Thursday, 21 May 2015

Doctor Who: The Ark in Space

So having scored a bunch of Oldschool British Science Fiction VHS tapes at a car boot sale, including some Gerry Anderson (Space 1999) a complete set of Blakes 7 and some random stories of Doctor Who, it's time to fire up the trusty Panasonic Super-Drive.

Kicking off with Doctor Who: The Ark in Space - Series 12, Story 2. Tom Bakers second outing as the doctor broadcast in the early days of 1975. A good vintage, this one.

Doctor Who: Ark in Space VHS

The first episode slides into a series of puzzles, how do we open  the locked door ? how do we stop the sentry robot? How do we find the missing companion? It's a bit like watching The Adventure Game, so as we get to see Tom Baker express full range of problem solving expressions through 'gosh this is perturbing' to the 'a-ha! I've got it moment' its immensely fun and rather gamey.

In the Far Future there is only Science.

With episode two, The Ark in Space steps up a gear and introduces the slowly defrosting crew in neat 1970s space fashions. The costumes were designed by Barbera Kidd, who long term followers of this blog may remember was responsible for the space-aztec transformation of the goddess Diana Rigg. The denizens of Nerva Beacon sport trousers, tunic and a kind of high collared bolero jacket with colour trim - slightly reminiscent of a nurses uniform, and apart from the tailoring, unisex in design.  It's a nicely fitting design for this egalitarian clean-lined utopian scientific community.

The humans of the far future have decided those that are functionally useful to a technocratic society should be deep frozen in an orbital space station, whilst Earth and it's less functional inhabitants can get blown away by raging solar winds. With the Second Class Telephone Sanitisers and marketing experts gone the way of the Golgafrinchans the Nerva Ark are the cream of the crop.  The newly revived Noah (an honorific title from old earth mythology) is so aghast at the potential that these new humans (Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan ) might contaminate the the genetic purity of the  human stock aboard the Nerva Beacon, he threatens to kill them.

However there is already something happilly going around killing the last remnants of humanity - The Wirrn - an alien creature pupates that inside a human, before hatches then devowering the host. Interestingly the larvae gains the knowledge of its victim, a psychic as well as physiological feeder. 

I'm going to eat your brains and gain your knowledge

The story bounds along at a jaunty pace, until the Wirrn are defeated by a combination of self-sacrifice, willpower, ingenuity and long electricity cables being dragged through air vents. Along the way we learn the Wirn are motivated by revenge for what the human colonists did to their species on the Andromeda system, and a thirst for knowledge, quenchable only through the consumption of juicy human scientist brain.

As I'm reviewing a VHS tape, there are no extras, no behind the scenes look at how the made the vacuum formed plastic and styrofoam coffins, no commentary comparing the plot of a cryogenically frozen space crew getting infected by an invasive alien parasite with  Ridley Scotts Alien or exactly how much bubble wrap and green poster paint it takes to make a Wirrn larvae. The alien effects are really are quite charming, which makes me think the may have been better served by making the Wirrn a purely ethereal life form. not unlike the Mara that would haunt the 5th Doctors assistants, or perhaps the emotionless, cold-war  hive-mind paranoia of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Just a note on how nice VHS is tu use. Watch an episode, stop, eject tape. Do other stuff for a few days. Pop the tape back in, and it automatically starts at exactly the right place. No clicking though menus, no skipping forward to the right time-code.  It's almost like the format freezes time, if only the TARDIS or orbital cryogenic were quite so reliable.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


New Star Wars? Ashley Wood gets hyped 3A style.

Such things dreams are made of. And retro-scifi wargames, so let's give him a nice grimey coat of Oldhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, or should that be Rogue Vader?

Tomorrow Kings | Lost Star Warrior | Rogue Trader 40k

Race Class M WS BS S T W I A Ld Int Cl Wp PV
Lost Warrior Human Soldier 4 4 4 3 3 1 4 2 8 7 7 7 15.5
Isolated by a temporal warp in meta-space, the Lost Warrior finds himself adrift in a war-torn world totally unlike his own. Surviving only by his wits and courage, hoping beyond hope, searching forever for a way back to the gleaming, moon-sized Imperial military battlestation he calls... home.

Tech Item S I D Sv Short Long  Hit S Hit L Area CC M S F
6 Lasgun 3 0 1 1 12 24 +1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Standard issue battery powered assault rifle.

Tech Item S I D Sv Short Long Hit S Hit L Area CC M S F
4 Katana user 0 1 -1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
An elegant forged steel weapon for a more civilised age.

6x Plasma Grenades
Tech item S I D Sv Short Long Hit S Hit L Area CC M S F
4 Plasma Grenade 5 0 1 -2 4 8 0 -1 1.5 0 0 0 1

Trooper Helmet

Build-in respirator, communicator (no signal) & visors +1.5PV

/// end.

0TP07 / clean preorder

0TP06 / dirty preorder

Friday, 24 April 2015

Oldhammer Rogue Trader: Battle at the Farm Redressing the Balance

Following the read through of Battle at the Farm play reports, it's reasonably obvious that victory for the Marines is par for the course. Wondering why that might be... is it because of the marines defensive position, the Orks goals being unachievable, lack of cover on the field of battle as the Orks charge in... or something else.

This misleading piece of propaganda shows the Orks winning | Ian Miller

In the quest for that elusive something else I thought I'd calculate the points values for the forces using the RT points calculator. Remembering that point values in RT and 2nd Edition WFB are an abstract value based on mathematics and the relative numerical attributes of troop and equipment, not spooky-magic, estimations and guesswork:

Trooper: 18
Missile Launcher: 47
Commander: 100

Total: 408

Trooper: 8
Officer: 11
Commander: 46

Total: 217

So Marines come in at a whopping 408 points, and the Orks at a measly 217.  I think its reasonably safe to conclude, all other things being equal, that properly calculated PVs are a strong indicator of the outcome of a given scenario.

Even so, there are some anomalies in the way the scenario is set up, as the marines are seemingly given unlimited plasma missiles, which should be costed at 1 point each, and the player made to keep track of how many used. This potentially pushes the value of Marines up a vast amount, but lets overlook this for now.

But so what? we could decide that balance isn't important in narrative gaming, that the Orks are doomed to defeat from the outset.  Makes it kind of questionable why one would rather play this as a two player game, as opposed to read a book, watch a cartoon or solo-play.  It is possible to have a game-like experience where the end is inevitable, and the players express  no agency other than filling in the details of moving little figures around and rolling dice - but that's not my idea of fun making meaningful choices in a narrative game - a GM "railroading" to use RPG parlance - players to a predetermined end point is not the same thing as the GM and players collaboratively shaping and telling a story. If we were to do this in terms of a skirmish war game scenario, we'd see motivational Victory Conditions (Orks get the loot +5 VP) balanced against realistically achievable goals - Ork survives +2 VP / Marine Survives +0 VP - but thats not how the victory conditions are set.

We could also disregard Points Values all together and just say 'experience and playstesting' shows us the scenario is biased towards the Marine player' and subsequently suggest fixes based on our own hunches. However the Point Values effectively tell us  how much needs changing - that the marines are nearly 100% over-powered in comparison to the Orks goes some way to helping us make informed decisions towards creating a less deterministic scenario design.

wrong farm! wrong battle! right idea | Wells Little Wars

Rebalancing the Battle at the Farm:

As suggested, we could just re-balance the victory conditions, leaving everything else in tact. But, without changing the field of battle, the narrative conditions or the characters objectives, what can be done to give the Orks a fighting chance of winning, and lift the Ork player out of his position of stolid doomed deterministic defeat?

1. Balance the PVs of the sides by force-size: 

Orks. Faasunds of 'em | Space Ork Raiders advert

1.1. Reduce the number of Marines to around 7 troops OR
1.2. Increase the Orks to around 40 troops.

Either of these changes keep the scenario asymmetrical - Marines, highly trained elites with their top rated gucci mil-spec equipment, Orks the low-tech horde, but the forces are still statstically balanced, giving each a chance of success. The shape of the scenario becomes the classic colonialist myth found again and again in fantasy literature (giving Orks guns does not make 40k sci-fi) the plucky few civilised against the unwashed primitive masses, not unknown in history or previous warhammer scenarios either...

2. Balance the PVs of the sides by troop capabilities: 

Power X-treme! | via

2.1 Reduce Marines firepower and combat abilities.
2.2 Increase the Orks firepower and combat abilities.

This potentially makes the game much more symmetrical - giving Orks powered armour and bolters pretty much makes them the same as marines, similarly putting the Imperial forces in Flak armour, makes them more similar to Space Orks. Much more in the vein of Modern Warfare (by which I really mean WW2) basket - where troops arms and armour are reasonably similar, and there is no clear technological edge. Arguably tactics, use of terrain and psychological effects come to the fore. However, it lacks the dynamics one expects from fantasy gaming.

3. Balance the PVs by technology

Killa Kanz | Space Ork Dreadnought

The Orks could spend their 200 points on a dreadnought, robot, combat vehicle, squad of psykers or something. The asymmetry of the scenario remains, but instead of being a foregone conclusion, the result hinges on the 'risk' of planting a significant pool of points into a single heavy hitting unit. This appears to be what was done with the 2010 redux - although I don't know how the rest of the troops in the scenario are balanced. Muscle and the mooks, vs. a smaller team of higher trained - this is a typical gangland, cops and robbers scenario also beloved by the writers of superhero comics.


So what does Battle at the Farm tell us about war in the 41st millennium? That a 'few more' bodies on the ground does not compensate for greater fire power, but 40ks internal logic states that 'vastly more' bodies will. A moral universe where the proud, noble warrior Marines inevitably defeat the dirty, greedy, stupid Orks and the 'good-guys' always win. I think that's ultimately the way the scenario was intended to be, the story Rick wanted to tell, as cut and dry as a Rogue Trooper tale of Future War.

My preference is for balanced, but asymmetrical fantasy games, where players have a reasonable chance of success, as they give dramatic momentum to the emergent narrative (can we take down the big guy? can we hold out against the horde?) , and leave the actual result open, rather than have the outcome simply determined by the weight of models put on the field.

Meanwhile, preparations being made for playing it, as written.

Mustering the forces | Lasercut 40K