Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Linkfest 5

There's a thin line between embarrassment and nostalgia, especially if you grew up in the 80's/90's. This site celebrates that, from an adequately distant perspective. A look back at all that Retro Junk.

Speaking of reliving one's childhood. Or at least the cartoons, this was one of my personal favorites, click and listen to the Sky Pirate Song from Tailspin. I have to say, Don Karnage was as much a hero to my formative years as anyone.

Anyways, my last post was on the Modern Ops rules, but let's not forget that there are plenty out there, and many of them are free. Freewargames rules is a pretty good starting place if you want to test some out and see what strikes your fancy.

This link is one that will either have facepalm and groan over all the puns, or giggling uncontrollably. Yuri The Only One For Me.

And finally, Often Inspired has a shiny new design and contest for dialog writing up, so that should be fun to check out.

Edit: It always happens that just after you post, you find more neat stuff that should have gone in there. Well a day late, but it's too neat to leave off for next time. The Retropolis Transit Authority, for all your retro future t-shirt needs. I particularly like the Certifiable Mad Genius one.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Moderns Ops Review and AAR

Modern Ops by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
is a skirmish level wargame based on the Savage Worlds ruleset. It uses the abbreviated version known as the Showdown rules as well as its own setting rules.

Now for anyone familiar with the Savage World rules, the Showdown set is essentially what happens when you strip off most of the RPG elements and excess fat away to turn it into a lean mean fighting machine. The result is a highly intuitive set of rules that can move fast even if one has little experience with them.

I'm not going to go into the core system, since that's a bit beyond the scope of this post. On the plus side, it lived up to the expectation of Fast, Furious, Fun. Highlights included the unit cards that are available for free, these kept bookkeeping down to a minimum, essentially all we had to recall was how many bennies we had left, and some of the expendable ammo(grenades and RPGs). The pace never bogged down, even though the units might have from enemy fire, and the setting rules made it appropriately deadly for the genre.

On the down side, there were portions of the rules that were either vestigial or lacking. Close Combat rules and mount rules were included, but there was no real follow up on either. There weren't any living mounts statted out, and there was no section for hand to hand weapons in the armory. At best one could look at the batons that the swat teams wielded, but I felt that given how they emphasized how important Ganging Up bonuses were, especially to untrained troops, that they should have at least included a few. Even if they just had the point values for the baton, a bayonet and knife/sword it would have been enough. Also the militia units refer to not being able to use the aim action, but from what I can see, that was one of the actions cut out from the rules. Suppressed weapons were another item that didn't really have an explanation aside from the obvious. Finally, nowhere could I find the point values associated with the various abilities and edges.

I would also have liked some more Savage Tales to have come with this product, but perhaps that's just me being spoiled, as some games only come with a single or no scenarios. But on to the AAR.

We rolled up a meeting engagement, and decided on a 1000 point target, we both ended up relatively close to the number. I took the role of the Taliban commander and my opponent taking over as the German commander. We put together a few ruined city blocks for them to fight over. For this game we played a bit loose on the Loyal rules, as he wasn't happy about having to retrieve corpses, and in turn I was able to play loose with my morale checks, which would occur whenever 25% of a team is lost. Which, in a 4 man team means that I would be checking for every casualty, so I said it would trigger when >25% was lost in a single turn.

German Forces
Panzergrenadiere Gruppe(644 points)
-1 NCO with G36
-5 Riflemen with G36
-2 Soldiers with MG3
Sniper Fireteam(388 points)
-2 Snipers with G3-SD1
-2 Soldiers with MG3
=1032 points

Taliban Forces
Taliban Command Fireteam(353 points)
-1 Taliban Warlord Leader with AK-47(Wild Card)
-1 Soldier with RPG-7
-1 Machinegunner with RPK
-1 Soldier with AK-47
Taliban Fireteam(2x)(253 points each)
-1 Soldier with RPG-7
-3 Soldiers with AK-47
Taliban Sniper (166 points)
-1 Sniper with Dragunov SVD(Wild Card)
=1025 points

I'll be referring to the placement of units by my perspective at the Taliban edge of our 2x6 table. The Command Fireteam set up along the far left, with one fireteam in the middle and one on the right, the sniper set up along the right hand side as well. The German forces mirrored mine, their 8 man team on the left and their sniper team on the right.

The first turns were mostly feeling each other out, but some skilled sniper fire by the Germans pinned down my rightmost fireteam, shaking the RPG man. My own sniper returned fire from the second floor of a building, but had little success. It was not an even matchup. I outranged them, their guns considered my sniper as in medium range, while mine could reach them as close range. However this was evened up by the fact that my sniper only had a D10 in shooting while the German snipers were sitting pretty with D12s. I quickly learned that their body armor(giving them a toughness of 11! Most of my soldiers had a 5 or 6) kept them relatively impervious to small arms fire.

Along the left side of the board both sides inched towards each other. I started things off with a volley of RPG shots, which quickly took out one of the sniper team. After that my opponent kept all his units relatively spread out, which helped reduce casualties, but kept him from a concentrated assault as my command team moved into position.

Midgame was when I learned the importance of not bunching up as well. The German soldiers were keeping their heads down due to my command team, I believe that one rifleman and one machinegunner had been killed by my MG or RPGs, my AK-47 armed soldiers were having trouble hitting or damaging his(although that might have been due to the dice more than the mechanics), again due to the body armor. His snipers had concentrated on my RPG soldiers, taking out the one in my command team and in my right hand side fireteam. My middle fireteam had bunched up, minus the RPGman who had been shaken by sniper fire and had not caught up with the man bunch, but a well placed grenade took out three of them in one hit. What was amazing was that the RPGman was able to make his morale check, acing it and continuing on. Meanwhile, every German soldier that was getting close enough to toss a grenade was being taken out with accurate MG fire.

The endgame was a continued attempt to flush out my command team with grenades, and accurate sniper fire chipping away at the remainder of my forces. By the time we ended due to hunger the tally was pretty close. I had lost 7 of my 13 men, including my leader, while he had lost 7 of his 12. 6 of those were from his Panzergrenadieres, leaving only his leader and a MG man from that squad. The remaining casualty was from his sniper team, which really didn't move all that much throughout the game.

I was actually rather surprised at how well the Taliban forces did given that of my 13 soldiers, 9 of them had weapons that barely scratched the body armor of the German troops. My opponent's major complaint was that the German squads were too big, in order to avoid a grenade or RPG landing in the middle and taking multiple soldiers out, he was forced to essentially move his forces in a chain, which limited firepower at a point. Also he felt that the two MG men with his sniper team would be better served near the front, as opposed to with his sniper on overwatch. Actually that whole team could have moved up and flanked my forces, given that my own sniper was having trouble doing any damage other than perhaps shaking a unit for a turn or two.

My own problems included, of course, the fact that the body armor made most of my shots harmless, it was only due to the luck of my MG(acing damage repeatedly) that I was able to do as much damage as I did. In general I felt that there was a little trouble with interrupting actions, as we had two ties before resolving an interrupt, I think the one on hold should win ties personally, so I might houserule that. My leader's fireteam was waiting for them to move into the open, but lost the interrupt and got a grenade down their throat for their trouble.

All in all, a really fun game that played fast and was suitably deadly. Unlike the Chain Reaction ruleset, this game doesn't almost run itself, but the Modern Ops ruleset is very intuitive, and most likely second nature to anyone who has Savage Worlds. So, aside from the above gripes I'm quite happy with it. It could have been executed better, so it's not perfect, but it gets done what it set out to do.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Magic Burns - Ilona Andrews

"Bring your army little god! My sword is hungry!"

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews is the second in her Kate Daniels series, set in a world where Magic came back, ending, or at least highly disrupting the reign of technology. However it comes and goes, ebbing and flowing like the tides as the magic returns into the world. Not only does the magic bring power, but it transforms the world with its abilities, and when the magic is in control, everything from phones to cars shuts down, not to mention skyscrapers.

The heroine Kate Daniels is a mercenary working for a modern day version of the Knights Templar(called the Order), toting a flesh melting sword and a take-no-shit attitude. Which has all the makings of a good Urban Fantasy story. World shattering danger? Check. Summoning of elder gods or in general things MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW? Check. Vampires and Werewolves? Check. Magic? Check. Sword slinging violence? Check. Sexy situations? Double check.

The world itself makes for some interesting twists on what you usually see with your urban fantasy. Instead of the "Magic was hiding" or "It was there all along" types that you usually see, often accompanied by all sorts of 'don't tell the normals' rules and regulations, we have magic and tech as a pendulum, swinging back and forth(Actually, the first thing I thought about was an association with global warming and cooling periods and solar cycles, but I don't think that's exactly what she had in mind).

Secondly, the coming of magic wasn't something that just shocked the world, it shattered it. The most obvious example being the Atlanta skyline, full of ruined towers and fallen buildings, not quite post apocalyptic, but you get the feeling that it felt pretty close. Although it does have what seems to be the trend in having scientific viral explanations behind the main monster staples(vamps and weres), the Vampires are not the sexy seducers you find in most urban fantasy. Mindless, putrefying, and bloodthirsty, and hopefully under the mental control of necromancers, who are in return hopefully under control of the law. There was a hilarious line about how to make a Vampire being a dozen forms and a stack of applications.

The heroine is instantly likable. Ready to kick ass and take names, with practicality and doing right at the top of her list. And unlike some female heroines in urban fantasy, doesn't get sidetracked by sex. There are steamy situations, and it almost seems that for all her protestations about not getting any, every other person is ready to jump into her pants. However the sexual aspects don't ever become the focus of the story-something which always tends to turn me off a bit to a book. Not to mention quoting lines of cheesy movies, and despite death everywhere she doesn't become flooded with existential angst, another danger of the genre.

The other characters are also interesting. I just have to give props to the heroine's coworker Andrea at the Order for excellent pistol choice(she carries SIG226s if you're wondering). Sorry, inner gun nut coming out, anyways, every one of them have at least an interesting quirk that make them stick in your mind. However it felt very uneven in how they were covered. Perhaps it's just because of the long time it's been since I read the first book in the series(Magic Bites), but some of them don't appear long enough to get more than that single quirk. For instance, Saiman appears for a single scene, and later is referenced to another character simply for that trait(wanting to bed the protagonist). They come on stage and then disappear just as quick. Now if you know them from the first book, then you won't need any explanation, but I could easily see losing track if you didn't have at least some foreknowledge.

One of them really stood out for me, Bran, a warrior from another age who made the unwise choice of making a bargain with Morrigan. I'm trying not to give too much of the plot away, but suffice to say, it was like seeing a character Robert E. Howard or David Gemmell could have written about, but all barbarian, no heroism.

Now I have to admit, I'm a sucker for good Urban Fantasy, and that is what this is. Between getting in into my grubby little hands and turning the final page I doubt more than 4 hours passed, including the ride back from the bookstore. So it quite definitely has my recommendation, with the reservation that you really should read the first book of the series before this one. As I mentioned, some recurring characters really should be known about beforehand, and some of the explanations of the world are only glanced at during this book, whereas they're more fully explained in the first. Also, it tends to jump around, the fact pacing and quick action sometimes left me feeling like some scenes were cut short where they could have lingered a bit longer.

Anyways, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews is top notch urban fantasy, right up there with the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher or the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn, and you would do well to jump in while it's still early in the run.