Friday 30 December 2016

Holiday painting 3: Grenadier cleric!

This old D&D character model was my third painted figure over the holidays, painted on the 27th. She'd been sitting on my painting table for weeks. She's one of that very generous gift of old models I received from a friend.

The Grenadier models are very small compared to more recent figures, but they have a lot that I like, and one of my favourite things about them is the variety of female characters. I swapped away a few of the male adventurers, but I kept pretty much all of the women.

This is just a quick paint job, and the helmet and face could do with a little more detailing, but she'll do. In honour of the holidays, I painted her robe and fur trim in Yuletide colours.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Holiday painting update 2: Rafm goblin!

As I said in my last post, over the holidays I mainly wanted to paint things that I felt like painting rather than things I thought I ought to paint. That meant a recent purchase in this case. While I was at Dragonmeet, I picked up some Rafm fantasy models from Oakbound Games, who sell them in the UK. I used to have a few of these figures back in the early-mid 90s, but they're not very common or well-known over here. They're pretty charming, though. Check out the Goblin Lord on Giant Bird.

I mainly got him for the mount, which I think is pretty awesome. I mostly painted the model using my traditional speed-painting technique. I primed the mount and rider separately, highlighted them up to white and then added colour with washes and subsequent highlights. I thought a model this extravagant needed a vibrant, colourful paint scheme and I'm pretty happy with it. 

I like this model and I am sure I'll find some use for it as a character in D&D games or similar. The only thing I don't like about the pack is that the two mounts and riders are identical. I think I'll use the other one as a post-apocalyptic mount and put a different rider on it. 

This model took two sessions; I did the colours of the mount on Christmas day itself nad the rider on Boxing Day. It could do with a smidge more detail, but I'm satisfied overall. 

Monday 26 December 2016

Holiday painting update 1: Titanotron!

I did not do much painting during December. Indeed, I don't think I finished anything at all. I wasn't well, work was very stressful, other commitments were more important and, in general, my mojo was missing.

So when the holidays rolled around and I had a couple of days off, I decided to do some painting. And even though it looked as though my challenge with Tim of The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog was going to be a write-off for the second month in a row, I decided that I wasn't going to paint anything I felt I should paint. Instead, I was just going to paint as the spirit moved me. And the result was ... well, I'm pretty pleased.

My Christmas day painting was this Titanotron from ThunderChild Miniatures. It's a big chunky model that I picked up as a birthday treat for myself. I took him from bare metal to pretty much done over a relaxing Christmas.

I am going to use him not only in games of Wasteman but also as an Imperial Battle Droid in Rogue Trader, swinging two power fists and with a head-mounted plasma gun to represent the eye beams. Pew pew pew! Here he accompanies a patrol of Copplestone Castings Neo-Soviets through the post-apocalyptic ruins.

The base colour is Vallejo Russian Uniform, and the rest of it is just washes and weathering. It's a simple paintjob and I might punch it up with some inspirational slogans or decals or whatever, but I'm happy to field it the way it is at the moment.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Holiday special!

So it seems to be an annual tradition in my D&D game that I run a holiday special, complete with a goofy Doctor-Seuss-ish poem and some seasonal themes. Last year our heroes got into a flying-sleigh-fight with a bad guy who wanted to prevent presents from getting to good boys and girls, and also battled a squad of snow golems (snolems for short).

This time there were Christmas treants hung with alchemical globes, each of which produced a different effect. And it's not over yet.

Here, Kaia, in rock elemental form, digs a hole while angry Christmas treants approach. Frances casts spells and Reginald skulks among the trees. Zylphia is just outside the bottom of the shot, hacking one up with a sword.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Age of Sigmar challenge: not going so great

So my challenge with Tim of The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog came something of a cropper in November. In short ... I basically didn't paint anything and am now a month behind. I still have to finish five Chaos Knights, and now to that I have to add ten Marauders and a Chaos Lord on a demonic steed. I may have to try to finish by the end of January rather than December to take full advantage of the school holiday (work has been nuts).

However, I have not been completely idle. I have done the following things:

Acquired this box of Frostgrave barbarians with which to make the remaining Marauders (combined with all the miscellaneous sprues you see next to them)!

Painted most of this prototype Chaos knight to test the paint scheme!

It's not much, but it's more than nothing. 

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Road to Heaven: A new game by a cool dude

So last weekend I was at Dragonmeet, of which more anon. But also there was my friend Stephen Fleetwood, who is Kickstarting his new game, The Road to Heaven! It's a FATE-based fantasy RPG set in a Bronze Age-influenced setting where humans have the potential to become gods, and it looks like a lot of fun. I have backed it myself and am already receiving requests to run it. You can check out the Kickstarter here.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Frugal gaming: giant jellyfish

I was in a charity shop a while back when I came across two jellyfish ornaments, which I assume were from some aquarium gift shop. I decided they'd be good D&D or Rogue Trader monsters, then chucked them in a drawer and forgot about them. A while ago I pulled them out, only to learn that they're really too big and unstable for traditional GW-style flying bases.

If the model is big but not heavy, a great substitute for this kind of base is a plastic wine glass. You can get a pack of six of them for £1, and they allow flying models to occupy the same space as a model on the ground, since the mouth of the glass is open. I carefully trimmed down the stem with a pair of clippers, and hey presto. The photo doesn't capture the shimmery, slightly translucent effect of the plastic very well, so you'll just have to take my word that they are very nice jellyfish toys.

The alien being hovers over Inquisitor Stompheader. But what does it want?!

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Frugal gaming: Poundland monument

On the way home from a gig the other day, I stopped into Poundland. They had some little Buddha statues in different poses and I picked one up. I think he'll make a fine objective or piece of scenery for some types of skirmish gaming, although if I'd been smart I would have got several and used them as the basis for weird sci-fi conversions. 

In the depths of the jungle, Doctor Jones goes looking for artefacts of ... historical significance. Yeah, that's the ticket. 

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Sir Gilbert de Utahraptor rides again

In a previous post, I introduced you to Sir Gilbert de Utahraptor, Chevalier de Jurasse. I haven't decided whether he is a noble knight transformed into a lizard by a witch's curse or a baby lizardman raised to be a chivalrous paladin by a goodly old knight who happened to be blind. In either case, here he his with his squire, Godefroi. Judging by his expression, Godefroi doesn't take being an outsider in society with Gilbert's level of chivalric fortitude. Perhaps he is upset because his curse separates him from his lady love, the Fair Gwendolyn. Yeah, capital F, that's how fair we're talkin'.

The models are Essex fantasy figures, which I got for free at Oldhammer weekend from that chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, Stuart Klatcheff. Wottaguy. Only the sword, which a spare Wargames Factory Viking weapon, is new. I made him the squire just because his shield isn't as nice. It's a bit of a rushed paint job, but I found it quite a tricky model to do well.

Monday 14 November 2016

Brief painting update!

Low-content mode continues but I have done a little painting. I made some progress on my painting challenge with Tim of The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog, but while that goes on, here's what I've finished in the meantime.

In the post-apocalyptic wastes, a tame dunger helps the militia protect needed supplies. 

This cool dude is a Ramshackle Games model, a Dunger. He was a free miscast that I got given by Ramshackle's Curtis Fell back at Oldhammer weekend. I touched up the damaged parts with a little simply sculpted fur or changed them into features of the model, like the broken tusk. 

I really like the Jim Henson look of this model, with his adorable growly face, and I'll definitely get some use out of him. 

Thursday 3 November 2016

Low content mode!

So here's the thing:

  • There is actually quite a lot of interesting game-related stuff going on in my life at the moment.
  • But there is also a lot of stuff going on with both work and creative stuff. 
  • And as a result I just don't have a lot of time. You may have noticed I've been missing updates. 
So for the foreseeable future, at least until the end of November, I'm going to an irregular schedule. I'm going to update when I can, and hopefully that won't be never, but I'm not going to break my neck to update every other weekday. 

Sorry about that and hopefully it won't be long until I'll have something fun here for you all to read. 

Sunday 30 October 2016

Creating a character for a live game.

Some friends of mine run a live-action game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It's been going for a few years now, and they are starting a second 'season' in 2018. I have always wanted to play, but have been worried about expense, costume, needed stuff, and so on. But since the 2018 start gives me a full year to prepare, I figure I can actually now give it a go.

Anyway, this means things like converting and painting up a Nerf gun, buying costume bits, and so on. It also means coming up with an idea for a character, and this got me thinking about how I create characters for live games.

A simple sidearm for a non-combat-primary character.
Obviously, every game is different, but for me live game character creation (assuming certain average traits of live games) requires a few key differences from tabletop game character creation. These fall into two categories. Let's call them narrative and performance.


So the narrative category refers to the ways in which character action and motivation matter. As a rule of thumb, I try to define a live character as someone who:

  • wants something
  • that isn't finite
  • and that can only be achieved with the help of other player characters
So "the blue jewel" is a finite goal, whereas "a sense of belonging" or "fame" or "the thrill of the chase" aren't, if you see what I mean. Once you've got the blue jewel, you've got it, whereas you can always keep pushing for more fame, or at least be worried about losing it.

Note that this is very different from how you design a tabletop character, largely because of the difference in GM: player ratio. In a tabletop game, you can be whoever, doing whatever, and adventure can come along and happen to you. But in most live games, it doesn't work like that. The character has to come in in motion. And in my experience, you can't rely on in-game economies to provide motivation. My guy's gonna be a mercenary type, but his actual motivations are freedom and excitement. 


Different tabletop players vary in the extent to which they act out their characters -- doing voices versus not doing them, for instance. But one thing that tabletop games typically do is manipulate time in a way that live games generally don't. What this means is that my character has to be fun to play even when he is doing nothing, and that he has to be fun to inhabit. If I have to constantly do a voice, for instance, it's got to be something I can do and enjoy doing for long stretches. I'm not going to stand rigidly at attention all afternoon, so I'd better not play a character who would. That kind of thing. 

Again, this is something that's not as obviously required in tabletop games. I think that a lot of the times that people create unsatisfactory characters in live games, it's because they've neglected one or the other of these. 

Anyway, I'm sure I've said this before, but creating this characters has these concepts on my mind. 

Thursday 27 October 2016

Trip report: ExiliCon 2016

So I went by ExiliCon 2016 this past weekend, and while it was quiet (as I expected it to be) I thought it went pretty well. I got a good turnout for my talk, which should be online before long, and I got to play and buy some games, including some older WHFB stuff I had persuaded myself I was looking for and a copy of Grant Howitt's RPG Goblin Quest, which I also had a great time playing. You can buy it on DTRPG or on if that sounds like your thing. Here's a photo of me playing it, with some of my character illustrations:

I didn't take photos like I did last year, except for one of my game set up for playtest. But because of my talk schedule I didn't actually get the chance to run a game! Oh well.

Anyway, I felt, as always, like I learned a lot from the con, and hopefully you'll see some of the lessons learned here on this blog over the next year.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Miscast salvage!

So at this year's Oldhammer weekend I cavorted shamelessly among the bag of miscast models provided by the generous Curtis Fell of Ramshackle Games. I picked up lots of stuff to use as the base of various projects, and here are a few I've begun work on!

This little guy is a cool model, but he was missing a foot and a head:

He's a little short, which may mean he's a Squat type or may just be a character quirk.
Anyway, I cleaned him up a bit, then added a boot crudely sculpted from green stuff and a spare head from the old Wargames Factory shock troopers box. I am not much of a sculptor, as you know, but I think this foot looks pretty OK.

Overall I'm pretty pleased with him! I will texture his base, paint him up and add him to my generic trench-coated space bad guy force.

The next one is a Frankenstein's monster made of various Ramshackle and other bits. He will end up in my Ork army, with the idea that he's had maybe one too many cybernetic replacements.

The main parts of this model, the treads and torso, come from some Ramshackle robots, which, coincidentally are on sale right now for cheaps! He also includes bits from an Ork Stompa, a vehicle crewman, the Ork Boyz kit, a Space Wolf terminator and a Ramshackle Gorillagon. I am pretty pleased with him, although he still needs quite a bit of work. 

Friday 21 October 2016

Age of Sigmar: Easy mode update

So I mentioned that I didn't think I was going to be able to finish this month's Age of Sigmar painting target, so I pulled out my big single model to fill in the gap. Well, that seems to have been successful so far.

So, this is what it looks like after an evening's work. As you can see, the basic colours are all on there, and if I don't get time to back to it this month I'm going to call it done. Like any Reaper Bones model, the mould lines are an ugly mess, and I kept finding them when I thought I'd got them, but ... eh. It'll look OK on the tabletop. I feel like it's at about 80%, and if I get the chance to touch it up a bit over half-term I can get it to about 90.

I was originally going to paint it in naturalistic colours, but I wanted it to be more consistent with the rest of the army, so I went for a white-and-black colour scheme with the side heads represented in the army's green and purple accent colours.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

An upcoming talk and some playtesting

Apologies to those of you who read both this blog and my history blog, but I wanted to take a moment to say that I am going to be at ExiliCon 2016 in Cambridge this coming Saturday 22 October. It's at the St Andrew's Street Baptist Church, it runs from 11 to 5, and it's free. People will be showing off and selling all kinds of stuff, from games to art to films to I don't know what all, so if you're in the area you should drop by and check it out.

I will be there playtesting B-Movie Mogul, the card game that fellow bad movie nerd Luke and I have working on fitfully (I have a busyish life, and he has a very busy one) over the last ... well, over a year actually. It is still very much a work in progress, but people seem to think it's fun.

Also, I will be giving a talk at 1:45 on "Myth, mystery and archaeology in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft," if that's your kind of thing. And I believe I'm moderating a panel on historical gaming and fiction later in the day, details TBC.

Anyway, if you're in or around Cambridge on Saturday, come on by. Like I said, it's free.

Monday 17 October 2016

Age of Sigmar: Breaking the glass

So far, I've been doing OK in my ongoing painting challenge with Tim of The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog. But in our most recent conversation about the topic, I suggested that October would be a tough month for me to get a lot done -- and I was right! My teaching and tutoring workload has gone bonkers as the school year got going, and for some reason this has also been accompanied by an increase in work for some of my other jobs. Add to that that I have an upcoming talk at ExiliCon next weekend and even though I assembled my Chaos Knights regiment, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get all five of them done this month.

They are exactly as painted today as they were in this photo from two weeks ago. 
Fortunately, I planned for just such an eventuality! My goal was to paint 200 points worth of models each month, and my army list includes two large models worth 200 points each, which I have been holding back as models to paint in months when time is not very easy to come by. This month I'm busting out the chimera, which is my army's designated big monster.

Now, this Reaper Bones chimera is nothing like the colossal size of the current Citadel model, but the good news is that I don't give a hang. I think it'll be relatively simple to paint and look good on the table, so I'm happy with it. 

Thursday 13 October 2016

Frugal gaming: Halloween horror!

So, reader Ruari tipped me off to this "skeleton zoo animal," the which you can get at Asda for £3. I later found one at another shop for £2.99 and cursed my rashness.

With a little paint, it will make a fun D&D monster or critter for an undead army.

And yes, I know spiders don't have skeletons, but necromancer have a lot of, I dunno, mammoth bones lying around, and they get bored easily.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Frugal gaming: cheap backdrops!

My wife sent me a message on Saturday morning to say that she'd found me a cool thing in a charity shop. Later that day, by some coincidence, I found another, similar one. They were these; 

The sci-fi one was in a different box, but the principle is the same. They're just little collections of card and paper characters and scenic elements, and I foresee a use for them when I have to make a little table display for B-Movie Mogul. But in the meantime I'm just gonna use them as backdrops for miniatures photos. 

"I don't get it, IBP-23. The sensors definitely said there were life forms around here somewhere."

Survivors prepare to make their last stand at the police station. 
They're a little cartoony, but I think they're not bad!

Friday 7 October 2016

Seems like Fridays are going to be busy

No real blog post today -- like last Friday, this Friday is shaping up to be pretty hectic work-wise! However, I am happy to say that I got to play my first game of Lion Rampant last night and I am pretty impressed with it. I'm definitely going to check out the fantasy variant, Dragon Rampant, and start figuring out armies I can build with my existing models and minor adjustments. After I finish my current projects, of course -- although this might mean I've found something to do with that sixth Chaos Knight model, since Lion Rampant works on multiples of 6 while Warhammer typically works on multiples of 5.

Anyway, I will try to make it up to you next week with more photos and more deep thinks.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Age of Sigmar: the Chosen of Chaos!

So, I have just about finished the Chosen for my ongoing Age of Sigmar slow-build with Tim from The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog. These guys, as I mentioned, are originally from Grenadier, now available from Forlorn Hope Games, and I think they came out OK. The paint job is pretty simple, but they look effective en masse. Not a very big masse, but still. I might touch up one or two points on them, but I'm happy to call them done for now.

As I explained last time, I primed them grey, drybrushed up to white, then painted the armour with a mix of black paint and ink. I touched up the edges with a little VMC German Grey, then did the fur textures up to pure white, plus weapons and so on. I went back to do some little accent details, trying to give every model some bits of brown, bone or bright green to break up the black-and-white monotony.

Here they are together with the unit of Marauders from August, as well as the sorcerer and his familiars. That's 400 points out of 1000, two months into a five-month schedule.

The next unit is going to be a unit of Chaos Knights, based on some ones that I've had ever since high school and a couple of spare Battle Masters guys that I picked up online for cheaps.

We're bang on schedule, then, more or less. I'm pleased with how this is developing. After the knights I've got one more unit of Marauders, the Lord, and then the Chimera to do.

Monday 3 October 2016

Movie Monday: The Dwarvenaut (2016)

I know that Movie Monday is more typically a feature of my other blog, but we've actually got a gaming-relevant film this week! The Dwarvenaut is a documentary about D&D enthusiast and Dwarven Forge proprietor Stefan Pokorny.

And it's ... it's charming. I found it hard to watch, because I'm not good at vicarious embarrassment, but Pokorny's enthusiasm and fuck-it-let's-do-it attitude are infectious (and a valuable reminder to me that being embarrassed on behalf of people who are passionately doing a thing they love and are good at is a useless emotion). If you know a lot about D&D, you're not going to learn anything from this; it's more for people who are loosely familiar with the game or who maybe played once a while ago.

It's fun to see the backstage stuff at Dwarven Forge, and it's fun to learn about Pokorny's history. You come away with a pretty positive view of him and his enterprise; I'm never going to buy Dwarven Forge dungeon stuff, because that is not how my budget works, but I'm glad he's out there making it, having fun and not going out of business.

Anyway, if you want to spend an hour and a half looking at the weird factors that drive someone else's creativity and cheering along with a dude who cold wears a wizard hat and does not give a shit, you could do a lot worse than giving this a spin. It's on UK Netflix at the moment.

Thursday 29 September 2016

NPC descriptions: what to include?

So while writing the Magonium Mine Murders, I am trying to find the (for me) ideal balance between detail and waste in character and place descriptions. I think it is rather tricky to find!

Let's start with the worst possible NPC description, because that's fun. Here is the description of a "Sales Clerk" from the World of Darkness 1st ed. rulebook (2004):

Sales Clerk

Really, they should just have included this picture and nothing else. 
Quote: "Let's see ... four stakes, a mallet and a mirror. Wasn't Halloween, like, last month?"
Background: They are the faceless masses that man every counter at every store and institution across the world. Most are young men and women earning minimum wage and working long hours while going to school, or trying to make ends meet with a second job. Frequently sullen and sarcastic, these characters have seen all manner of strangeness while working the graveyard shift at the local Mini-Mart.
Description: Sales clerks come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, largely depending on the kind of store or institution at which they work. Late-night convenience store clerks are usually young men or women with pasty skin and red-rimmed eyes. A car salesman might be artificially tanned, with bleached-white teeth and an off-the-rack business suit.
Storytelling Hints: Sales clerks can be sullen and sarcastic, distant and withdrawn, or outgoing chatterboxes eager to share the latest bizarre episode of their workaday lives. Longtime clerks are often keen observers, able to tell a lot about the people who come into their stores just by watching. Clerks can be a useful source of information with the right kind of motivation.
Awareness (dice pool 4) -- Sales clerks spend a lot of time watching people and gauging their moods. They can often discern a great deal about a person's intentions by observing what she wears and how she acts.
Empathy (dice pool 5) -- Successful clerks are adept at reading a customer's mood and manipulating it to make a sale.

I mean ... where to begin? It spends 250 words saying absolutely nothing. Sales clerks work in shops and don't earn very much? Some of them are quiet but others are talkative? Well, I'll be damned. And here I thought they were battle-hardened paramilitary killers. It repeats itself, suggesting that sales clerks are sharp-eyed twice. It even uses the exact same phrase, "sullen and sarcastic," twice. And weirdly, it ignores the fact that the people working a late-night shift at a Mini-Mart are, at least in the part of America I grew up in, pretty unlikely to be "pasty." Mechanically, it tells us nothing: sales clerks have slightly above-average pools in the stuff that you would assume they would have slightly above-average pools in. Half a column spent on providing absolutely no value to the reader at all.

I'm not suggesting that this is uniquely a White-Wolf-ism: I just think that once you get going it's hard to stop, and that this is the kind of writing that looks thorough, but which no one actually reads so no one cares. It doesn't really give us anything, a trend that you get a lot of in descriptions of NPCs from many publishers: Bryce Lynch (I think) summarised this as two pages of detailed backstory that explains why an NPC attacks on sight, fights to the death and can't be negotiated with. Here, we learn nothing other than "maybe something happened at a store and the clerk has some clues," a level of reasoning without which you can't be playing a mystery game in the first place.

Mind you, I'm more interested in descriptions of specific NPCs. Here's one from Escape from Innsmouth (1992):

Joseph Averill

Joseph Averill is a quiet, unassuming man. A friend of hybrid Warren Billingham's since childhood, Joseph was able to get a job driving a truck for Billingham's fishpacking house. Averill and Billingham have, over the years, grown apart as the latter becomes progressively less and less human. Averill likes driving the truck, however; it gets him out of Innsmouth. He would like to move is family out of town, but his father is too proud to leave and Joseph fears to leave the old man alone in this town.

(Snip nine lines of stat block)

OK, so the stat block is a bit useless (Averill has perfectly average stats, nothing above 14 or below 11, and, what do you know, is good at driving and truck-related skills), but the description is less than 100 words long and provides a little context to this guy. He becomes a tool the investigators can use: if they persuade his dad to move, maybe he'll flip on Billingham and implicate him in the conspiracy. Maybe they can borrow his truck. And he provides an example of why there are any normal people left in Innsmouth at all. He's not exciting, but he's fine and he's not too long. Some people don't like the over-descriptive style of the Lovecraft Country books, with every cabbie and coffee shop detailed, but in a mystery-focused game I think it works.

Here's an example of an even briefer narrative-focused description, from the scenario Star of Darkness (White Dwarf 68, August 1985):

Olmehir, the innkeeper, was a captain in the guard before retiring and is disgusted with the way Prebeh is now doing the job. Firne, his young wife, is involved in an affair with Prebeh, although it would be a foolish man who told Olmehir since he has a quick temper.

(A paragraph of rumours players might hear at the inn, than a three-line stat block for Olmehir, including the fact that he has a +1 Longsword! He's Level 4, which is about the typical PC level for this scenario.)

Again, not a bad resource. Olmehir is not a very important character, but he's a fun little moving part. He could be turned against Prebeh (who might need someone turned against him, depending on the PCs' agenda), and his personality, although hastily sketched, is pretty clear: a grumpy old hardass, envious and suspicious. He is just a smidgen above "Innkeeper," but in a way that adds fun for a minimal added number of words.

I am just thinking about this in terms of character descriptions in The Magonium Mine Murders. I worry that they're not detailed enough, or not detailed in an interesting way, but I don't want to go over the top. Here are a few that are currently at the level I'm happy with:

Rogin Hyland, an alchemist and conspirator. Killed Alba. An educated man from a good family, but without the money to maintain his social position. Joined the counterfeiting scheme to make money, but was discovered by Alba and killed her. Polite, witty and urbane, with a hint of desperation.

Lumicent Pulver, disillusioned veteran and guard captain. Wounded in battle, she got this job as a sinecure. She longs for action and purpose.

Livia Cherm, disgraced and bitter former mine engineer. She believes that nothing natural caused the cave-ins, but was fired for being unable to stop them. She now drowns her resentment in drink. She was completely right.

Bellows, Alba's overworked former assistant. Indecisive and easily manipulated.
I think those are OK. They should probably include more about what each character knows, but clues might be a separate segment.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

If you're going to steal, steal from the worst

OK, maybe not the worst.

One of the things that I really like about gaming is the omnivorous way it takes inspiration from whatever sources it finds and just mashes them up all willy-nilly. My D&D campaign, for instance, swipes from all sorts of stuff, from comic books to history (quite a lot of history), music, movies, whatever.

This thing plays quite an important role in the campaign. 
And while I've often stolen from things I love, a lot of the time I'm stealing from things that are only OK, because even things that are only OK often contain a good idea or two.

Now, maybe you don't have time to read or watch things that are only kind of OK, but I tend to watch inconsequential TV shows while doing other things, and I read quickly, so even in periods of low energy I tend to absorb a fair amount. I used to document these in my Swipe File posts, but I trailed off a bit. Still ...

... so my current inconsequential adventure show is The Librarians, which is very entertaining but not exactly the state of the art in television in terms of either characterisation or ... what do you call filmmaking on TV? But every episode provides at least one good minor-plot gimmick for people running modern fantasy adventure games. And they all go into the mental swipe file.

In fact, one of the negative traits of films or comics or whatever is that they tend to be grab-bags of different influence loosely associated with each other. It's no work to pull out an individual clue or character because they're often less robustly embedded in a particular thematic or narrative framework.

I think I'm going to try to restart the swipe file.

Also, I am probably going to hit this month's Age of Sigmar target. Might run over by a day or two, but no big deal.

Friday 23 September 2016

Accepting crappiness: it's good for you

I have been thinking lately about the prospect of doing badly, and the more I think about it, the more I think that it's probably a valuable thing in role-playing games, at least some of the time.

Now, I'm not talking about the role of character failure. I happen to think that that is a useful thing in some games; it generates tension, which is good, and it produces unintended results, which is good. I have been guilty in some of my games of padding character failure, which I think ultimately leads to fewer opportunities for players to be quick-thinking and creative. But every game is different, and there are times when room for certain kinds of character failure isn't relevant to what those games are about.

But in this case I'm talking about creative failure on the part of the game's participants, whether players or GMs or what have you. I feel like a lot of the discourse around story games, which often constrain player option, is about preventing certain failure modes, stopping people from doing things that are not ... appropriate(?) ... to the game being played. And I'm certainly not against rules relating to creativity -- constraints promote invention, at least for me, and it doesn't usually matter too much what the constraints are.

And yet ...

And yet ... I do feel that a lot of the times I've succeeded in running a game are times where what I was doing could have fallen pretty flat. I turned a low-key horror-investigation game into a weird dimension-hopping sci-fi game, and people seemed to like it. I've added all kinds of nonsense to my D&D game, and people engage with it happily. Overall, I feel like it's been successful. But there are certainly times when I've put an element in a game and the players have just looked at it and shrugged, or clearly not wanted to engage with it. And that has, sometimes, made me too cautious in what I introduce.

I think that one of the best things about RPGs is the way in which unexpected creative elements -- indeed, even elements that seem obviously to be in conflict with each other -- interact in unexpected ways. And I don't know how you do this without exposing yourself to creating mixtures that don't work.

But I don't think that either the culture of gaming on the internet, the culture that surrounds live gaming, or the general experience of being old make these very easy. It's like character lethality in OSR games -- high lethality went with low character-gen time. But in 90s-style games, character gen can take a good hour and integrating a character into the group can be very tricky.

What I mean is that ... well, take me, for instance. I run my D&D game every other week, and I run my Requiem game and play Lost once a month. I play a miniatures game about once a month, and every once in a while I drop in to one-shots. I guess that's not bad -- an average of slightly over a game a week. But those games are in separate boxes for the most part, and they're often quite short. My D&D game might often be as short as two and a half hours, because it's on a weeknight. Players are investing scarce time in it, too -- I'm in competition with a lot of other entertainment opportunities and a lot of other responsibilities. And if we're talking about big LARP events, we're talking about games that players might end up paying quite a lot of money for. I have people who come up from London or Kent to play my game, a significant investment of time and expense.

And that means that I always feel the voice that says "don't fuck around, stick to things you know will work" in my head. Which I think is a shame.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

System proliferation: threat or menace?

So, back in the early 2000s I went through a period of buying a lot of new RPGs. It was the first flowering of the indie game movement, and every new game I bought had some cool new idea or premise -- or at least that's the way it seemed to me at the time. I kind of slacked off over the next few years as the flood of new releases became too much for my wallet and time to keep up with. These days, although my collection is still pretty extensive, the truth is that I only regularly play a handful of games, and I don't even own all that many books for them. I seldom buy new RPG books, exclusive of things like the new Unknown Armies kickstarter.

And that's good, right? Got the ol' game collection down to a manageable size, only buying things I'm going to actually use! That's both good time management and good money management.

Heh. Well, sort of. Y'see, when I said I don't buy a lot of new RPGs any more, I meant RPGs. Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, they got these miniatures games. I don't own a lot of minis games I don't actually play, but here's a list of ones I do sometimes play (although in some cases it's been a year or two).

So you gotcher Strange Aeons, the Lovecraftian skirmish game with a fun asymmetrical setup. I would love to get back into this again; I have a pretty decent model collection.

Then, of course, there's Frostgrave, which I have been playing with regular opponent Buzz. This is a good game, and I will continue to buy supplements and stuff for it, although I'm being good about it since it's been an expensive couple of months. I have built up a reasonably good minis collection for this, although of course a lot of D&D models can be used for both.

And I seem to be getting into Age of Sigmar with fellow blogger The Responsible One.

And then of course I'm enjoying Wasteman and hoping to play it again soon -- this week, even!

And there's always Rogue Trader ...

So as much as I want to buy Dragon Rampant, it might be a while. The good news is that I'm playing most of these games with minis I already have, but to be honest I mainly use wargames as a structure to help organise my minis-purchasing habits in the first place.

Sunday 18 September 2016

The Magonium Mine Murders: Things have slowed down

It's the start of the new school year, and I have a number of other projects on the go, so unfortunately I haven't had time to work on the Magonium Mine Murders project much. I'm hoping to push on and get at least a basic draft done within a few months, but at present it's something I'm struggling to fit in around other gigs. However, I haven't abandoned it, and I will try to update semi-regularly.

In the meantime, here's something I painted the other day: another Ramshackle Games miscast, in this case a simple barricade. I'll be using it in my upcoming Wasteman game!

Thursday 15 September 2016

Frugal gaming: bits and pieces

It's been a busy week, but I have been out and about running some errands, and I did get the opportunity to stop into some local charity shops.

This gate is a Mega Bloks toy I got for 30p. Apparently it's a Mag Warriors Dark Portal, although those look greyer than this is. Perhaps it's a different kind of portal? I don't know, but it looks nice, especially for 30p. It even lights up and plays a sort of wub-wub-wub-wub building-up sound, so that'll be useful. I'll have to be careful when I paint it not to cover over the light-up areas. Still, I'm pretty pleased with it. Where's yer Baleful Realmgates now? (Costing 50 times as much is the answer.)

During last night's D&D game.
That Predator doesn't quiiiite fit, but pretty close. 

This miniature isn't a charity shop find or anything, but he was free so I'm including him here as a catchall. He is an Essex Miniatures ... something-or-other, and he is apparently stabbing himself right in the beard. It looks a bit daft, but actually I think he came out not badly with a simple paint scheme. That's a common theme with the Essex models for me.

Similarly, this guy is an Essex model, for whom I have written a longer backstory. He's part of a group of minis who will feature in a little miniscenario I will post up here when I've done them all, which will be ... well. A while.

I think he came out quite well!