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GW recently announced pre-orders for their new Chaos Space Marines army, and the items are selling fast, despite the usual griping about GW’s pricing model. (Apparently this is the most expensive Codex yet.) They’ve also released a handful of special miniatures which might work perfectly for your 40K game, especially if you’re playing Black Crusade. These include the cheerful Warpsmith, the happy little Apostle, and the delightfully welcoming Daemon Prince, not to mention the fun Forgefiend/Maulerfiend kit with its 67-components’ worth of choices. I could just see that last one as a recurring NPC. In fact, that last one is the only thing I’ve seen that might make me get out my Collector’s Edition Black Crusade and run it. I will call my NPC Maulerfiend Spot, and it will follow the PCs around ALWAYS.

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I’ve been away on vacation, so I haven’t had much time to update–in fact, I’ve been backpacking, so I’ve been away from wifi or 3G range for days at a time. Naturally, as soon as I got back to civilization, I dove into a sea of emails, texts, and Google searches to answer random questions that had popped up during our hikes that we hadn’t been able to solve immediately. (Makes you realize how dependent you are on the internet to answer your “idle questions.”) Once I’d finished with my first internetting frenzy, I decided to grab some new reading material for the last few days away. Just out of curiosity, I typed “Black Library” into the iBookstore to see if there was any Warhammer content.

Quite awhile back, when iBooks were relatively new, I’d looked for BL content on the bookstore, and there hadn’t been much. I went over to the official BL website and ordered some etexts there, and while it wasn’t a terrible pain to import the etexts to my iPad, it was just enough of a hassle that I hadn’t bothered to go back. All that’s changed–significantly. Now there are over thirty-three screens of English BL content on the iBookstore and several more of French language content! Delightful. Now I can satisfy my need for trashy Warhammer reading and expend as little effort as possible.

I also notice that Games Workshop has put up the Codex: Necrons; it does look as though they’re going to make an effort to put all of the Codices onto iBooks. As I said here, I do think the format’s promising, and I’m glad to see they’re continuing. I just hope other RPG publishers decide to go the same route!

Overall, I’m glad to see more of this type of content on the iBookstore. I tend only to buy books I need for work as physical copies. I already have such a huge library from grad school and for work that I don’t need to fill it out with tons of other texts that I’m unlikely to annotate. It’s nice, then, to pick up a few Warhammer books in ebook format, and if it’s easy to do at 2am when I’m already on my iPad, all the better.

Unsurprisingly, I went ahead and coughed up the $42 for the Codex: Space Marines just to see how Games Workshop managed the iBooks format. My willingness to do so is entirely inexplicable, by the way; I don’t play 40K, and I don’t have a Space Marines army. I did enjoy the fluff in the book, though, and if I ever get around to running Rogue Trader, I suppose it will come in handy. Also, it’s almost my birthday, so why not? It’s not my intention to critique the book’s content; instead, I’d like to say a few words about Games Workshop’s use of the format itself.

If you go to iTunes and look up this book, you’ll see more than a hundred reviews that give the book one star. Many of these thoughtful, honest, ethical reviewers haven’t even bought the book–they’re just complaining about the price point. Apparently they feel as though an electronic version of a book shouldn’t cost the same as a print copy, and that’s enough for them to give the book one star. What we’ve learned here is that iTunes shouldn’t allow you to review a book you haven’t bought from them. After having spent some time with the text, I think GW’s implementation of the Codex is a wee bit flawed, but very promising as a whole; it’s not yet five stars, but it’s certainly not one star, either. Many complaints say that much of what the iBooks version accomplishes, a PDF also accomplishes, and that might be true. Still, as far as I can tell, the only PDF versions of the book available are illegal copies, so I’m not wholly swayed by comparing the functionality of a legal copy of an item to the functionality of an illegal copy.

Here’s the scoop on the details of the iBooks implementation:

PROS
Players will likely find the iBooks copy very useful during actual play, and the interactive visuals make it a delight to sit and read.

  • The hot-linked sections of the book will make it easy to find the information you need with a click. For instance, long fluff descriptions of individual units in the “Forces of the Space Marines” chapter link to the crunchy details in the “Army List” at the back of the book and vice versa, so you can get from fluff to crunch easily.
  • Standard iBooks navigation features allows for you to move from chapter to chapter easily, and GW has made the solid design choice to make each new chapter start with a visually distinctive page so you can quickly navigate to the section you need.
  • The searchable glossary has all the game terms you need. If you don’t play a particular army or unit all of the time, you might easily forget how to use a specific skill you’re seeking. It’s faster to do a search for it in a digital glossary than to look it up in a paper copy. I’ve found that it’s also much faster to search the iBooks glossary than to do a search in a whole PDF, but perhaps that’s just me. You can also click on individual special rules within an Army List entry and have the glossary entry for the rule pulled up automatically.
  • The iBooks built-in notes feature allows you to include house rules, refinements, and tactical information near the units and/or rules they modify right in your text without ruining the look of the book.
  • The high-resolution graphics and pictures of miniatures look great on a Retina screen. For once, I could actually get close enough to see that not every ‘Eavy Metal painter is flawless. That gave me a +15 bonus to my Self Confidence.
  • The Citadel 360 (or 360 Citadel?) models are kind of neat, and let you see how the painter has managed all of the details of a particular mini.
  • You can re-use the graphics. Games Workshop probably won’t be thrilled that I point this out, but of course, you can take a screen shot of anything you see in iBooks. That means that you can grab included graphics, put them in your own graphics program, and use them for your own scenarios, RPGs, etc. For a GM like me, this may be one of the most valuable things about the Codex.
  • You can’t lose or damage this book, since you can always re-download it once you’ve purchased it. Your iPad is also significantly smaller and lighter than an actual hardcover GW Codex.

CONS
GW has made a handful funky, bad, or just weird decisions that detract from the overall experience. I suspect that eventually these things will get ironed out as companies like GW come up with standards for publishing iBooks documents, but I was surprised that a company with such a solid design team would make some of these mistakes, even on their first try.

  • The designers use the slideshow function inconsistently throughout the book. It’s not a big problem–or a problem at all from a useability standpoint–but it’s rather offputting. Some galleries have thumbnails of included images at the bottom, while others simply have dots that indicate how many images are in the current slideshow. I found the differences distracting, as I ended up trying to figure out if the logic behind the choices.
  • Similarly inconsistent is GW’s use of the Citadel 360 feature; I couldn’t always figure out why they’d decided to allow me to see some of the models in 3D and not others. If, say, they’d done 360 models of every commander and flat images of lesser units, I’d get it, but their choices didn’t seem so straightforward.
  • While you can go to full-screen for some of the graphics, allowing you to see an individual item on a plain black background, you can’t zoom in to get a better look at the details of the images in the book. For a company that prides itself on detailed miniatures, I thought this was a weird decision. Some of that may be limited by iBooks; when I’ve played with it, I haven’t had many images that needed zoom functionality, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s possible within the iBooks structure itself.
  • GW didn’t use the change page-orientation feature. I realized when creating my own iBooks that it’s kind of a pain in the arse; the engine doesn’t let you look at certain page elements when you have your iPad in portrait orientation that you can see in landscape orientation. Still, it’s often more pleasant to read long blocks of text in portrait orientation, so it would be nice if GW had given readers the choice. On the other hand, perhaps they were thinking that you would primarily use your iPad propped up on its SmartCover in landscape orientation as you played the game itself.

FOR FUTURE TEXTS
Here are some things I’d like to see in future Codices and other RPG/miniatures rulebooks. I realize that these high-tech details can add quite a bit to the digital file size; perhaps companies could release both a bare-bones and a digital Collector’s Edition of their books.

  • Sound. I’m a sucker for gimmicks, so I’d like to hear some sound. Have one of the Black Library voice actors read us some of that fluff at the beginnings of chapters.
  • More color. Companies cut back on color when printing because it costs so darn much, but it doesn’t cost in a digital copy. Go ahead and color in those little details at the top of the pages. Make it look more like a Fantasy Flight or an old-school White Wolf book.
  • Video. Gameplay tactics, miniature painting tips, or fluff delivered as video would take digital manuals a significant step ahead of paper copies.

OVERALL VERDICT: LET’S SEE MORE!
Quite honestly, I’d repurchase most of my RPG/miniatures manuals if they were re-released in this format. I think the search, glossary, and notes functions alone would make them far more useful at the table than a printed copy of the book, and being able to yoink graphics from rulebooks for my own personal use fills me with joy. Further, I’d much rather carry one iPad to my local gaming store or to my friend’s house than a whole stack of hardbacks, especially if I’ve also got to carry a box filled with minis. Let’s face it; I’m probably going to take the iPad anyway, so why not cut back on other stuff I have to carry?

I will give all of the one-star reviewers the fact that there’s some sticker shock; it made my heart skip a beat to push the PURCHASE button on my iPad, since I’ve never bought any single item that expensive before. Yet I think we have to move beyond automatically valuing paper copies over digital copies. When I pay for a digital copy, I consider the unlimited downloads and the green factor, both of which are worth money to me; YMMV. In fact, if GW included video and sound not included in the paper copy, I’d highly support its costing the same as the paper book. At the moment, though, the former isn’t where we are in our cultural assessment of the value of etexts, and the latter isn’t where GW is in its iBooks production values, so they should probably offer a modest discount over the hardcover copy until digital copies become more commonplace.

I can’t tell you if you should purchase this item. If you’re a tech junkie who’s attached at the hip to your iPad like I am, then it’s a no-brainer. If you already own the paper copy of the Codex and happily lug it everywhere, then it might not make sense for you. I can say, though, that I hope other gaming companies leap on the bandwagon and use this technology, since I think it could really take gaming books to a whole new level of useful interactivity.

…and if that doesn’t prove my loyalty to Games Workshop the Emperor, I don’t know what will.

I am totally in love with the concept of The Penguin Harlequinade. The whole ‘system’ (inasmuch as you can call it a system) just fascinates me, and I’d love to play/GM it. On the other hand, I can’t for the life of me think of a group who would be willing to do something quite this free-form or acting-school-esque with me.

For those of you unsure of whether you want to take a look, the completely free ‘rulebook’ is quite short. The game itself involves simply acting out a scene (usually with some bizarre goal) while using chips to accomplish tasks that one wants to accomplish. In order to get chips, though, each player must either say a random quote from his or her character sheet–somehow making it make sense in the context of the scene that’s occurring–or take an scene item from the Mayhem Pot, which includes directions like “Take violent offense at the next thing said. Challenge the speaker to a duel. Do not back down.” I want to see this. I want to do this. I want to see someone do this!

Of course, part of me (inevitably) somehow wants to adapt this system to the Warhammer world. While I love the fantasy world above all other RPG worlds, I somehow think this would be even funnier as a Space Marine (Opera.) Hmm…

At any rate, has anybody played this? How did you get a group together? Have you done any other radically open-ended RPGs? How did you prep your group to do them?

Awesome! I talked awhile back about how RPG scenario writers might put iBooks Author to good use, so I was excited to see the announcement on Twitter today that Games Workshop plans to release a line of iBooks supplements for its wargame. GW plans to release a handful of texts each month, and the company has obviously dumped some real money into making their initial offerings both useful and beautiful. The official video shows some of the etexts’ innovations. 3D images of their models that readers can rotate to view from all sides seem like a good way to get a sense of whether or not you really want a particular miniature, and videos and slideshows that explain how to paint models so that they look like the ones shown in particular scenarios will help those who want to learn good painting techniques. The video also goes out of its to point out that the search functions and the notation functions of iBooks will make using rules from these texts easy mid-game.

I’m really glad to see some gaming companies jumping onto iBooks and using the Author tools. I do wonder how much crossover there is between the GW crowd and the Apple crowd; they wouldn’t have struck me as quite the same people, for the most part, but I’m glad to see gaming companies make use of this technology. I’m going to wait until the Codex: Space Marines hits the virtual shelves, and then I’ll do a review of it. I can’t wait to see what it’s like! In the future, I hope that companies like GW expand their use of the functions of iBooks to some of their fiction offerings, and I’d love to see Fantasy Flight jump on the bandwagon and release some of their WFRP3e materials in this format, too.

So, that whole thing where I was going to update last weekend didn’t happen, largely because I had a massive headache on Sunday. Whether or not that was because of stress or because I sat in front of Mass Effect 3  multiplayer for five straight hours is up for grabs. I’m going to go with stress. Following that weekend, my workweek included four 15+ hour days in a row, but luckily, a broken water main in my city has rendered my place of work unusable, so I have today off! Huzzah!

Since I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had a lot of time to read RPG stuff, but there are two things that I might as well mention on this glorious, work-free Friday.

FFG announced its new Warhammer-themed RPG, Only War, focused on the Imperial Guardsman in the 41st Millennium. It doesn’t look like my thing, so much, since I primarily like the religious and fantasy elements of 40K, and this seems to be focused more on helmets, chains of command, and jungles, if the artwork and descriptions are any indicators. I’m not super interested in the romance and adventure of the military, so I doubt I’ll run this. Can’t say if I’ll pick it up, either, honestly, but we’ll see what the reviews say. (We all know, though, that if they put out a CE, I’ll be tempted.)

I’m not sure I follow FFG’s business model. Why are they churning out so many parallel rules systems dealing with slightly different iterations of the 40K universe (Rogue Trader, Black Crusade, Dark Heresy, and Death Watch)? Why would you not dedicate yourself to building a stronger fanbase for one or two of these products by introducing materials for conventions, instituting scenario competitions, or creating product for Free RPG day, then bolstering the line with many different scenarios? Why not put all of the additional types of play in supplements? I know I sound like one of the grumbling oldtimers here, but seriously…this seems a little flawed. I don’t really need a whole new set of ways to roll dice in the grim futuristic world. I need a set of things to do with the dice I already know how to roll.

Of course, I’m sure that FFG has a market analyst who tells them that creating different systems is the most lucrative way to milk GW’s IP, and who am I to argue with a professional? I mean, after all, having the professional assistance of the suits at Hasbro definitely helped WotC and the D&D line. Oh, wait…

The real problem with my going to the FFG website to worry about their marketing strategy, though, is that I find out problematic information like the fact that there’s a CE of Deathwatch that I missed. An awesome CE with chains on it. I need a CE of Deathwatch like I need another hole in my head, but let’s face it: it has chains on it. Who can resist chains?! Plus, my Black Crusade CE looks rather lonely on the mantelpiece.

For all my griping about output, though, I have to say that Warhammer’s fan base continues to amaze me with its high-quality and thoughtful submissions for play. I’ll talk a bit about some fan-based offerings in my next post, but for now, I’m going to get to a place that has running water.

Well, my Black Crusade Collector’s Edition showed up today in the mail. I was tempted to take pictures of it during my lunch hour, but I decided to hold off until the end of the day. That was a good call, since I got some irritating news at the end of the day, but this awesome little trinket turned my bad mood around.

Typical unboxing pics:

The case is a lightweight yet substantive resin. It’s not at all flimsy or poorly made, but it doesn’t make the book hard to lift, either. Quite nicely done.

The detailing on the case is awesome! Just check out this chipper little worm crawling his way out of the filth on the cover:

The book itself is heavy, bound in a sturdy red leatherette with gilt edges and a big ribbon bookmark.

The interior of the book includes FFG’s trademark full-color and wonderful art direction. Here’s the inside cover:

I’m actually pleased that the Writ of Execution is firmly attached to the inside of the book. Now I don’t have to figure out what to do with it. Was I supposed to frame it? Give it to my mom to hang at her house? Put it on the wall at work? I’ll just leave it in the book, then.

All in all, it’s a delightful purchase. (Am I allowed to call something about the forces of Chaos “delightful”?) As I said before, I’m not sure we’ll play this system with the RAW, but I am interested in the fluff included in the book. They’ve done a great job with the detail on the slipcase, and the book itself is a step above FFG’s already high production value. This probably won’t go down in history as my most useful RPG purchase, but it looks pretty cool on our mantlepiece.

 
As you know, I’m a sucker for sound effects in games. I’ve found many different ways to get sounds, but I’ve recently discovered SoundCloud, which is rather like a cross between Twitter and the Freesound Project. You record and share sounds, then people listen, like your sounds, and follow you. Since the sound library is open to a wide community, you get a vibrant (and very strange) mix of music and sound which might be useful for your game.  
 
I can’t say that I can easily use SoundCloud to pull sounds for RPGs, but I suppose that’s not it’s primary function. For instance, while there are many recordings of environmental sounds and sound effects, I haven’t found any way to delineate “sound fx only” in a search, so inputting the term “rainstorm” will bring up recordings of storms and recordings of appallingly bad GarageBand music. Searching therefore takes quite a bit of time, and if you really have a particular kind of effect in mind, you’re probably better off going to the Freesound Project or to iTunes to locate a more targeted track. On the other hand, there is some great unmastered lute and recorder music on here that sounds slightly less polished and more authentically tavern-y than tracks you’d get from professional recordings.  
 
It also seem that a handful of companies like Lyra Ambient are using SoundCloud, so you could stream their tracks from SoundCloud instead of purchasing them. (In general, I’d probably just purchase, but since their tracks aren’t available in iTunes, I’d rather go this path.) Finally, the high amount of synthesized music here might make it a shoe-in for choosing background soundtracks for modern or space games; I could easily see coming to SoundCloud to find stuff for a ShadowRun, 40K, or FreeMarket game because many of the tunes are so unusual, and I found some interesting sound effects like “sewer pump” that might prove useful for a post-apocalyptic setting. 
 

 

Last but not least, the SoundCloud app for iPad seems thoughtful and functional; you could easily set up a playlist of “liked” sounds for your session and play them as you work through your scenes. I plan to spend some time with it over my vacation, so if I find any particularly useful tidbits, I’ll let you know!
 

Would you look at this?

Image from FFG's website. Click to see their page!

 

Yeah. It’s awesome, isn’t it?

Here’s the problem: I had no intention of picking up Black Crusade. I have no intention of playing it. I feel as though you should only play a flip-side game like BC if you’ve already played a game based on the standard universe, and my crew’s game of Rogue Trader is slated into our gaming schedule (if we continue to run into scheduling issues like the ones we’re having now) for sometime in late 2018. That would put a game of BC in the works roughly around 2021.

Obviously I don’t need a collector’s edition of a game I won’t be playing for ten years. By then, there will be three new editions of this game, Games Workshop will have given the Warhammer IP to some random man they met on the street in Suffolk, and FFG may have been bought by some obscure company that is currently known only for making paperclips. (Although I hope those last two don’t happen.) My point is that anything can happen in ten years, and because of that, I don’t need this item.

On the other hand, look at that detailing! Who can resist a book with a huge 3D chaos symbol?

On the same other hand, you get a Writ of Execution with your name on it if you order the CE! I don’t know what you do with a Writ of Execution. Hang it on your wall and redecorate the room around it? Put it in a glass case in your office? Keep it in your car and present it to cops when you get pulled over for speeding? I don’t know what I’d do with it, but the advertising makes it seem very important that I have my own Writ of Execution. Fantasy official documents  might come in handy someday.

It worries me that I’m so squarely within FFG’s target demographic that they can reach into my brain and so easily persuade me to buy something I don’t really want or need. I comfort myself by believing that they’re just some kind of agent of Slaanesh–because let’s face it, I’m lusting to touch the cover of that book. I can’t actually be expected to fight a Chaos God on my own, now can I?

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