, sterility, or cancer.
7. Cosmic Ray. Completely undetectable by most equipment, and equally harmless to most terrestrial life.

Melding Beam - Quantum Foam Shotgun

Take a failed prototype for a jump-capable torpedo, flip it around, add a trigger, and give it a coat of paint. The Melding Gun opens a wormhole foam between a focal point 1m from the barrel and a point 50m distant. Anything along the line is mixed in sub-mm pockets. The effect is hampered by metal, but is catastrophic to most other materials. Misfires in high-energy environments are tragically commonplace.

Melee Weapons

Posthuman Combat Brick

These handy little devices turned up in a shipment of kapok, and we're selling them at a discount because, quite frankly, they creep us the fuck out. The shipping label says they came from a warehouse that doesn't exist, and that our head receiver was the one who requested them, but our head receiver died in a tragic fusion core accident six months ago and we haven't appointed a replacement. 

ANYWAY! This fist-sized brick of inert metamaterial seems to transform the violent intent of the wielder into direct action. Even the most advanced armour offers no protection. If you can hit someone with this brick, they'll feel it. Available while supplies last, which could be a while as the crate seems to refill itself.

Moebius

Gear

Omniversal Hydroid Headhunting Rig

So simple a feral ghoul-bot could manage it. Simply remove the sealant sticker, apply the base plate to the neck stump, attach the fluid clamps, and flick the green switch. Get answers from beyond the veil. (Answers not guaranteed). Interrogate meat for up to a minute! Works on any reasonably cranial stack from a Core or Core Adjacent species.

Plasticizing Injector

One tube per 100kg of target flesh. For best results, ensure target is completely immobile and all circulation has ceased. Patch any large holes with adhesive plasters (sold separately). Adjust pose. Inject tube(s) near the centre of mass, then stand clear. Remove polymer chrysalis and metabolic debris. Display your new trophy in a tasteful and legally acceptable manner.

Delbond Instant Flashtape

When you want to go from accessorized to weaponized in the blink of an eye, use Delbond Instant Flashtape. At your electronic command, the tape disintegrates into carbon weave and nitrogen gas. Shed an outfit on the red carpet, surprise a partner, or sabotage a drogue chute. 

Facial Recognition Serum

The human mind contains specialized pathways for recognizing faces. A single dose of FRS permanently enhances these pathways. Users will never forget a face. Camouflage loses some effectiveness. Assassins can no longer rely on shadows and mirrors. Use of FRS as a paranoia-inducing toxin is not recommended by the manufacturer.

Neutralizing Powder

Two tubes of dried and pulverized hallowed and unhallowed earth and an automatically adjusted silver mixing bowl and spreader. Each package creates up to 1m3 of ground that is, theologically, neutral territory. 

Rest-Frame Gyro Pack

Prevent, or at least diminish, unwanted acceleration. The faster you move, the faster the gyros spin, converting velocity into heat and noise. While the gyros can't stop you from falling (at 1g, at least), it can reduce impact speed to a manageable level. Extended use may melt the gyros. Temperature warning lights will activate as core temperature rises. Ensure the pack is switched to "inactive" before boarding a vehicle, or set the activation velocity to a suitably high value.


2021/10/06

Film Notes: Old Dark Houses

Magical Murder Mansion is today's (2021/10/07) DriveThruRPG Deal of the Day. I don't usually do sales but it is October, the month of creaking mansions, secret passages, and elaborate deathtraps. (If it's not 2021/10/07, then it's not on sale).

While writing Magical Murder Mansion, I decided to watch as many Old Dark House films as I could find. You know the type:

  • There's a House.
  • It is Old and Dark
  • Some Guests arrive.
  • There is a Murder.

Optional extras include but are not limited to:

The Reading of the Will, the Secret Passage, Disguises, The Creature in the Attic, the Storm, Spy-Holes, the Escaped Lunatic and/or Convict, The Lights Going Out, A Blood-Curdling Scream, etc, etc.

ODH films were (and presumably still are) cheap to make. You need a handful of sets, generic props, a small cast, and minimal special effects (an exterior model and some rain). With a cell phone camera and a couple of lights, you could probably bang out a ODH picture in a couple of weeks. I'm not sure why you would, but it's a thought.

I also prefer black and white ODH films, so Clue (1985) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) are out. The houses don't feel as dark when the film is in colour, and the flaws in set design (and scriptwriting, acting, directing, etc.) are more obvious. ODH films aren't haunted house films. There's no ghost (though fake ghosts might appear) and no explicitly supernatural setup. There's just a house, a storm, and some pressing reason for a few characters to come to sudden inexplicable ends. 

Here are some films that might be worth watching, ordered by release year. Most of them are in the public domain. I've tried to link to the highest quality videos I can find. This isn't an exhaustive list (there are a lot of ODH films).

The Old Dark House (1932)

 Full film (though may not be a public domain upload).

A bit of horror, a bit of mystery, a bit of comedy, and a bit of romance (or at least melodrama). Classic '30s snappy dialogue, wandering accents, pre-code nightdresses, and the origin of a dozen cliches. Not as bloodthirsty as later films, but plenty of tension.

The characters are surprisingly complex. Mr. Pendrel is excellent. His mild sarcastic nihilism has aged well.

Mr. Femm: "Mr. Penderel, I will give you a toast that you will not appreciate, being young. I give you illusion."
Mr. Penderel: "Illusion? Ha, I am precisely the right age for that toast, Mr. Femm."
Mr Femm: "Oh, I presume you are one of the gentlemen slightly, shall we say, battered by the war?"
Mr. Penderel: "Correct, Mr. Femm. War generation slightly soiled, a study in the bittersweet, the man with the twisted smile. And this, Mr. Femm, is exceedingly good gin."

The Thirteenth Guest (1932)

 Full film

Standard period-appropriate detective/cop noir-lite humour and the usual snappy dialogue. Pre-code, but nothing too scandalous. The villain wears a disguise even in their secret switch-throwing/victim observation room, which is a nice touch. Can't properly electrocute people unless you're dressed in a set of old silk drapes.

The Ninth Guest (1934)

Full film

The Ninth Guest predates Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and has a bit more social bite. There's a party (in a swank apartment, not a decrepit old mansion, but we'll let it slide). The guests (redolent with motives) are invited by a mysterious telegram. An elaborate deathtrap snaps shut. If you liked this film, check out The Exterminating Angel (1962), available through Criterion.

There seems to be some sort of ODH guest-based decay curve. We start with a Thirteenth Guest in 1932,  but by 1934, we're down to the Ninth Guest. Which one is the Missing Guest (1938)? By 1943 there's just The Ghost and the Guest left (presumably, an Unknown Guest). Who can solve this Mystery of the Thirteenth Guest? Wait just a few more years for in 1947, a Guest Is Coming; an Unexpected Guest. Can they solve it? No. Nobody can.

Look, I told you there were a lot of Old Dark House pictures!

The Rogues' Tavern (1936)

Full film

Post-code, not particularly threatening, and churned out at a pace that makes a fun counterpoint to Barton Fink. The director (Robert F. Hill) made 16 films in 1936 (!) and two of them were ODH pictures. No soundtrack or ambient noise to fill the yawning gulfs in the pacing. It's not a good film, but it's useful as a benchmark (and a cautionary tale). 

And Then There Were None (1945)

 Full film

The best-known film version of one of the most popular mysteries of all time deserves a place on this list, for the sake of completeness if nothing else. A rival studio rushed out Fog Island, if you want a low-budget version of the same story with the serial numbers filed off.

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Full film

The first film where the characters (at least a few of them) are genre aware. It's an Old Dark House theme party. Several elaborate plots, some highly questionable relationship dynamics, and an exterior set that doesn't match the interior at all. Also, a vat of acid.

The Bat (1959)

Full film

Not a standard ODH picture (in that there's other locations involved and nobody's trapped), but well worth watching anyway. Cornelia Van Gorder isn't a hapless protagonist who faints at a death threat or three. When the film tosses her the idiot ball, she punctures it with a knitting needle and gets down to business. Everyone else panics (and/or dies); she plans. The 1930 version is good too, and has some very impressive camera work for the time.

Dark and Stormy Night (2009)

The final film on the list is a loving parody of the genre. Everyone clearly had fun making it, let alone writing the truly ridiculous dialogue. Skip the trailer and go straight to the film. With this film, the less you know the better.


Have I missed any black and white Old Dark House pictures that are worth watching? Don't bother listing them if you haven't seen them (there are other websites for that), but if you have, post a link in the comments.