The Wild Hunt – The Game is Over

The Wild Hunt has been on Netflix Instant for some time now, but is also available for purchase, which I highly recommend.

Image displaying horned skull Murtagh on cover of The Wild HuntThe Wild Hunt builds slowly, alternating from Erik Magnusson’s drab existence in urban Montreal with his dying father to the vivid colors and energy of the LARP camp filmed at Billicone in Quebec, Canada. In most respects, the LARP event is any gamer’s dream. It definitely is for Erik’s older brother Bjorn, who channels his Icelandic ancestry into his Viking character. Erik’s girlfriend, Lyn, departs for a weekend at the camp, but Erik is tormented by dreams in which he hears her whimpering and crying out for help. These premonitions prompt Erik to check up on Lyn. Once Erik leaves the cold grey city and enters the Canadian wilderness, the pace quickens and the drama rises again and again until it reaches a very bloody peak.

All of the technical aspects of the movie are well done under the helm of Alexandre Franchi. The music adds to the mood, Claudine Sauve’s shots serve the plot well, and nothing about the film stands out as being low budget. In fact, much of the movie takes place at night, but none of the action is obscured by poor lighting as can often be the case in many Hollywood productions. The Wild Hunt is one of the better movies I have seen in the last few years, outshining other Viking fare such as Valhalla Rising and the Pathfinder remake, but also many other mainstream films.

The Acting in The Wild Hunt

Actress Tiio Horn in furs as Princess Evlynia

Tiio Horn as Princess Evlynia of the Ice Wind

The acting and casting in The Wild Hunt is consistently strong. The movie does err on the handsome and slender side of things though, unless I’m horribly unaware of how many fit LARPers there are. Mark Krupa is brilliant as Bjorn while Nicolas Wright plays the hipster douche King Argyle quite well. The awkward David, played by Kyle Gatehouse, was well cast too. He is one of the most comical characters, but Spiro Malandrakis as the melodramatic, pixie referee Oliver, is hilarious in many of his scenes. Trevor Hayes is utterly convincing as the powerful villain Murtagh. When he is in character as Murtagh, he is primal and commanding. Out of character, his charisma remains with a strong manipulative streak. Everyone from the Elven Queen to Tiio Horn as Lyn/Princess Evlynia is perfect for their parts.

Comedy and Dark Turns

There is ample comic relief to help build the story, but be warned. If you have seen The Foot Fist Way, Observe & Report, or Super, they are good indications of the direction The Wild Hunt takes, blending humor with some pretty grim reality. Two much less humorous films I’d compare it to are Falling Down and Taxi Driver. Non-gamers who enjoy the sort of movie typified by these five other films, where the psychological walls between two realities are caving in, will probably also enjoy The Wild Hunt. For a player of RPGs or a LARPer though, The Wild Hunt is a must see. The movie leaves a deep impression, much like a sledgehammer to the head, and I have found myself watching it over and over again, wrestling with some of its themes.

The Wild Hunt’s Themes

Why Does My Son Have Somber Dreams?

Horned Skull Murtagh Leads the Wild Hunt with Savage Kelts Behind Him

An example of the excellent lighting in The Wild Hunt

I think if you are a gamer you will identify with Bjorn or even Murtagh, but perhaps a non-gamer friend would identify with Erik (Ricky Mabe), who is thrust into the crazy irresponsible world of the LARP. However Erik is also weak-willed and a wuss. He is losing his girlfriend to Murtagh, but he makes the same sort of needy pleas for sympathy characteristic of so many nice guys. Trying to talk her into accepting him back, he promises, “I will follow you forever”. Evlynia doesn’t want to be followed around by puppy-eyed, vanilla Erik. She wants an equal partner or even to be led on a Wild Hunt of fun and adventures herself. Bad boy Murtagh or even crazy Bjorn are more likely to do so than weak Erik.

I think this underlying theme is an incredibly important one for gamers. The greatest trope of gaming, for male gamers at least, is “I played D&D until I got a girlfriend”. Many gamers become Erik Magnussons, denying their interests, passions, and identities, in order to fit in and try to attract a mate. These efforts may work in the short run, but in the long run, such gamers are leading somber unfulfilled lives. Eric’s father questions “Why does my son have somber dreams?” By denying himself, his ancestry, and his potential, Eric is a failure and ironically can’t maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, or in Bjorn’s words which he swears “I have lost my warrior pride and because of that, I have lost my woman to another.” In contrast, Bjorn embraces his Viking roots, the call of the elements, and at least a vague sense of a destiny. This is not to say that Bjorn is popular or without problems of his own. In fact, he spends a good deal of the movie by himself. As the plot builds, he must confront his own fears and faces his own tests, however painful they end up being.

Decorum and Escapism: “Don’t Mess with Decorum”

Actor Trevor Hayes with skull makeup as a shaman in the Wild Hunt

Trevor Hayes as Murtagh the Celt Shaman

The other theme of The Wild Hunt that has really captivated me is the battle between fantasy and reality. Straddling the line between the two is decorum, remaining in character during the game, but also recognizing that it is a game. As Murtagh demands of Lyn, “When you speak to me, you speak in character.” However, that in of itself is a breach of decorum. The movie is full of these little inconsistencies which seem to be particular to role-playing, and LARPing in particular. Wargamers might occasionally invoke the Emperor’s protection on a dice roll or give a cry of “Waaaaghhh!”, but you never have to ask “Is that you asking the question or your character?”

Further complicating The Wild Hunt and its characters’ pursuit of decorum is that many of them are role-playing as themselves. Murtagh, Bjorn, Argyle, and Lyn are arguably playing characters based on an ideal version of themselves. Bjorn uses his real name, while Lyn goes with Princess Evlynia. Murtagh is never even referred to by another name. While they break decorum for other reasons, almost any verbal attack against these LARPers is very personal and against their own identities. Rejection is very real and crushing to most of the LARPers. In contrast, the gangly David is anything but a fierce and bloodthirsty Viking warrior. Though he’s a comical character, he’s actually one of the closest to being a real role-player in the movie. The other ironically is Erik, who despite his somber dreams, does not view himself as an actual Viking warrior, or any sort of warrior for that matter. His role-playing to take back Lyn is not an escape for him, but instead is personally empowering.

For Bjorn, Evlynia, and Murtagh though decorum is an escape. For Bjorn, it’s a move away from his ailing father. For Lyn, it’s freedom, “fresh air”, and and an escape from real life and its consequences. While we never learn what it is that Murtagh is escaping, it’s obvious that he enjoys the power of leading his Celtic faction. However much they enjoy LARPing though, it does not empower them. There’s a larger question here about the role of entertainment and recreation in life that The Wild Hunt asks, going beyond LARPing and tabletop gaming to any sort of game or hobby. How should we spend our free time? Based on the fates of Bjorn, Lyn, and Murtagh, The Wild Hunt argues strongly against any sort of answer involving attempting to escape reality.

All images copyright Arc Light Films, used with permission.

Hobocon – The First Documentary Ever Filmed at Gen Con

Poster for Hobocon showing three exhausted gamers at Gen Con in IndianapolisAs this year will be my first at Gen Con, I thought I should get a better understanding of what I’ll be getting into. I have been browsing Gen Con’s online forums, but I also picked up Hobocon, “the first documentary ever filmed at Gen Con” shot by and starring three gamer friends Rob Couch, Jason Slingerland, and Wilhelm Rumpf, in 2008.

The underlying premise of Hobocon is that the three friends will be hobos at the convention in Indianapolis, or as the back of their DVD jacket says, they’ll be spending a “weekend at Gencon with no food, no money, and nowhere to sleep”. Based on that description I was expecting more of a narrative from the 75 minute movie, but it was slow in emerging. In short, the movie is a glorified home video and could have been called “Gen Con 2008: Our Experience”. They do try to stick to their premise or “stunt” as they refer to it, by not bringing food themselves or booking a hotel room. Yet by selling or bartering pins that say Hobocon they manage to get a McChicken sandwich, a number of snacks, and some pizza. Through their Charisma scores and the generosity of others, they also manage to secure some hotel room floor space. The movie is incredibly short on the three friends actually playing any games at Gen Con, though it never has any lulls and does not drag on and on.

Would I go so far and be so snarky as to agree with Robert Couch when, in the first seconds of the film, he says “Oh man, this was a dumb idea, this was a really really stupid idea.”? No, the idea has some merit. Its execution though could have been brought off in a more informative, entertaining manner. Unless someone actually appears in the movie, I don’t imagine any viewers will watch it more than twice, but at the same time, it’s a very solid, basic overview, I think, of what a Gen Con attendee can expect to find at the convention. It’s also a good movie to show to a relative to help explain what goes on at a gaming convention.

The Highlights

Though it wasn’t captured on film, I enjoy the description Jason Slingerland offers of the security guard shouting at the party while they were trying to sleep in the convention center, “This ain’t a hotel, b#$%&, get out of here!” Inexplicably one of the gamers also complains about a scantily-clad cosplayer, saying “What the hell? I mean it’s just crazy. It’s just crazy. Why would you wear that?” There is no explanation or interview with her. They just move on. The Gen Con Prom, or as they refer to it, the Nerd Prom, easily has the best music in the film and the segment is very brisk and slightly eye-opening. I also enjoyed the three friends’ giddy glee about their sleeping arrangements for their second or third night in a cramped storage closet in a hotel suite. It sounded as though one of the occupants would be unaware of the entire arrangement, adding a level of danger to the enterprise.

What It Could Have Been

I was surprised by the lack of gaming culture presented in a movie about gaming by gamers for gamers. The basic battles of the documentary, finding somewhere to sleep or something to eat, are not presented as gaming challenges, when they easily could have been. The gamers seem to forget their roots with that most basic of RPG cliches, the watch schedule. Two of the gamers could have taken turns sleeping while the third kept watch. “Here comes a Level 3 Blue Shirt,” they could have said. “We passed our Stealth check this time.” They could have busted out miniatures to represent the guards and drawn up patrol routes. I would have loved watching one of them give a cry of “Magic missile, magic missile!” when confronted by a dastardly Blue Shirt. There is no questing for loot, XP awards, or leveling at the convention. The premise of an elusive One Ring item could have been an interesting angle. There is not even a single “Red Warrior Needs Food Badly”.

Hobocon Throws Down the Gauntlet

While I will be staying at a hotel in August, the idea of outdoing Hobocon is so very tempting. Gamers always have their own ideas of how an adventure could have been handled better. Like many gamers, I would also be pickier about sticking to the rules of the challenge. I also have more extreme levels that I would go to. It would almost be worthwhile to go to an Indianapolis homeless shelter or to try to sleep in a public park. At one point in the film, they are near the concessions after it had closed and I thought we might see some dumpster diving or begging for scraps, but that never happens. Instead, the gamers are very practical and civilized. They are not feral nerds, but instead use hand sanitizer on the pen knife to divvy up the McChicken sandwich. They talk humorously about possibly sleeping in the bathroom stalls, but they never sink so low. I know some gamers would take that as a challenge and proudly boast of having done so. My wife came up with her own solution for their sleeping schedule problem, suggesting bringing your own large tablecloth to add to a table to make it look fancier, meanwhile one of your friends sleeps under the covered table. How much XP would you award that idea? As role players we’re all used to answering the question of “What do you do?” I would be interesting in hearing or seeing other gamers’ solutions to the basic premise of Hobocon.

Watching Hobocon

It seems the movie has been screened before at Gen Con, but you can also buy a copy of it from either Indie Press Revolution or Noble Knight Games. Sadly Netflix and Hulu don’t offer it as of April 2012.

Hobocon poster image copyright Imminent Entertainment, used with permission.

Vegas Games Day – April 14, 2012

Vegas Game Days

Every second Saturday of each month there is a Las Vegas Game Day here in Las Vegas. Originally organized by Mike Sanchez and furthered by Doug Daulton, the Vegas Game Days were first held at one of the Las Vegas Valley Library District’s libraries, but have moved to the Emergency Arts building, near the Fremont Street Experience. There were about 30-40 gamers in attendance when I visited on April 14, 2012, and all of them were friendly and welcoming. There are 6 tables that are used in two different sessions, the first going from 2:00 to 6:00, with the second going from 7:00 to midnight. GMs and players can sign up for games ahead of time on Warhorn, but it’s also possible to just show up and join an RPG or a board game. This is all for free. Before the gaming, there’s also a meeting for Neoncon volunteers.

Hellas: The Deroshia Connection

Cover for Hellas the role playing game showing futuristic Greek spacefarerI had thumbed through Hellas at a Neoncon several years before and found it to be intriguing, so I signed up for the session when I saw it on Warhorn. Two other players came to the table, as well as a third, one of the game’s developers, Jerry D. Grayson. GM Perry Snow had made 5 pregenerated characters in advance for his adventure, the Deroshia Connection.

Hellas blends science fiction with Greek drama and mythology, or as the game’s creators say, it’s 300 meets Chronicles of Riddick. I took the part of the Spartan Isidorios, a skilled Hoplite of Athenia. Our techie and pilot was a Zintar, the odd purple-headed squid people with mechanical suits, occasionally resembling centaurs. Jerry played the diplomat Gregarios rather undiplomatically and our fourth member was a Nymphas Naiad, a sea nymph.

Purple squidlike Zintar in centaur bio-mech suit

The actual Zintar is the purple squid head. He or she is using a suit.

Our party had served together as Galactic Legionaires and was now investigating the mysterious disappearance of a ship’s crew. We took the ship to its intended destination, quickly passing through Slipspace, Hellas’s version of hyperspace or warp speed. Arriving at the moon of Deroshia the GM introduced one of Hellas’s player-enfranchising mechanics: we were asked to describe the moon.

Someone suggested that its liquid-covered surface was liquid nitrogen, while someone else suggested that all of the buildings were on stilts and that even though the liquid was only several feet deep there were strong tidal waves. There was no one on the moon to greet us as we explored, discovering a plot by the snake-race Goregon rebels to attack the Nymphas and inadvertently releasing a security robot, none too pleased with our presence.

We were asked to describe the security robot. Perry Snow was hilarious as the tiny, tinny-voiced robot that we came up with as he fumed at us in an affected catty voice. We made short work of it and I got a taste for the combat system, which was easy to grasp, but had a few interesting elements. Initiative is rolled, but then each character states his intended action starting with the lowest initiative. Being a bad ass Spartan, I blocked a shot with my shield, and we destroyed the defense robot in two turns and set off to foil the Goregon rebels’ plans, after first filling some fuel tanks with some liquid nitrogen and strategizing.

Coming in for a landing on the planet, our party was hailed by the Air Traffic Controller. I tried to make use of another game mechanic, calling on one of Isidorios’s Disadvantages, referencing Senator Orion as I tried to Intimidate the Controller to let us land. I could add dice to my roll, but now the GM could use the Disadvantage against me (and the rest of the party). The three of us were dropped off on a roof overlooking the square where the Golden Horse statue was. Our Zintar released the liquid nitrogen on board over the giant horse as Senator Orion and Anti-Aircraft Tanks opened fire on the ship from down below. It turned out that there weren’t any Goregons inside the horse, but instead there was a bomb, which blew up! Beseeching Hoseidon, the Poseidon analogue, and god of Starry Navigation, the Zintar avoided death. The Nymphas in the square weren’t so fortunate, including my nemesis Orion.

“I caused Orion to lose face, but you have caused him to lose his head.” I complimented our Zintar comrade after she’d landed and she offered Orion’s head to Hoseidon in tribute to the god’s patronage. As we headed towards some sort of Nymphas council several blocks away, I couldn’t resist telling our Nymphas orphan “If you had parents they would have told you to beware Goregons bearing gifts.” Not knowing your parents in Hellas means that your hero probably doesn’t have much Glory, as was the case with our Nymphas.

RPG character sheet for Hellas showing character's disadvantages

Part of Isidorios’s Character Sheet: His Disadvantages and Ambitions

Some great role-playing and a big battle later saw the game end with a wedding! Gregarios proposed and was soon wed to a Nymphas princess with my character Isidorios stepping in as his best man. While the relationships that Hellas promotes are a very cool and integral feature, I was hoping to make use of some of the game’s other mechanics myself, such as beseeching the gods, cursing them, or doing other heroic acts. In a one-off session, earning Glory or Hero Points, while pleasing, is just not the same as it would be in a campaign. Trying to live up to your hero’s Destiny or avoiding his Fate, while at the same time acquiring Glory, a wife, or heroic children of one’s own, are things that really appeal to me.

Hellas has just successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a reprint of the main rulebook. I will be interviewing designer Jerry D. Grayson in the future.

Pathfinder Society: In Service to Lore (First Steps – Part 1)

With some trepidation I went to my first Pathfinder Society game. Published by Paizo, Pathfinder is based on the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons using the Open Gaming License and is set in the world of Golarion. Having looked over the Warhorn signups I decided to create a Fighter to give the party some muscle, naming him Asir Al-Nimr. I was unsure about how much RP there would actually be in this public organized play setting, but knew I wanted a character with an Egyptian feel to him, searching for relics to help rebuild the Osirion Empire. I found out later from my a friend in Oman that Asir Al-Nimr could mean “Juice of the Tiger” in Arabic. I didn’t quite channel Charlie Sheen during the adventure, but I did try to RP once I got my bearings.

Many of the other players were preparing their Level 1 characters when I arrived as well. 3 PCs had died in the Pathfinder Society game the previous session which alarmed me a bit. Eventually the game began. There were no party introductions, but instead directions from our Pathfinder Society boss. We were given 4 tasks to accomplish and sent on our way. Two hours into the adventure, I thought that we’d be finishing soon and was having a so-so time. We’d accomplished 3 of the 4 tasks, but had only had one fight against 3 Dire Rats, which I sadly played no part in dispatching. I did try to flirt and smooth talk Aunty Baldwin, the alcoholic caretaker of an orphanage, but she wasn’t having any Asir Al-Nimr on account of my Filth Fever (and perhaps her morals).

By the end of the evening though, I’d had Filth Fever, my skin had turned blue, and I’d been poisoned. I’d been reduced to 3 HP and our party had struggled for its existence. I’d also had a lot of fun in the interim. I found myself aching to get into combat and hit some stuff with my long sword. I was very surprised by the amount of problem solving that went on throughout our session and the absence of combats. However the last combat more than made up for it as we discovered what a killer Chromatic Spray can be. It dropped 4 of us, leaving our cleric and a ranger to take on the remaining villains on their own, round after round. Despite not having a turn, I was on the edge of my seat to see whether we would survive or not. We did.

Permanent character deaths being so possible definitely adds more to combats. Grinding for gold or the tabletop equivalent is also impossible. That adds a lot of weight to the gold awarded at the end of the game. I am looking forward to carefully spending the 447 gold that we each got, as well as to the next adventure in Golarion.

Hellas RPG images copyright Khepera Publishing, used with permission.

Skullduggery

Skullduggery (1983) is so mindnumbingly bad that I had to watch it two times having subconsciously blotted most of it from my mind. Yes, it really is that bad, so bad that the poor transfer from VHS to DVD neither adds nor detracts from the movie, while the production values remind me of my junior high gaming friends’ attempts at making our own movie. The camera work is decent stuff, but the writing and plot are horribly inane.

I began by writing “the movie only has two semi-redeeming features”, but that would be giving the acting and the comedy of Skullduggery too much credit. The best bit of acting in Skullduggery is when the some of the characters do a good job of poor acting in a play during an odd talent show. The other “redeeming” feature is the rather sparse comedy sprinkled throughout and by comedy, I mean the funniest line in the movie is, “Listen, I’ve got a raccoon in my pants, want to set it free?” If that doesn’t get you, maybe an old woman in her 70s in a ballerina’s tutu will make you laugh? No? Then you should read this review of Skullduggery, complete with the theme song, video clips, and screen captures. It’s much more humorous than the actual Skullduggery. This review is less humorous, but also captures Skullduggery well. Anyone stating that the movie is good should be distrusted. Every honest review of Skullduggery should have the words “worse” or “worst” in them. However the movie does depict some gaming on screen.

The Gaming Aspects

In character creation Adam rolls up a Warlock, getting a 180 IQ. a 12 Commonsense, 18 Stamina, and a 7 Charisma, prompting Barbara to gush “That’s the highest score I’ve ever seen. You couldn’t have done much better than that, Adam.” They play with a castle in the middle of the board with one GM and four players. The board is slightly reminiscent of the Talisman 3rd Edition board with a tower in the middle (with apologies to Talisman for the comparison).

The second session features Mike coming in with an arrow through his head saying “We are two wild and crazy knights!” as the GM face palms. The GM has a new “scenario” though, “there is a girl somewhere near who’s gaining enormous powers. A high level sorceror wants to hire you to kill her.” The black player has one of his few speaking lines in the film, questioning who she is. “A sorceress dressed in white,” the GM answers. The group will get 100,000 pieces of gold for completing this mission. We also learn that Barbara plays a magic nymph.

While there are several other sessions, they have few, if any, game mechanics in them. At one point Adam’s Warlock is one square behind the White Sorceress, so they have some sort of grid movement on the board. Adam sums it up pretty well “It’s hard to say where the game begins or life ends. Sometimes I feel like one of those figurines on the board.” Starting a new game in the last sequence of the movie, the GM says “Now all the figurines are on neutral territory.” There is no actual role-playing as the characters, but instead the GM paraphrases for the villains or the wizard offering the bounty on the sorceress, though they do use a dagger in the game. The GM always assumes the party’s cooperation. Actual in-game combat is not depicted.

Skullduggery’s Plot

The world is a dark, dark place and always horribly lit. A warlock in 1382 gives thanks to a demonic puppet, the Spirit of Evil, having said earlier “Diabolus nos adjuvet. So the Devil help us”. He quickly kills two royal guards and holds up his hands innocently which did have me laughing both times. The king is both poisoned and stabbed and then the warlock explains the premise of the movie so quickly and briefly that it may be easy to miss. The king broke his promise to give his soul to the warlock, because of this the warlock claims the soul of the Queen’s unborn child and puts a “spell on him and his offspring for generations to come. Diabolus me adjuvet. So the Devil help me.”

“The weirdest part is that all of a sudden the sight of blood really gives me the creeps.”

Cutting to Trottelville, USA in 1982, the odd Adam (Thom Halverston) glowers about on the street. He is joined by his friend, the nerdy nurse Barbara (Wendy Crewson). When they get to their poorly-lit gaming session, the demonic puppet is on the wall. The GM who is called Chuck late in the movie is played quite well by David Main. Adam rolls a Warlock and sees a red electronic light in the miniature castle on their game board. He invokes the demonic puppet, which falls to the ground and then there’s the first taste of five or more sequences of a mysterious man putting together a puzzle of Adam and Eve with a horrible brassy jazz score that appear throughout the movie. If you watch this movie, which I strongly recommend you don’t , you can know how much more awful you’ll have to sit through by how complete the puzzle is. The game session is wrapping up and then begins the lengthy Trottelville Junior College talent show.

“I can suck a Greyhound bus through a garden hose.”

A stage magician makes his appearance and seems to work real magic in the girl’s dressing room. No, even though it came out in 1983, there are no hijinks in the girl’s dressing room… yet. The silent magician works through a number of tricks on stage as Adam scowls. Thom Halverson is really good at scowling and has even mastered delivering lines in monotone. The puppet reappears. Then there is a student-written play in the talent show with Adam substituting in a guard’s armor costume. His initial efforts to murder the play’s princess are thwarted. Naturally Adam is next seen in the girl’s changing room where the actress playing Eve asks for “someone” to rub oil into her back, unaware that it is Adam rubbing the oil in. Acting in talent shows obviously is very hard on the muscles. Another woman appears and calls Adam a lecherous creep and he flees. He appears later, glaring at Eve, as she is strangled by a constrictor on stage.

“It’s almost as if I’ve lived other lives before this one.”

Adam and Barbara reflect on the woman’s death in her father’s costume shop before Adam goes to see a fortune teller. She astounds him by knowing about his left armpit wart and does a tarot reading. Adam doesn’t take too kindly to the discovery of his wart and stabs her. There’s another game session, where the party takes a commission to kill a white-dressed female sorceress. Adam rolls 6-6-6 on his dice and is alarmed by this result! Except the dice look more like runes in this dark and odd shot. Cut to the hospital!

The Hospital Scene

By this point, forty minutes have passed. The hospital actually has some lighting which helps illuminate the stupid shenanigans. A nurse moans behind a screen, “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop. Oh doctor, you’re the best! In this room, at this time.” The doctor is wearing a gorilla suit and likes to do Humphrey Bogart impressions. Adam nets another victim. He also slips, but not on a banana peel, though I get the feeling that might have been in the script.

“You know, Adam, it’s a match made in Heaven… Are you gay, Adam?”

Adam is taken to a different white-clad nurse’s home owing to his fall. She’s very straight forward with him, finding his dark features irresistible. The feeling’s not mutual as she questions Adam’s sexuality. She’s into a bit of roleplay herself, wanting to play kinky mother and son games with him. I am not making this up. Fortunately Adam hears a voice “There’s a girl who’s gaining enormous powers.” He drives her off with the steam from an iron, which was pretty hilarious. This was my wife’s favorite part too. By this point, I started cheering for Adam.

“Slay them. Violently. One after another.”

It’s also at this point that it becomes very clear that this is not a movie about the dangers of role-playing, but instead an attempt at a farce. Adam gets another kill and turns in his proof of killing “the sorceress” at the game session. His group thinks he’s nuts, but the GM doesn’t put a halt to the game. A woman comes in wanting a costume for a party and then Skullduggery goes very Donnie Darko. Switchblade-wielding rabbits are pretty deadly. This was in 198X, over a decade before Darko. Adam loots her entry ticket to the costume contest and then it’s back to the RPG session where the party’s been challenged by the Apostles of Hell, a nefarious group, led by the Devil himself. The password to gain entrance to the Villa Evel where they can be found is “Skullduggery”.

Evel Villa and Dr. Evel

Gaining entrance with “Skullduggery” also elicits some faster paced electronic music. The movie is two thirds of the way through and into the action as the “Skullduggery” theme plays. Partiers revel. Dr. Evel strolls about. Adam is introduced to the beautiful Irene who offers him an apple. Serpents, apples, Adam and Eve. There might be some symbolism here. Adam lays into Irene with a butcher’s knife, but she is soon replaced by another model. She offers him darach, blood, almost as an aphrodesiac. “I want you too, my brother,” she tells him. He again invokes the Devil for help and just when it seems like he’ll knife her, he instead steams her, leaving a skull. Adam’s killings are just getting warmed up. The two bouncers try to rape a Hawaian girl and all three get treated to Adam’s skullduggery as he runs them all through with a single thrust of his spear.

“Elementary, my dear Watson.”

It’s the Evel Villa, so there are four women lounging around as one puts razor blades into an apple, preparing for Halloween. Adam takes her hostage with a sai, but she manages to get away, resulting in a long and drawn out chase through the villa, even by Skullduggery standards. Adam performs a feat of magic for the attendees, the puppet is shot by a mustachioed man’s imaginary arrow, and the police come the next day to investigate the murders with the inspector doing some Sherlock Holmes acting. Dr. Evel turns Adam in as the murderer. The police track him down to the costume shop. Hopes that the police might put Adam (and the viewer) out of misery are dashed as Adam kills some of the police off in the costume store. Director Ota Richter doesn’t even try to take advantage of the costumes in the ensuing fight. Somehow Adam dies. They kick open his suit of armor and there’s a demonic puppet inside.

The Joyful End: “Don’t forget that Adam was a Warlock of the first Order of Power or possessed by the Devil.”

The end is actually one of the better parts of Skullduggery, not just because it ends the viewer’s misery, but because the last gaming session involves the GM having Adam’s armor propped up in an odd tribute. Adam will get one last game in. This is a really compassionate gaming group. They place the dice in his gauntlet and Adam “rolls” 6-6-6 again and then his armor lunges forward with a dagger, killing the GM! Since I like the Phantasm series I do appreciate this last stab at violence on the part of Skullduggery. Since I can’t spoil what is already rotten, the GM was none other than Dr. Evel!

Mark Barrowcliffe on The Elfish Gene

The Elfish Gene is Mark Barrowcliffe’s humorous 2007 memoir on his involvement in role-playing in the British Midlands in the 1970s. For Barrowcliffe, role-playing really was Dungeons & Dragons with some Empire of the Petal Throne and forays into Traveller mixed in. The Elfish Gene is as much about teenage awkwardness and social battles as it is about D&D. Craven Games will be reviewing the book in the future, as it is an excellent book about games by a gamer. Mark Barrocliffe has written a number of other books under his own name, his MD Lachan pen name, the new Mark Alder name explained in the interview below, as well as having ghost written a number of works.

Delving into The Elfish Gene with Mark Barrowcliffe

Book cover for Elfish Gene depicting red cartoon dragon and character sheet for Dungeons and Dragons

American Cover for The Elfish Gene (Soho)

CG: Several bits of minutiae, I see that you have a different cover in Britain that’s not the character sheet and dragon one. Why is that?
MB: It’s just the publisher’s choice. I liked the US cover very much despite the fact the character sheet was from a later version of D&D to the one I played.

CG: What’s this “bohemian ear spoon” that your character Efflic has in his inventory and was reversing your real name to use as your character’s pretty popular back then? Did Porter and Billy do this too?
MB: Not as far as I know they didn’t. Effilc Worrab sounds good, not all names do when they’re reversed. A ‘bohemian ear spoon’ is a pole arm. It took the internet to be invented for me to discover that.
CG: Did you actually use it as a weapon?
MB: Don’t think so. When D&D first started all weapons did the same 1-6 damage (as far as I recall). I was a bastard sword man for fighters once AD&D came out – a bit anachronistic for my berserkers!

CG: Have the sales been different in the UK versus the US or Canada? 
MB: I honestly don’t know! I really don’t think about that, I just cash the cheques if and when they arrive!

CG: You were the oldest of your brothers, did any of your younger brothers follow you into D&D?
MB: My younger brother played as part of the 1980s craze. I had a great disdain for his approach, which seemed to be based on enjoying himself rather than realism, immersion, endless haggling over rules and the working out of deep psychic imbalances.

CG: One thing that made me blink and had me checking when the book was published was your assertion that computer games led to D&D’s “own undoing”. What did you mean by that?
MB: Computer games killed paper-based gaming. Or rather, they reduced it to about the level it was at when I was playing. D&D was no longer a mass market product in the computer age but a niche hobby.

Geeky teenaged Mark Barrowcliffe on the cover of his memoir The Elfish Gene

UK Hardback Cover (Macmillan)

CG: How embellished are some of the scenes in The Elfish Gene, if at all? Were you really that much of a bore and what did you leave out? I couldn’t get over your idea of chatting up the girl at the bus stop or your introduction to the game store owner.
MB: Not embellished at all. In some cases I toned down the reality because I just didn’t think people would believe it. Chigger, for instance, made my life a misery for about a year. I didn’t want to write ‘A Child Called It’. The Elfish Gene is, at heart, a humorous book.
CG: Chigger obviously has left a deep impression on you and a slight bit on me as a reader. You glossed over his attack on you in your own house. What actually happened?
MB: We had an argument over the interpretation of some rules. I won.  He hit me and kicked me repeatedly until my dog bit him and my friend, who was the same age as me (4  years younger than Chigger) but bigger and a talented rugby player told him to stop. Like many bullies, he wasn’t a very happy person and, to be honest, if he’s still miserable then I’m not too bothered!

CG: At some point you’re out in your anorak in the rain in the book, but was anyone describing you and your friends as anoraks back then in the 70s? How were you treated in your pre-cloak wearing days or was being in your school’s war games club a bit more socially acceptable then?
MB: Anorak was not a term of abuse then. I think the wargames club was something other kids just didn’t understand. It also didn’t grip our imaginative lives in the same way D&D did. I never walked around imagining myself as a Napoleonic general. I did imagine myself as a D&D character and acted in a way that drew attention to that. D&D drew more notice but I don’t think it had achieved any real nerd stigma then, simply because it wasn’t understood. Our clothes and attitudes made us socially unacceptable, the game was just an aspect of that.

Barrowcliffe the Author

CG: In your interview with Slushpile in 2009, you mentioned developing a game set in the Viking age and a three book deal for fantasy novels. This is you as M.D. Lachlan? What’s been going on with that, you have Wolfsangel and Fenrir, what about the game?
MB: The game never happened because I am too busy. Yes, this is me as MD Lachlan. I have three books now – Wolfsangel, Fenrir and Lord of Slaughter, which is launched in July in the UK. I’m really proud of the books and think I’ve done a good job of writing the sort of fantasy I like to read – mythic, scary, weird. 
CG: What would your game have been like? Would players have the option of being a werewolf knight?
MB: I had only thought of the magic system, which would have involved the collection of runes. The more runes you have, the more powerful you are in magic but the weaker and more insane. The werewolf, as in the book, would be linked to the fate of the main magic user. When one character had 24 runes she would effectively be Odin and the Fenris wolf would appear to fight her.  Men would not be able to use magic – the Vikings thought magic very unmanly. The rules didn’t quite apply to gods, though. Odin is god of magic but he has gender-bending qualities, as do a few of the Norse gods, including Thor. Knights existed around the time of the early Vikings – the Franks had them. It might, therefore, be possible to have a werewolf knight!


CG: For anyone who reads The Elfish Gene and wants more Barrowcliffe, what should we read next?
MB: My book Lucky Dog is fun – about an addicted Poker player whose dog starts talking to him. Otherwise, I’d recommend the fantasy books. They’re not at all funny, or if they are I’ve done something wrong.

CG: Who did you have in mind for the “posh” cover for one of your fantasy novels you said you dream about from your interview with Gemma Noon?
MB: Maybe like the cover of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel or the original Lord of the Rings. Some sort of subdued thing. I am a hopeless artist who can hardly do stick men so it’s the sort of thing I would know when I saw it.
CG: Even now have you stayed away from fantasy humorists like Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett?
MB: Not stayed away but neither have I avidly devoured them! I like Terry Pratchett’s work when I come across it but I’m not the sort to wait outside the bookshop all night for his latest release! I have some humour in my latest book and even Wolfsangel and Fenrir have some comic characters.

CG: George R.R. Martin’s world is fairly grim and dark. Have you visited the Songs of Fire and Ice series?
MB: Yes, I love it. Martin has an enviable way of making you care about his characters. It’s dark in a different way to Wolfsangel. In Wolfsangel most of the characters are good. Even the main villain is not evil just because she’s a nasty piece of work like, say Joffrey. The darkness in Wolfsangel comes from the struggles of the character’s against the destiny the gods have set them.

CG: What are you working on right now?
MB: A new fantasy book under a new pseudonym. It’s set in the Hundred Years War in Europe – beginning in 1337 and taking in the great battles of Crecy, Potiers and Agincourt. It’s a historical fantasy and a lot of fun. I anticipate the main character might raise a few eyebrows stateside. The provisional blurb reads ‘Meet Dowzabel. A good man. Who fights for the devil.’ He’s a revolutionary
CG: Will Joan of Arc be making an appearance?
MB: Eventually the Witch of Domrémy will appear, yes.

CG: What’s your own writing schedule like? How do you proceed with your day? Do you have a goal in words?
MB: It depends. When I ghost write I do 5000 words a day but that’s either celebrity autobiography or very straightforward thrillers. At the moment, with my new book, I’m doing 2000 words a day but that grinds to nothing occasionally when the plot gets difficult to work out. I will also edit very extensively once the book is finished. But I do write quickly.

CG: How much of being a modern author is not about writing, but marketing, self-promotion, and managing the industry? You mentioned a blurb earlier and I read about the release dates of the Sons of Hurin in the UK. I also read about shelf placement as a controllable science.
MB: Yes, my new pen name is Mark Alder, in order to get the book into the eye line right at the start of the fantasy section. A lot is about promotion, even for fairly big authors. Unfortunately I’m not very good about it!

More Elfish Barrowcliffe

British teenage youths on the cover of The Elfish Gene promoting Coventry. 1976

UK Paperback Cover (Macmillan)

CG: Did your mom or dad take notice of Billy’s departure from your life and ever suggest patching things up? She seemed really supportive when you became a pariah initially.
MB: They noticed but they didn’t try to do anything about it. I wasn’t nearly as upset as I was when I was thrown out of the D&D group. I think I didn’t realise how valuable Billy’s friendship was too me for a few years after he went. Teenage relationships are transitory and, as I had other friends, I don’t think my parents were too worried about it. Also, it cost them less in cigarettes.

CG: What were you like as a DM or GM?
MB: I never really liked being a DM, as we called them. I did enjoy the world building but not so much running the games. I think a lot of my stuff was based in a world I was interested in – Celtic or Viking, full of horrific, strange magic and I spent some time trying to get all that right – particularly as I got older. It was fun but not as much fun as being a player. Weirdly, I think the experience of writing is nearer to being a player in D&D than it is to being a DM. I’m a ‘seat of the pants’ writer – I don’t plan. So when you’re writing someone’s experience it’s more like playing a character, revealing things, being shocked or fascinated, than it is the more formal world building process the DM employs.

CG: You tried to be a real life druid of sorts, devised your own warlock class, and tried to use your own magic as a kid. Were the majority of your PCs magic users of some sort? 
MB: Yes, when I was younger. As I got older I started running a berserker character (based on a character class from a fanzine) and also a vampire and anti-paladin (the Melnibonéan character class I devised).
CG: There have been increasingly more classes and races. None of them tempted you out of your D&D retirement? Were you even aware of AD&D 2nd Edition or Magic: the Gathering?
MB: Obviously I was aware of these things. I have arranged a game recently, but it’s not new stuff that has tempted me out, but the old. I’ve found a fellow Empire of the Petal Throne gamer nearby.

CG: What was your favorite D&D spell?
MB: I never met a first level magic user who didn’t choose Sleep first. Detect Magic? Yeah, right, kill 10 orcs with that! Nothing too fancy I’m afraid, probably Fireball. The third level spells were the ones that transformed magic users from being weak fight dodgers to the heavy artillery of the game. Or Fly. I’ve always wanted to be able to fly! Like I said, nothing too imaginative!

CG: I was just reading Michael Stackpole’s Pulling Report from 1990 in defense of RPGs which had come under attack as Satanic. Your own attempts at real magic in The Elfish Gene were at best comical and delusional, but they’d have made good fodder for Patricia Pulling if the book came out two decades earlier. What did you think of the scare in the 80s? Did you notice it at all?
MB: Well I wasn’t a Satanist. I was into Crowley’s Golden Dawn magic, much of which involves the attempt to summon angels, so it could be seen as just an esoteric branch of Christianity. I thought the scare in the 1980s was spread by morons, firstly because D&D led no one to Satanism, second because, if it did, who cares? As I noted in the book, an interest in the occult is much less dangerous than horse riding or motocross. And it gets you out of the house, at least. Most of the witches I’ve ever met are much more straightforward and pleasant people than the sinister evangelical tub thumpers who get so hot under the collar about them.   I noticed the scare in retrospect; it just didn’t take hold in England. The UK is not a religious society compared to the US – few western societies are. Over here, about 7 per cent of people consider themselves practising Christians. So there just isn’t the manure for the seeds of such ignorance to grow in.

Mark Barrowcliffe’s Treasure Chest

American cover copyright Soho Press, used with permission. UK covers copyright Macmillan, used with permission.

Reopening the Dragonfather’s Cage: My Cryx Army

Awakening the Dead

Painted Warmachine figures clash in a fantasy cityBack around 2003 I was introduced to Warmachine and Privateer Press by a local pressganger. A number of club members were getting into the game and I bought a few Menoth Choir members to use in an Inquisitor’s retinue for my Daemonhunters army for Warhammer 40K. My friend punkrabbit was not using his Cryx army actively and I asked if I could borrow it to play in a Steamroller tournament.

I had possibly played one game of Warmachine before entering the Steamroller and got rolled pretty badly by my first Menite opponent, BJ. In my other two games, I fared better, tying one and winning my last against another newbie playing Khador. As the only Cryx player, I won a Best of Faction award and got a certificate and a little medal with a green ribbon. What a way to hook a new player!

I took this army with me down to Comic Con that summer where the Steamroller was split up into a newbies category and one for veterans. With four games under my belt, I entered the newbie one and won it, getting another little medal, a $25 gift certificate, and a Warmachine shirt. Privateer Press really knows how to play to a gamer’s ego and vanity.

Warmachine miniature figure Goreshade kneels in foreground while death waits behind him.Since then I have never quite done as well, but I also purchased the army from punkrabbit and have used it in at least three more Steamrollers. I painted the base borders black and added some more vegetation, but everything in the army was painted by punkrabbit, with a few exceptions.

As wonderfully painted as it is, the thing is is that I don’t really care about Cryx. For that matter, I’m turned off by steampunk and a lot of the elements of the Iron Kingdoms. I got into Warmachine because it was popular with my peers, had fewer miniatures to buy and paint, and I liked some of the mechanics, as well as how Privateer Press was approaching the game. You might also say that I got into Warmachine because of being able to purchase a fully painted and playable army. A Cygnar gunline play style is much more of what I would choose if I were going purely for unit mechanics. That said, units like the Arcane Gun Mages with their silly tri-corner hats really bother me. I like the pure fantasy martial look of the Doom Reavers, Storm Guard, or some of the Menite units. On average though, because they are undead and fantasy-based to begin with, Cryx doesn’t have many steampunk elements in their models.

Army Strategy or Lack Thereof

I am a very defensive conservative player usually. When I played Warmachine under the Mark I rules, Cryx was supposed to be the fastest faction necessitating a lot of coordinated precision, a finesse army. I used my army like a blunt instrument. I think my overall record was split 50-50 in wins and losses. I rarely, if ever, made power attacks with my warjacks, and usually played Steamrollers to their objectives, never even trying for caster kills, while usually overprotecting my own caster quite zealously. I may have given up only one or two caster kills, otherwise my opponent would have to destroy everything else in my force to get to my caster.

Three things I do really like about playing Cryx though are the creation of new units, tactical army shifting, and the ability to ignore Terror. With his Feat, Goreshade can summon a unit onto the board, while the Necrotech can turn scrap and wrecks into new soldiers. I can deploy in a large pattern across the board, but then in the first turn use my higher Speed values to run all of my army to one flank, leaving my opponent’s slower units with nothing to fight. Because I have no living units, I also don’t have to think about Terror and Morale in my army.

Cryx Army Composition

For the most part, the army you see below was exactly what I purchased from punkrabbit. Whatever his tastes were at the time is what I have inherited. The army is entirely Warmachine Prime and Escalation choices, I believe, except for a few additions.

Warcasters

If you do not play Warmachine, the choice of Warcaster drastically affects how an army is played because each Warcaster has unique Feats, special abilities that are activated only once per battle. They also have their own spells and special attacks, though some spells do overlap from Warcaster to Warcaster. While I do envy some of the other factions’ casters, Cryx has some excellent powerhouses itself.

Goreshade the Bastard

Warmachine warcaster Goreshade with summoned unit of Bane ThrallsFirst the name itself: Goreshade the Bastard. Then look at the model on his medium-sized base and his massive sword, Bloodcleaver. Then add his sword’s ability to add a model, the Deathwalker. Add his feat, Dark Summons, which allows him to summon a unit of 5 Bane Thralls and a Lieutenant to his side who can then activate. Goreshade is magnificent. His anti-magic spell Mage Blight can also be a game changer or winner. Plus he has 7 Focus.

I have never used the secondary function of his feat to terrify enemies in his control area. When I started playing Warmachine he also threw off newbies and experienced players alike with his Bane Thralls. Unwary opponents would leave avenues open for me to exploit. Big things happen once his feat is underway (as it should be with every Feat in the game). On the other hand, I have only gotten to summon his Deathwalker once. As I said, I tend to protect my caster and shield him from harm’s way, which in turn makes it very unlikely for him to kill another living model himself.

The Iron Lich

Undead miniature Lich poses in front of Terranscapes swampI have played the Iron Lich the second most, but only in a handful of games. His high Focus of 7 is what I like in a caster and I like his Shadow Wings movement spell, whisking him across the board. His Feat is also pretty straightforward and beneficial. He effectively gets 14 Focus to spend for a turn, as well as dealing damage to enemies within 14 inches, which in practice only kills a few Troopers. I used the Iron Lich further on into playing Warmachine and was more aggressive with him, using the 2″ Reach on his Soulsplitter to kill more foes. Also given its Sustained Attack rules I have taken out Heavy Warjacks with him.

Deneghra, Skarre, and the Witch Coven of Garlghast

Cryx warwitch Deneghra stands atop Hirst Arts cobblestone streetsI have used Dirty D, Deneghra, exactly one time, I think. The same is true for Skarre. Their Feats are too abstract for me and I don’t care for many of their spells. The models are also puny when compared to Goreshade and the Iron Lich, though I have to admit that Deneghra looks impressive with no other model nearby to dwarf her. Skarre’s 6 Focus is acceptable to me, but boosting friendly models’ STR and ARM is just too intangible for me. Her whole shtick of taking damage for increased gains is alien to me.

The Witch Coven were acquired later and punkrabbit painted them to match the rest of the army. I don’t know where the third member of the coven is right now, but she is painted. Their arcane sphere, Egregore, though is not. I want to mount it on a clear plastic flying stand so it appears as though it is floating. I have never used them in a game. Like Khador’s Old Witch they’ve also always struck me as a caster choice that I seldom see mentioned in tournament lists or battle reports.

Troops and Solos

I have never gone with a pure ‘jack list, in part due to my limited selection of Heavy Warjacks, but also because some of these units are just too cool to pass up.

Bane Thralls

Undead warrior miniatures for Warmachine, the Bane ThrallsHave I mentioned yet how much I love Bane Thralls? Four dice of damage on the charge is awesome. Any heavy Warjack is probably going down as well as the Caster hiding behind it. I almost always take my Bane Thralls, even if not fielding Goreshade. Dark Shroud is nice when I can remember it. Stealth always gave me a false sense of security. Canny opponents would target their own nearby models or one of mine until I learned to keep the unit moving by itself if I wasn’t summoning them in via Goreshade.

I think the models are pretty good too. They certainly look like they could do 4 dice of damage with their axes. All the spiky fiddly bits on mine have started coming off and it’s a hassle to reattach them, so I’ve left them off. A lot of people have theirs painted as spectral warriors, but I like how punkrabbit gave them bone skulls.

Mechanithralls

A unit of 10 miniatures for Warmachine arranged in a battle groupMy Mechanithralls were also usually an integral part of my army. I like the tactical versatility of either two lower powered attacks or one PS 15 attack against armored foes. I would like to get their unit attachment of the Brute Thrall at some point. I usually field them in their larger unit of 10 for resiliency. They do tend to come under attack often and early and usually don’t last an entire battle. I do have the Necrosurgeon unit attachment, but I have listed her down below.

Closeup of the Warmachine undead troops the Mechanithralls

Necrotech & Scrap Thralls

Necromantic Necrotech miniature with Scrap Thrall walking explosion miniaturesInitially I had trouble discerning between my Scrap Thrall and Mechanithrall models. I find that hard to understand now. What’s easy to get though is that Scrap Thralls go BOOM! Under Mark I rules they cost an additional 5 points each and awarded 0 victory points to my opponents when they blew up. I started out with 4 or 5 of them, but found them to be so useful that I bought several more blisters and now have 10 of the walking explosives. I keep them well away from each other and the rest of my units. They are slow, but can help shut down avenues of approach to the enemy. Mine have taken out a lot of troopers, but also successfully crippled Warjacks as well.

The Necrotech gives the ability to create even more Scrap Thralls! I love it. The model may be disconcerting, but creating new troops out of Disabled or Wrecked Jack Markers is very cool. What I learned though is that I should be aggressive with him. Forces an opponent to target him, which is a slightly wasted attack, is fine with me. Even better is when an opponent ignores him and he uses that 2″ Reach and grabs a hold of another model. In my earlier games though I protected my Necrotech and he never did anything quite useful, because waiting around to make more Scrap Thralls and then being nearby and able to actually reach the Disabled Jack is asking a bit much of the slow Necrotech.

Pistol Wraiths

Skull-headed Pistol Wraith miniature on a cobblestone streetIn the hands of an aggressive player, I’m sure a Pistol Wraith can wreak more havoc. Some of my opponents have given mine a wide berth as though it is incredibly deadly. Sadly I’ve never attained such heights with mine. He might take out another Solo or several Troopers, but I’ve never gotten a caster kill with mine.

My original was painted by punkrabbit and matches the Machine Wraith and Skarlock. I picked up two more on eBay that were painted and have never used them.

Machine Wraith

The pale and demonic Machine Wraith of Cryx with Storm Guard in the backgroundThe Machine Wraith is certainly a striking figure. I used it in my first couple of Steamrollers and it caused some consternation, but I have only been able to capture a ‘jack with it once or twice. The number of things that can hit Incorporeal models kept growing. Combine that with my opponents usually keeping their Warjacks within their Control area, which also happened to be within a spell’s range and I found the points spent on a Machine Wraith to be wasted. In this era of Warmachines and Hordes combined in tournaments, their specifically anti-warjack power could be an even bigger waste.

Skarlock

Skarlock Thrall miniature for Warmachine's Cryx factionThe ability to have 3 extra Focus a turn to either free up or play with is a hard one for me to pass up. I have usually taken my Skarlock in Steamrollers. The Iron Lich has a habit of leaving him behind with his Shadow Wings flight spell, but the Skarlock has been a faithful servant to Goreshade. While he tags along with Goreshade, when enemies start getting closer he is usually closer to the enemy and draws enemy attacks, serving as a light and fluffy meat shield.

Part of the miniature broke off and is missing, but I find it hard to spot where the little piece was on the figure. I think it may have been a wisp of magical energy near the Skarlock’s base that eventually bent off. Otherwise the little scrap I’m thinking of came from the similarly-painted Pistol Wraith.

Necrosurgeon and Stitch Thralls

When I initially acquired the army from punkrabbit, it didn’t have the Necrosurgeon and Stitch Thralls. He may have already had them, but they hadn’t been painted yet. I haven’t used them yet. I am dying too though, pun intended. Yet another unit that can create more models for me. The necromantic arts are just so useful!

Bonejacks

Five Bonejack models from the Cryx Faction for WarmachineTwo Bonejacks painted by a different painter than punkrabbitWith only three heavy warjacks painted and available to use, I usually field at least one, if not two, bonejacks in my Cryx army. Yes, they have a higher than average Defense and yes, they have low Armor. Yes, they are oftentimes the first of my units to go down. This is usually because in Take and Hold or other objective games I have paid a Focus to make my bonejacks run up and take the objective. Very quickly I just came to expect that they would die. The variety of them really doesn’t seem to make a difference to me. Initially I tried getting the ranged attack from the Defiler, but bonejacks are so limited in terms of stats (MAT 5/RAT 4) that they just suck. They also suck up opponents’ ranged attacks and attention. I make a bit more use of their Arc Nodes, but even then, they are the odd clucking chickens that seem to attract a lot of attention.

I have 5 that punkrabbit painted and then I saw these other two on eBay and they looked well painted and like they wouldn’t clash too much with my existing ‘jacks. I like the glowing necrite in them. Why 7 Bonejacks? One of the reasons is to allow me to create a second army for a friend to play either alongside me or against me.

Helljacks

Warmachine miniatures stand before Dreamspiritwargaming huts in the background

Reaper on the Left, Slayer to the Right

When I lose a Defiler or a Nightwretch, I shrug. When one of my Reapers goes down or my Slayer it does take some time to recover. I have only fielded dual Reapers once, otherwise I usually take both the Slayer and a Reaper. The Slayer’s base attacks of 3 are nice. Again, I have only possibly used his Open Fists once or twice to make Slams or Throws.

On the other hand, is there anything as sweet as harpooning a rival Warcaster and Sustained Assaulting him or her with a Reaper’s Helldriver? I have managed it a couple of times and it is very gratifying. On occasion I will only take one of my Helljacks, but that is usually when I am trying out some new tactics or spells I rarely cast. Otherwise in Steamrollers I would take at least two Helljacks.

Reinforcements and Banned from Service

I have a Deathjack awaiting construction, as well as a Stalker. I also couldn’t resist picking up one of the “new” plastic warjacks a couple years ago at Comic Con, getting the Slayer/Reaper/Corruptor box, as though I need any more Reapers. The Cankerworm is too odd a look for me. I also picked up a Lich Lord Venethrax, but have yet to assemble him. Painting is a whole other issue because punkrabbit has a lot going on in his life.

10 Scrap Thralls Mill About Waiting for Their Chance to Go BOOM!

Scrap Thralls Assemble!

The Satyxis Raiders have never appealed to me, though their Sea Witch unit attachment looks pretty sweet. I would love to have some Revenant Pirate Crew though, as well as some Black Ogruns. Bile Thralls are also too disgusting for me to really stomach in my force. I feel the same about Lich Lord Terminus. While he might impress others, he is too alien and strange for me to identify with him, not to mention the difficulty in assembly posed by the physical model. However I would like to get Master Necrotech Mortenebra to round out my selection of warcasters. I think the model is interesting and would compliment my Necrotech.

The real things I would love to get would be another unit of Bane Thralls, as well as some Bane Knights, and Bane Lord Tartarus. Just as I was playing some of my last Warmachine games, these models were coming out. On the other hand, I absolutely hate the centaur look of the Soulhunters which were introduced at that time and I could never see myself fielding them. If they weren’t so financially expensive, I would consider using other mounts instead with Bane Knights mounted on them, but that’s getting a bit ahead of myself.