Sunday 28 September 2014

Oh the frugality!

I was in London this weekend. Watch my other blog for what I did there, but I also made some gaming - related purchases. For instance, in the Oxfam book shop near Turnham Green tube station I picked up Day's Tolkien Bestiary for £2.99!

Despite the name, this is not really a bestiary but a massive illustrated encyclopaedia of Middle-Earth, with art by British fantasy greats including John Blanche and Ian Miller. I loves me some Ian Miller art. Also Victor Ambrus,  who in my mind is not really a fantasy illustrator but a historical guy. Perhaps I only think that because of Time Team.

Anyway,  it is pretty cool. Regarde!

Blanche does love those bridgey things. 
I think Miller is the MVP in this book. His big scenes are just so ... Ian-Miller-y.

Ambrus's work always looks like reconstruction illustration to me -- just of a thing that never existed in this case. 

And there are timelines and charts and so on.


Friday 26 September 2014

Reaper Bones not-Beholder

It has been a little quiet around here lately. Work has been very busy,  other projects have grabbed my attention, and, er, vidya games.

But that is not to say I have been completely idle. I have been doing a little painting,  for instance.

This is an "Eye Beast" from Reaper's Bones range. I got it in a second - hand buy from fellow gamer and blogger Red of New Adventures in Retrogaming (who also gave me some of the Bones models I've shown on this blog as a very generous birthday gift). 

The Bones line has its strengths and weaknesses, but I think models like this are a strength. The bigger creatures don't suffer as much from the bendiness and loss of fine detail you can get with smaller Bones figures. As usual, I found the mould lines very hard to see on the white plastic and a bit tricky to remove. There are definitely some still on there if you look closely. I also had to putty up the joins between the top and bottom of the head, but that's hardly a big deal. 

At £3 a model, give or take, I don't mind the mould lines too much, especially as the corresponding metal model would be heavier, more prone to fall-apart, and three or four times the price. I wouldn't buy big monsters for my D&D game at metal prices, but for a couple of quid I'm happy to take a chance on this energetic and characterful sculpt. This is another area where the large Bones models shine; the proportional savings is much greater, since ultimately some of the cost of a single small figure is fixed. And I think it looks quite nice. I've gone with a pretty traditional colour scheme. I will probably add some greenery to the base and maybe touch up the inside of the mouth with a little TCR to make it look wetter. But in general I'm pleased with this new addition to my ever-growing dungeon fantasy collection. 

Sunday 14 September 2014

The Mysterious Thingummy of Whatsisname

So I wrote this long blog post and I somehow deleted the entire thing, and now I'm too frustrated and unhappy to write it all again. So here's the highlights.

I have written before about valuing incompleteness as an aesthetic -- or not incompleteness, but unfamiliarity, the kind of incompleteness that suggests the presence of some deeper system or at the very least an overriding aesthetic principle. The first place in gaming that I encountered this was, where else, in Glorantha, specifically through David Dunham's East Ralios campaign, which was written up in Peter Maranci's old Interregnum APA back in the day. It was a major swipe-source for my own Dragon Pass game.

When I first read something like this ...

As Halvar Stormeye raised his hands, a powerful whirlwind rose around them, blurring their vision. They were swept into the air, finally coming back down in a valley that looked much like their own, but greener and brighter, with taller hills and a fast-flowing river in place of the stream.
Between them in the spot the stone had been was an odd person with legs as long as a man is tall. Aidin recognized him as a Flint Slinger, a spirit which often punishes initiates who break their vows. They gave the Orlanthi Greeting. He answered and introduced himself as Left-Stone Shouter, and said he would be their guide.
The valley contained no steads, but Left-Stone Shouter pointed them towards some trees. Sitting in them were two winged men, arguing about who had first spotted a bag of sand. Konall suggested splitting the sand, but they told him it was the bag that was magic. Minara proposed taking turns using the bag, and drawing lots to see who would have it during Sacred Time. They agreed to this, then brought them to their tree-top stead where they were greeted by the thane and given meat and water. The thane, who had magnificently dyed feathers, asked them to entertain the assembly. Konall played his flute, Harmast and Jornast told stories, and Una made whirligigs for the children. The thane was well pleased, and gave them each a feather bracelet.
Left-Stone Shouter leaped into the air to the height of 20 men, and described the green-skinned lady he saw. When they got to her, she asked them to rescue her herd, which had been stolen by men of darkness.
... it blew the top of my head right off with its suggestion of a mythology that was actually, well, mythological.

Now, in the case of Glorantha, it so happens that there is a huge underlying depth and complexity to all this, one that until relatively recently you had to be some kind of initiate to get full access to. But I'm not completely convinced that that really matters.

When I was younger, the other place you came across this was in video games. Consider Street Fighter II, for instance. If, like me, you were 12 when it came out, you were enthralled by the graphics and the different fighting styles and the characters. Some of them were easy to figure out, but like Dhalsim and M. Bison and Blanka -- who the hell were these guys? And most of all:


Of course I know what it means now -- new versions of the game have him saying things like "you must defeat my Shoryuken" or whatever, and there's even a little joke about Gouken sometimes being called Sheng Long, which I think is a callout to this old hoax: 

But at the time it was a mystery for the ages. And that sense of entrancement came from the fact that the whole "story" aspect of the game consisted of maybe a few garbled, contradictory, half-translated lines here and there, and that "story" was an aspect of the game considered so unimportant that no effort was made to make it consistent or comprehensible. 

And we liked it

For me, the pinnacle of this is Rygar. Inspired by a friend's writing about old games, along with my recent trip to the Centre for Computing History, I have been thinking about old video games even more than usual (can you tell?). And I keep coming back to Rygar. Maybe it was the bitchin' soundtrack: 

Or maybe it was the insane enemies: 

More here and here.
Or maybe it was the fact that your only guide around the game's weird (and surprisingly open) world were a bunch of weird giant hermits: 

Thanks a lot, Muscle Beach Santa. If I knew
where the fuck either of those places were,
that would be super helpful. 
But that game had the sense that you were right on top of either a surprisingly rich mythology or a Kirbyesque fever dream, and without an internet there was no real way to find out what in the Samuel Langhorn Hell was going on (which was kind of why they never bothered to come up with anything).

I miss that game. I started playing it again recently and it turns out I'm still terrible at it after all these years. 

Anyway, what all this adds up to is that I think I have a tendency to do this in my own game writing -- to try to create worlds that seem like if you studied them for a long time they might make sense, but which don't necessarily do so at first glance. In fact, I think a certain amount of alien incomprehensibility is desirable in any non-historical setting, especially if the characters treat it as no big deal. That's the secret to the success of Star Wars, after all, but that's a story for another time.

Friday 12 September 2014

More frugal gaming!

The early days of Warhammer 40,000 were characterised by a more "anything goes" attitude in which fantasy, sci-fi and wargaming tropes were gleefully blended to produce a setting equal parts brutal and goofy. Examples of this mixture that haven't survived into the present version include these Imperial Guard minotaurs (images swiped from the Collecting Citadel Miniatures wiki).

I love that the top one is carrying the stock heavy bolter of the era -- it also turns up in the Space Ork set -- and that the bottom one has las-horns. 

(There were also both minotaur and trolls in Epic, which seems bizarre because there was no corresponding fantasy version for them to be repurposed from.)

Today,  rarities like the Rogue Trader minotaur go for high prices on the secondary market. There are also modern third-party versions like this very cool sci-fi minotaur sculpted by Diego "Obscure Creator" Serrate.

Click the link for ordering info.)

As for me, however, I have gone the el cheapo route. Browsing my local pound shop,  as I do, I saw a pack of "Huntik" figures including this Megataur.

Most of the models were not in a useful scale,  though some may still end up being repurposed. But the megataur had potential.

I cleaned him up a bit with the old x-acto, stuck a surplus Ork gun on him, sprayed on a coat of black primer and painted him in a style that hearkens back to my older method: heavy black lining and soft, fuzzy highlights. I think of it as my Fleischer Brothers look. I was actually very happy with the way the horns fade slowly from a darker brown at the roots to almost pure white at the points, but it isn't really visible in the photo. 

Anyway, here he is, with an RT marine and Gretchin for scale. He could have used a little more detailing and maybe something to make the horns pop, he isn't the equal of some of those lovely models -- he looks like a toy, which is what he is -- and he's a little bit on the huge side, but for a quid he'll make a fine Chaos Ogryn henchman for a baddie in a future game.

Thursday 11 September 2014

I just signed up for this, and you should too.

As the year draws to a close, it is time once again for the annual exchange of goodwill and creativity that is Secret Santicore. I really enjoy anything that provides this kind of impetus for creativity, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Bone armour, part 2: the Corselet of Zothul

On Monday I talked about the exciting discovery of bone armour from Siberia and opined that this could be the basis for some cool game items. Here is the first, statted for the D&D 3.5ish I use in my D&D game and grounded in my own campaign world.

The Bone Corselet of Zothul

Little is known of the mighty wizards who created the pact between the Empire and the Outer Dark. Some were annihilated by the powers their spell unleashed, erased not only from the world but from time itself. Still others became incurably mad and had to be put down. Yet others were destroyed in the following centuries, their names and histories suppressed by their victorious rivals. Such a one was Zothul the Cold, a master necromancer. It was Zothul who, when the Outer Dark took the city of Glory as its sacrifice, engineered the raising of every man, woman and child within its walls as undead creatures.

I swiped this photo of a classic Citadel figure from 
the excellent Lead Plague blog. Sorry, Asslessman!

Zothul commanded his Old Bone Legion in the wars that followed, clad in a suit of armour of his own design. Each plate of this armour was a bone taken from one of his victims. The reverse of each bone was inscribed with arcane sigils. This face was turned to the armour's leather backing lest mortal eyes see the sigils and be destroyed. Eventually, Zothul grew too powerful for the comfort of the other members of the Imperial Council. The Red Buffalo Legion destroyed the Old Bone Legion in a civil war that lasted nearly thirteen years. Today, to speak the name of Zothul would be to incur the wrath of the Immortal Buffalo General.

Zothul's armour was lost during the fighting. Most believe that it was destroyed when he died, but this is not so. It passed from hand to hand and out of the knowledge of history. No one knows where it rests.

The Bone Corselet provides protection as a suit of studded leather +1. Unlike most such armour, it provides no spell failure chance when the wearer casts spells from the Necromancy school. However, it applies an increased spell failure chance -- 30% instead of the usual 15% -- on spells from all other schools.

The spectral energy of the armour contaminates the soul of whoever wears it. For every week in which the wearer dons the armour regularly (ie in which it is his or her most commonly worn suit of armour) he or she suffers a cumulative -1 penalty on all Diplomacy, Gather Information, Heal, Perform or Sense Motive checks dealing with non-undead creatures. Penalty points disappear at the rate of two weeks of non-use per point. Once the cumulative penalty reaches -10, the wearer gains the Undead quality with all its various benefits. He or she can be turned as a ghoul with HD equal to his or her level. However, on a result that would normal destroy him or her, the wearer is only turned as normal.

Monday 8 September 2014

Bone armour from the Bronze Age!

The Siberian Times reports the discovery of an intact set of bone armour dating to the Bronze Age. Armour made of bone plates is nothing new -- I remember going to a talk on bone or maybe rawhide armour from ancient Egypt that showed it standing up to bronze arrowheads from contemporary bows at anything above point-blank range. I have written about weird armour on my proper history blog, but not that one I don't think.

And of course we have Bronze Age helmets made from pig tusks, which are pretty well-known.

As neat as that bone armour is, I think my main area of excitement about it is to speculate about where the bone came from. In a fantasy game, the obvious temptation is to say "it's dragon bone" or some shit like that, but I think that's a mistake for three reasons: first, it creates the temptation to slay monsters to turn them into loot, which I think is as the wrong way round. Like, if your players kill the minotaur and go "Yeah, let's make him into a hat," I think that's great, but I don't think a minotaur fight motivated by "I just need two of these before I get the Stampeding Bracers!" is going to be a lot of fun.

The second problem is that most fantasy monsters have been done to death in that aspect. Not all of them, but certainly dragons. "Dragonhide armour" is about the corniest thing imaginable. Although hide armours are very cool.

But that leads me to the third reason: armour or weapons made from animals has cool symbolic resonance based on the animal, which of course we have with only a few fantasy animals (the ones that already folkloric excepted). The crocodile's skin: so tough!

The pangolin -- so basically like a suit of armour it seems unnecessary!

The pufferfish -- stay the fucking hell away from me with that thing!

That being the case, what are we to do with this bone corselet thingy? I think that if we're going to make it out of the bone of an animal with some symbolic oomph the obvious candidate is, y'know, Man. 

More on this tomorrow, maybe. I'm tired. 

Sunday 7 September 2014

Painting for lazy gamers 2.

In an earlier post, I talked about experimenting with coloured primer as a speed painting technique. This is especially motivated by my desire to make some rank-and-file guys for SAGA, to be used interchangeably as Warriors in any of the trousers - and - beards armies.

So I sprayed five of the plastic GB Dark Age Warriors with the brown spray, together with a weird little Dwarf model that I found in a charity shop and that was just so damn ugly that I was enchanted by it.

Here they are after the primer coat.

I slapped on the base colours,  added some rough highlights and then did a few washes. This second photo is taken after exactly 60 minutes.

The third photo is after two hours, including a short dinner break.

And here is the final photo.

Overall this entire project took under two and a half hours, probably an even two if you leave out dinner. That is an average of 20 minutes a model. Of course, these are not beautiful figures,  and I am a pretty fast painter in the first place. But still, I am happy with the expansion of my Warrior and Levy units.

I have not completed everyone's base yet; I'm going to do a bunch of them all together. I am also on the fence about adding shield designs; my current plan is to do more elaborate shield designs for Hearthguard units and simple bold colours for Warrior units. Additionally, part of my mind niggles about the fact that the kinds of designs you see on SAGA armies, although beautiful, are not, I don't think, historically attested. Or at least not much -- you do get them in the Icelandic sagas, although they sound much more like proper heraldry. 

Thursday 4 September 2014

Painting for lazy gamers?

A friend of mine and I are currently getting warmed up for some historical gaming in 1/72 scale. I have done some stuff in this period before,  and I am quite looking forward to it, but my problem is that I find painting the rank and file a bit dull. I think this is why I prefer skirmish gaming,  where, potentially at least, each model is its own little character.

So what I decided to do is experiment with some speed-painting techniques. Today I will see if coloured primers work for me.

The leading makers of coloured primers are probably The Army Painter,  who advertise a whole system based on spraying with a coloured primer,  blocking in base colours and then dipping the whole thing in floor polish. Or expensive, Army-Painter-repackaged floor polish if you live in the only place in the world that has a gaming shop but not a B&Q (or Home Depot for my American readers).

Now, I am not that far gone, but perhaps this coloured-primer business has something to recommend it. I know that some people don't like the effect it has on colour,  but I paint over black and regard people who paint over white with a mixture of awe and dread, like sorcerers.

So then. I picked up a can of Army Painter "Leather Brown" primer. It is £9.99 or something at my local game shop, so about on par with the GW product,  certainly not cheap. I picked a couple of 28mm models out of the tin bin and the sprue drawer to try it out on.

Left to right, these are an archer from (I think) Essex Miniatures, which I got as part of a job lot of early medieval minis, a multi-part plastic spearman from the Gripping Best Dark Age Warriors box and a dismounted biker from Excalibur Miniatures. This miniature is, how you say, pretty ugly.

I hit them with the spray and ... yup. It is a primer. And it is brown. I had had very bad experiences with Army Painter products in the past, but this one was fine. Maybe I got a bad batch.

Next I bashes in some base colours and did some quick highlighting. Wherever possible I tries to use the primer as the base colour, varying the effect by changing the highlight colour or using a wash. The hair is the same colour on all three, for instance. And all parts of the biker's jumpsuit, skin and hair are the same colour, just with different coloured highlights and washes. After about 30-45 minutes,  we were here:

I then went back and added my usual detailing of wonky eyes, boring weapons and sloppy clothing embellishments. I am not sure my finishing touches really added much.

But as far as rank-and-file dudes go, I think they are not half bad. They only took a short time, though. So that is good. I am going to try it on a proper "unit" of GB guys next, and will time myself rigorously. If I can do a squad in an hour or two, that is good news.

Monday 1 September 2014

Crossbloggery: The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex

Occasionally, posts on my history blog cross over with gaming stuff. Today over on the blog I'm talking about The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex, a facsimile of a 19th-century pamphlet replica of a 17th-century pamphlet about a mysterious serpent in Henham, Essex, with references to the famous Saffron Walden cockatrice. I love incorporating some actual folklore into my Call of Cthulhu or similar games, so let's see what I can do with this thing. You can get it on DTRPG: it's only $1.95 (about £1.20).

My blog has probably more than the higher normal proportion of readers who run or have run supernatural games set in Essex, so I thought I'd mention it.