Armagideon Time

On the fifth day of Clash-mas, my true love gave to me…

…five to ten, but I said double that again….

four grim omens

all three of my rights

two sevens clashing

…and a message of ambiguity.

On the fourth day of Clash-mas, my true love gave to me…

…four grim omens…

all three of my rights

two sevens clashing

…and a message of ambiguity.

On the third day of Clash-mas, my true love gave to me…

…all three of my rights…

two sevens clashing

…and a message of ambiguity.

On the second day of Clash-mas, my true love gave to me…

…two sevens clashing…

…and a message of ambiguity.

On the first day of Clash-mas, my true love gave to me…

…a message of ambiguity.

Even though I picked up most of the official sourcebooks and supplements for the Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k series of role-playing games released in the past fifteen years or so, I’ve decided to focus on the core titles in this feature. This project has gone on long enough without delaying its impending conclusion any further, especially when said delay would amount to two dozen variations of “It looked interesting, it made for some fine bathroom reading, and now it’s warming a shelf on the bookcase at the top of the second floor landing.”

It would take something particularly noteworthy to justify that kind of digression, but there does happen to be one sourcebook that clears that hurdle…

Catechism meets cataclysm.

…the Battlefleet Koronus supplement for Rogue Trader.

Shipboard life and combat plays a central role in Rogue Trader‘s world of freebooting exploration. Part of the game’s character creation process involves the players collaborating to select and kit out a suitable starship to serve as their dynasty’s flagship. The core rulebook provided a small but representative spread of options on that front, but left plenty of room for further elaboration — which in role-playing industry jargon translates to “another pricey hardbound supplement.”

The purpose of Battlefleet Koronus was to expand the rules for starships and macro-scale military actions in the Rogue Trader system. New components and other construction options were provided, including planet-shattering “nova cannons,” squadrons of attack fighters, and guided torpedoes. The routines governing life aboard an incredibly ancient, kilometer-long voidship are described in detail, along with the various hazards faced by the vessel and its crew.

The Imperial Navy gets a chapter outlining its history, traditions, and duties in the anarchic Koronus Expanse, as do the various alien and other adversarial entities operating in the region. It all adds up for some fun “fluff” to read on the shitter, but the real meat-and-bones of the book rests in its illustrated directory of capital ships operating in the 41st Millennium.

I have been a mark for this sort material since childhood. It doesn’t matter if it’s a coffee table tome of historical naval vessels or the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, put a technically-minded encyclopedia of stuff in my hands and I will lose myself in a spiral of comparison and codification. The speculative leaps of imagination such works inspire outstrip any narrative context their prose passages might provide.

Whether intended or not, these parts of Battlefleet Koronus channel the same vibe as the Terran Trade Authority series of books, only sporting a Warhammer 40k branding. Since the designers went to such lengths to specifically target me, it would’ve been rude if I resisted.

The most valuable item in my record library — according to Discogs Marketplace metrics — isn’t some punk obscurity or limited run test-pressing.

That honor goes to the WipeOut 2097 soundtrack, released as a gatefold double LP by Virgin in 1996.

It’s not hard to see why the album commands such absurd asking prices. Vinyl was well and truly dead by the mid-nineties. The few offerings that did get released on the format were token gestures to the foreign market audiophile crowd or aimed at dance venue disc jockeys with an old school bias. The type of person willing to pay a premium for these discs won’t be they type inclined to part with them. Combine that with the overall scarcity of the goods, and you have the makings of a seller’s market stanglehold.

The above doesn’t even take the nature of the material into account. When lesser releases by alt-rock also rans can hit the neighborhood of thirty bucks for a fair condition copy, all bests are off when it comes to offerings with wider appeal. The WipeOut 2097 soundtrack falls under that rubric as both the licensed soundtrack to a well-regarded videogame franchise and a compilation featuring a murderer’s row of the leading lights of the so-called “electronica” craze.

The Chemical Brothers, FSOL, Prodigy, Underworld, Fluke, Orbital, Daft Punk, Leftfield — almost the entire establishing pantheon of artists associated with the scene are featured, some with mixes unavailable elsewhere. The assortment of tracks may not represent their apex-of-the-era output — because the cuts had been chosen for in-game purpose above all else — but it’s still a unparalleled core sample from a specific moment in time, right down to the technofuturistic trade dress crafted by The Designers Republic.

That sense of moment, more than anything, drove my obsession with owning a copy. The electronica scene broke big at a watershed moment in my life. I was in my mid-twenties, finally out of college, and working a (mostly) grown-up job. My tastes and style had evolved past punk and were more elastic than they’d been in years.

It was around that time that Maura started taping stuff she considered “interesting” off a late-night MTV show called Amp and Asian-market music video programming from the International Channel. The music and aesthetics picked up a number of loose threads from the past — the disco and synthpop of my childhood, the industrial and EBM beats of my teens — and wove them into a cable plugged directly into a future I’d written off for dead, Syd Mead-inspired urban futurescapes populated by a luminous riot of commercial-gnostic symbols. It was a synthesis that matched my own sense of becoming something more than the sum of my history.

The moment was too good to last, but the connection I felt with it lingered on through the real future to come. After weeks of earnest longing and the unwillingness to drop that much on a single album, I was well and truly primed to pull the trigger when a VG+ copy cropped up on the Discogs Marketplace for half the usual asking price…which was still double what I’ve spent on any other slab of vinyl.

I’ve had no feelings of buyer’s remorse about it, just the lingering disappointment that the best cut in the WipeOut XL videogame — FSOL’s “Landmass” — didn’t make it onto the collection.

Disharmony in my head

December 7th, 2018

My punk rock pal Leech passed me a duped cassette of Singles Going Steady as a token of our new-forged friendship in October 1991.

Back in those pre-Altsplosion days, being a punk rocker often meant existing as a scene unto oneself — isolated holdouts or latecomers going through the motions in small local clusters or utter solitude. Occasional these scattered souls would gather for a show by some past-prime punk stalwarts, but (in my case, at least) insularity and mutual suspicion governed any interactions. The same mindset which drove folks into embracing an anachronistic subculture also tended to foster a weird marriage between purity test and impostor syndrome where the nagging feeling that you might be a poser projected outwards.

When you did finally get past those silly, self-imposed hurdles and establish genuine relationships, the initial exchange almost always involved each other’s musical tastes. Outside the canon of evergreen acts (the Pistols, the Clash, SoCal hardcore, the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys), punk shit had a minimal presence on the racks or was existed as expensively out-of-print aspirational objects. A new punk pal meant the possibility of getting access to some rare treasure known only by reputation or references in some old fanzine.

In Leech’s case, it was the Buzzcocks. I’d heard of them through Lipstick Traces, but had been unable to find of their releases, used or new. So Leech passed me a copy of their made-for-America singles compilation and I listened to it repeatedly during the first few months of the Fall 1991 semester.

This happened to coincide with my pre-Maura relationship with an freshman art major. We were fundamentally incompatible (she was exceedingly pretentious, I was a pass-agg monster) though that got lost in thrill of a new romance and rush of raging hormones.

Because I had Buzzcocks on the brain, my perceptions of that doomed fling were bookended by a pair of cuts from Singles Going Steady. At the start, in the full grip of giddiness…

…there was “Love You More” (which should’ve been a warning sign in hindsight). Then, in the bitter, confidence-shaking aftermath…

…was “What Do I Get?” Maybe it ought to have been “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” but my nineteen year old self wasn’t really wired for that level of introspection.

The synchronicity has indelibly fixed the band and that compilation to a very specific moment in time. I can’t listen to them without experiencing lucid flashbacks which completely evaporate any self-mythologizing backfill, leaving only a clear loss-less channel to the psyche of my younger, angrier, and dumber self…and stray bits like the smell of the Wheatley Cafeteria and the ambient smells of Jamaica Plain after the “No Name” Storm.

It’s an incredibly disconcerting feeling, but one that speaks to the power of the music and the strange ways in which we can internalize it. I don’t even consider myself a huge Buzzcocks yet I can’t think of any other artist or tracks capable of triggering similar experiences. (Though, to be fair, there’s a lot of old favorites I specifically avoid out of fear that that might.)

Pete Shelley is gone, but the strange magic of those tunes endures in my headspace…whether I want them to or not.

The 1987 Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader rules were intended to be a hybrid of small-unit wargaming and pen-and-paper roleplaying, with a heavy focus on improvisation and customization. It was a novel concept, but one which Games Workshop abandoned very early into the franchise’s history. The wargaming aspects rapidly eclipsed the rudimentary RPG elements, which were dropped entirely from the second and subsequent editions of the game.

The “Rogue Trader” concept receded into the realm of background fluff for two decades before emerging as the titular follow-up to the 40k-based Dark Heresy role-playing game. Where Dark Heresy concentrated on the disposable cadres deployed by the sinister Inquisition, Rogue Trader cast players as peers of the dystopian Imperium of Man. Acting under sacred warrant, a rogue trader and his inner circle of confidants are free to voyage outside the Imperium’s borders and comport themselves as they see fit. Trading with proscribed alien races, salvaging forbidden archeotech, setting up personal fiefdoms among isolated human societies — a rogue trader is free to do all of these, providing they didn’t slip into blatant heresy or outright sedition.

It was a clever way to get around the oppressive regimentation of the 40k’s fictional universe, one that added exploration and starships to the mix. A rogue trader is nothing without their vessel, a kilometer-long Gothic behemoth fitted out with ancient technologies, continent-shattering armaments, and hosting tens of thousands of crewmembers. Each interstellar voyage involves a treacherous journey through the daemon-haunted warp, while the material voidspace harbors all manner of threats to mind, soul, and body.

The game used a slightly revised version of the Dark Heresy rules, with additional mechanics for handling starship travel and combat, as well as updated system for psychic powers. Rogue Trader characters, being members of an entitled elite, begin at a slightly higher power level than their Dark Heresy counterparts. This also applies to character wealth rules, where nothing but the rarest or most proscribed items are beyond personal reach. For bigger acquisitions — say, a private army or a rare starship component — players must roll against a “Profit Level” representing the sum of their various holdings and which fluctuates based on the success or failure of their various enterprises.

The default setting of the game, the Koronus Expanse, was directly linked to Dark Heresy’s Calixis Sector by a recently discovered but unstable passage through a pair of warp storms at the edge of Imperial space. Beyond “the Maw,” loom countless unexplored or isolated systems ripe with immense rewards and deadly horrors. The back half of the Rogue Trader manual describes some of the more notable of these locations, from strange human societies to alien pocket empires to hyper-lethal death worlds.

Dark Heresy proved that a Warhammer 40k role-playing game could exist as a cohesive concept, but Rogue Trader is where it truly began to shine. I suspect that’s partly because it focused on something which existed outside the wargaming aspect of the franchise — the only out of the five 40k RPG sibling systems to do so. Space Marines and Inquisitors and Imperial Guardsmen and Chaos Marauders are fine and all, but they’ve also been covered in excruciating detail over the years. Rogue Trader offered something a bit different, a cyber-gothy blend of exploration, commerce, and intrigue conducted by violent narcissists in giant weaponized space-cathedrals.

There’s a sense of open-ended freedom about Rogue Trader which lends itself to all manner of interesting adventure ideas, and the last role-playing game I seriously considered considered running for an actual group of (online) players. Those plans never materialized, but the book remains a most favored bathroom and travel reading selection. It even came with me on my trip to Gettysburg in 2011, and there’s a clover plucked from Little Round Top still pressed between its pages.

No good for you

December 4th, 2018

Ah, yes. Those magical afternoons my high school buddy Damian and I would spend browsing the cramped confines of Cross Street Video, where the decision whether to rent Robot Jox or Radioactive Dreams hung upon which cast had more Oscar-winners or nominees.

(And despite the ads visuals and breathy copy, Savage Dawn wasn’t a one of the roughly billion Road Warrior rip-offs shat onto VHS tape during those mythic times. It was actually an “Badass ‘Nam Vet versus Outlaw Biker Gang” jobber. A gross bit of bait and switch, but both those genres were just reskinned oaters anyhow.)

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © Armagideon Time. All rights reserved.