Sunday 27 September 2015

First miniature painted in new house.

It's been a while since I got any painting done, what with the packing and the unpacking and work, but this Saturday I vowed to complete a figure, just to inaugurate the new study. It didn't take much to finish this nearly-complete Inquisitorial scribe guy, but in my view it still counts. He was 50p at a car boot sale!

As you can see, I kept the colour scheme pretty simple; I intentionally echoed the colour of the parchment in the colour of his face, both for thematic reasons and just to make him look sallow and unhealthy. You can't see it, but there's a little red wash around the points where his various cyber-bits plug into the back of his head to make it look nasty and inflamed.

I'm sure this guy will turn up as an NPC in future games of Warhammer Sorta Thousand ... just as soon as I get my table set up.

Friday 25 September 2015

Miniatures gallery pictures!

Well, a few anyway. Last time I showed you my cabinet; here are a few close-ups of some of the figures in it. Unfortunately it's not easy to see them all; the cabinet actually provides a fair bit of shade. I shall have to get a light closer to it!

Here's the cabinet again:

I tried to arrange the groups by theme, with each square having models from a different army or game. 

Nurgle marines! I have loads more of these from all different eras but these are my favourites. 

Rogue Trader adventurey types plus random vehicle. 

Orks. I'm quite proud of my little old-timey Ork army. 

D&D villains. 

Zombie apocalypse survivors. 

Relatedly, zombies. Again, I have many more. 

Cthulhu investigators. 

I have played Malifaux exactly once. 

Cthulhu baddies. Some of these are painted by others; I just touched them up a little. 

Neo-Sovs 1. 

Neo-Sovs 2. 

D&D heroes, with temporary stand in for Reginald Fowderhop, Gentleman Assassin. 

Wednesday 23 September 2015

I am back ... ish.

I have spent most of the last week moving house, and although the process is pretty much done it hasn't left me with a lot of time to write ... or maybe I've just got out of the habit.

Anyway, now that my study is all sorted out I'm feeling a little better about returning to blogging. I don't have a lot to say today, but I'll try to have a more substantial post for Friday.

This is the gaming cabinet in my study. Miniatures and things are in a closet, and there's a set of shelves for terrain -- a gaming table is coming soon -- but I have put a few selected groups of figures in the little display spaces just for looks. You can't see them very clearly, but I'll try to take a better picture tomorrow when the light is good. 

Anyway, it took a long time but finally we're in our new house and all my stuff is out and I can get back to work. I've got some exciting projects coming up during the rest of the year, and I'm looking forward to telling you about them!

Thursday 10 September 2015

Might be going quiet for a little while

We finally have a date for that long-awaited move, and everything is, as I've mentioned, being packed up. That means I might be a little preoccupied over the next week or so. Work-work has to receive priority for non-packing time (as well as things I've promised other people).

I am going to make up a mess of terrain tonight, as I don't want to take it with me in a half-finished state, so if I get the chance I'll stick some photos up later on. With luck, regular service will be resumed soon, and I may have some photos of my new gaming digs to show you.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Mashup Monday (belated): Bookshelf packing edition

As I may have previously mentioned once or twice, I am currently getting ready to move house. That means that many -- indeed, most -- of my books are packed up. Nothing daunted, I'm going to do another two-thing mashup post because my creativity is at a low ebb. Let's do it.

Opening these books to random pages, we find the following passages:

The term 'monkey-handler' is not to be taken literally, but is probably the late Eighteenth-Dynasty equivalent of 'shyster'. It goes without saying that the real handlers of monkeys can have done nothing to merit such an unjust reputation. There are other colourful expressions in this text, which Horemheb may well have picked up during his army career.
 A promising start! Let's look at the next one:
In our District and Experience ... we find Riots and dangerous affrays among foreign seamen (many of whom continue on shore until they are destitute and then seek a support by plunder) the most prevalent offences and most difficult to be prevented. Discharged merchant seamen, their pockets bulging with pay, encouraged other forms of offences. 'Street robberies and particularly larceny from the person (chiefly committed on seafaring people)' appeared the most prevalent forms of crime in the Whitechapel district of Regency London ...
 OK, so clearly what we have here is a dishonest monkey handler who has trained his monkey to pick the pockets of sailors on shore. That's all very well and good -- and it would be a fun ability to give a rogue, for that matter -- but let us, instead, agree with the spirit if not the letter of the first piece and assume that the monkey-handler is the victim here.

OK, so sailors are a shady bunch in general, right? The cult of Cthulhu had lots of sailor members and seems to have employed them as assassins, and that's leaving out all the purely mundane smugglers, pirates, drug-runners and fugitives you get among sailors in various eras.

So our monkey-handler sends his little pal to swipe something from a sailor, but instead of the usual embroidered handkerchief, scrimshaw keepsake or roll of coins he comes up with something sensitive, something that reveals an important upcoming rite of the cult of Cthulhu. When the terrified swabby realises he's lost something incriminating, he immediately puts two and two together, and he and his buddies (maybe not even cultists, just outraged shipmates) hunt the otherwise-harmless rogue through the streets of Port Said with big knives. So when a frantic monkey comes running into the tea-house where the PCs are planning their next excavation ...

Easy-peasy, although it works a little better if your PCs have an inherent reason to care if a monkey handler gets knifed up. It's not hard to introduce the monkey guy in advance, though, because after all a monkey handler is a fun street-contact NPC in any fantasy or historical setting. Heck, you could even do it in Vampire and make any player who spent points on Animalism eternally grateful.

Friday 4 September 2015

Encumbrance, games, history.

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and ... start ... worrying. Hrm.

So, in my day job -- and particularly during the summer months when school is out -- I spend a lot of time sitting at a computer writing. I'm someone who likes to have noise in the background, so when I'm not listening to a podcast or something, I often have videos on YouTube just sort of playing on one screen while I write on the other, or even just forming a soundtrack. One of the channels I often look at for informative short videos is run by a guy called Matt Easton, an archaeologist by training and a devotee of historical swordfighting or, as it is known, HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts).

I find a lot of Matt's videos balanced and reasonable and interesting, but there were one or two that gave me pause initially. In fact, I think I was wrong about this, but I'll explain why in a moment. Here is one video in which Matt talks about the practicality of carrying weapons and armour and how that relates to role-playing games.

(That figure actually appears in my D&D game as the long-suffering Knives, second-most-junior of the party's henchmen.)

Now, I think that in terms of explaining historical uses of things, Matt has the absolute right point that it is much easier to understand why things were or weren't done when you think of them in terms of convenience or hassle. A lot of things that people imagine as being optimal when fighting an enemy on an infinite grid of blue squares are just a huge pain in the butt when you have to think of doing them in everyday life. But I think, or thought, that the implications he drew from that were misguided.

Now I want to point out that I'm not saying "oh, it's fantasy, it doesn't have to be realistic." That is both obviously true and obviously untrue, as thinking about the extreme responses for a second will show. What I am saying is that works of adventure fiction tend to focus on elements of the narrative that produce the requisite mood of thrilling heroics -- which is why pirate movies don't have long scenes in which they fill up the ship with all the water and biscuit they need, Katniss Everdeen never stops to take a whiz and James Bond isn't in a mental institution.

(OK, James Bond is briefly in a mental institution early on in The Man With the Golden Gun, but you know what I mean.)

It's like people who say "well, Bruce Wayne should just give all his money to charity instead of punching clowns." Those people should be sentenced to read issue after issue of a comic about a well-adjusted philanthropist. They'd change their tune sharpish, I suspect.

Or, to put it another way, I interpreted it as a case of missing the forest for the trees -- when what you care about is, say, medieval weapons and armour, there's a temptation to view everything through that lens. You ask yourself "how does this game represent medieval weapons and armour" rather than "what is this game trying to achieve through the use of medieval weapons and armour," ignoring the fact that it's called Dungeons and Dragons and not Hundred Years War Luggage Simulator. I am ... well, like Matt, I have a couple of degrees in archaeology and I've spent years studying the middle ages. I am probably in the top one or two percent of people who care about the medieval period. And I wouldn't play Hundred Years War Luggage Simulator, at least not more than once.

(And Lord knows I do this as much as anybody; I'm not claiming to be special here.)

But, of course, one of the reasons I thought this was that I was thinking in the back of my mind "after all, it's not like people get their ideas about what life was like in historical periods from games, is it?"

And then I looked at the comments sections of Matt's videos. Oh dear.

And then I remembered that I'd been wrestling with almost this exact problem in the classes I teach and on my history blog for years. Just not with D&D specifically. But it's the same thing, really.

Sorry, Matt; my bad. Carry on.

Dear fellow gamers: trying to apply the logic of games to thinking about real history is like wondering why real spies don't sleep with beautiful but deadly assassins and fight sharks or thinking that real-world philanthropists should take to the street to punch bank robbers. Steal from history and put it in games: it is the most fun thing! But just remember which is which. And for heaven's sake don't post about it on YouTube.

(I do actually like the idea of making very heavy armour a long-term investment in that you have to pay for all the mules and squires and stuff, but I don't care enough about implementing it to keep track of the expenditures. Games with abstract wealth ratings handle this not too badly, I feel.)

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Adopted post: Donnerwetter! Englanders!

So, David McGrogan of Monsters and Manuals came up with the idea of "adopting" blog posts -- that is, people taking over his unfinished posts. I volunteered to do one about Commando.

His post ran:

"One day, I'd like to make a game based on Commando Comics, the peculiar"
And that's it.

So ... peculiar. I suppose so. Commando preserves perhaps rather an old-fashioned model of comics storytelling. It's full of this kind of thing:

I think they come out once a week, I think, and there's like two to three panels per page, 63 pages per story. Self-contained action stories full of virtue and heroism and not many laughs. 

So, there's a hero, it's wartime (usually but not always WWII), the story goes on over a long period, there's usually but not always a sympathetic enemy, and a lot of the time our hero has some kind of psychological hurdle to overcome. People shout things like EAT LEAD, JERRY! and AIIIEEEE! and so on. 

Now, David's original pitch was to make a game out of Commando. I think that would require you to mess with the standard story structure, since the stories are (usually, but not always; these things come out once a week, so there are a lot of stories) typically tales of individual heroism. You could do it with any RPG that had a certain amount of detail in the weapons and stuff, although you don't want a combat system that's too lethal or realistic. This isn't one of yer serious war movies, here; it's straight-faced boys' adventure stuff. In fact, it's very old-fashioned in that respect too. 

I was saying to my wife the other day that they make you read "To Build a Fire" in school and it seems to instill in most of us the understanding that man vs nature conflict stories suck. But there's quite a lot of that kind of thing in a Commando story: shipwrecks, mountain climbing, difficult flying, icy waters. Physical challenges that aren't combat. Not usually something that's mechanically interesting in games, but I think you'd want it for this. 

So, OK, the players are a group of British military hero types, that's obvious. And we need a system that's got detailed but not super-lethal combat and physical stuff. And maybe we should address the thing that there are only four or five core character types. What if ... 

... OK, how about this? What if you create your character, and that's your guy. But in every session the situation is a different one -- like, this time you're on a submarine, in the next session you're paratroopers, in the one after that you're in ancient Rome. So you have your core character who then appears in a different ... I guess a different role in the next scenario. Lets you do the thing of having a bunch of different war stories -- most people don't want to play a whole campaign where you're flying Hurricats on the Murmansk Convoy -- but saves you having to come up with new characters each time. 

That appears to be the gimmick of a series of stories in Commando, the "Eagles" stories, which are about the military exploits of the same family at all different periods of British history: 

Actually, that was kind of the idea behind a game from the 90s called Amazing Engine, which never really went anywhere. It was your basic generic system, but I think the idea was that you actually created a single character who would then kind of quantum-leap into different settings? Something like that. 

If we want to mechanically emulate the themes -- which we might or might not -- maybe the best thing to do would be to take something like the Virtues system from Pendragon and bolt it onto whatever system you're using (or, hell, just do it with Pendragon)? Is there a good modern mod for Pendragon?