Posts Tagged ‘Warhammer 40k’

Veterans of the Psychic Wars

Two questions always get asked about 3:16: “how do I convert it to fantasy,” and “where are the psychics?” As a followup to my 3:16 campaign retrospective, I answer the latter question.

3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars

20 seconds. You explode.

Ever wonder why the strategy boys name planets after artists? Goya, Degas, all that? Started in SIGINT. In the first Terran campaign, the 1:1 was deployed to planet E-348.3. Three days after the drop, the comm officers were calling it Planet Munch. Because all they heard on the radio were screams.

The 1:1 was the vanguard of the Expeditionary Forces, the First Earth Battalion. They sallied forth into the universe, confident they’d be home in a few years, having made the cosmos safe for Terracracy. They were the most highly trained and expensively equipped troops ever deployed by a human military. They were the poster boys for Terra’s invincible armada. And they were not ready.

The 1:1 lost their hypercarrier, the Omnicariximus, while entering orbit. A thousand survivors in overcrowded drop pods made it to the surface, where they were mercilessly destroyed by an entirely different civilization from the one they had been sent to engage. They fought desperately on the surface for more than a year before extraction.

There are as many accounts of what happened next as there were survivors. Which is to say, about a hundred. What is known: all of the veterans came back scarred, and a few came back changed. They felt anger, fear, hatred… and when they felt those things, people died. Sometime tens. Sometimes hundreds.

The 1:1 were neurologically cleansed, and reassigned as raw Troopers under new identities. Their operational specialty is listed as “psychological warfare.” The Admiralty is hoping that they can serve out their lives quietly. Failing that, it would like to know what makes the 1:1 tick. And how to make them go off.

The fate of the 1:1 was not reported publicly to the Expeditionary Force, or on Terra.

Their pictures are still on the posters.


A player may choose to play a psychic at character creation.


A psychic’s greatest weapon is Catharsis, a replacement use for Strengths. The difference is that the psychic character is actually having a flashback right there on the battlefield… and it’s generally not a happy one. The raw trauma of his past is simply capable of blowing entire armies to pieces.

Rather than the standard Strength effects, Catharsis acts much like a Paradise Bomb. Every PC in the encounter takes a kill, including the psychic. Armor cannot negate this damage.

For each PC that takes a kill, remove one threat token. Each PC rolls d100 kills — while the psychic inflicts many of those kills, the brass don’t want the 3:16 at large to know about the deployment of psychic Troopers, and redistribute kill credits accordingly. Needless to say, this creates some tension, especially among squads who have to wander the battlefields putting the final bullets into helpless, mindless enemies.

Peace Pills

Psychics must take regular doses of memory blocking drugs, and each is given an emergency supply before the drop. While a single pill simply prevents a Trooper from annihilating his camp site during a bad dream, the whole lot can be taken at once to create a brief and all-pervading sense of clarity and calm. The Trooper forgets everything but the task at hand, allowing a single NFA check per mission to be re-rolled.

Because of their volatile nature, psychics are issued sugar water in place of combat drugs.

The War Effort

“Run and hide, because the monsters are coming — the human race.”

– Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who

3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars

"...and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him..."

I don’t remember why, exactly, I ordered 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars. I may have read and liked the original, free version. I may have wanted to look at a “post-AGON” game design.

What I do recall is that I loved everything about it.

The game was honest and unapologetic about the “kill-happy machismo” of the power-armored-soldiers genre, as well as the frankly upsetting implications of playing death squads in the grim, dark future. Attack rolls didn’t deal abstract “damage,” they resulted in concrete kills. And the Flashback system seemed guaranteed to deliver the kinds of broken protagonists I so much enjoy.

Problem was, I couldn’t run it. The setting conceit I appreciated so much for its honesty, that the players were tasked with killing every living thing in the universe, was something I just couldn’t handle. I couldn’t play the NPCs who gave the orders to exterminate planets.

Either fortunately or disturbingly, though, I’m more than able to play a character who follows those orders.1 So one of my coworkers took up GMing, and I took on the role of Trooper Shiv, who would turn out to be almost as much a victim of the Terran military as the people he killed.

Our squad’s first deployment was to a planet crawling with acid spitting bugs. You know the type.  Hard to sympathize with. In the first few minutes of scouting, the PCs were ambushed and Trooper Shiv took a face full of acid. Checking off wound boxes on my character sheet, I saw that he was “crippled.” I decided that meant that he was now blind. By the end of the mission, he also had the last surviving brain-bug riding around in his head.

3:16 is a lot of things. One of them is a PvP game. Players end up competing for kills and promotions. Within one mission (which took four or five lunch hours), the most craven character had become an officer. Within two missions, it became obvious that if the Lieutenant’s right-hand man didn’t get him killed, the Lieutenant was going to get the squad killed.

The Lieutenant liked to put Shiv on point.

The campaign went on a good long while, for a lunchtime game — most of a year. Here’s what I learned.

The tactics/management game is tiny and brilliant. Like most combat systems, it probably couldn’t save an otherwise dull campaign, but it’s fun and you can actually play it over lunch.

Flashbacks are fun, especially since you unlock more of them as you advance. Your characters become progressively more capable of destruction while, in parallel, becoming more developed people. For my group, this was both unpleasant and hilarious. Early on, it was my favorite feature of the game.

Flashbacks are also frustrating. Using a Flashback requires you to invent both an anecdote and a character trait… and that character trait needs to be sufficient to either pull you out of danger or end a full-scale battle. I ended up abusing the system a bit, and having most of Shiv’s Flashbacks be “deleted scenes” from previous missions.

The GM has to play things fairly straight. A few Futurama-esque gizmos are alright, but the more humor becomes built into the setting, the less morbid and funny the troopers’ lives become.

Ultimately, 3:16 requires you to both find something kind of amusing about shooting everything that lives, but also be queasy with the idea that this is a good thing. It’s a game about doing the awful things that 40k assumes as a matter of course, and doing them as a job.

The moral lesson is obvious… unnecessary, even. But it’s a good one to work through once in a while. I work in video games, where success is measured in imaginary murders. Once in a while, it’s good to play a game that’s not asking me to be entirely okay with that.

In the year since our campaign wound up, I’ve often found myself thinking about 3:16. Should we play again? Should I be running this time? Having played the game more or less as written, I’m now a lot more comfortable making changes to the setting. Giving Earth a sympathetic reason to go to war, for instance, or putting troopers into literal hell in the fashion of the Doom series. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to gloss over or forget what it was like playing not just the monsters, but the bad guys.

Carnage Amongst the Stars still carries some of the unease that I feel every time I see an FPS that involves mowing down the Other.

I’m glad that it does.

  1. I know what I did there.

Ren Faires, Justin Bieber BDSM, and Christian singles

Fantasy Heartbreaker is now accumulating spam at about the same rate as actual comments. I’m amused by some of the subjects.

Ren Faire garb

Henry VIII, local version

Henry VIII, local version

This is kind of funny, because one of my favorite genres of fantasy gaming is what I call “ren faire fantasy.” The main characteristics of ren faire fantasy are a large, somewhat inexplicable middle class, pirates, lots of specialty shoppes, colorful clothing, and a lot of “cheeky wenches.”

Honestly, it’s kind of Warhammer FRP with less fantasy races and less James Wallis.1

Anyway, the odd bit here is that I’ve been meaning to do a discussion of ren faire fantasy and why it’s actually quite a lovely thing, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. So it’s rather as if I’m getting spam from the future.2 Complete with wenches!

Christian Dating

AbstinenceIt’s nice to know that robots don’t believe all those Jack Chick stereotypes.3 A Christian Dating web site stopped by to tell me just how much they enjoyed “Dudes of Legend: How to be Fucking Awesome,” which I thought was sweet.

Unfortunately, I still have very little use for Christian dating, which if you believe this particular robot is very hard to do without the aid of their web site. I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, but my involvement with Christianity has led me to believe that it’s the easiest way to meet people ever. There are weekly events packed with people looking for meaning in their lives. It does not take a fiendish time-traveling android intelligence to see the dating possibilities.

Someone Who Mistook the “Red Box” for a very different reference

I’m backing away quietly.

Pretentious Book Reviews

Vampire Player's Guide cover

This book cover is actually titled "To Pick a Rose," which I think we can all agree is pretentious. It hangs outside my office.

It was hard to figure out if this one was spam, because it pointed to an entirely innocent-seeming web site of some guy reading a lot of minor European novels in translation. The site had a decent theme, relevant comments, discussion… all pretty normal, right?

Well, except for the fact that it left repeated comments about discount motor scooters. Which, well, I can sort of imagine the guy who runs that web site riding one (Ben does, after all), but don’t really believe he’s trying to sell them on my Dungeons & Dragons blog.

I figure what actually happened is that the robot was trying to disguise itself by pointing at a legitimate web site, but it kinda fails in that it then didn’t leave any way of reaching wherever it was going to try and sell me the dodgy scooters.4


Atrocitus, Red Lantern

This is what hate does to you.

“This is about everything I have ever hated since creating my blog.”

Given that this site is, explicitly, about love and pain, I initially figured this was some kind of threat from my arch-nemesis. But it’s actually a sort of stock scam that you’d probably have to understand something about finance to even fall for.

So, let me state two things I don’t have time for here, for the edification of future bots:

  1. Hate
  2. Math more complicated than THAC0.5

“Justin Bieber would be my top! He is extremely sweet!”

I’ve been too busy wondering about a sword fight between Lady Gaga and Ziggy Stardust to really keep track of who Justin Bieber is, but I know he frequently trends on Twitter.

It’s nice to know that he’s a sweet top, though. I’ve always thought kindness was underrated in some BDSM circles.6

Those Margaret Weis Novels that aren’t Dragonlance

Aside from the link, all this one said was “I am not good at posting comments.”

Sexual Harassment Lawyers

The Legend of Zelda DS

Which of them needs the lawyer?

Sexual harassment — in the workplace, at school, and, yes, even in the gaming group — is a serious issue. We all have a responsibility to make the world a better place by stepping up and saying something about it. And yeah, we should sue the shit out of some folks along the way, agreed.

But… uhm… that post was about The Legend of Zelda.


  1. While Wallis probably wouldn’t want to be credited solely with the tone of the game, he’s the WFRP developer who declared that “If you find yourself in a WFRP adventure and not knee-deep in shit then duck, because another load is past due.” I tend to credit him with the interpretation of “grim” as “poop-covered gore-soaked farce,” which is certainly not what “grim” means in Warhammer 40k. Believe it or not, I mean this in an entirely complimentary fashion.
  2. Primary objective: Kill Sarah Connor. Secondary objective: Sell you Nigerian v1agra.
  3. Hopefully, they don’t believe in abstinence, either. Just saying.
  4. “Dodgy Scooter” is not a polite name for a halfling.
  5. THAC0 is kind of the cunnilingus of AD&D. People who don’t do it talk about what a ridiculous process it is, how they shouldn’t have to go through it to get at the “fun,” and so on. People who actually do it regard it as a necessary skill for growing up, and brag about it a lot without realizing that most everyone else is perfectly comfortable with it already.
  6. And all Warhammer circles.


Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax

So I talked about my disconnect with the cleric and fantasy religion in general yesterday. Apparently, Gygax had a few words on the issue:1

This capable and knowledgeable individual2 suggests that data on the deities is insufficient for usefulness in an AD&D™ campaign. That religion, being so much a part of our real history, must likewise play a part in your campaign.

J. R. R. Tolkien did not agree, for he wrote many pages without mention of religion. Most of the heroic fantasy and swords & sorcery books written do not feature any particular religious zeal on the part of their protagonists. Consider Conan, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, Harold Shea, and the list goes on and on.

I do not agree that it needs be a significant part of the campaign. As AD&D™ games depend on participant input for their character, the detailing of deities and those who serve them is strictly a part of the role playing aspect of the game.

Must all evil characters sound sinister? Does an elf have to be flighty? Need a ranger be lugubrious? Actually, the game system tells you what is necessary for a campaign, but how the campaign is role-played is strictly up to the DM and players.

I’ll admit I don’t know what Gygax means in the last paragraph.3 Gods aren’t necessary. Cool. Got that, agree. Fiction need not match one reader’s view of history. Check. Play it your own damn way. Correctamundo.

But, ah, are elves flighty in conventional views of history? Did evil-aligned personages4 actually speak in a sinister fashion? I’m really not sure what the Father of Roleplaying5 means here, even though I suspect I agree.

I should probably mention that my current campaigns tend to have gods, but I don’t really mention them all that often. I more or less assume that you must believe in something, and that sometimes that something’s real. That sometimes she talks to angels, when she has her little fits, even.

I don’t, though, typically involve gods overmuch. They get little shrines and prayers and sometimes saints6. But my desire to rewrite Dune has dwindled over the years,7 and I’ve simultaneously become very frustrated with playing or playing with Religious Character Who is Crazy Because Religion is Crazy.8

One of the fastest ways, in fact, to turn me off your game9 is to start telling me how important religion is to your setting. I don’t object to it, but if you’re at the place in the creative process where that’s what you’re most passionate about, well, then, I’m in a different place.

And do keep in mind, as I say this, that I’m someone who writes about vampires from a very Catholic perspective for money and enjoys the hell out of it. It’s just that, again, I view religion these days as something of a given.

Nelson, The Simpsons

A game designer

Oh, and if your main original idea is that Christianity Was Wrong, well, then, you can show yourself the door. I’ve got my own opinions on Christianity by the loads, a fair few of them unfriendly, but I nonetheless don’t need another game designer going “ha ha, I wrote the end of the world just slightly different from Revelation, buy this big WoDalike to find out about it.”

Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man

The device I'm employing here is actually a "straw man," but I like this picture better.

Oh, and by the way, sorry, if the Celts were a world superpower I think I’d be awfully tired of them, too, so don’t think “ha ha Christopher Lee was right” is going to sell me on your latest “dark fantasy epic” either.10 And by the way, we all know that fairy tales are dark, that Santa is creepy, and that Lilith was Adam’s first wife.11

God save us.


  1. Upon which I am committing the violence of adding paragraph breaks and footnotes. Just like a real Bible scholar!
  2. Read “noob.”
  3. Which is one of the reasons I gifted him with paragraphs, so that I don’t have to say “that bit where he goes all wibbly right at the end there.”
  4. Such as orcs and Hitler.
  5. Roleplaying has two dads. Deal with it now, and get over it, because one day you’re going to hear about the three-way it had with that goth couple back in the nineties and ALEENA WILL NEVER BE YOUR EMOTIONAL SAFE PLACE AGAIN.
  6. I like saints.
  7. Though, you know, give me a call if you get the RPG license.
  8. One of my many not-insurmountable frustrations with EVE and 40k.
  9. Faster, even, than being a famous goth band who starts your sales pitch by calling me a corporate sellout.
  10. Oh! This is ranting! I see why you do this, Internet!
  11. Well, according to some Roy Thomas of medieval theology, anyway.