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6/23/2017

Role-playing Rants: was Warhammer Fantasy "too dark" for its own good?

Most of the old and middlehammerers know the evolution of Warhammer Fantasy. From the grim and down-to-earth, but also absurd fantasy game, it evolved into... Yeah, into what exactly?

I won't pretend to be one of the "old guard". Sure, in my youth I used to play WFRP 1st edition from time tom time. It was an extremly popular game in Poland, still is really. However these first forays into the Old World are shrouded in the mist of childhood and obscurity. I don't remember too much about these games, except for the fact that I've once played a Zoat. Good times.

Anyway, I had a chance to re-read the 1st edition rulebook, some time ago. Aside from a nostalgia trip, I've noticed how different the arts were, from the latter incarnations of this game system. Skulls were few and in between. People were actually smiling, while those in the 2nd edition books look, like they have a constant constipation. The atmosphere was just... fantastic. In that it resembled a typical fantasy world, but with a historical twist. Meanwhile, the 2nd edition arts are...

Ahhhhh!!!
Yeah, they are almost all like that. Don't get me wrong, I love the 2nd edition of Warhammer Fantasy, but to be honest, very few artworks really work for me in this game. While some of them are taken straight from WFB's army books, mainly those of 6th editon Fantasy Battle, whith which WFRP 2nd shares a bond, the new arts are just... goofy. Goofy and really boring. There are skulls everywhere. Literally - on the buildings, on the clothing, on weapons. Hell, there are probably skulls within skulls with skulls on them. You think that I'm joking? No way.

Both the WFB 6th and WFRP 2nd were trying too hard to become like 40K, which started to eclipse its older brother at the time of their popularity. In 40K there are skulls and cherubs and weird shit everywhere, but that is something to be expected of that setting. Cathedrals in space? Sure, why not? Now imagine if in Warhammer Fantasy there'd be galleons with cathedrals on them. That would just be silly now, wouldn't it? Still, Games Workshop might not have put churches on ships, but they tried. Oh, how they've tried to do things like that...

Actually both the WFB 6th and WFRP 2nd editions recieved quite a mild treatment in the whole
"grimdark wannabe" process. Sure the omnipresent skulls were kinda annoying and character's faces were looking kinda silly, as well as the decrepit look of almost every building and dress in the Empire, but here and there one could still see the old Warhammer look, the down-to-earth fantasy game, without any pretence and with just the right ammount of dark humor.

Then the 8th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle came. Oh sweet Sigmar...

Where do I start? How about here?

is he riding through the Warp?
Or here?

Tonight, on World of Warcraft...
Or maybe here?

"One cannot fire rockets, when the floor is chaos" ancient sigmarite proverb
This is not gritty. This is not dark nor is it grim. This simply looks dumb and not "so bad that it's actually fun" kinda dumb. It looks dumb. It looks as if a 6-year old, who just read his first, "serious book", decided to sculpt a wargame terrain piece. There is nothing funny about it, there is nothing intimidating or scary about it. It looks like a shitty, cheap-ass toy and the worst part is that all of the 8th edition looked like that. Fake as hell, trying too hard to imitate 40K, a completly different game with a different atmosphere and style. Give me a break.

When the WFRP 3rd edition came to stores, it generally carried on the style of the wargame on its pages. While the artwork was nice and of a much higher quality, then in the previous two iterations of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it also lacked... something. Perhaps it was the continous absence of smiles on character's faces, or the ever present doom and gloom, presented on every art piece, I don't know. Certainly the portrayal of the Old World by FFG didn't helped. I recall a story from the 3rd edition about a village struck by a nurglite sickness which forced them to dance until death claimed their exhausted bodies. Sisters of Shallya came to help the poor people, by enacting a powerful ritual that cleansed them from the plague. Their joy from helping others soon vanished, as an Empire army, led by a zealous Warrior Priest, arrived and decimated the village, killing every one of its inhabitants. Grim and dark, right? No, not really - just very poorly written. There were more stories like this one, presented on the pages of many of 3rd editions sourcebooks and adventures, poorly imitating Dark Heresy's and other 40K RPG's style. None of it really worked, none was at the literary level of Dan Abnett's introductory short piece in WFRP 2nd Edition's rulebook, which was dark, gritty but also believable and excellently written. Shame, really.

Back when we could've feast our eyes on awesome art pieces, like this one...
I know that I've written about it already, but I'm going to say it one more time - at one point, both the Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, have lost their identities. They've tried to mimick or imitate, however you want to call it, a vastly different game, with a very unique style and presentation - the Warhammer 40,000. They've failed spectaculary and now, aside from a few, successful video game adaptations, they're dead. Age of Sigmar has replaced them and while it is still struggling with its own style and sense of identity, it is getting somewhere. I might not like the game, but I do have to acknowledge that it is changing and evolving, while also not falling blindly into the "ctrl+c, ctrl+v" territory, that old Warhammer Fantasy games did. Very soon we'll get our hands on the 4th edition of WFRP. I just hope that Cubicle 7 won't make the same mistakes, as their predecessors, for all of our sakes. It would be tragic, to see a potential rebirth of Warhammer Fantasy and the rekindling of old flames of passion, die before they'll even get a chance to spread throughout the RPG fandom.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

6/14/2017

Role-playing Rants: why I can't wait to read the Age of Sigmar RPG

I'm still in the camp for AoS haters. I think that the Age of Sigmar is boring, uninspiring and generally a crappy legacy for the venerable Warhammer Fantasy. That's why I can't wait to read the upcoming role-playing game, set in this universe.

I know that Age of Sigmar has come a long way, since its premiere in 2015. New models, new rules and new books from the Black Library are definetly helping in the developement of this setting. For me however, AoS still lacks that one thing, which could it actually make it interesting and worth checking out – the everyday factor. What I mean by that, is that I don't want to constantly read about Stormcast Eternals battling generic Khornate dudes in crimson armour, or Aelfs (sigh) duking it out with servants of Nurgle. I want to know how everyday life looks in this universe. I want to know how people live their lives in every one of the kingdoms that comprise the world of this game. I want to know what they're eating, what are their favorite drinks, how does the judical system work in every one of the "planes", and many other, mundane things, that help in creating a relatable and fascinating world.

Can you do this for me, game?
Warhammer Fantasy put huge emphasis on day to day lives of its people, and not just the Imperials. Hundreds of stories described everyday struggles of humans, elves, dwarves and more, and that, more then the huge and epic battles, made this world feel alive to me. WFRP made particulary good job in that department by offering titles like the "Old World Armoury" and "Shades of the Empire". The legendary "Gotrek & Felix" saga taught me a lot about day-to-day lives of Karl Franz's subjects, and even lesser known titles did a great job for bringing the Old World to life. I personally feel that the Age of Sigmar lacks this "mortal" part of its world, and by extensions, feels less interesting and relatable.

This is where the AoS RPG comes into play. Cubicle 7 announced that they will release this title, sometime next year, after the premiere of the 4th edition of WFRP. When I first heard about this, I laughed. I was thinking: how in the hell can anyone make a game about a bunch of golden dudes, beating a bunch of red dudes, interesting. Then it dawned on me, that this is actually the one chance that Age of Sigmar has, to show itself in a more positive way to people like me. People who still remember Warhammer Fantasy with fondness, who still play WFRP and older editions of Fantasy Battle tabletop game. Who can't wait for Total War: Warhammer 2 and the sequel to Warhammer Quest (even if it'll take place during the End Times).

Newer generations of players don't have a problem with the Age of Sigmar, and I understand that, just like I understand people who jumped into this system, being tired of playing the poorly written 8th edition or just wanting something new. Some of us, however, still can't get over the fact that WFB is gone and are a tad bitter about that whole deal with the Mortal Realms and Ground Marines. I must admit that I'm slowly trying to change my view on AoS. I've discovered a fantastic group on Facebook, called the The Dark Age of Sigmar, which is full of great looking models, made in a dark and gritty style, much more in the spirit of the old Warhammer world. There is also the "City of Secrets" by Nick Horth, which shows the world through mortal eyes, rather then a pair, belonging to one of Sigmar's chosen. I've heard that it is very good and plan to read it, when I'll get the chance.

I think AoS might have a potential to become a complex, intriguing setting, going beyond the "only war" aspect, which is currently its main selling appeal. I'm not beyond admitting that something, which started off badly, can become a thing of beauty and who knows - if Cubicle 7 will do their job right, I might start collecting a small force of Stormcasts one day. Of course they'd be very grim and dark, since the spit and polish look of most of them is extremly boring to me. For that, however, I need to sink my teeth into the meat of this world, and so far the meat is very thin and not that tasty. Come on Cubicle 7, send a big, fat steak my way. I want to taste the full flavor of the Age of Sigmar, and the upcoming RPG might just help me with that.

I'll skip the face-bashing dessert, tough
Until next time!

Xathrodox86

5/25/2017

Happy birthday! Kalevala Hammer is now 10 years old!

How time flies! The great Kalevala Hammer website is now decade old!

I still remember the first time, when I discovered Jackday's awesome website. His various timelines (including the one from Gotrek & Felix series), creature PDF's and the wonderful Norsca sourcebook, have helped me many times, during my time as a WFRP Gamemaster. After the end of the controversial 3rd edition, Kalevalahammer was one of the lone islands of light in the void, keeping the flame alive.

Happy birthday!
When I myself felt that Warhammer Fantasy was not for me anymore, it was Kalevala Hammer, among other things, that helped me find my passion, once again. For that alone, Jackdays will have my everlasting gratitude.

Anyway - check out his website, download his stuff and enjoy endless hours of hard work that he poured into Kalevala Hammer. He deserves it, as well you, for there's a ton of grade A, fan-made material there, perfect for Gamemasters and players alike. As the man himself had said: keep the hammer high!

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

5/23/2017

Xathrodox86 reviews: "The Thirteenth Wolf" by Gav Thorpe

It's no big secret that I'm a huge audiobook fan. They've helped me escape the boredom of a long bus drive and the tedium of long house chores.

However I would gladly take a year of non-stop toilet cleaning, than listen to "The Thirteenth Wolf" one more time. This is it ladies and gentlemen - the absolute worst audiobook, ever produced by the Black Library.

The cover's pretty nice, tough
I'm not even kidding, this thing fucking sucks. There is not a single, redeeming thing about this book, not one! You may think that I'm biased, because of who the author is but I can assure you that I'm not. Sure, Gav Thorpe singlehandedly made me quit collecting the Raven Guard with "Deliverance Lost", but I honestly don't think that he's a bad author. Even tough his first Raven Guard book was medicore at best, the latter titles, especially "Weregeld", were really enjoyable and he does Dark Angels exceptionally well. So I was actually really surprised at the "The Thirteenth Wolf's" low level of quality.

This audiobook runs for 68 minutes, but it feels at least twice as long, and not in a good way. The story centres around the fabled Thirteenth Great Company of the Space Wolves legion. During the assault on Prospero the warriors of "Dekk-Tra" are tasked by their Primarch with eliminating key officers of the Thousand Sons, mainly their sorcerers. From the very beginning we are introduced to the most boring pack of Vlka Fenryka, ever. Led by Bulveye, the so called "Wolf Brothers" were the old guard of the VIth Legion. They fought at the side of Leman Russ himself, before the coming of the Emperor and were old men, when injected with Canis Helix. Anyway, Bulveye is not the only one of the heroes of this audio drama, but he's... the only memorable one. There were 9 other Wolves present, but neither one of them was interesting or developed in any way, that he could've been remembered. Aside from a small cameo from Geigor Fellhand, known primarily from the "Burning of Prospero" game, the "Thirteenth Wolf" has a bunch od dudes, whose names I couldn't even remember when I was halfway into the story. Really depressing, let me tell you.

On the side of the traitors(?) things are looking similarly shitty. The main villian, altough calling him that is really pushing the term, is Izzakar Orr, a moustache-twirling sorcerer of the Thousand Sons. Orr is a typical saturday morning cartoon villian, straight from a Scooby Doo episode, spewing threats and running away at the last possible moment, before the Wolves can punch his ticket. I always liked good attention to detail, so I was very impressed to learn that the Thousand Sons' Librarians wore blue power armour. It's also worth mentioning that the people of Prospero are apparently gaunt, despite living under a scorching sun and having been presented as dusky skinned in almost all, previous 40K stories. Good job there.

So anyway, the "Wolf Brothers" under Bulveye begin to chase the dastardly Orr through a series of magical portals, and if that sounds fucking stupid, that's because it is. The bluish madman leads them on a merry chase through time and space... literally. The Wolves visit the Planet of the Sorcerers, stand above a sun in the vacuum of space (don't ask), fight some Wulfen and... yeah, no one really cares. No one cares, because their adventures are presented in such a boring, uninspired way, that it is not even funny. When one of them dies, the reader dosen't feel anything, because there's a good chance that he did not even remembered the legionary's name, not to mention his unique traits. Assuming that he had any to begin with.

Badly written characters and atrocious story aside, "The Thirteenth Wolf" is also very poorly produced. The background sounds are way too loud, often making the speech of various characters impossible to understand. I know that Black Library's short stories tend to use ambient sound a lot, but never before have I met with them being such poorly utilised. Not only that, but the actors speaking their lines also don't help. Sometimes they whisper so quietly that even turning the volume up to the maximum level did not helped. Few of the characters slur or speak in a growling voice, that makes it all but impossible to understand what the hell they are saying. However the absolute worst part came, when Bulveye and Orr spoke to each other across a huge chamber. When the old wolf spoke, he could be heard loud and clear, but with the Thousand Son, they've decided to make his voice sound, like he was standing a couple dozen meters away. The final effect was that he couldn't be heard at all, and cranking the volume up did not helped, except having my ears bombarded with decibles, when it was Bulvey's turn to speak and I did not had time to lower the sound. It was really unpleasant, to put it lightly.

It's almost as fun as listening to one of  those guys in a small room, with good interior acoustics
It is really a testament to the shittiness of this book, that the author managed to make a story about jumping through time and space, not to mention the origins of the 13th Great Company's long hunt for the traitors, boring. I mean, how is it even possible? I don't know, but I hope never to read/listen to anything as bad as "The Thirteenth Wolf" ever again. I don't recommend this audio drama to anyone. Save your money and give this one a pass.

Pros:

- It ends... eventually.

Cons:

- Boring story.
- Heroes are bland and uninteresting.
- The villian is ridiculous and completely non-threatening.
- Very poor production quality.
- It's 68 minutes too long.
- You have to actually pay money for this thing. This should be illegal in itself.
- Hell, the fact that it exists at all is bad enough to warrant an Exterminatus on the whole Black Library.

I need a fantasy fix, which is why my next post will contain a good portion of the good, Old World. Stay tuned.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

5/04/2017

My hopes and fears, concerning the 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000

It's no big secret that I don't exactly enjoy the current iteration of WH40K. The rules are overbloated, needlessly convoluted and are favoring certain factions to the point of absurdity.

Fortunately Games Workshop has announced that the 8th edition will soon hit the stores. Not only that, but a huge ammount of info has been released to the general public, including new rules and the contents of starter box. I must commend GW on their social media skills, they've really made a huge improvement in their online marketing department. Warhammer Community, answering people's questions on Facebook, Duncan's painting tips - all of these and more, are good indicators that our favorite plastic (and resin) crack dealer finally made a leap in the right direction.

You magnificent bastard!
Anyway, the 8th is coming and I'm super hyped for the complete rules overhaul, that it'll bring to the table. Not only they'll be easier to use, but from what we've seen, the power creep will be severly limited and most factions will, at least in theory, become equally strong on the tabletop. Now I know that it'll be probably just a matter of time, before some asshole, sitting in his dank basement, surrounded by empty Cheetos packs and Mountain Dew bottles, will come with another iteration of Iron Hands Chapter Master on a bike. Powergamers are a fact, sadly, but I'm still having hope that turning 40K in the direction of Age of Sigmar, when it comes to rules, will help to mitigate their cancerous presence.

Movement stats, new weapon rules and huge changes to morale are awesome. I also like the activation approach to close combat, and the fact that pistols are once again relevant! The formation nerf is also very welcome, since many of them are downright broken and not really fun to play against. If 8th will indeed put a price tag on each of them and also not make them OP, then I'll be very, very happy.

Now many people expressed concern about the lack of future codexes, in that 40K will use a system of AoS-like battle scrolls. I honestly think it's a very cool idea. Sure, printed codexes, supplement books and such are very nice, but more often than not, they're cluttered with unnecessary info and badly structured. Case in point, in my last game, during which we've spent quite a lot of time searching for different rules, even tough we've been playing 7th edition for years. Our frustration was coming from how the book has been written, with one rule, requiring an immediate searching for another. I know that AoS is largely free of this problem, which is a good thing. I still think that Age of Sigmar is a failed abortion, when it comes to lore and presentation, but their ruleset isn't bad, since the release of General's Handbook. If 40K will go similar way, I won't mind.

I'm with Team Pooh on that one!
So yeah, overall I'm really, really glad about the upcoming 8th edition. Well, mostly. You see, while I admire the change of rules, simplified combat, digital codexes etc., there is one thing that irks me greatly. No, not even that - it pisses me off to no end. The direction that Games Workshop is taking 40K's lore.

So I've read the War Zone Fenris and Gathering Storm supplements. While the former was pretty good, bar the ending, which I've found to be a bit anticlimactic, the latter was pure shit. Seriously, it's that bad. I don't want to go into too much detail here, since there will probably be a separate post, regarding that crappy campaign. However I wanted you, my dear readers, to know one thing - with the release of those two campaigns, especially the Gathering Storm, GW finally showed what kind of future they're envisioning for Warhammer 40,000. Essentialy they'll go the way of WFB's The End Times, where everything had to be EPIC and AWESOME and EXPLOSIONS! This, combined with a complete demythologization of the entire setting, which, I'd like to remind everyone, is based on fucking myths, will make for a very poor experience.

Why am I raising the myth problem? Because Warhammer, both of them in fact, are build on the premise of myths and legends. In the late Fantasy game we had Sigmar, creating the Empire with sheer determination and force of will, not to mention a huge ammount of heroism and righteous asskicking. However it was 2500 years before the "current" times. His once great nation, has fallen into decline and decadence, worshipping him as a god, and whose name and deeds were used as a excuse for every, single act that Empire's ruling castes commited, no matter how vile and cruel it was.

In 40K it's basically the same, but with added technological regression, greatest heroes of the Imperium either dying, or leaving it in disgust or disillusion and a bigger time gap. Which works in favor of myths even more, building on a sense of lost greatness and dreams about a bright and better future. This is what made Warhammer 40,000 so endearing to so many people, myself included. It was the notion that altough the Primarchs and their Father ultimately failed, the common man is still fighting on, still trying to make a difference in a cruel and uncaring galaxy. No longer were the majority of wars fought by the superhuman Astartes, but by the endless, fragile masses of Imperial Guardsmen. The Inquisition was acting in a horrible, inhuman ways, but they did it, because there really was no alternative. After the horrors of the Horus Heresy, makind had to be coralled and put in check, with few, chosen souls, knowing the truth, which weighed heavily on them. This is what made this setting so special - losing so much of our past, letting that one chance for glory and salvation slip away into the night, coupled with humanity's will to push forward and never give up. Sure, there are fictional setting that did it before the existence of Warhammer, but it was 40K that did it so well and so completely on nearly every level.

So of course, they had to fuck it all up, by bringing the Primarchs back in the name of story progression. Now I'm fully in the "progress is bad" camp, when it comes to 40K, or should I say, when it comes to fictional settings. The story of Warhammer 40,000 has been told and we know how it ends. Basically the Chaos Gods win, that's it. The Emperor and mankind in general, had their chance, but because of daddy issues and general human weakness, they've screwed things up. Just as planned. However GW saw the popularity and cash that the Horus Heresy was generating, and decided that 40K needs to follow similar path. They've thought: "why not shit on nearly 30 years of established lore and bring back a Primarch? And if he sells really well, we'll bring more of them!". Of course, from a strictly buisness standpoint this is a good idea, but an author should remain true to the nature of his creation. In this case, GW is clearly showing the exact, same mindset, which they've employed in 2015, when they've decided to axe Warhammer Fantasy. Sure, WFB was in a bad shape and probably wasn't generating enough to warrant its future existence. This is not the case with 40K and we all know it.

It's still going strong!
This game is doing good, maybe not as good as it used to, but good nonetheless. I personally think that pushing the story forward with that whole Indomitus Crusade and Guilliman creating new and better Space Marines, is just not right. It's not needed, since there is still so much to explore about the history of the Imperium. The Unification Wars, the Astropath Wars, creating a campaign book, based on the War of the Beast - the possibilities are many and varied. We don't need a Primarch returning, nor a Daemon Primarch (it was stated that once you become a Daemon Prince, you don't give two shits about material universe). We don't need new and improved Space Marines, we already have enough of them. Instead show some love to xenos like Orks or Tyranids, or flesh out more regiments of Imperial Guard. John French is working on a new series for Black Library, which will tell the story of the Horusian Wars. Why not make a tie-in supplement for 40K, giving the scions of Malcador more attention?

You didn't had to resort to stripping down the mythos of Warhammer 40,000. It was literally the one thing that made this universe so unique, and now you've took it all away. I hoppe that you have a good plan for the future of this setting, because I can already see the exact, similar mistakes that you've made with the End Times. Don't make the same errors twice, I beg you. You'll just lose more of your fans, including those who've been with you for a very long time. A few extra quid is not worth it, trust me.

I'm trying to remain optimistic, but Games Workshop is doing everything to make me stop believing in them. I hope that they won't succeed, I really do.

Until next time...

Xathrodox86