Thursday 31 March 2016

Apparently I'm thirteen again.

One of the events that's been proposed for this year's Bring Out Your Lead event in August is a little Rogue Trader "tournament" (the Oldhammer scene doesn't do tournaments, so let's say 'collection of themed games') organised by the creative and resourceful Curtis Fell of Ramshackle Games. The points total is supposed to be 1,200, which is pretty notional given the number of different army lists that fall under the rubric of "Rogue Trader," but again, that stuff isn't so important -- it's just a good way to organise your models. I've decided to try to put together a few forces and use them to motivate me to paint stuff between now and then -- and I'm beginning with what I think will be the easiest one, my Orks.

For this force, I've used the Evil Sunz army list in Freeboterz, because it matches the paint scheme I used on my models. I have probably bent the rules in one way or another, but c'est la vie. Some of these models belong to my friend Alex, but I am sure he will not mind them getting an outing on the battlefield. The points values include various table choices and equipment that I'm not going to discuss.

BADLUG, the Warlord. Your typical Evil Sunz warlord, i.e. a vainglorious narcissist obsessed with showing off the latest gadgets -- in this case is pricey new power axe and probably some kind of power field. 110 points (technically some of these points are for rolls on the relevant weapons tables, but I only have the one set of models, so). 

His retinue, five Drillboss Nobs in power armour plus another pair of Nobs to be his personal standard bearer and musician. As previously established, the musician is a colourful character who can't stop shouting his own name. His name is "Hello Cleveland." No one knows why. Also a Gretchin to carry the snacks. 200 points. 

GUNNUT, a Mekaniak, equipped with a deadly Shokk Atack Gun. 75 points.

TINBAG, another Mekaniak, armed with a kombi-weapon and there to keep the Oddbitz running smoothly(?). 40 points. 

RATFINK, a Runtherd, accompanied by five stands of Snotlings (for the Shokk Attack Gun). 90 points. 

THE BIG MOB, 12 Boyz with some heavy weapons, led by another Nob from the retinue. 235 points. 

BOYZ MOBS, kitted out for hand-to-hand and led by another pair of Drillbosses. 150 points. I know one of those Nobz is a Blood Axe, but it's too good a model not to use. 

GRETCHIN MOB, miserable cannon fodder. 50 points. 

PULSA ROKKIT, often works. 50 points. 

GOBSMASHA, definitely works. 200 points. 

Total: 1200 points, although there might be some tinkering to do here and there. 

TO BE PAINTED: this is pretty promising, actually! It's one of the Mekaniaks, one stand of Snotlings and a Gretchin. I can do that in four months, no problem. 

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Another post-apocalyptic figure painted. Yay!

I missed the Kickstarter for Wasteman, the post-apocalyptic B-movie game from ThunderChild, and anyway I was probably broke at the time, but my local game store carries the models and I picked a few up last time I was in. The other day I finally finished painting the first one (although I had previously done some scenery), and I think it looks OK. The yellow hazmat suit was really an exercise in painting yellow for me, and it's ... OK. I think that when it comes to large areas of bright colour, I'm still learning. Could be neater, but on the other hand it's not really that kind of game. 

If I get time, I might touch up his belt pouch, which I ran out of patience on, but otherwise I'm happy with him. I'm just finishing off bits and pieces at the moment because I think it's time to get started preparing for BOYL 2016, and if you're thinking "but that's in August," then you don't know how long it takes me to do stuff.

Friday 25 March 2016

Unreleased Foundry cartoon sci-fi guys

So, as I mentioned back in August, I went to Bring Out Your Lead 2015, the weekend-long event organised by the Oldhammer community. In fact, I was one of the last to leave, because I was sharing a cab with Captain Crooks and he was waiting for Citadel founder and former GW supremo Bryan Ansell to finish sculpting a hand on a model for him. This meant we just got to hang out and chat with Bryan and Tony Ackland, which was pretty cool. Bryan showed us some unreleased sci-fi models Foundry had produced -- I don't know anything about who sculpted them or what they're meant to be. We thought they were pretty cool, so he generously gave us a set each and I promised (for what it's worth) that I'd paint them up and blog about them. So here we are!

First, let's look at the models themselves. There are 15 of them, and I suspect they are intended to be in three sets of five.

As you can see, they are sort of sci-fi boar- or pig-men wearing uniforms with a hint of 19th-century / WW1 German influence about them. There are both larger individuals and little ones who appear to be some sort of helpers. There are only 13 models in the shot above, because I've already pulled one rifleman and one hammer-guy out for painting, but basically there are three guys with hammers, three guys with rifles, five guys with pistols, a machine gunner, a loader, a commander, and a commander's orderly in total. I suspect this makes a five-man rifle section, a five-man assault section, a three-man MG team, and a commander with sidekick. At least, that's how I've chosen to organise and paint them. 

Here are close-ups of the commander and the MG loader: 

Sorry for the blurry photos, but I think you can see the goofy charm of the models pretty clearly! I really like those little guys.

After cleaning the flash and mould lines off the models, I undercoated them in grey and drybrushed up to white, then applied colour using inks and thinned-down paints. I kept the colour scheme simple, using dark blue for the uniform jackets to reflect the Prussian influence. 

I decided to give each squad an identifying coloured stripe on the edge of the right shoulder pad -- red for the assault squad, yellow for the rifle squad and maybe sky blue for the MG team? -- but I haven't decided what if anything is going to go on the left one yet. 

I have vowed to complete the force before BOYL 2016 and maybe even kitbash a vehicle for them. I would ideally like to play a game of Rogue Trader with them for completeness, although I don't know how I would stat them. Given the big-dude/little-dude divide, it seems like they are parallel to Orks, but here's the thing. Check out the size comparison:

As you can see, they are quite a bit larger than the biggest RT Orks, overtopping even the power-armoured Inquisitor. Given that (and the small size of the force) I'd like to make them individually a bit beefier. I guess I'll have to do some tinkering. Or -- and let's be honest, this is the actual truth -- some carefree improvisation. 

Anyway, these are models from BOYL, and receiving them as a gift was a wonderful and unexpected cap to a superb and memorable weekend. I should have painted them long before now, but you know how it goes. Hopefully this will serve as an impetus for me to finish off the rest.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Scenario design in the back of my head

While working on my current projects, I've been thinking about a future challenge -- specifically, that of combining a location-based exploration scenario with the type of scenario I naturally gravitate toward running, which is the Call of Cthulhu-style mystery.

This relates not only to the Call of Cthulhu stuff I'm working on at the moment, but also to something I've been turning over in my mind for a year or so -- the possibility of writing up a scenario I ran in my D&D game and putting it out there in some kind of published form. "The Magonium Mine Murders" is sort of a murder-mystery sandbox set around a mining community in which a high-profile murder has just taken place. But there's bandits and something strange going on in the woods, there's a crooked fight promoter, there's strange goings-on in the mine ... it's not a linear mystery, or at least it doesn't have to be: it's just an environment that has a lot of shenanigans going on it. Think the usual location-based scenario except that maybe instead of having a 3:1 fight:shenanigan ratio it's the other way around. 

This kind of thing is usually portrayed with a long list of NPCs, but I'm not sure that's the best way to do it. I think the ideal way to do it would be to combine an old White-Wolf-style relationship map with an actual map. It'd have to be on the central two-page spread of the scenario, but I think it might work. I may try to rough out some kind of example, although I am no kind of artist or cartographer.

Monday 21 March 2016

Quiet but ... not quiet?

I have not had a lot of time to paint recently, which means there have not been a lot of photos on this here blog. I'm hoping to get an evening this coming week, but you never know. 

But that doesn't mean I haven't been doing anything game-related. In addition to running my usual games, I've been working on some longer projects that I'm hopefully going to be able to talk about soon. It's been a lot of work, but it's all led up to something I predict you're going to enjoy.

I guess that's just a way of saying "sorry it's been quiet lately, but it's going to pay off soon."

Also it's the end of term, work is demented and I'm sick as a dog, so that's not helping. 

Thursday 17 March 2016

Orcs, racism, form, content

One of the recurring debates within the world of fantasy gaming is: "are orcs racist?" Not are orcs, as a society, racist, but is the idea of having orcs in your game racist? In time-honoured fashion, I'm going to answer this with an over-thinking history of "othered" enemies in adventure fiction, but for those of you who are impatient I will summarise my position thus: on balance, I don't think they are, but I totally understand why people might think so.

So, first things first: for all that people talk about myth and legend, the inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons -- and, to some extent, for The Hobbit, which in turn inspires D&D -- is 19th- and early 20th-century adventure fiction. Dime novels, pulp magazines, all that kind of thing. I don't just mean fantasy and science fiction, but also historical adventure stories, westerns, and so on. You can easily see the tropes of adventure gaming in, I dunno, Treasure Island. And in this type of adventure fiction, humans of some kind -- often humans of a different skin colour from the protagonists -- appear in the story as disposable cannon fodder, just a sort of environmental hazard.

OK, now, I'm not gonna lie: this is pretty racist. It's part and parcel of the underlying cultural assumptions of its time, and I'm not here to pick on anyone from the past for holding hurtful beliefs that I only don't hold because of my very different upbringing. There but for the grace of God go I, and future generations will probably think I'm awful because of some thing I can't even perceive now. But, leaving aside the characters of the authors, I think that we can all agree that portraying your fellow people as bestial subhumans who can be butchered without moral consequence is pretty uncool, especially given that this reflected/influenced the contemporary view that they were, er, bestial subhumans who could be butchered without moral consequence.

Note, however, that this is very much a matter of narrative convention -- even war movies that do spend some time thinking about the morality of killing don't mind when their heroes mow down legions of enemy soldiers. We would all be a little uncomfortable about a movie about how good it is to kill The Germans, but no one minds killing Zee Chermans. In fact, Zee Chermans are just about the only human group it's still acceptable to portray as training dummies with shoes, but we're all agreed it's OK because they started it, I guess? I digress.

In short: some stories want to consider the humanity of the enemy and some don't. And the ones that don't are extra creepy when the enemy is, say, an indigenous population that your heroes were, in the real world, in the process of killing and dispossessing.

So orcs are in many ways a solution to this problem -- instead of treating human beings with complex lived experiences as primitive brutes worthy only of extermination, simply replace them with primitive brutes worthy only of extermination. What you want is to tell stories of adventure and battle without bringing in moral considerations about the value of that battle. So roll out the Native Americans and roll in, I dunno, Koopa Troopas.

Ah, the eternal struggle between good and evil.
Now, I'm OK with that! (Well, except that removing all the people of colour who are just there to be shot in the face sometimes results in removing all the people of colour full stop, which is a different but also bad thing.) But in general, I'm all for narrative conceits that allow a story to focus on what it's about. Take Batman, for instance: dispensing justice by swinging around the city on a rope and throwing boomerangs at people is not a good idea; I have very firm beliefs about the rule of law. But also in real life no one -- or almost no one -- is as ridiculously evil as the Joker, and even the ones that are aren't as terrifyingly capable as he seems to be. The story is created in order to facilitate rope-swinging and boomerang-throwing. So objections to this type of story as, I dunno, presenting a flawed model of criminal justice are based on a category error; they're attempting to apply real-world logic to a situation specifically created to avoid real-world logic.

And at a first glance, that's what I think people who subscribe to the "orcs are a racist idea" argument are doing -- they're looking at the general outline of the situation ("a group are being portrayed as a malevolent horde") and not at the specifics ("that group consists of actual monstrous brutes.")

I suspect that that is why, much over the objections of Tolkien purists, Warhammer orcs went green in the mid-80s and became goofier and goofier. Their over-the-top caricature tells people that this is pew-pew funtimes and not a story where moral concerns have much room to breathe.

However, there are two problems with my line of thought, one pointing in each direction:

First, roleplayers love to explore settings. And I don't just mean see what's over the next hill -- I mean they love to dig around in the details. Where do orcs live? How is their society structured? What are their cultural norms? Can we communicate with them? And so on and so on and so on. And the more that happens, the more likely you are to create an orc society that is an analogue of some kind of human society and therefore either a) portray your orcs as moral actors, harming their narrative function, or b) portray some human society as valueless slaughter-mobs, which takes us back to square one.

Not that there's anything wrong with a) above. I love Glorantha. But not every game is in Glorantha, and it wouldn't be suitable for every game to be. But as soon as you start thinking about how those societies work, you humanise or at least alien (as opposed to monster) -ise them and then, yeah, it's kind of weird to say "we can kill these guys and fuck thinking about the moral content ever." I don't know if it's racist per se, but it's weird. And so certain types of play get closed off. The enemy in Glorantha, when not literal demons or whatever, tend to be just soldiers on the other side, the killing of whom is seldom pew-pew funtimes unless properly managed.

The other is that maybe imagining conflicts in which the enemy are nothing but ambulatory targets does incline people to that kind of thinking, and that's bad because racism and militarism and so on. I'm not convinced by this argument; I think people demonise outgroup members just fine all by themselves. I would have reservations playing Ganghedge or whatever (don't ask) but largely that's a moot question because it doesn't sound like my thing in general. Playing F.A.T.A.L doesn't make you a racist, but being a racist might make you willing to put up with it.

Anyway, to summarise: I can see why people might think the whole lots-of-1HD-humanoids-to-butcher setting has connections to historical racism, but I think that to identify it as racist is looking at it from the wrong perspective. This is tied to a larger point about violence and morality in RPGs which I will talk about one of these days.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Time is of the essence

Lately I have not had enough time to really paint, and like all people who don't have enough time to paint I have been buying miniatures. Fortunately I have only been buying miniatures in charity shops, so at least I haven't been spending much. This is what 99p got me in an Oxfam:

The various Chaos and Marine models will get broken up for parts or used to fill some space in my Chaos project or something -- I'll get around to completing that army some day. The Slayer will be useful for a little side project I'm going to be working on when I get around to it. I'll strip the gun crewman and get rid of him, but I will definitely paint some of those chunky-ass Chaos Dwarfs. These are not from a great period of Citadel monopose plastics, but because it was the era in which I really started painting and playing minis games I have a great affection for them. And D&D means that it's always useful to have half a dozen of a particular monster type around somewhere. 

Monday 7 March 2016

Yet more Frostgrave cultists!

Like it says, I've done a couple more cultists for my Frostgrave warband. This lowly Thug and Archer aren't important enough to have any yellow in their paint schemes (although maybe Archers merit some and I should just deny yellow to Thugs and Thieves). 

As usual, these are speed-painted models, so they're not perfect, but the warband grows. These two guys took a morning's work with my usual stimulus of doing one colour after finishing a section of editing. That's pretty quick, and there are only three more to go.

Friday 4 March 2016

Another charity shop find

I picked this up for 75p in a charity shop the other day. I already have two copies of the rulebook, but I figured what the heck, you know? I tend to buy old RPG books just because I sort of feel like they should have a good home.

However, it wasn't until I got it home that I realised that this is not the same as my other rulebooks -- it is the comparatively-rarer first edition. I had never actually seen this one, but I had heard a little about it. I flipped through it:

As you can see, the covers are slightly different; the Revised Edition I played as a kid is on the right.

The first edition is typed rather than properly typeset, or at least that's what it looks like. It has less art, or so it seems. Content-wise, the original edition is shorter, and lacks most of the useful bits at the end, like a character sheet. 

The skill section in a Palladium game is ordinarily difficult; this seems like an even more appalling version of that experience.

Aaaaaand then there's the infamous insanity table, which contains some stuff that I do not think we would put in a game today. It's an interesting look at what widespread public attitudes were like just 31 years ago, I guess? Hrm.

Although I'm never likely to use the first edition rulebook in play, it's a cool curiosity, and for 75p I'm pretty satisfied.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Well, I'm back.

The deadlines aren't quite done, and there are other projects to work on, so it may be some time before I'm back up to full steam here, but in the meantime here are some models I painted before the great shutdown.

There is a Frostgrave scenario that requires a genie, so I used this guy. He's not a fantastic model -- a Grim Reaper "Nasteez" figure I got in a swap for some of my old plastic Dungeonquest guys at BOYL. He's never going to win any beauty contests, but he'll do for the scenario, he's suitably  large and imposing, and he was basically free. I like the way the flames came out; the contrast between the muted blue and the bright green is nice. The contrast between the different areas of shading is less marked in real life; I need to work on my photo editing skills. 

This guy is an Evil Space Dorf, part of a group I got as a trade from Geoff of Oakbound Miniatures; the models are inspired by the designs of Chico from Oldhammer on a Budget. His muted colour scheme with vivid green spot colour and little purple accents is meant to mimic my Chaos Renegades. I'm pretty pleased with him, although the photo doesn't show the little codpiece-mask very well. Photography, get better at, etc.