Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My first book is here!

Dear Everyone.

I am so proud to finally be able to present to you: My first publication! Yesterday, ‘Pandegnomium’ hit the virtual shelves of Smashwords and you have the option to preview the first 20% free of charge!


Those who know me are aware how big an achievement this is for me. A dream that began more than 13 years ago and finally came into reality this night. I now truly understand my fellow-authors and the pride of which they have spoken so much, once you finally stand there with your product in hand.

I hope you will all enjoy ‘Pandegnomium’ as much as I enjoyed writing it. For the people on Amazon, fear not. We’re getting there! : )

You all take care!
- Nicolai.

Self-publishing taught me six things

So; I sat down and did a whole video on one of the things I love the most. Writing books.
As a self-publishing author about to throw his first book on Amazon and Smashwords, I sit down and share my background for writing and six things I've learned from the journey, including writing, critique and taxes!

Skull and Shackles chapter 2: Video review

It's time for more talking and reviewing!

In this video I sit down and talk a bit about the "Raiders of the Fever Sea", chapter two of the RPG campaign "Skull & Shackles" by Paizo!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Skull and Shackles chapter 3: Tempest Rising

Ahoy, friends and welcome to another round of reviews; this time concerning one of Paizo’s newest ventures (dare I say ’flagship’? Ha-ha?). It’s time for Skull and Shackles - Tempest Rising.
Our group completed this installment yesterday with yours truly as the designated GM, so I thought it proper to sit in lieu with all other chapters and present with some of my general impressions of it.

Last time on PIRATES!:
So far the heroes had commandeered their own ship and blew up Captain Harrigan’s ship “The Wormwood”. In the process they also blew up the fiend of a man, who later returned as a zombie pirate, thanks to the ludicrous amount of voodoo in his cargo. Meanwhile, Mr. Plugg and Master Scourge both suffered a nasty death at sea, before the heroes went inland to rescue Sandara and Mr. Shortstone from their grim fate at the Grindylows on Motagu Isle.

Returning victorious and ravaged by bites from ghouls and botflies, they hoisted their sails for the small cove of Rickety Squibs. Here the old sea dog would redecorate their entire vessel and provide them with a new identity.  Making some new acquaintances, getting robbed by harlots and eventually shooting off some guy’s kneecaps for a snarky remark about getting robbed by harlots, the heroes set sails into the horizon.
They sailed the Shackles, robbing and pillaging to their hearts’ darkest desires and even managed to acquire some of the legendary treasures and broke into the old prison of Port Peril to acquire a map of even more legendary plunder. Then, finally, they decided to keep up with the main plot and headed for Tidewater Rock, in which they had their captain married to the beautiful widow and thus established a new stronghold. The finally, tracking their way to the final dungeon they struck the mother lode and sailed back to Port Peril to present themselves in proper style to the hurricane king; Bonefist.

The Decanter of Endless Rum (Not part of the Paizo-plot, but maybe something to inspire you):
Before heading off to Bonefist, the heroes decided to bring along a mighty gift. Rumor had it, that Bonefist himself had a love for the majestic rum produced by the Sparklebrew Brewery, neatly placed south in Port Peril. Mr. Sparklebrew was a wealthy business man living with his wife, daughter and three dogs and was said to house the secret recipe to the hurricane king’s favorite brand. So the heroes thought it logical to go up there and steal it.

They waited till Mr. Sparklebrew threw in one of his famous Mardi Gras parties (which happened often) and dressed up, forged their own invitations and attended on the small island on which his mansion was located. As they mingled with the high society they scoured around, eventually realizing guards upstairs in front of the private quarters of the house. What was more interesting was the three dogs running around, each with a hidden key in its collar, so the heroes put two and two together and launched a cunning plan.
Captain Logan drugged the dogs with Drow Poison and fetched the keys, meanwhile Sandra got intimate with one of Mr. Sparklebrew’s closest friend; Dr. Drench who has a highly regarded gentlemen not able to withstand the oncoming of two so enormous…eyes. Being a friend of the family, he dragged her past the guards, ensuring them they were only off to have some ‘fun, be back in a minute!’. As they entered the bedroom, Sandra strangled the old man between her boobs (no, I’m not making this up; it’s seriously what she did…) and let in the remaining group through the window.

Some trapfinding later, they finally unveiled the majestic Decanter of Endless Rum and fled the party. Bonefist was severely impressed when presented with it.

Attending the court!
The first part of the adventure is all about the heroes presenting themselves to Bonefist in order to acquire their letter of Marque. It’s also pretty much a big setup for events to come and a presentation to Port Peril if they haven’t been there already. Of course, seeing as chapter 2 has such free borders, chances are the heroes have already been here at least once, somewhat defeating the purpose.
The heroes arrive and have a chance to scour around a bit, making ideal opportunities for some side questing if you wish. Otherwise they get the chance to catch up with an old enemy from Harrigan’s ship and hear about the new, exciting event; the pirate’s regatta. A nautical race, in which the winner will be handsomely rewarded. Needless to say, the heroes are going to compete in this, whether they wish to follow the plot or not!

Besides from a short tavern brawl, this part of the adventure is rather slow and doesn’t offer much in terms of action. The heroes eventually go to the Hurricane King in the middle of his feast and has to make an impression on him and his ‘court’; here they are taunted by Harrigan’s agents trying to make them look bad, and it’s a brilliant opportunity for some good roleplay. Eventually they get their letter of marquee whether they want it or not, and thus kicks in the real meat of the adventure.

Not long after their leap upwards in social pirate hierarchy, the heroes are approached by the gorgeous Tessa Fairwind, a strong voice in the pirate council, who offers them a job. Tessa is worried and has suspicions about a network of spies operating in the Shackles, possibly identifying an upcoming threat from the Cheliax. She wishes the heroes to investigate two leads, a temple of Sune (we play in Forgotten Realms) in Quent and a Temple of Hidden Names on Bag Island. Let’s call them A and B.

This part of the adventure seemed strange to me, at first, because the heroes will go to A, and A will ask them to perform a favor first, which can only be done if they get the help from B. Going to B, B asks them for a favor too, which can only be solved by getting help from A. Of course the gimmick is to have the players do both tasks and then decide which of their leads to set out on. I don’t really get why this structure was necessary, instead of simply having them both send them out on a quest, but seriously, logic doesn’t always have a place in Pathfinder.

Both tasks require the heroes to undertake a dangerous task; in my case they acquired a lost reliquary for the temple of Sune. This presents an interesting fight with some wreckers and their vile pirate, Vakarla, in which you finally have the chance to cast that Wall of Force in front of their ship and see them grieve. On the other end, the heroes are sent to the bottom of the ocean to investigate a sunken ship, meaning it’s time for aquatic druids and Aboleth-action.

Both of these sequences are really interesting and bring some challenging battles. But the structure in which they have to ping-pong between them annoys me, so eventually I let the temple of Sune send them directly to the wreckers, and the House of Names send them directly to the sunken Brine Banshee. Simple as that.

The spy who stabbed me.
The heroes can follow two possible leads from there, but they ultimately lead to the same result. Kind of a drag. The one starting at the temple of Sune definitely seems more interesting as a whole, and as the heroes are unlikely to go for the second one once they’ve completed the first, you might as well get the good stuff.
In Drenchport the heroes meet up with a half-elf scrimshander Jeymys Keft. He tells them that he’s had his suspicion on the local Haddon Pike for some time and directs them to his house. When they arrive they realize they are too late, as Pike has been shot through the window and landed in his aquarium in which his face has been eaten by a piranha. There they find a clue to another location with another person, namely Roweena Kellet in Hell Harbor, and some notion about a tengu smuggler named Corvan.

As you might’ve guessed this is a very short trail-game, in which they keep finding bodies and more clues that a network of spies is indeed going on, till they finally track down the final guy alive. Only to see him shot before their eyes by the very assassin hired to dispose of the remaining evidence. 

This is an okay passage, but nowhere as fun investigating as in, say ‘Trial of the Beast’ in Carrion Crown. While there are some clues to be found and fun deduction to be made while standing around on the murder site with rain pouring down, it doesn’t really add up to much. It doesn’t change anything or have any impact as it did in Trial. I hope it has later on, perhaps, in the upcoming chapters.

Either way, the heroes fight the assassin (who can make it hurt a lot, if you’re a human, since he hates humans) and either interrogate him or finds another trail; the olde apothecary in Port Peril, in which he is to report to ‘Z’. (Why is it always something like X, Z or Q? Why not something really underrepresented like, “R”?)

Your words are poison!
Here enters the classical dungeon crawl of anything published by Paizo in order to please those who find that insanely funny. But fret not; this is actually a really great dungeon because it never seems to outstay its welcome. I’ve often been criticized for bashing at long dungeons since the very system is about dungeons and dragons. Yet, there is such a thing as too long and too many dungeons *COUGH*.
Gaining access to the old apothecary can be simple and there are ways for the heroes to find the password to let them enter. In my case they were let in because they claimed to be filthy rich, but slapped down all the papers they had found in front of the boss of the house. You know, with that attitude of “What do you have to say about THIS! HUH???”
She managed to escape upstairs and let her guards smack them around for a while and then took up the confrontation.

Zarskia Galembar, as she’s named, is likely one of the toughest encounters of yet, for any group not prepared for her. Besides her greater invisibility, flying and stoneskin, her bomber’s eye and 14 bombs she can rip many groups a new one. They  key, of course, is fire resistance against those nasty 6D6+3 attacks and something to purge her defenses. But before getting there, she’ll easily take out a weaker party member.
The heroes eventually triumphed after two very-near-deaths of their partymembers. Looting the joint they found proof of a detailed network of spies in the shackles, along with orders to assassinate the recent victims and get the hell out of there. The instructions said silence was now key and that she should go to Nisroch.

But what the hell do we care, we’re going sailing!

At this part the adventure sort of makes a Shackled City and says, “Aaaand cut!”. Forget about it from there. The heroes hand in the plans to Tessa, she went to bed with the captain, paid them their plunder and said she would look into it. But for now, they should be more concerned about the epic regatta coming up!
It seems odd, still, to just leave things hanging like that. I get it that they can’t just set after every single spy in the Shackles from there, but effectively it comes to a pause. As some might now, it doesn’t stop, by no means, but for now the heroes are supposed to forget about it and focus on the race instead.
It doesn’t really matter much though, because the following, and final, part of the adventure is a blast to play!

Now this is pod-racing!
The regatta pits the heroes against some of the fiercest pirates of the shackles as they embark on a race fraught with peril and death. It pits you, as a GM, to make a tough decision on how many rules you want to enforce, because there sure are a lot of them. I know what some of you out there are saying; you noob, learn those rules and play with them!

But I also know what some of you might be thinking; ‘I just want to have a really narrative and exciting scene? I don’t give a fuck about average ship speed, modifiers and spending minutes calculating every skill challenge - I just want things to flow!”

There is room for both.
The regatta is fluff-wise an entrance into the fourth chapter, seeing as the heroes can win their own island and a seat in the pirate council. And as we all know, they can’t really lose. But DON’T TELL THEM! They are, of course, competing for loot and XP.

The regatta is not a time for personal vendetta as the judge and former winner, Master of the Gales, reminds them. The heroes and 15 other ships, including that of Captain Le Harrigan, make their way past reefs, sandbanks and into the gargantuan maelstrom. They compete against nasty weather, foul beasts and sabotage, all the time taking measures of whether to gamble their position away or take it slow and risk falling behind. After all, a sinking ship is a lost ship.

As said, you can run this hardcore mechanic-wise. There are a lot of rules to follow and I DO suppose that’s how it’s intended. I know. But if you are in a pinch or need it smooth, there are some checks presented in every challenge that you can follow. Some of these are even rather high and hard for a non-optimized Profession(Sailor) character. The penalty for failure is ship damage and the random element of the wild weather is always present the closer they get to the maelstrom. At first there are simple skill challenges, but dragon turtles and lightning elementals are all out to make life bitter for the heroes. Harrigan himself even has a few surprises in store.

All the time they are assigned a score in the race. Making good rolls and defeating obstacles improves this score, and depending on their grade, the heroes stand victorious with more or less glory. In the top of the scales they fly across all opponents while in the lowest they only win because another ship can prove that the original winner cheated.

One way or the other, the adventure concludes as they stand triumphant and now own their very own island. Of course, owning it is one thing. Taming it is something else entirely.

Did we like this chapter?
I’ll have to say this is definitely one of the best chapters in the Skull and Shackle path. Perhaps the best, come to think of it. While the investigation is a bit lackluster and comes to a sudden end there are so many great things to do. The roleplaying at Bonefist’s court, once the spy-hunt goes on it’s actually exciting to have the players guess and take precautions to be discrete in their endeavor and the final dungeon is of just the proper size with a mean challenge in the end. While I ran a much more simplified version of the regatta, we had loads of fun doing it and even completed it in two hours of game time. It’s excitement and something else than what we’ve been used to so far, so all in all I recommend this chapter.

As a GM the reading up is easy and you should likely just focus on getting acquainted with the regatta in the end, since it pretty much is supposed to be fast and thrilling. The rest more or less explains itself.

It does make me wonder whether we will see history repeat itself, like we did in Carrion Crown. The third chapter was obvious the pinnacle of the adventurepath (for me at least) and from there on everything began crumbling, with a ‘so and so interesting’ fourth chapter, a fifth one that could have done with more investigation and a sixth one that was a grind fest. 
I suppose we can only hope and eagerly set sails for the “Isle of Empty Eyes!”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Six things I've learned from self-publishing (so far)

As the hours grow long and the release of ‘Pandegnomium’ draws near there seems to be so little to do. Except writing another book and in case that fails to commence; write a blog. It’s the poor man’s solution for getting rid of bad conscience about not doing anything constructive with your time.

One thing I promised myself I’d address before this whole ordeal was over is the question: “What would I wish I’d known before I even began self-publishing?” Others have redesigned the question to: “What would you wish you knew before you began writing your first book?”

So I said to myself; ‘Why, you dashing beast, you should go out there and at least share some of your experience with anyone out there, who’d be interested in self-publishing their book!”
And so I did. This is a small pocket guide of things I wish I’d know before setting out. 

Some of these may be known, some might seem blatantly obvious. But some things are so obvious that they bear repeating. Some might also disagree with me; feel free to discuss.

A) Writing is the fun part
If you’ve written a book before, you may have tried that state of mind where things just come to a crawl. Though the story is in your head, social media, television or the newest game seems to beckon for constant attention. You might even end up hating the process, hating the pace, hating the story, hating that you set out on this bloody project in the first place. It makes no sense; it seemed like such a fun idea in the first place?
From my personal experience; this is actually the height of things. You might be the type just craving to edit and correct every tidbit later on, but most people I’ve spoken to later seem to prefer this stage above all else. It might seem disheartening when put like that, but that’s not to say it all goes to hell from there. Only that you should rejoice in this process; kick off your shoes, go crazy, play and be excited. It’s creativity and so exciting once you let the story develop without holding back too much.

B) Apparently, you need to know some basic stuff about formatting documents
If you’re like me, you haven’t done much in the area of formatting documents in, say, Word. Beyond that fancy stuff you did in school. But regarding manuscripts for sites such as Amazon and Smashwords there are rules if you want your books to look good. When I started out, I thought I’d do well simply jotting stuff down, adding some Tab-strokes here and some strange new font there. But these things apparently matter; so if you’re going into this, you’d do yourself a great favor reading up on the requirements on whatever site you intend to publish on. Don’t be like me and discover this AFTER you’ve done the whole thing. Knowing the rules in advance can significantly ease the burden later.

C) If you don’t live in the US and intend to publish on pages like Amazon and Smashwords, you likely have to pay additional tax to the US.
This came as some of a shocker for me, who believed I’d simply upload stuff and money started pouring in. Well, they might, but besides from any taxation applied in your own country, you’ll pay an additional percentage to the US. Ebooks are hardly a goldmine in the first place, but this can significantly diminish your income. Depending on where in the world you are, you might be able to avoid this extra taxation partly or even entirely. Don’t be like me and realize this some weeks before launch. Instead, check up with the IRS (There is a service at Smashwords that lets you know of your options depending on your country, if you publish there) and start to fill out the forms. It seems vary what people recommend, but most I know have applied for an EIN-number through form FSS4. Through mail, this can easily take 4-5 weeks, if not even more. Alternatively, you can call them for a much faster process. Once done, an FW8BEN formula is required to finish the process. Phew.

D) Stuff looks good on paper and in your head.
I had pretty much all of ‘Pandegnomium’ figured out in my head and it made perfect sense. While I occasionally stopped to ponder upon minor details, it all seemed flawless. It did in the little black book I carry around all the time and on writing on the pale screen. Then, when I presented it verbally to my illustrator, things suddenly got complicated.
You’re likely familiar with the term how a lot of stuff looks great on paper, and when writing books a lot of stuff is going on. On paper. Some authors will discourage you from talking too much about your work, especially when unfinished, but there can be an immense value in summing up your plot to whoever might be willing to just listen. Even if you aren’t the greatest talker, suddenly laying things out on the top of your head will put things in a whole new light. It’s funny, but some ideas simply sound bad when spoken out loud. Maybe you realize the plot suddenly isn’t as simple as you thought, or some passages simply sound strangely off. If you get that feeling once you start talking about it, you might at least consider why it’s there.

The next couple of points might vary a bit more on an individual basis. They certainly applied to me. 

E) Critique can be harsh, even when constructive.
After six years in university, I thought I’d become immunized to critique on my literary skills; at least to the degree that I could sort the bad from good with a cool mind. I was obviously wrong.
For many people, writing a book is a most personal endeavor; it’s very close to your heart and thus equally sensitive towards any critique. Much more than, say, I ever felt regarding my final thesis from university. It adds up nicely with the notion that authors need approval. We hunger for it. Like children showing off their newest drawing, we too need to be confirmed and approved by our closest. And on that note, it’s not really that hard to take criticism the wrong way.
When I had my first evaluation of ‘Pandegnomium’ there was a lot of stuff wrong with it. More stuff than I had imagined. It was especially harsh when my proofreader stepped in and mercilessly began tearing away at passages that didn’t make the slightest bit of sense and dialogue that wasn’t in character.  I was surprised at how sad this made me. It was like someone intentionally wanting to point out the flaws in your marvelous creation and initially I couldn’t even go over more than a few pages at a time.
But my suggestion to any aspiring writer out there is this: learn to love these people. A dedicated proofreader is worth her/his weight in gold, if not more. Mistakes suck; but these are the people who will notice that you described one horse in the stables in the start of the chapter, and how you wrote they rode away on two. If you’re like me, you consider yourself beyond such trifle mistakes. But trust me; you might easily be fooling yourself. Learning to take critique, or even love it, is one of the biggest steps you can make, in my opinion. Errors are what make us improve and what will make your next book even better.
They’re also a great way to discover your favorite (overused) words. In my case, ‘likely’, ‘eyed’ and ‘very’ ranked the top.

F) “The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you.” ― Bette Midler
I have come to envy graphical artists a lot. The 1000 words that a picture can say is enough in itself, but the fact that it can be so easily absorbed and commented upon, in a modern age that often leaves so little time, is some advantage. At least compared to books.
While writing a book is something a lot of people will likely respect you for, I found it surprisingly hard to find someone actually willing/able to read it, let alone hear about it. This is not necessarily because the surroundings have ill intentions in mind or simply don’t care; but taking in books is a much bigger task than just commenting on a picture. If you’re one of the people with a good handful of beta-readers, consider yourself blessed. It was surprisingly easy to feel very alone about the process, which stresses the urgency of holding high your belief in your own project. That’s what really matters in the end.
Then consider that loads of people write books these days, seeing as it has become much more accessible. In the past, having a book published was often met with prestige and some respect. Today (especially if you admit you’re self-publishing) it makes you part of a very, very large crowd with plenty of ambitions. That’s not to say you’re mediocre in any way; only that we must be prepared to fight for our approval. Write a good book and stand out, and always consider yourself a proud author. You will likely be the one providing most of the praise, along with your spouse, parents and pet.
Which is not entirely bad, come to think of it.

Still so much more to learn!
Needless to say, this is merely the tip of the iceberg and the myriad of lessons to come can seem almost overwhelming. At this time of writing, the publishing is barely over and it feels like such a small step. Yet, looking over these points truly makes me realize how much I didn’t know before setting out on this strange journey.
I hope some of these lessons can help out any aspiring author out there. Even if not, perhaps they have served as nothing more than an interesting read. Either way, take good care of yourself and see you next week!
- Nicolai.

Nicolai Grunnet is a psychologist and author of the fantasy series ‘Heureka’. His work can be found on www.nicolaigrunnet.com and www.facebook.com/authornicolaigrunnet

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Warriors of Chaos, 8th ed. army book review

Warriors of Chaos - 'Now, what the hell am I gonna do with all these marauders?'

This weekend, I had the chance to sit down with some friends and compare some of our first impressions of the newly released “Warriors of Chaos” armybook, now updated for the 8th edition rules.
WoC was, to be brutally honest, one of the armies which I didn’t saw coming as a candidate for an update, considering how the brets, wood elves and to some degree; dwarves, still grumble and moan from their outdated hills. Still, Warriors was my very first side when I returned to WFB after a long hiatus, and I’d lie if I said I wasn’t thrilled to see what they’d done with them.

Where I’m coming from with this…
While it was my first army, it was likely also the fastest one to drop my interest due to several factors. While I had some good games of running in to chop things up; the obvious emphasis 8th edition put on blocks of infantry discouraged me from what I had originally hoped for. Big, brutal monstrous beings, tough as nails, dumb as snot and fierce as…well, chaos. Bear in mind; I loved chaos warriors and their model was a direct trip down to my memories of Warriors of Darkness from Hero Quest, but all good things in moderation.
Back then, a lot of people would laugh at my plans for a dragon ogre unit, or massing trolls. While some claimed it to be “not a stillborn idea”, often they would admonish me with marauder-block-propaganda and the coolness of dual war shrines with chosen-stars.

I suppose this was viable, yes. After all, I wished for something to chop up stuff in melee and my friend who dug this approached was a beast to compete with, once he rolled out his full selection. On top of that, I suppose I grew more or less annoyed by some of the frustrating elements in the army. Stuff like Infernal Puppet and Infernal Gateway (…there’s just something about those infernal things…) felt maybe a tad too brutal, just as I often have reservations against utilizing the 13th spell in my Skaven army. But of course, this all comes down to personal style.

What I had hoped for in the new book was the same effect I saw regarding Vampire Counts. A revamp of the army that leaves more options and possibilities for build diversity, and far less mandatory picks. And again, I realize there really are two ways to go about with this. You either make the inferior stronger, or the superior weaker.

At least that’s what I thought. I was, in fact, thrilled to see how they managed a little bit of both.

Something old and something new
The opinions on the new WoC have been diverse, as is custom whenever a new armybook arrives. Inevitably, you’re bound to step one someone’s toes, especially those who took a great delight in the cookie-cutter lists of old. As for the new WoC, I can see the frustrated points of view, though I am personally excited for the changes. But let’s be pessimistic first.

On the downside, a snide nickname for this book could be “But what am I gonna do with my 100 marauder models now?” as these guys have taken a hit, and reasonably so. They are no longer severely underpriced, but instead come at a initial cost of 6 (making them actually more expensive than a clan rat…) and kitting them out with mark and flail/hw easily bring them up above 10 pts./model. The downside is in this regard obvious, likely delivering a hit to their frequency and/or volume on the battlefield.

Chaos Warriors didn’t take it quite as hard, rummaging around for a steady base cost of 14 per model, but for me at least should be compared to the new, interesting Forsaken. Basically, warriors so twisted and deformed that their performance on the battlefield is randomized. For five points more and less WS you’re suddenly set for D3 attacks/model with frenzy and immunity to psychology, and an array of abilities each turn, such as killing blow or regeneration. Time will tell, I assume, how these compare to their more stable brethren, although one should know their official miniatures are ugly as sin. Staying in line with the fluff, of course, but…yuck.

A lot of stuff is as you know it on the surface, really. The faithful hounds, chaos spawns and chaos knights are still eager to serve, with some new tweaks. Hounds can be upgraded with poison and scales, spawns now get beneficial effects exclusively to them according to what mark you give them, and chaos knights have taken a slight nerf, now having to buy their ensorcelled weapons. I suppose they really needed that.
Even the Hellcannon is rolling solidly along the old, familiar trail, still with its monster rule and dwarf-saves, except now it features a 5+ ward and some tweaks to its misfire table. It’s still a very good monster/shooter worth taking along.

Among the really new stuff are the Hellstriders of Slaneesh; a regiment of marauders riding demonic ostriches that grow stronger the more units they annihilate. They come at some price, point-wise, and I honestly have no idea about their uses. I don’t suppose I will field them much, as they honestly need to kill quite a lot in order to become good.

On to the great stuff, which is definitely there and addresses one of my original concerns for this army. The beasts.

The Fresh Prince
By now, the demon prince and the chimera both seem to be the definite winners of this book. The former not really being the most beloved child of chaos, GW likely realized they had too many of this guy on their shelves and decided to give everyone a reason to buy him. It’s now possible to field a WS 9, S6, T5 W4 unbreakable flyer with terror and a 5+ ward save that regains a wound on 6’es in battle and throws a -1 to every model’s WS that wishes to fight him. The latter is important, as it makes him a juggernaut against puny lesser beings and tough as nails. Oh, and he can also be a level 4 caster that has a chance to increase his wounds and toughness by 1 permanently, for every spell he gets through. Or you can make it so he rerolls all ward saves on a 1.
This guy is now a slaughterhouse on wings; one that should be duly feared and I look forward to see the possible combinations of equipment and gifts people can come up with as time passes.

On the other hand you have the chimera. For a little under 300 points you get a flying monster with 7-9 S6 attacks with poison, a fire breath weapon and regeneration. With a toughness of 5 and 4 wounds, this is a force to be reckoned with, especially as it’s only a special choice and thus leaves room for all the juicy rare choices. Tag it along with a flying general prince to compensate for its low LD-score and you’re going places. I have a feeling we will see this beast a lot. If only GW had released a better looking model.
The flying, unkillable chaos lord is back in his full glory, if not more. This time around, it’s possible to build up a guy fully clad in armor and shield, and besides that can only be wounded on a 2 on his ward save.  Or instead, throw him in a regiment of skullcrushers, the new monstrous cavalry that now come at a steep price but will tear apart units if you can navigate them through the gunfire. For this purpose, the new blasted standard has a chance to decrease the strength of any shooting attack by half, on a 2+. Of course, on a fatal 1 this is doubled and pain is inevitably incoming.

This is just the first entry of the beasts, however, as trolls and dragon ogres have grown in appeal. Trolls, especially, can be kitted out with two hand weapons for as little as 38 points/model and with their leader, Throgg, become core choices. Thus, the option for going beast and troll heavy is certainly there, seeing as Throgg provides you with an additional LD bubble of 8, to all beasts and monsters within 18’’.
Some people, me included, are adamant in our belief that the new dragon ogres are a viable force. Yet, seen from an objective point of view, I remain doubtful. While they can indeed be hard hitters with their 3 attacks of possibly S7, they’re still stuck with an armor save of 4+ and nothing more.  Add in their T4 and initial cost of 60 pts/model and I keep wondering whether the points could be spent elsewhere.
I haven’t lost faith in these guys, however, and I’ll at least try to make them work to the best of my abilities. I just don’t think we should expect miracles.

On the contrary, the new gorebeast chariots seem interesting. For 130 points you get a fast moving unit with five attacks of mixed S4 and 5 attacks with equally decent weapon skill. Also, you can mark it and all its impact hits are resolved with the Killing Blow-rule. There might be some solid options in this.

Bigger. Better. Uglier.
While these beasts make an appealing entrance on stage, I can’t help but feel that the two new flagships, The Mutalisk and the Slaughterbrute, fall short in comparison. These were the mandatory two big, new ‘miniatures’ released for the occasion, and none seem especially interesting. The slaughterbeast is a simple big, hardhitting brute bound to a character and not much else, although I am tempted to try him out in a game. The Mutalisk is a strange being that takes delight in forcing toughness tests on others, possibly making them mutate with improved (yes, improved) stats while decreasing others. It can also grant them fear or stupidity, or even spawn new chaos spawns for you. I’m split about this one, but I don’t imagine I’ll see many people use it. Also, both of these miniatures aren’t really that good looking.

The great eye is ever watchful!
It wouldn’t be proper Chaos if the Eye of the Gods table wasn’t in effect, and you’ll be pleased to know it’s running smoothly. This time it’s more true to the concept with more extreme effects in either ends; the lower tier possibly turning your well equipped lord into a chaos spawn at its worst, and on the other end turning your lowly chaos champion into a demon prince. It’s chaos in its essence, mixed with a little bit of trolling, seeing as one of the results on the table is +1 to ballistic skill….

Then enter the War Shrine. We’ve been having long discussions about this and personally, I’m still not sure. It’s far from the brilliant pick we were used to, back in the days, and now use a bound spell to buff D3 models in the near vicinity, granting them a free roll on the Eyes table. On the topside, it allows every model that rolls on the table to use three dice and discard one. In battle it’s far from defenseless, and 125 points don’t seem like a whole lot. I suppose time will also tell in this regard, although I’m not entirely sold on this front either.

But wait! There is more! Spells and trinkets.
Infernal Puppet is gone. We can all breathe easily now. In that line of news, so is Infernal Gateway as we knew it; no longer able to scoop up entire regiments like a vacuum cleaner. Instead it delivers a hail of blows, which can be nasty in itself.
The new lores aren’t spectacular, but decent. Nurgle especially seems good with a healthy (unhealthy?) mix of hexes, augments and damage. The trait allowing your caster to increase his toughness and wounds by 1 on a 6 rolled for every spell is particularly nice.

Tzeentch, however, is the odd one out in this book, and not for the better. The majority of these spells come with the Warpflame rule, that forces all enemies wounded by them to make a toughness test of suffer D3 wounds with no armor save. The quirky point, however, is that should they succeed, they are blessed with the regeneration special rule (or have their regeneration increased, in case they’ve already got it).  Again, this is interesting, but I’m not sure how well it will be received by the community in large, when compared to some of the other lores. Slaneesh brings some solid hexes to the table, specializing in slowing and punishing leadership tests. It also features a nifty frenzy-granting or bolstering spell.

With the new demonic gifts come a variety of new options, such as Magic Resistance (3), Flaming attacks or an impressive D6+3 multiple attacks stat. On top of that comes the items, featuring the nasty Hellfire Sword that on a 6 detonates a slain enemy into another D6 S4 hits to its unit. Another sword turns slain enemy characters into chaos spawns on a 4+. Even the lowly Chalice of Chaos has 1/6th chance of turning a character into a demon prince for free.

Conclusion. Uncle Archaon wants you!
I haven’t even had the chance to touch much upon the special characters, simply because I haven’t had the chance to see many of them in actions. In the 6000 points game, Throgg was sniped by a catapult in turn one and Sigvald ran away with a unit of Chosen. Throgg especially seems as viable as I had hope for, and will make a frequent appearance in my army from now on.  His miniature is also pretty awesome.

There is no denying that changes have hit the Warriors of Chaos and forced us into another way of thinking about the army. From a perspective of power and competitive army building, I imagine Demon Princes will dominate the lists heavily, along with chimeras and plenty of chariots. From a personal perspective, I intend to focus heavily on beasts and monsters, with trolls and throgg making a solid backbone of my army along with the dragon ogres, supported by a prince and whatever chimeras I can squeeze in. I’ll have to get back to you on that, as I get to play some battles.

I’ll honestly say WoC needed some changes, and the initiatives taken in this regard seem good for the large part. There seem to be fewer mandatory picks and the addressing of the marauders, gateway and puppet seems wise to my eyes.

While there are still units and troops that seem strangely and/or sadly useless, I hope this is a trend GW will keep up in their upcoming books. Till then, you might very well be pleased with the changes done to WoC. It’s still a very potent army capable to deal out some pain, even if you try and stick to the old ways of mass infantry. You just have to work a bit more for it.