Tuesday, 30 April 2013


So, nearly three weeks ago I wrote:

"As much as we might moan about GW, hidden away on their website are some classic miniatures and, while 'forgotten' games such as BloodBowl, Necromunda, and Mordheim might not get much support in the way of new stuff, the range of miniatures still available for these 'abandoned' lines is impressive. Snap them up before the moulds break!"

The instruction in the last line in now more urgent than ever. According to Epic Addiction (where I arrived, via Porky), "GW are cutting all metal production as they switch over to fine cast, and have let it be known that once stocks of Epic, BFG, Necromunda, Warmaster, Mordheim, Inquisitor run out, then they are gone for good." I'm not sure what this means for the Warhammer Fantasy and 40K Collectors' Ranges, but I can't see the full ranges currently sold being converted to Finecast.

I guess the real loss here will be the end of Epic and Necromunda. As nice as some of Mordheim miniatures are, generic fantasy figures are ten-a-penny (not quite literally, but Reaper Bones comes close), and while it's not my thing, there are a couple of decent-looking 6mm fantasy miniature ranges. And I suspect that BloodBowl might live on in Finecast, but even if it doesn't, fantastical football miniatures are in pretty good supply. For all these games, playing with miniatures from other manufacturers will hardly dent the experience. But while there are a whole bunch of generic sci-fi miniature ranges, few possess the same aesthetic as the Necromunda range, which more than anything in the current 40K range capture the Rogue Trader 'vibe'. While the Epic miniatures aren't quite as characterful, any manufacturer can supply Orcs and Dwarfs which capture something sufficiently similar to the aesthetic of Warhammer fantasy. Outside of some Russian or Chinese IP 'pirates', you won't be buying 6mm Space Marines or Eldar Grav Tanks.  

Which has changed the priorities of my gaming spending over the next few months, to say the least. I was never much of a 6mm man, though I did own Space Marine and bought a few 6mm Squats back-in-the-day, and it is a bit late to give into the temptation to game large-scale 40K tank battles. So, is it unwise to blow a chunk of your redundancy payment on a whole bunch of Necromunda miniatures? 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Hurry Up Harryhausen

The Reaper Bones arrived last week. A box full of bendy plastic miniatures. I decided to set to work straight away - at my own slow pace - and painted up some of the undead. Why undead? Well, they're easy to paint, using only a pretty limited pallette and there is no requirement that you attempt to bring the faces 'to life'!

I think they look pretty decent - the SKELETONS have a very 'Harryhausen' look about them - and it is certainly difficult to tell that they are made of bendy white plastic when painted up. Not so much though when you hold them, or waggle the end of the skeleton's spear - which waggles free and easy. Some of the models arrived quite bent, but this can be fixed with a dunk into very hot water, straightening the bent piece out by hand and dunking the straightened bit into cold water. I didn't even try to remove the mould lines, for three reasons. 1) Apparently, the material from which Reaper Bones doesn't file easily - and given how flexible it is, I'm happy to take the word of others there. 2) The point of miniatures this cheap is that they are gaming pieces. Nice looking gaming pieces, worth spending some time painting, but not worth investing in hours of effort to ensure that a ZOMBIE has a shoulder smooth as a baby's bum. And 3)  I've got bloody hundreds of these things to paint.

So what's in the big box?

A whole mess of miniatures. I'm starting painting the smallest stuff - the level 1 stuff, so to speak. The undead, then some GOBLINS (the classic kind, not the Pathfinder grinning munchkins), then some 'vermin' (swarms of RATS, SPIDERS and so on), and a small pack of KOBOLDS. But as you can see there are some more impressive monsters in there too - including a GIANT, though I'm not too impressed by his female counterpart, who appears to have that back problem that fantasy females tend to suffer from. You know, the lower back problem that leaves them sticking their arse out all the time! There are also townsfolk, some sci-fi miniatures (including a squad of what will work nicely as a Planetary Defence Force / Adeptus Arbites for 40K-ish games), a few bits and bobs of dungeon 'furniture', and endless varieties of Fighters, Elves, Magic Users etc - some overblown, some more modest in their 'awesomeness'. Not a bad haul.

So far, I'm pleased. If your tastes run to Forgeworld resin, then there isn't much for you in Reaper Bones - though I will say that the material handles bigger monsters better than it does things like a skeleton's spear. However, what I am getting from Bones is the urge to churn out painted monsters for my players to face (and I have some damn fool idea of painting up enough miniatures to handle the monster distributions on my random encounter tables), and psychologically, the cheapness and the 'obviously-not-collectors-items-or-for-winning-Golden-Demon' nature of these miniatures has me painting quickly.

Would I pick up more? Almost certainly, though it won't stop me buying lead, old and new.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Hundredweight of d100 Fantasy

I bought (.pdf, have you seen the shipping costs that Chaosium quote for transatlantic shipping?!) the new version of Magic World, which is basically a reprint of Elric! stripped of it Moorcockisms. And very nice it looks too; a clean, relatively simple d100 fantasy game. The first supplement, Advanced Sorcery, is due soon - again it is largely a reprint of Elric! material, in this case The Bronze Grimoire. 

Chaosium should note* that they are selling .pdfs of Elric! on DriveThruRPG for a couple of quid cheaper, at current exchange rates, than Magic World. And, of course, that nothing short of free is quite a cheap as Legend, which itself is basically a reprint of Mongoose RuneQuest II stripped of its Gloranthaisms. And speaking of Elric, with Legend you could run the Mongoose version of everyone's favourite albino (outside the one played by Mel Smith in The Princess Bride), as all(?) their Elric of Melnibone stuff is on DriveThruRPG for less than £10 a book...

But as Brian Butterfield would say, "that's not all". So, what do we have on the d100 fantasy scene at the moment? Well, we have OpenQuest 2e on the way (I backed the IndieGoGo campaign, and am looking forward to seeing the improvements/additions that Newt Newport has made to this system). Slightly more complex than that, we have Magic World from Chaosium. An extra level of complexity is added - mainly by virtue of its 'faction' system - by Renaissance (now available in a Deluxe form), built on OpenQuest and Legend. One level more complex again is Legend, with its Combat Action 'economy' and system of Combat Manoeuvers  And then we have the big boss of d100 fantasy gaming, RuneQuest 6, which I haven't had a chance to look at yet, though I expect it to be stunning, if I bit too much for my current tastes. 

I own OpenQuest (and soon will have a copy of 2e), Magic World, Mongoose RuneQuest II and Legend, and Renaissance (in the free SRD and hardback Clockwork and Chivalry 2e form). I also own the Basic Roleplaying 'big gold book', will probably buy RuneQuest 6 if it ever appears with a UK supplier, and have a number of out-of-print d100 fantasy systems (I particularly like my GW-produced RQ3 books). With all these extant systems, and given the fact that many of them are OGL (and those that are not appear keen to licence third parties to produce supplements), this is a vibrant, lively time for d100 fantasy gaming.

Well, if there are many other gamers are as daft as me, willing will buy umpteen different versions of d100 fantasy, of course the d100 scene is vibrant! I can't quite decide which is my favourite d100 engine for fantasy gaming (which is yours?). "No, really?", I hear you say, shocked. "I had no idea that you suffered from gamer ADHD", you gasp. However, the intercompatibility of these systems - and the nature of the d100 system itself - not only its modularity, but the simplicity and consistency of the mechanics - means that GMs can pick and choose the best bits from each of these systems. Sadly(?), between Magic World, OpenQuest, and Renaissance, there is little need for Hammerstein! as yet another d100 system. But hopefully this flowering of d100 fantasy systems will stimulate the production of d100 fantasy adventures and other supplements for use at the table. 

*Hopefully, if Chaosium did take note (though given that they don't even notice e-mails, it seems) I'd hope this would not mean an end to the sale of the classic Stormbringer/Elric! .pdfs - we wouldn't accept other kinds of books being deliberately kept out-of-print, and the resurrection of out-of-print gaming books is one of the great success stories of recent RPG history - or an increase in their price, but rather a more reasonable .pdf pricing structure at Chaosium.com.

[Extra: Of course, this is not the limit to d100 fantasy built on a BRP(ish) chassis. In the pipeline are both AEONS, built on the D100II SRD, and Classic Fantasy (originally a BRP supplement) is being rewritten as a 'Legend compatible' complete game.]

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Captain, My Captain? (Oldhammer 40K Marine squad, part two)

Well, I haven't made much progress on those Oldhammer 40K Marines. And boy, are they are bastard to put together; the way the arms fit into the shoulders means... no, sorry, the arms don't fit into the shoulders even in the single pose that is 'possible'. It does make you realise how well engineered most of the current plastic kits are, whatever their other faults. After putting together my 'test' marine I decided I needed to use a blob of greenstuff inside each shoulder pad. And using some conservative Saudi-style converting - cutting the hands off a few Marines (and sticking them back on again, of course) - I managed to create a modest variety of poses. Which leaves me with eight Marines as so:

Upright with the aid of blu-tack - I've taken to painting their legs separate from the rest of the body.  

I decided to go for an orange colour scheme because... I forget. I didn't want to paint the squad as part of any of the 'major' chapters, so I skimmed through the more obscure marine colour schemes in Rogue Trader and the Compendium. I thought about using one of the crazy 'alien terrain camouflage' schemes... And then painted them orange, go figure. Actually, the 'test' marine was a bit of a disaster. The glue didn't hold, I put a black ink wash (why?) on before the 'magnolia' undercoat had dried, leaving the model a mess of dirt grey. A catalogue of school boy errors would be a generous description. I gave the model a quick clean and undercoated using 'Macharius Solar Orange', a Citadel 'foundation' paint, and then used 'Blood Red', 'Blazing Orange' and 'Golden Yellow', with the metallic equipment painted with 'Greatcoat Grey' (a Privateer Press paint), 'Codex Grey' and 'Pig Iron' (another Privateer Press paint). Nothing fancy, and the results aren't too fancy, either!

I've achieved a much cleaner look on the second Marine. He didn't have a dirty, aborted base-coat, of course. They both still need a few more details - I'm thinking of adding some wings either side of the bull's head - not quite Blood Angles, but the Flying Buffalo Chapter?

But now for my Space Marine Captain. I was going to pick up a classic metal model, but instead I have these:

Finecast! Well, this will be my first experience painting Finecast. And of cleaning the 'flash' from Finecast! What I did find amusing that my first Finecast miniatures have the dates 1990 and 1991 stamped on the slotta tabs. In other words these sculpts are from the same era as my Oldhammer 40K Space Marines, even if they are made from new-fangled whatchamaresin. At £20.50 for five miniatures, they're not quite the bargain the e-Bay Marines were, but at just over £4 per miniature these are pretty competitively priced. Especially when compared to the cost of a single Finecast 'character' miniature (£10+ apiece). In fact, nearly all my Games Workshop purchases in the past couple of years have been from their 'Collectors' and 'Specialist Games' ranges. As much as we might moan about GW, hidden away on their website are some classic miniatures and, while 'forgotten' games such as BloodBowl, Necromunda, and Mordheim might not get much support in the way of new stuff, the range of miniatures still available for these 'abandoned' lines is impressive. Snap them up before the moulds break!

Anyway, 'Captain, My Captain!' Which of these should be the Space Marine Captain for my Oldhammer 40K tactical squad? Here's my thinking. The Marine in MKI armour (the one with the open face and plume) should probably be a Rogue Trader in antique armour. According the article by Rick Priestley in the Warhammer 40K Compilation (p19-25) - to which these miniatures are the partner pieces - the legs of the MKI suit are unpowered! What does that leave Marines wearing this with, Move 1? The Marine in the MKII armour - the one on the same sprue as the MKI - I'm thinking of using as a Chaplain, with the faceplate painted up as a stylised skull. The MKIII - the one with the Chainsword and Plasma Pistol - now that, I think is my Captain. The MKIV and the MKV - the other two on that sprue, from right to left - will probably end up as Captains of other, future Oldhammer 40K squads, though I might need to find some new arms and weapons as these guys are all armed with Bolters.

Now all I need is an Oldhammer 40K Marine with a Rocket Launcher.    

Monday, 8 April 2013

What have I done?!

Well, what I did is go in at 'Vampire' level on the Reaper Bones Kickstarter. It feels like an age ago, and I had forgotten just how many miniatures were included in the Vampire rewards. Today I got an e-mail informing me that my miniatures had shipped. I thought that I'd best remind myself what will be making a trans-Atlantic trip, and I stumbled across this video:

I can't promise such a cool accent when I unbox mine, just my Yorkshire glottal. But, crikey, what have I done? What will I do?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

"What to do in the case of a TPK"

On the question of length, I'm definitely in favour of adventures that can be contained in a small-ish number of pages (probably 8-16). This isn't about the length of the adventure itself, but the number of pages over which the information is spread. As a GM I find that having the material spread over 64 pages (or more) makes it difficult to master the logic of the moving parts of the adventure; what the NPCs want, what will happen if the PCs do nothing, what will happen once they intervene, how actions in one location will affect the rest of the world, and so on. Adventures are, after all, a set of [analogue] moving parts into which the PCs intervene, and given that the advantage of a role-playing game over a CRPG or a gamebook is that the PCs are granted the freedom which means that their interventions cannot be predicted or limited, the key task of a GM is having a working model of these moving parts running in his or her head.

So, my ideal adventure would set about providing the 'logic' of the adventure in a comprehensible format designed for ready reference. Indeed, the whole adventure module should be designed as a reference guide, an instruction manual even, not as an entertaining read. The first few pages should detail the adventure locations and timeline, with the next few describing the the NPCs and organisations. Everything should be in a game-able format. This should probably be in the form of bullet points, listing key words and phrases that enable the GM to quickly grasp things such:

  • Physical Description
  • Characterful Phrases
  • Personality 
  • Motivations
  • Relationships
As well as the likely actions / responses of the NPCs or organisations (or any other aspect of the world) to PC action. PCs do not take the optimum path through the adventure. In my ideal adventure, the writer should not encourage the GM to forbid PC action, or render player choice meaningless. So many (very good[2]) adventures contain lines such as "make sure that the PCs spend the night in the inn. If the PCs try to leave, have X happen. If they persist, have Y happen". The world should shift in response to PC actions, but in the way that a world would, not to render PC action irrelevant. 

Instead of lines such as these, by presenting the elements of the adventure as a series of moving parts, not as a path or as a series of scenes, and by presenting such information in a readily 'game-able' manner, the GM can quickly build the model of the adventure in his or her mind and by having such a model, accommodate player choice and PC action. 

Of course, some of these actions will produce a 'pathetic' outcome - the PCs will fail to solve the mystery, or will accidentally-on-purpose kill the main suspect within the first few minutes, or will find some way to otherwise disconnect the moving parts of the adventure. And that is fine, as you have a world so rich in adventure that the next adventure hook is right around the corner. Don't you?

And that is the other thing that would be an integral part of my ideal adventure format, advice on what to do when the PCs fail, lose interest, chase a red herring, or suffer a Total Party Kill. The PCs should be allowed to fail, but the world should keep moving. And the way that is might keep moving, and producing adventure, should be explicitly labelled - why not have a section titled "What to do in the case of a TPK"? My ideal adventure format is more 8-16 page 'instruction manual' than 64-128 page 'fantasy encyclopedia' [3].

[1] Zak S described what appears to be a very good approach to running mysteries that doesn't rely on 'PCs give up, go raid dungeon (after burning down the town)': Hunter/Hunted.

[2] Quite a lot of perfectly good adventures begin with several 'passages' of play in which player choice is severely restricted, all in order to get the PCs in the right situation for the adventure proper to begin. If this is necessary, play should not begin until the choices of the players are meaningful. In my experience as a player, when the opening passages of play are obvious railroads I lose confidence in the capacity of the adventure to allow me to make meaningful choices for my character/s. If it is absolutely necessary, begin in media res rather than engage in false 'play'. 

[3] Lots of my favourite adventures are in no way presented in 'my ideal adventure format'. They are my favourites in spite of this, though, and when I prepare for a game using these adventures I find myself either working several times as hard as I ought to have to master the 'working parts', or rewriting the adventure in order to ensure that I have made the ways in which the parts fit together explicit.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Not Dead...

...just resting.

That's what actors call unemployment, isn't it? Resting. Well, as of today, I'm a resting academic. So the past few weeks have been pretty busy, as I make sure that all my affairs are in order, and I do a whole heap of consultancy work - shuttling up and down the country - to give myself a nice little redundancy bonus. So there hasn't been a whole heap of gaming, or miniature painting going on. 

That said, since the last update, we have played Dungeon Crawl Classics again, with one group delving deeper into the underworld beneath the Castle of Gaskell the Black (built on the template of the Lost City) where they encountered the Maidens of Symmetry, and another group mincing up some 0-level PCs as they experienced the 'funnel' adventure in the DCC RPG rulebook. I've painted up some Mantic Squats - no, sorry 'Forgefathers' - as I bought the Warpath starter box for less that £25. And I've made a start on the RTB01 'beaky' Space Marines that I plan to deploy on Oldhammer Day. Boy, are they little bastards to put together!

More later. In the meantime: