Wednesday 31 May 2017

I went 40K LARPing -- and a new project!

Some friends of mine run a Warhammer 40,000 LARP (that's live-action roleplaying game), called No Rest for the Wicked. I've always been interested in going, but a) it's usually quite far away from where I live, and b) I've never done any of the outdoor, hitting-people style of LARP, although I've done plenty of the other kind. Still, when they scheduled an event in Oakham, much more accessible to me, I decided to put aside my fitness-related fears and give it a go as a crew member for the weekend. 

And it was good! I definitely wore myself out a little too much running around in the sun and getting whacked with rubber chainswords, but I had a good time. I got to play a couple of talky NPCs in addition to the getting-thumped variety, which was fun. My favourite was a chatty Blood Axe Ork who just wanted a job. 

Orright, humies? This is me in the "backstage" crew area.
I do like a good Blood Axe, as regular readers of this blog will recall. 

Anyway, my overall impression was positive but here are a few quick things I noticed: 

  • I think that the stereotype of field-LARP as primarily a combat sport compared to the thinking gamer's parlour-LARP and tabletop is outdated (if it was ever true). When a beloved character died on one particularly challenging mission, I saw characters in tears, and the impromptu funeral was genuinely moving. 
  • The physical constraints of field-LARPing produce interesting limitations on encounter design, but this game tried really hard to keep things fresh. There were a lot of fights in this game -- I was in ten of them myself, and I wasn't in all of them -- but no two of them were quite alike. 
  • The 40K setting provides a really good environment for stuff that might otherwise be hard to justify in a more traditional sf game. Why is the hoobler reactor on top of a huge tower instead of somewhere convenient to access? Why did someone build sound-activated chainsaw-swinging robot zombies as a security system? Why indeed? Everything in this universe is built by lunatics. 
  • I am in better shape than I recall in terms of my stamina and breathing -- I guess I do cycle a lot -- but my joints are as creaky as they have ever been and I ought to stop flinging myself on the ground when I get "killed." I just feel like people like to see results when they kill a bad guy. 
  • Keeping track of multiple damage stats in your head while swordfighting in the dark is really hard. 
  • Explanation is key. We played two very similar missions in which restrictions were placed on player movement; one of them worked well and the other was very unclear. You basically can't explain two things at once, I think, especially in a hellfire hurry. 
  • People running these things plan more than gets executed: I know at least two whole scenes that were prepared in detail but simply never had time to happen. 

I had a great time and intend to go back next "season" when they restart the storyline, but this time as a player. There's just one problem: costume and kit! I have never really done any LARPing, so unlike most people I know I don't own lots of latex and foam weapons, comfy but cool-looking outdoorsy boots, thermal underwear or ... well, anything really. I have already begun to build a small collection of things, but the standard of kit in the game is very impressive indeed and I want to make sure I don't let the side down. To get an idea of what I mean, check out these photos of people in costume by Tom Garnett. The photos are by Tom Garnett, that is: the costumes are by ... various. Anyway, some of these are posed and some are action shots, and they are only a few of the hundreds of great images from the game. 

You can't tell, but he's trying to quietly sneak past a sound-activated murderbot.

Check out that sweet-ass glowing plasma pistol.
So as you can see they look pretty good! I have a lot to live up to. 

I have already become a bore on the subject of what I'm gonna wear as my hypothetical future character, and I don't see it letting up, so here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna turn it into one of my characteristic frugal gaming projects.

So over the next ... however long it is, I'm going to be scavenging in charity shops and car boot fairs and buying stuff second-hand and generally making things myself from junque and hoping that, by the end, I will have a cool costume and kit that didn't cost me the earth but that was fun to make. I know nothing about costume making and nothing about LARP kit, but learning how to do things as you go is part of the fun of frugal gaming. I will customise NERF guns! I will stencil some go-go checks on a tac vest. I will do ... whatever it takes. 

So by posing it to myself as a long-term creative and learning challenge I think I can overcome my anxiety about it!

Friday 12 May 2017

Unknown Armies Third Edition arrived, and I'm feeling old.

So I backed the Unknown Armies Third Edition Kickstarter, but to save on shipping I had the books sent to my family in the US; between my parents, my sister-in-law and my wife, travelling relatives brought them home for me.

It all looks very nice: three reasonably slim hardbacks in a slipcase that folds out to be a GM's screen. Pretty cool. Book one is your player's handbook: character creation, magic schools, archetypes, etc. Book two is your GM's book: campaign creation, setting info, antagonist groups, and so on. And book three is just a big dip-into-able book full of weird potential setting elements. I can see opening it to a random page to find something to add to a game.

I initially thought that this would be daunting -- three books, after all, and we're not talking about D&D where a lot of that is library content. But the total page count is still only about 450 pages, which is more than second edition but not that much more. I don't know why I find big games daunting, but at the moment I think that I just couldn't commit to drilling down and really learning a complicated new game system.

Of course, UA 3rd ed. isn't really complicated, and it isn't really new. Still, the mechanics have undergone a lot of change from previous editions. Personally, I approve. Previous editions of UA had a pretty good dice system at heart, but it suffered from being neither one thing nor the other: it was simple enough to produce a lot of vague moments where the GM had to make on-the-fly decisions but still complicated enough that you constantly had to look things up, especially during combat, which had lots of finicky spot rules. It worked not too badly, but there were times when it could be very frustrating.

This version is even more slimmed-down, with stats and skills gone and the bit of the system that was most distinctive, the madness meters, moved front and centre. The base skills that everyone has now derived from how Hardened you are on a meter. So if you are very hardened to Violence, for instance, you're good at Struggle, but correspondingly bad at Connect, the skill that lets you relate to regular folks. This is combined with a catchall skill system, Identity, which is a little bit like a Cover in Sorcerer if you ever played that. Basically, you have a catchall skill like "grizzled private eye" or "wealthy socialite" that covers the skills appropriate to the job or role. You can have more than one, so I could have "fry cook" and "blood magician" and maybe even another. It works, and I think it patches the otherwise odd outcomes the otherwise loose skill system might produce (like, just going off the madness meter system, you can't be both physically fit and good at dodging, which is bizarre, but if it really matters to you you can stick one or the other in your identity). So you get the benefits of simplicity with fewer of the problems of occasional bits of detail. Overall I'm pleased with the changes.

In addition to a revised core system and some helpful campaign-generation advice (which is the biggest challenge of UA, I think), you get the other stuff you'd expect in a new edition of the game.  There are new magic schools and new archetypes, which are cool, although I'm not sure why magic schools are all new but the archetypes are about 50/50. They presumably guessed correctly that next to nobody would buy 3rd edition who didn't already have 2nd, so ... Anyway, not a whole lot has changed in the way these mechanics work, except that they're rolled into the Identity system, so that if you're an adept or an avatar, that's one of your Identities, one that lets you cast spells or use channels but not do a lot else. This goes a long way toward making magic-types not as capable as their non-magical counterparts, something that was sorely needed in previous editions.

And perhaps I could. I gave up my last UA game because I was badly burned out, but that was years ago. Perhaps it's lain fallow in my mind long enough. We'll see. I started reading it expecting to think "well, I loved this game but this huge new edition that cost $125 is not for me," but actually ... maybe.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Skeletal giants from pound store toys!

As is my wont, I was in a pound shop some months ago. I saw some skeleton warriors that I thought would be fun; they were much too large for regular skeletons but I thought they might make fun architectural details or skeletal giants. Then I forgot about them, as I do.

A little while ago I started putting together an undead army for Dragon Rampant. I remembered that I had these guys and dug them out to make a unit of Elite Foot consisting of skeletal giants or ogres. 

Here they are in the bare plastic. You can see some more shots and a discussion of the models at the Fantasy Toy Soldiers blog, which is also a great way to waste an hour. 

I primed them with grey car primer, then drybrushed them up, first with a lighter grey and then with white. Here's what one of the drybrushed models looks like: 

As you can see, the drybrush basically takes care of the highlights. 

I then applied an overall sepia wash to the model; since they're mostly bone, this took care of the colour. Here's what one of the models looks like after the first wash, with base colours applied to his weapon and base: 

The 80s GW skeleton gives you a sense of scale. 

I then touched up the rest of the model, highlighting up to VMC Ivory, gave a black-brown wash to the weapon, added some rust and things and decorated the base. Once all three were done, they looked like this: 

Not bad at all! The sculpting is a little rough, the plastic is a little bendy, but I paid £1 for about 15 of them, so I figure I'm well ahead of the game here. 

I love finding and adapting these kinds of models. It means that I have a unit that's unique, which is cool, and it demonstrates that you don't have to spend a lot of money to have something that's eye-catching on the tabletop. I've spoken before about this principle, but as silly as it sounds it's actually something I feel fairly strongly about.