Sunday 26 July 2015

Some quick Viking scenery

I recently threw together this runestone piece for SAGA or other northern-themed games.

The stone itself is a stone from the garden, selected for its relatively flat face. Although you should always paint stone -- like I did with the stones around the base -- I wanted to preserve its interesting colour, so I didn't in this instance and I think it looks OK. The design is taken from a runestone in Uppland, Sweden, and heavily simplified. I am not good enough to paint the inscription so it's legible, but I assure you that it says, in Old Norse, "Ottar raised this stone for Arn, his father. Thor hallow the runes. A stone on a hill." It's a mishmash of other runic inscriptions intended to fit the length of the ribbon.

Although obviously you wouldn't get runes just painted on the stone like this, carved runestones were often painted -- you can still see the traces of colour in some cases.

The various foliage on the base comes from Woodland Scenics and Army Painter and whoever. There's some rather nice little yellow flowers at the back that you can't see very well in the shot, but I think the purple ones on the left by the rock are my favourite.

Here is the bold Nornvar (an NPC from my D&D game) posing in front of the stone.

It's fantasy, so her outfit is A-OK. 

Saturday 25 July 2015

And now, a word from our sponsors

Just a short post today after Friday's novel! It's the Christmas in July sale over at DriveThru, and lots of things are 25% or more off. I thought I'd take a moment to go over all the reviews I've posted on this blog as well as last year's RPG a Day posts and see if any of the things I recommended are on sale. And what do you know, there are a few.

Maelstrom Domesday

A spinoff or reimagining of British classic Maelstrom (itself currently on sale for less than £3!), this is a game that's right up my alley and possibly no one else's, a scrub-level horror/mystery game set in England in the late 11th century with tons of period detail and a strong chance of being a disfigured peasant. I wrote a full read-through and a character creation post.

I do keep meaning to run this game, but when? Anyway, you can get it for super cheaps -- less than a fiver for the PDF -- on DTRPG right now, since there's an extra sale on.

After the Bomb

It's about cartoon mutant animals fighting in the wreckage of a nuclear-devastated America, and it started as a supplement for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG. Now it has its own system -- and OK, Palladium character creation is complicated and time-consuming, but it's dead easy to strip away the cruft. And you get a hell of a lot for just a few dollars with these After the Bomb PDFs. Road Hogs is my personal favourite -- and it's like £2.50! -- but they're all cool. It's the only post-apocalyptic hot rod samurai funny animal rockabilly western you're ever going to need.

Sadly, the original TMNT game is out of print, but my experience is that it's not hard to find on eBay, and there's a new After the Bomb RPG that all these books are compatible with.

The Flying Serpent

Not a game at all, just a weird historical document that would make a great prop for anyone running a supernatural mystery game set in England. And less than a pound.

Tunnels & Trolls

My very first RPG, this game has a fancy new edition, but you can actually buy the first edition from the 70s in PDF for less than two dollars American!


Your pal and mine Chris wrote a guest post about this classic after picking it up for a song at the SELWG bring and buy. I don't think the first edition is still available, but you can definitely get the second and third in PDF for about seven quid each. 

Everything Sine Nomine has done ever

The only thing more tiresome than my love for Silent Legions (two-part review here and here) is my fondness for Stars Without Number and its spinoff, Other Dust. Come to that, I just read Spears of the Dawn and enjoyed it as well. So I'm just gonna go ahead and endorse pretty much everything Kevin Crawford does. Get you some. 

So anyway, that's what I've reviewed or talked about on the blog that's currently on sale at DTRPG. Get 'em before the end of July for, you know, big savings. Three floors of values! You know the kind of thing. 

Friday 24 July 2015

De viris illustribus, or, fantasy gaming in the mid-70s

My good friend Abi's father Ken passed away last year. While going through his things, she showed me a box of his old game and campaign notes. She'd already told me that he'd been a gamer since he was young, and had been playing D&D in the mid-seventies. This week we finally had a chance to go through the files, and we found things I was not expecting but which, I think, are fascinating artefacts of a particular period in British gaming. Get a snack or something, because this is a long one.

Stuff we found in the file (which is just a single box file) falls into five general categories:
  1. Stuff relating to the gaming and science fiction societies at Durham university in the 70s. I did my MA at Durham, and in fact lived for a short time in the house in the basement of which the sf society library was kept. I spent a lot of that time reading 60s and 70s sf -- how odd to think that I may have read some of the same books he did! They were pretty yellowed, so I'm perfectly willing to believe they were the same actual volumes. 
  2. Stuff relating to ongoing postal Diplomacy games. Ken liked him some Diplomacy, and who can blame him? Greg Costikyan called it the finest game of the 20th century. 
  3. D&D stuff. Of which more anon. 
  4. Stuff relating to a complex postal wargame that Ken was running. Of which a lot more anon. 
  5. Misfiled other stuff -- plans to meet, letters to friends, etc. 
Because a lot of these games were postal, we have only the received correspondence -- so while we have lots of letters to Ken, obviously we don't have any he actually sent. For the postal games, this means we have letters from players requesting stuff, and then we have the notes Ken used to determine his replies, but then we don't have those replies. 

Dungeons and Dragons

Let's start with D&D, both because it's where I originally started and because it's a little shorter. 

There's a rulebook in the box: 

This is a 1977 GW version of the Holmes Basic rulebook, with a cover illustration by John Blanche and interior art by Christopher Baker ("Fangorn"), Trampier and others (I didn't note the artists -- that's just who I spotted). John Blanche! We've been informed that this is not the earliest rulebook that the group used -- it may be a replacement acquired later on. It's possible that the original book was one of the small run of white boxed sets imported by GW as described in that article in WD 90? 

Tucked into the book we found this: 

But I'm gonna assume they were not related. 

In the back of the book is a list of other products GW sold. We noted that the D&D boxed set cost £7.50 in 1977, which Messrs The Internet inform me is the equivalent of £48.29 in modern money. Bloody hell. 

We also found the equipment list for Ken's beloved character Klag (though no actual sheet): 

As you can see, the sensible fighting Uruk-Hai is carrying an absolute shitload of weapons, including a crossbow with 120 silver-tipped bolts, six knives, a warhammer, a greatsword, a regular old sword, two seven-foot spears and an AK-47, to say nothing of 300 feet of rope. All of this is carefully stowed on Klag's pack mule -- I believe the tick marks on the sheet indicate what Klag was actually carrying. I wonder where he got that AK; it was an interesting campaign, looks like. 

Further evidence that Klag knows what's up: he is listed as carrying 10 5 4 kilos of gunpowder. 

At some point, the group were playing some of the Against the Giants modules, at least 1978's Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl -- although this is an AD&D scenario, I don't know enough about the rules differences to know if we can tell from the notes that they were using the AD&D rules. Presumably not, if they just dropped the equivalent of fifty quid on the D&D rules the previous year? Just from the notes, it also looks as if they played Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, although maybe that's just where they started out. 

Note the diagram of a 12-person marching order in three ranks, and note also that one of the characters is called "Frodo." And another one is called "Magritte," which is a little surreal. Heyo!

Weirdly, someone seems to have been keeping track of every hit during a series of fights with giants. This record peters out after a little while, though, because, y'know. 

A tea stain! British gamers have been here. 
We also have notes for the contents of a dungeon, although no accompanying map. I don't think any of these notes are in Ken's hand, but I could be wrong.

And that is about it for D&D. This notebook, however, doesn't start with D&D. Instead, the D&D record-keeping picks up where notes on another game leave off. And that's when things get really interesting.

The Dhuithian Campaign

Now, just like "Cthulhu Mythos," this may be a misnomer, because the earliest record I can find of this game having a name actually dates from 1990 -- but most of the paperwork in here appears to be from the mid-1970s. The 1990 letter also speaks of the game having multiple "incarnations." So Ken and others were working on this thing, off and on, for at least 15 years. I wonder if it was also the setting for the D&D game, although there's no way of telling. It seems to be a low-magic world, though, a fantasy world in the sense that it's not real but not in having lots of monsters or magic.

What was the Dhuithian Campaign? Well, let's take a look. The most obvious documents associated with it are maps. Lots and lots and lots of maps. I mean shitloads of maps. 

Castle maps!
Harbour maps!
Terrain maps!
Political maps!
Great big province maps!
Maps with handy keys!
Country maps!
This is only a tiny fraction of them -- I have many more photos and there are plenty I didn't photograph because after a while you just get to "there are a hell of a lot of maps in this box." Some are by Ken, while others are by other people or by several different hands. 

Maps often have numbers on them, which appear to be the revenue generated by each province. It looks, although the system may have evolved over time, that the revenue is generated in points, points being spent to buy troops. I've never played WRG Ancients myself, but my guess is that this is what the points system refers to. The abbreviations used in the game's orders (of which more in a moment) seem to line up; that LMI for light-medium infantry is a bit of a giveaway. Also,Ken's letters refer frequently to Worthing, and Worthing -- just 10 miles from Ken's home town of Brighton -- was where the Wargames Research Group was based. Ken was a member of the Society of Ancients, so it's very likely he was familiar with those rules. I wonder if they actually fought out the battles in miniature? I do know that Ken collected 1/72 plastics, and 1975 was the year of the Airfix Guide to Ancient Wargaming ... 

You will note the inclusion of countries like "Lankhmar" on the map. There are a few like that -- the map seems to be a mixture of historical, fictional and newly-invented countries. 

It looks like the game was played largely by post -- or at least played that way for a time -- with individual national leaders sending in their instructions by letter. Many of them have lovely handwriting! Not all flows smoothly, though: 

"You can't be serious about the cost of road building, can you?"
"I'm afraid my spare time has continued to diminish so I shall have to drop out."
But, organisational hassles, delays and complaining players aside, there was also a lot of creativity going on. Players wrote letters to each other in character:

Composed limericks lampooning each other for publication in the game's newspaper: 

And got creative with their tactics:

13. Dirty tricks section.

There were newspapers: 

And detailed histories: 

Lots of battle reports and much editorialising. These ones weren't written by Ken, although there are sets of notes for another historical text in his hand.

There are also some game-play artefacts, including army lists: 

And a set of random event chits: 

And then there's the language, Yalorian. Apparently Ken was always fascinated with and good at languages -- I've seen notes in his flat in or about New Testament Greek and Kiswahili, and Abi remembers him reading to her from Beowulf at a young age, reading it in Old English but telling her the story in Modern English. And that fascination is present here: 

That's a list of noun cases -- and in case you weren't sure he was a fan of Old English, this language has a dual number for 1/3 more case endings. 

But it remained solidly in a wargaming context, as we can see from these sample sentences: 

Bezan wonautenen peshansas.

"The ship sails to Onaut." Note that "bez," "a ship," and "peshan," "to sail," have the same root word -- "shan" is "to go," so "peshan" is literally "to go by ship" -- but "p" and "b" are slippery things in Yalorian. Ken also notes that although it's "Onaut" Yalorian-speakers often say "Wonaut."

Bezan onautenen peshan et madamos---a durnella

"The ship that sails to Onaut has been carrying siege engines." I can't read part of that word. 

There are a lot of siege engines in this setting is all I'm saying. 

And again, although most of this stuff is from the mid-70s, they're still talking about province revenue in 1990: 

I wonder if it just all went digital after a certain point. 

The Southampton connection

Now, if you know much about the history of gaming, you're starting to be reminded of something. And you'd be right. In May 1975, a correspondent, Londoner Russell King, asks: 

"I believe you are/were involved in the Hyborian campaign."

Ding! Of course -- the Hyboria game! Tony Bath's famous wargames campaign that turned into a sprawling fantasy world with its own history, maps, newspapers, and so on. That included elements of Leiber and Howard, and that was being written up in the gaming press in the early 1970s. Based in Southampton, Bath was a founder (the founder? I'm not sure) of the Society of Ancients, of which Ken was a member -- and of course Southampton wasn't far ... there's nothing in the box to suggest that Ken was one of the many wargamers who participated in the Hyboria campaign as rulers, but given what else we know about his wargaming in the early 70s it sounds very likely. He could have been inspired by Bath's book, which came out in '73, but I see no reason not to think he had more hands-on experience. 

I think what we have here is an instance of a trend that was pretty common in wargaming in the 1960s and 1970s -- one that we can see in the early gaming of Gary Gygax as well: Jon Peterson reports that Gygax was doing something pretty similar in the pre-D&D days, although his version was grounded in his beloved medieval period rather than Bath's preferred ancient world. (A lot of what I know about Hyboria comes from Peterson's superb Playing at the World, although I am lucky enough to have a copy of White Dwarf issue 4, which contains Bath's "Hyboria: A History.") It looks like Ken was trying to set up something akin to Hyboria, including players from all over the UK but centred on Durham and focusing on his own interests. We can see that the linguistic material largely seems to be later in date, suggesting that even when the campaign was over the fictional world continued to exist and be developed. It was a wargames campaign in '75 or so, maybe a D&D campaign in the late 70s (although we don't know that) and some sort of gedankenexperiment from then on. Or was there more produced? 

Anyway, it's a fascinating look at the early UK fantasy games scene. You can see a lot of shared community standards even then, but also quite a lot of making-it-up-as-they-go-along and a lot of swiping things from other fields (mainly historical gaming) to serve slightly different purposes. Weird creativity, historical wargaming, bricolage -- this is all relevant to my interests. 

If you know anything about any of this stuff, I'd be excited to hear more! Leave a comment and let me know what I'm overlooking. 

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Quick Notes

I am working on a long blog post for Friday, in which I explore a fascinating piece of British gaming history -- but it is not quite ready yet. Until then, I wanted to bring to your attention that a friend of mine is now blogging about games -- both campaign design and reviews -- at Fleetwood's Theory.

Also, I note that the Savage Worlds book I saw being messed with at ExiliCon, Ultima Forsan, is now available on DriveThru for about £6. I believe that price is for a limited time, though, so if you like your worlds savage you had best get a move on.

Also, I painted a Reaper Bones steampunk engineer guy and a Dungeonquest barbarian, bringing my Dungeonquest minis painted to three out of four. One more to do by next weekend!

The Bones model, like many of them, has soft detail around the face and hair -- as well as the buttons on the vest -- but I am pretty happy with the quick paint job. I'm also pleased that, like his fellow Chronoscope models, he's adapted from a tabbed figure, which means he can be neatly sliced off his textured base and put on a round base. However, I am very disappointed with the barbarian, who looks a bit rubbish and streaky in the photo. I wonder if the contrast is set too high, perhaps? I swear the horns aren't that patchy in real life. 

Monday 20 July 2015

Warhammer Sorta Thousand: what is it, anyway?

If you've been keeping up with my blog posts for a while, you'll have seen that one tag I use to describe my painting projects is "Warhammer Sorta Thousand." In light of recent discussions about "what is Oldhamer?" I thought I'd say a few words about this idea -- what it is, what it means to me and why I'm into it.

Oldhammer and me

The Oldhammer Facebook group recently saw the need to crack down a little on off-topic discussion; nothing wrong with that, of course, but it means deciding what the topic actually is, which means defining the term. They chose to define Oldhammer as going up to 1992, which is fair enough, although personally I'd push it up a few years, but whatever. There are many definitions, but sometimes you have to pick one and go with it!

But Warhammer Sorta Thousand isn't quite Oldhammer, although Oldhammer is a part of it. Let me ... hmmm.

Maybe the best way to illustrate this is visually.

Is it post-apocalyptic scumbags? 
The authentic 80s goodness? 
21st century interpretations? 
Similar non-GW stuff? 
Pound shop toys? 
Classic sci-fi? 
Collecting things from the golden age? 
Obscure alternatives? 


Modern models in "the tradition"? 

Plastic kitbashery? 


The answer is yes!

A broad exploding church factory

For me, the thing that really appeals about the Rogue Trader era of Warhammer 40,000 is its potential. When you flip through the rulebook, you see everything from the Mad Max-style post-apocalypse of Helsreach to table setups that look like much more traditional science fiction, and then of course the traditional space-Gothic greeblefest. And within the context of the loosely-defined Rogue Trader setting, it all makes sense. I mean, it doesn't make any sense. But you expect that it won't make any sense.

I'm not some Rogue Trader purist -- the setting rapidly got developed with future releases, and I like a lot of what's in them. But the key to Warhammer Sorta Thousand is that you take that stuff and you mix it in as an inspiration to your own creativity rather than a set of rules you have to follow. So a lovingly-painted army of Ultramarines with every chapter marking in the right place and a bunch of more-or-less identical armoured vehicles is Warhammer, sure, but it doesn't quite fit Warhammer Sorta Thousand. Fundamentally, Warhammer Sorta Thousand is about narrative gaming, and huge armies that make army-like sense don't necessarily fit that.

So the old-model and old-setting focus of Warhammer Sorta Thousand is not because I'm all about the 80s nostalgia, although God knows that's a factor, but because the older versions of the setting and models tended to support the types of scenarios that I want to play. But once you've accepted that premise, there's no need to limit yourself to a particular type or manufacturer of model.

I took these photos of a massive Warhammer 3rd edition game at Salute this year -- to me, they exemplify the Warhammer Sorta Thousand approach, albeit in fantasy form. You've got a wide range of different manufacturers in there -- including old GW, current GW, Reaper, 4A, Copplestone and many more. You've got cheapo monopose plastics, modern multiplart plastics, prepainted Conflix houses, metal originals, toys, you've got civilians and random monster encounters, you've got a story (although one that my photos don't tell well). 

That's what I want from Warhammer Sorta Thousand -- and have never yet quite achieved. 


Oh, for Pete's sake. Cheetor. Cheetor's doing Warhammer Sorta Thousand. Man, that was easy.