PantsOptional’s Road through Crusade, Part 7: the End and the Hoop

We’ve reached the end of this particular road and there’s only one more tale to tell: the final mission of the campaign was upon us. When I arrived at the store there was a surprise that I theoretically knew about but had somehow managed to forget. Running Scared Motion Pictures had set up a shoot at one of the tables for their RSMP Tabletop arm, in which Josh of RSMP played Necromunda for the very first time. RSMP is a high quality production house that’s recently branched out into showcasing tabletop games and boosting positivity in the community, filming at various game stores in the area. Check out the RSMP Tabletop Youtube channel if you have a second, and if you like you can see that particular Necromunda video as well.

The deployment map for this match was, to put it mildly, weird. Pretty much everyone who hadn’t seen the mission packet had to stop and stare and then inevitably ask “uhh… what the fuck?” To be fair, I didn’t blame them whatsoever. Look at this:

Yes, the hula hoop is an integral part of the map.

This is nonsense. I love it. I’ll break it down. This was a three-player mission, and the outer edge of the map was the larger of the hula hoops. Each deployment zone was a chunk of the space in between the bigger hoop and the smaller hoop, separated by what GW calls “Terrain 1” (notable here mostly for being Obscuring). Remember how the last mission involved teleporting deep into the planet’s core? The objective markers in each deployment zone represented the teleporter destinations. I’ll touch on this a little more in a minute but the most important thing about them is that units that teleported in later in the mission had to arrive wholly within the objective marker zones, and any units unlucky enough to be in the way get telefragged just like a 90s FPS. This meant that we had to clear off of those markers as quickly as possible and it also meant we had to be really careful not to charge into enemy deployment zones.

The circuitry-laden dwarf head sculpture in the center, aside from being straight out of a prog-rock album, was the Altar of Transcendence, and it was the main attraction but also the biggest danger besides your opponents. You could charge up the Transcendental Doors scattered throughout the map by attacking them and units near the Doors could take an action to use up the charge, either healing one of your own units near the Altar or damaging all enemy units near the Altar. The Altar was also the only objective on the map that grants victory points for being near it, creating a risk-reward system that wasn’t guaranteed results for either end of the spectrum. Imagine a vending machine that sometimes dispenses a refreshing drink, sometimes does nothing at all, and sometimes tases you in the throat – but you’re really thirsty and it’s the only drink around for miles of desert.

That thing’s about to vomit out guns while yelling about guns and genitalia

So as it stood we all wanted to charge up the Doors and jump in the center to get points while praying that our opponents wouldn’t be able to build up enough charges. This would be a nasty bit of business if it was a two-player game, but since this was a guerre à trois we had a few more complications to consider. We may have made a bit of a mistake in allowing players to generate Command Points on every player’s Command phase, but there was a bit of a counterbalance in that we started the game with CP inversely proportional to our entire Order of Battle’s XP total. Starman had a shitload so he started with nothing, while I started with half and Vee started at full. The Fight phase was a bit of a mess but we worked out that you could only activate a unit to fight if it started in Engagement Range of the active player’s units, and that you could only fight the active player’s units unless the active player’s unit was also in Engagement Range of the third player’s unit. In other words, if it wasn’t your turn you only got to dance if the currently active player was invited to dance.

The final bit of strange business was alluded to before with the incredibly hostile teleportation. Our lists for this mission were 500 point lists, and every turn after the first added 125 points to a bank of Reserves points which we could use to bring in other units – except they didn’t have to be included in your Roster, just your Order of Battle. We didn’t have to pick what was coming in ahead of time, we could just look at our greater Order and decide each turn what to bring. Remember that this is banked, so if you brought in 110 points worth of units one turn, you carried over the 15 to the next. Let’s just say this becomes important later on.

After working our way through all of this setup it was time to actually deploy. This was when I realized a major mistake. Let’s look at this deployment map and let’s think back to earlier games. I’ll do a little Madden-ing for you.

Well that don’t look too good

Yeah… that’s a big line of Gun pointed right at my deployment zone, and those Doors don’t block line of sight either since transcendence is usually just conceptual. That Broadside had to go right off the bat, so I needed to get the first turn.

Starman got the first turn.

Things weren’t looking great for your old pal Pants but I had a plan. After Starman hid all his units except for the Broadside and shot the hell out of my Venomcrawler I decided to throw nearly all my soft targets to stage right in order to sublimate Vee’s squishy and delicious assorted Imperial weirdos while simultaneously hurling the Venomcrawler at top “Advance and charge” speed toward the Broadside. I was very careful to position myself so that I could avoid the objective marker after devouring the mecha and moved Heaven and Earth via stratagems to make sure that I made the charge. I was pretty sure that it could survive the Overwatch and even if I couldn’t this was my only hope to keep that Broadside from eating my lunch for the rest of the game.

Guess what.

On the brighter side, the other half of my plan went as well as it could, proving that bullying works. In a turn of events that anyone could have predicted, a squad of rampaging Khornate lunatics Kool-Aid Man’d (that’s a word, shut up) their way right through a squad of Guardsmen without even noticing what they’d done. The Commissar behind the Guard put the garnish on this murder-dish the next turn by blowing himself up with a plasma pistol after rerolling a 2 into a 1 in a display of how probability warps during play toward the funniest result. Between Starman and myself, Vee didn’t have models on the table for his second turn.

Photos taken moments before disaster

The final part of my early game plan was to try to score a Door charge mostly to see what it was like but also because discharging them gets a handful of points. Verdict? Not so much. I thought that maybe a round of Rapid Fire bolters and dropping a hot load of reaper chaincannon all over the closest Door would generate enough extra hits from Let the Galaxy Burn that I could rack up a charge. The Door only had a 7+ armor save and Toughness 9 wasn’t absolutely insurmountable but generating a charge required 10 damage in a single phase – not a turn, but a phase. Let’s save what little dignity I have left and move on.

In fact, let’s talk about Vee for a second. That bastard. That beautiful, ingenious bastard. On his second turn, he opted to teleport in… nothing. Bupkis. Zilch. Which left Starman and I with nothing to focus on but each other, so that’s what we did. We re-enacted the alley fight scene from They Live for an entire turn while he sat back and watched. Laughing may have come into play as well.

Sure, keeping the board empty on his side gave the two of us some time to score some points but it also cleared us out pretty hard so that Vee could practically flood the board with fresh new Guardsmen over the next few turns. The center objective turned into a three-ring circus as Guardsmen, Bikers, and Stealth Suits mostly failed to turn the tide in any direction. With Vee’s units as the only ones with Objective Secured he got in in the points race as well and before long we were all tied up. Unless someone did something drastic we were going to end with a tie.

Drastic, of course, is what happened. Starman tried first to force the Door charges issue to squeeze out a point advantage but wasn’t able to get more than one discharge off, earning just two victory points. He also managed to box me out of any interaction with the central objective or the Doors, and so I mostly just flailed ineffectually against his Crisis Suits in an attempt to act as spoiler. In a frenzy of action Vee pulled his second Big Plan of the day: he was going to use massed lasgun fire against the Doors and rely on Born Soldiers to skip the wound rolls entirely and push through enough auto-wounds to get the job done. In hindsight I think he knew he could pull this off but Starman and I didn’t catch on quickly enough to stop it. The fate of the game literally all came down to the dice.

A moment of genius and madness undertaken by the Guard

It wasn’t even close.

He absolutely butchered those poor pieces of transcendental furniture, securing four points and the win. I’m immensely glad that such a daring and also absurdly bullshit move won the day. It was like seeing a demented eagle soar. I turned my head away, shedding a single tear, and the national anthem of your choice played to a sweeping crescendo.

After all was said and done, the narrative resolved itself as well. What had we teleported into at the core of Marthammor? Well, the giant robo-dwarf head at the center of the map was a pretty big clue. This was a lost and dwindling colony of Votann and their hoard of technology, both of which could be considered to be stakes. After our game and a handful of others, the winners decided to save the colony rather than looting them or serving them as appetizers. They rejoined the galaxy while the losing teams were crushed by the collapse of the planet.

In addition, there was an overall painting contest, judged by the good folks at Bolters at Dawn. Each participant submitted one general army shot and one individual model. I’ll let Bolters at Dawn speak to the details of the contest and the judging, but the end result is that Beef walked away with best army and J took best model for his Chaplain. Surprisingly, I managed to score second place for individual model with Vhol Derenoth, my Master of Possession. Who knew? Dexion also picked up second place for overall army for his Kroot, garnering a lot of love from the judges for his chickens.

I’m just gonna use this as an excuse to post the other painting comp winners throughout the article, so deal with it

With all of this behind us a little reflection is in order, both in terms of Crusade overall and this particular campaign specifically. The short version is that I’m generally happy with both, A+ would play again, but the Crusade rules get a pretty sizable asterisk on the record. They could use a little touch up across the board, mostly taken care of by the Goonhammer Crusade Balance Dataslate, but they could also use some standardization and clarification of design as not every codex is operating at the same level.

Let’s try a fun little experiment: go ahead and make a Crusade Order of Battle for Chaos Marines and try to put a Daemon Prince in it. “Okay,” you say, or possibly “whatever, dipshit.” I’m not picky about the details, so however you want to do it you start by looking into the Crusade section to see if there are any explicit restrictions on doing so, like how the Aeldari have a restriction on bringing an Avatar of Khaine or the Yncarne. It’s a big deal unit, after all, but there isn’t any such restriction directly listed. There is, however, a Requisition which allows you to transform a character into a Daemon Prince if they get a boatload of XP. But why in the hell would you do that instead of simply adding one to the list? Ascension to Daemonhood indicates that if the would-be Prince doesn’t have a Mark, you have to use the Chosen of the Pantheon requisition to give it one – but shouldn’t you be able to just give it one as part of Ascension or simply tack it on when you create the unit? Turn to the Marks section, which has a stipulation that really should have been dupicated in the Crusade section as well, which is that you can’t put a Mark on a unit until it ranks up. There are a handful of units that are exempt from this but the Prince isn’t one of them, so Ascension is therefore the only way that you can add this unit, but we had to dance around and piece that together rather than having the process explicitly spelled out the way it is for the Craftworlders or Ynnari. This is all to say nothing of the fact that the process for Ascension is wildly different for all of the other Chaos factions and that unless my half-crazed research fails me (it does not) you don’t even need to do Ascension for those.

Once you see all the pieces it’s obvious and the other half of the gameplay loop comes into focus: you’re trying to ascend your Warband Champion to Daemon Princedom while avoiding the hazard of suddenly dissolving into a Chaos Spawn shaped pile of goo, which is a pretty classic path for CSM. Except this is never overtly stated, it’s just buried and scattered throughout the codex. Again, this is the mechanical and narrative path for this army, around which the rest of the Crusade section is built, and we had to reconstruct it like bleary-eyed NTSB agents looking at a train wreck. This is the sort of shit that I would pull, and I’m a goddamn hack who writes fart jokes on the internet, not someone who gets paid to know about rules and write words good about ‘em.

J’s Primaris Chaplain

At least my faction gets something. Space Marines, the poster boys of the entire game, don’t even get a narrative/metagame arc unless they’re one of the non-Codex Chapters and the Necrons only get the barest hint of one with their weird setup where Necron nobles collect names the same way that you or I collect piles of shameful gray plastic. These are the armies that launched this edition and this is the treatment they get. To swing to the other side of the spectrum, some other armies have Crusade components that are far too convoluted. If I had to make a list to track my conquered territories and their effects like the Drukhari or deal with the several thousand different tables and tracks involved with Chaos Knights I would most likely become fully Jokerized. Picture Greg standing behind me, tears in his eyes, as he tells me about the rabbits.

We’re still in the early days of previews for the next edition, so it’s hard to say how Crusade will shape up next time. We’ve already received the greatest gift of all with the revelation that Power Levels are deader than Rasputin and about half of what’s been revealed so far has already been on my personal wish list so I’m very much waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Dexion’s Chickens/Kroot

In terms of this specific campaign, I was pretty happy with the setup this time around with only some minor tweaks that I’d like to see for next time. Administratum proved an absolutely invaluable tool for the campaign; if you offered me the choice of playing without it or smashing myself in the groin with a hammer, I might have to ask you what kind of hammer. Starman and I stepped up to help keep the campaign tracking going on when Vee had some Life happening, and even after that brief amount of behind-the-scenes tracking I can definitely say that if the offered choice was instead “run a campaign without Administratum” you wouldn’t even get to the word “hammer” before I’d have it out of your hands and flying toward my bits.

While I did enjoy the teams as a concept and it makes a lot of sense for ease of top-down narrative and design, it definitely led to some scheduling difficulties as the pool of potential opponents got smaller. I also basically only ever got to interact with my opponents and not my teammates since we never had any team battles. In fact if I hadn’t met one of them in college decades ago I wouldn’t even be able to point out any of them in a lineup. Forgoing the team structure in favor of individual forces might be a better move next time; sure it’s harder to explain why each specific army is fighting over Omicron Persei Eight or whatever but frankly that should be as much on the players as the organizers. Set the table for me with a general idea and I’ll come up with some bullshit about why my dudes are there. Coming up with bullshit is literally what I’m getting paid to do right now, after all.

Beef’s Genestealer Cult

All good things like this campaign must come to an end, and so too must Bad things like this article series. There’s a pretty long list of people I’d like to thank:

  • Bolters at Dawn, for creating this campaign in the first place, judging the painting competition, and giving their blessing to this particular franchise of the campaign as well as this column;
  • Vee, for putting in blood, sweat, and tears to customize and run this despite immense claims on his time;
  • Starman, for stepping up with me to help administrate the campaign when Vee was overwhelmed;
  • The other players, for making this an absolute blast and getting me out my goddamn shell for the first time in years;
  • Off the Wall Games, for providing a great space and putting up with our shenanigans;
  • Pendulin, for diligent work making Administratum an absolutely indispensable tool;
  • And of course y’all for sticking around with me through my unhinged and ill-informed rants.

That’s all, folks! Will there be a next time, and will I see you then? Great question.

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