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Monday, 27 April 2015

Salute 2015!

Salute, hosted every year by the South London Warlords, is the UK's biggest wargaming event, or at least the biggest one that isn't a company thing. I haven't been since 2005 (I believe I said earlier that it was 2004, but I was misremembering). This year was pretty impressive!

Salute is so huge that it's very hard to cover everything that's going on -- I'm sure there were things that I missed, and there were definitely things that I was interested by but didn't get much chance to see. Friend Buzz, who went with me, took a lot more photos (and probably better ones) than I did, so hopefully there will be more to share with you soon.

The other thing that everyone knows about Salute is that people spend tons of money there, but actually I managed to get away with a relatively low expenditure -- good news for me, as I just came back from holiday. But I still got a lot of stuff. But first, the things I saw.

This Death Star trench run participation game seemed very busy. 


Infernal is a horror-y skirmish game Kickstarting this coming May. Their board
was built around a ruined Saint Clement Danes -- a non-GGWSWGG church!

This western table was put on, I believe, by North London Wargames.
The posters inviting players took the form of Wanted posters, which was a nice touch.



This lovely Samurai table was put on by Oshiro Model Terrain
I think the thing that struck me about a lot of the best tables was how they emphasised transitions. It's not totally clear in my photos, but the Oshiro table went from the walls of the Imperial city at one end, through a built-up area, to farmland at the other. The same was true of a lot of other successful boards. Probably old hat to table designers -- and of course the purpose of the board was to show off all the different things Oshiro makes -- but I found it interesting.





 Another samurai board, this one for the feudal-Japan system Daisho. This was two boards side by side, with terrain from, I believe, 4Ground (although the thatching is brush bristles). I really liked the seasonality of these boards -- the fallen leaves and red trees on the one, and the bright spring colours on the other. That's the kind of thing that most of us don't do in our home terrain -- because we're shooting for universal utility for obvious economic reasons -- but that is really eye-catching.


 This Dambusters game was a sort of pilot simulator -- players sat in a chair with a control stick and tried to pilot their plane to the dam at the end, dodging flak and delivering a bomb on target. This wasn't the game board, just one side of the display -- but I like the use of repro historical documents to support the theme.

I don't know nothin' about Wolsung, and I'm not in the market for a new exclusive game
(or any exclusive game, pretty much), but that is a pretty car, no denying.
I saw a lot of Conflix houses, most of them with the rendering in the original grey.
This English Civil War skirmish game was by Gravesend Gamers Guild

Warploque's demo game was based around a ship battle using, I believe, toy pirate ships.
With my own campaign taking to the sea, I'm very interested in this idea. 
Speaking of ships, this Cold War Gone Hot game involved a massive, multi-layered
vessel with highly detailed removable decks. That locker room!



The Warlords' Stingray game was big, simple, colourful and apparently popular. 
I too have used a broken toy sonic screwdriver as part of a piece of terrain.
I feel bad for having clumsily broken it, but it lives on.
This display for Crooked Dice featured a fantastic Paranormal Exterminators board.
There seemed to be a lot of people wanting a go on it, and who can blame them?
Hawk Wargames was promoting Dropzone Commander with this huge carrier.

It's in scale! The glare gets in the way, but there are pilots in there. 
4Ground terrain was everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. I like those patterned tiles.

Every time I see a display of Baccus 6mm miniatures, I wonder if I'm playing in the wrong scale.
They just look like an army, which with the best will in the world most wargame armies do not.
I mean, I mainly play skirmish, but still. Those are good-looking models.  



There's those Conflix houses again.
 'Ardhamma are Oldhammer types from the Northeast, and they put on this stunning 3rd ed game with a mix of models from all editions and many different manufacturers -- that's the real stuff.



 Copenhagen 1392 by Dallaupror; a beautifully-imagined medieval city fight.



 Beasts of War's 28mm Battle for Hoth was visually stunning, but I do not want to think about what it cost. There was a whole separate little battle going on in the base at the other end of the table, but it was hard work getting through the crowd of players and spectators.


Classic GW artist Tony Hough strikes a pose while showing off his portfolio. Seeing that was one of the real highlights of the show for me, and hearing about the process behind it.

I had the sneaking suspicion that this AWI battle was inspired by the Bernard Cornwell novel The Fort

If I had all the money in the world, I would buy a lot of Hydra's Retro Raygun line.
As it is, I just have a Space Chimp. I am content. 
You don't get many cosplayers at wargames shows, but they go all-out. 


Anvil Industry walked away with a well-deserved award for this table promoting their new game, Afterlife. My photos don't do this futuristic table justice; it had not only a light-up elevated train track and station but this great multi-level street/park/habitat thing.

So what about my show?

I bought a lot of stuff, which I'll get to in a moment. There were two things I was disappointed not to get -- I should have preordered a Viking shieldmaiden from The Dice Bag Lady to be part of my SAGA army. But that stall was doing a roaring trade when I got there and they were already gone.



I'm very pleased by the existence of this model because I think it shows an incredible response to a problem that Dice Bag Lady has been talking about for some time. Last year, she tweeted some pointed questions about miniature design -- I wrote a post in response, which you can read. And she began, either then or earlier, to sort of curate reasonable models of female characters and sell them through her site -- and then from there she's gone on to produce her own! I'm definitely gonna get me one of those.

The other thing I would have liked to get were a set of the lovely Breughel- or Bosch-esque chaos creatures from Eureka. In the end, I dithered about it and decided against it, but I should have gone for it. They're very reasonably priced and I could have used them in my D&D game. Well, I will get some in future!

Naturally, I got this year's giveaway figure -- an Agincourt archer from the Perrys. In fact, friend Sim didn't want hers, so I have two! I can assemble one of each variant.

I got some parts for my upcoming Deathrace 40,000 vehicle conversion from Zinge Industries (who had a big £1 bin full of wonderful conversion pieces), some wattle fencing and bases from Renedra, various 28mm animals from Irregular (via Fighting 15s), some architectural bits from terrain making from Antenocitis and Warbases (and a free bonus casualty counter from Warbases -- good eggs!) I also picked up a replacement for my Viking tent from Warbases; these are brilliant and I need to do a post about them.

I swung by the em-4 stand and picked up some of the lovely Spacelords figures that Doug is recasting (these are not available on the website, so look on LAF for the images), as well as a monster for my Cthulhu collection. I also found some lovely Hasslefree post-apocalyptic kids from the discount bin at Troll Trader (which is full of bargains but constantly mobbed). Speaking of Hasslefree, I want to give them a shout out -- I was looking for a model for my wife's character in my D&D game, and Kev from Hasslefree helped me look. I didn't actually get any of their stuff -- it's a tough character to find a good model for! -- and I feel bad about that because he was so helpful.

Another purchase was from Colonel Bill's -- this one a Belt-Fed Gaming model of Aethelflaed, the "Lady of the Mercians." Most of Belt-Fed's stuff is pin-up material, but I thought this was actually not a bad model of this fascinating historical character. I doubt she actually fought, but Aetheflaed did command armies, and I suspect she will be a Warlord in my Anglo-Saxon SAGA army. If I get the Lagertha for the Vikings, I'll need a Norman female warrior -- Sigelgaita would would be the obvious choice, although I guess technically she was a Lombard. I wonder if I can find such a model anywhere.

Finally, I bought some more Bones for the D&D game from the dudes who make DMB Dungeon Tiles.

I was excited to see that Conquest Games are putting out plastic multipart early medieval archers. I would have been even more excited before I bought all these metal ones, but I have to say Black Tree Design are very affordable. Still, might pick up a few to beef up the levies for some of my other armies.

I got to meet some people I knew only online, many at the Oldhammer meetup hosted by Orlygg of Realm of Chaos 80s. That's always a great part of shows.

After the show, I went for dinner with, among others, the proprietor of The Responsible One's Gaming Blog, and we talked about what we'd seen at the show. He bought a lot of great miniatures, including the beautiful Nightfolk from Northumbrian Tin Soldier. I asked him whether he thought we were entering a bit of a golden age for minis games, and he agreed. I feel the same way, actually: I said the same thing about roleplaying games back in January or so. Maybe it's crowdfunding, maybe it's a fad, maybe it's an increasing willingness to treat miniatures as art, maybe it's an increasing willingness to fuck around and be silly, maybe it's all of these things, but I don't know. I can't claim to understand the business side of things, but I personally am energised about miniatures in a way I haven't been in a long time.

I am not really interested in commercial wargames with attached minis lines (SAGA is an exception because it is historical), but, y'know, much luck to those that make them; they seem to be doing well, much better than such games have done in the past. And the proliferation of teeny-tiny companies ... there were actually lots in the past, but it seems much easier for them to be in touch with their customers now. Maybe it's just me being more informed than I used to be? I don't know. But I am feeling pretty good about it. I am curious to hear if anyone else feels the same way.

So, anyway, that was my trip to Salute. I will definitely try to make it back there next year; I also have one or two more shows on the calendar for this year, although real life can always get in the way.

Next post: my promised but much-overdue implementation of Silent Legions. Unless something comes along and distracts me, like, er, painting all these models.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Silent Legions, Part One:

Late last year, I backed the Kickstarter for Silent Legions, the new horror roleplaying game from Sine Nomine's Kevin Crawford. I'm on record as being a big fan of previous Sine Nomine games like Stars Without Number and Other Dust, so I was in for this without a lot of reflection. Last week I picked up my hardback copy (I've had the PDF for ages, but haven't really got around to digging into it), so here is my review.

By Miguel Santos.
(Incidentally, as one of the stretch goals of the Kickstarter, Crawford put the game's art out for free use, so I'm going to illustrate with a lot of images from that.)

In my next post, I'm going to put some of the tools in the game to use and generate a sample setting, but I've got a busy week ahead so heaven knows when that will actually happen. Anyway, let's get down to our look at the game itself.

System Overview

Silent Legions is a relatively rules-light game, although it's still a "fat" game. I suppose what I mean is that it's rules-light, resource-heavy. The core of the system is a familiar model based on older versions of D&D. You have the traditional six stats, classes and levels, descending armour class, all that kind of thing. The saving throws are different, and there's a skill system, but if you've played any form of D&D -- and I expect that's most people -- it should be pretty easy to pick up.

The four classes are the Investigator, the Scholar, the Socialite and the Tough. These pretty much do what they say on the tin -- they get skills in relevant areas, they have different attack progressions, hit dice and saving throws, etc. The really distinctive feature of the classes is Expertise. Each character has a pool of Expertise points which represent the particular training or specialty of their class. Players can spend these expertise points to do things like reroll class skills or to activate class special abilities. For instance, at first level the Scholar can spend a point of Expertise to automatically succeed on a Knowledge skill roll, while the Tough can spend an Expertise point to automatically self-stabilise when knocked to 0 HP. That kind of thing.

In addition to classes, players also have Backgrounds, which give them some more skills and act as sort of specialisations. A Tough with the Soldier background and a Tough with the Police Officer background will be quite different, for instance -- and Police Officer might also be a good one for an Investigator.

Skills in Silent Legions, as in its sister games, are pretty forgiving. You start with a skill at 0, which allows you to roll 2d6 and add the relevant attribute with no penalty. The typical difficulty is somewhere around 8, so a character with just a +1 between attribute and skill will still succeed most of the time -- and even then, the rules suggest that many uses of skills should just be auto-successes if the character has the relevant skill at all.

Combat, by contrast, is super fucking deadly. In addition to its regular damage, each type of weapon has what's called a Slaughtering die. So, for instance, a shotgun does 3d4 damage and has a Slaughtering die of d10. When you roll the weapon's attack, you also roll the Slaughtering die. If it comes up 6 or better, the weapon does triple damage. So 50% of the time, a successful shotgun blast will kill a typical human stone goddamn dead with damage to spare. Which, you know, fair enough. Don't get shot with a shotgun if you want to stay alive. But it's not like there's a huge number of armour options available out there in the modern world. Primitive armour doesn't work against guns, ballistic armour doesn't work against not-guns, and everything is stupidly conspicuous.

By Luigi Castellani
So combat uses a d20 and has wildly dangerous damage results, while skill use runs on 2d6 and is pretty generous. The result is that using skills is relatively predictable, whereas every single time you go into a fight you're taking your life in your hands. That's true in the other Sine Nomine games, but it's even more true here and it's clearly intentional. I like it. It means that -- fighting monsters aside -- combat is going to be either fisticuffs or murder; the last thing you want is a fair fight with someone who's trying to kill you.

Heck, even if you succeed at murdering people, there's Madness to worry about. Madness in Silent Legions is a type of cumulative damage; it builds up, rather than wearing you down like it does in Call of Cthulhu, and you can buy down your total by buying Deliria, which are sort of behavioural coping mechanisms. You can accumulate Madness from different types of source: there's Bloodshed, Horror and the Occult. It's not a bad system, and it would be easy to bolt onto other games where you wanted a relatively light sanity system. It also -- and I think this is a good thing -- makes it very clear that the Madness you get from the things your characters are exposed to in the game and actual mental illness are totally different; you can have a character who is mentally ill but has a Madness of 0.

Magic

In Silent Legions, there are two types of magic: Spells, which are time-consuming rituals you do beforehand, which then produce a suspended effect, and Disciplines, which are more sort of psychic-powery and have an immediate effect. The distinction reminds me of the difference between Thaumaturgy and Evocation in the Dresden Files game (and, for all I know, books), although the parallel isn't exact. There are rules for learning both types of magic, and anyone can do them (although you need some Occult to do Spells effectively). You buy Disciplines like Skills, and then advance through ranks in them, much like Psychics do in Stars Without Number. In either case, you can either spend Expertise to cast the Spell or use the Discipline or rack up some Madness by doing so -- since Expertise is a pretty limited currency at lower levels, this seems like it would happen quickly.

Now, the Spells for which there are rules in Silent Legions are merely the spells of the "Gray Path," i.e. the kind-of-evil path that any old person can study. Most spells are not so gray -- they're flat-out evil and if you were to learn them, you'd no longer be a PC. These spells don't have a list; instead, they have a big old random-generation process. And it's in this section of the book that we really start to get into what I love about Sine Nomine games: the GM tools.

A ... World of Darkness? 

I feel like I never do a very good job of expressing what I love about the way Crawford presents game master tools. I always just say something like "it's all done with random tables" and then I think people put this down to a quirk of mine -- and in a way, it is. I definitely love random tables for reasons I can't fully explain.

But the setting generation tools in Stars Without Number, Other Dust and now Silent Legions aren't just "random tables." They're thematic hook-generating tools. They're like ... Traveller world creation if it only focused on the things that make for good adventures.

Key to the system is creating locations with tags. When you start assigning locations on your map, you generate tags for them. A tag is a short descriptor, like "Alien Bloodline" or "Senseless Violence." There are both occult tags and mundane tags, so you can create locations that don't necessarily have anything Mythos-y about them or you can mix the two to set a horror against a realistic background. Each tag comes with suggested hostile NPCs, allies, objectives, dark secrets and so on. A tag is a little scenario-generating engine, and each location has two of them.

By David Lewis Johns
But it's not just setting generation. The GM tools in this book give you resources for creating a pantheon, alien races, occult artefacts, spells, monsters, locations, cults, crime scenes, scenarios ... the list goes on. And although you generate these randomly, there isn't the goofy effect you get from most random tables (at least not in most cases). Each result could possibly kick off a compelling scenario. It must have the highest good-content-to-page-count ratio of any Lovecraftian anything since ... since I don't know when. There's even a system for running the conflicts between cults behind the scenes -- I like the idea, which is almost like its own little minigame, although personally I tend to just run these things by GM fiat. Still, it's got a lot of interesting ideas.

I don't think I'm doing a very good job explaining what I love about this and why, so I'm going to give you a more practical demonstration using two methods. First, if you haven't done so already you should go and download the free Stars Without Number rules. Once you've done that, check out the system tags. If you think those are a good idea, imagine the same thing adapted to a Lovecraftian horror setting by someone who gets it and then expanded to every other aspect of what you might want from a horror game. If that sounds good, you should buy this game.

Second, as I said, I'm going to put this into practice myself -- although at the rate I'm currently writing, it might not be until next week when I have wrapped up current work and returned from Salute 2015. But I think I can do a better job of showing why I like this game than telling, so stay tuned.

An Elegant Statement of OSR Philosophy

One thing I wasn't expecting to find in the rulebook was a really plain statement of one of my favourite things about the OSR's approach to systems. It's something I've encountered when running my D&D game, and it's something that I, as a dude who spent a long time immersed in a certain way of thinking about game design, find really interesting. Let me find it:

One of the most useful traits of old-school inspired games is that the great majority of them are crudely compatible with each other. They may not use the exact same scaling, and they may differ in details or particular mechanics, but you can usually look at one and see roughly how it might fit into another. 
As the GM of a sandbox campaign, you should take shameless advantage of this. ... The most important tool you have for salvaging this material is a certain insouciant attitude toward mechanical specifics. Do the pieces not fit together exactly? Are the save categories different? ... Don't worry about it. 
After years of teeth-gritting rules-fights in a national gaming society (and that's necessary, I get it -- a group with hundreds of members is a different animal) and the painstaking approach of indie games designers back in the early 2000s when I was paying a lot of attention to that stuff, I found the ability to sit down at the table and say "fuck it" unbelievably liberating. It sounds silly -- GM fudges game and improvises a lot; no kidding -- but somehow it was a big step for me and it's nice to see it written down.

Wrap-up

I like Silent Legions. I liked the previous Sine Nomine games and I like Lovecraftian horror, so I was pretty much in the bag for this right from the beginning. But you are not me, so let's see whether this is right for you.

You want to run a Lovecraftian horror sandbox: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

You want to incorporate Lovecraftian horror elements into an existing OSR game: I would say so. You might not be able to use some of the setting-creation stuff if you're coming into an existing campaign, but I think the rest of it will still be very useful for you.

You want to incorporate some material into an existing Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu campaign: Again, yes, I think so. A lot of the artefact and creature and cult stuff will come in handy -- and the scenario generation as well. In many ways, I think this approach to monster creation is a lot more useful than the Cthulhu Pokedex, but I may just be a cranky old bastard who wants these kids to get off his lawn because they remind of when he too was young and a little too keen on this stuff.

So yeah, I think it's pretty good and you should get it. But if you don't believe me, stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I put some of this stuff into practice.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Strange Aeons historical scenarios: update

So, we playtested the Viking-age scenario, and have rejigged it as follows:

  • Instead of treasure markers, we placed five shrines around the board in a sort of rough square with one at the centre. Each of these could be searched for treasure. You rolled 2d6 -- one d6 indicated the level of treasure, and the other was then added to it. If the total was 7 or higher, the shrine was wrecked. 
  • Each turn after the second shrine was wrecked, the villager player rolled to see whether the reinforcements turned up by trying to roll equal to or above the number of searched shrines on a d6. 
  • Whether shrines were wrecked or not, and where exactly the Vikings died, will turn out to be important in the next scenario. 
  • The final scenario is actually going to be two scenarios -- if the witch hunters win the second scenario, then you play one final scenario, and if they lose you play the other. 
Here are some pictures of miniatures to make this post more fun. Some of these are pretty old paintjobs, so be merciful!

Brave Threshold civilian by ... Copplestone? Baby Cthulhu by Reaper.

Ghost from Horrorclix.

APE-X also by Reaper.

Shoggoth by Reaper. Seriously, you guys, Bones is so good for big monsters.

Repainted (base unfinished) Anton Arcane Heroclix.

Grenadier Fantasy Warriors

Aberrant from Trinity Battleground, White Wolf's ill-fated minis game.

Frankenstein's Monster from Doctor Who, ex-Harlequin, now BTD.

Fishman from Grenadier.

Ghast from Rafm. Very Tom Sullivan!