Thursday 31 December 2009

Showcase 2009

I started this Blog back in January with the intention to use it to showcase my painting & encourage me to paint more. So with the first year almost at an end, I thought I'd review the projects that have been completed and determine the success (or not) of my blog in achieving its aim.

First off its worth mentioning (for the benefit of newer readers) that the emphasis of the blog has shifted a little as the year has progressed. While it is still a showcase for my miniatures it has also developed into a wider creative outlet for my passion for gaming in general. I have found the daily discipline of writing a blog very enjoyable and its something I will definitely continue, hopefully for years to come. But I'm ready to admit that sometimes I have spent an evening writing something for my blog when I probably should have been painting.

My tally of completed projects for the year is woefully low. But having said that I do think this blog has inspired me to paint more than maybe I would have otherwise.

28mm Fantasy/Foot - 9
28mm Fantasy/Mounted - 1
28mm Fantasy/Creature - 1
28mm Fantasy/Terrain - 1
28mm Call of Cthulhu - 1
28mm Warhammer 40k - 1
15mm WWII/Infantry - 0
15mm WWII/Vehicles - 13
15mm WWII/Terrain - 8

One of my proudest achievements was taking part in the painting competition at this years Salute show. I was never going to win anything (the standard of entries is very high) but it was great fun to take part and see my model on display. I've also started painting a Flames of War army in 15mm which is a significant development away from purely 28mm Fantasy themed figures. For the benefit of newbies, here's a slide show on my completed miniatures including these two projects.

BigLee's Mini Gallery

I'll be revealing my New Year Resolution tomorrow but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Until then, wishing you all a very happy New Year and thanks for everything in 2009.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Why Flames of War?

I was having a chat with The Evil GM recently about the games I play and I mentioned that I was hoping to start an actual game of FoW having spent months painting some models for it. He then posed this interesting question..."I'd be interested in why you chose Flames of War for your WWII game - if you compared two or three systems it would be interesting to know what prompted your decision?"

First and foremost I liked the look of it. I'd seen this game demonstrated at various shows and it looked spectacular. I know that a similar effect could be achieved with a different rule set but the fact is that Battlefront (the makers of FoW) have put a lot of effort into the design of the game. It could be argued that I'm a sucker for good marketing, but I also think that in this case it reassured me that this was a game system that was a) going to be around for a while and b) would be well supported. The latter is definitely the case and the FoW website not only promotes their products but also provides a wealth of other material - histories, briefings, new rules etc - for free. And I like free.

The other factor that influenced me was the scale. I've wargamed with 28mm before but nowadays I just don't have the space to store boxes and boxes of models and scenery. 15mm is significantly easier to store and transport while still maintaining a challenge to my painting skills. I felt that anything smaller just wouldn't be as much fun to paint. I now have a growing selection of vehicles and troops that fit neatly into a single carry case and all my scenery fits into one large storage box. This is a far cry from the days when I played Warhammer and needed three cases just for my figures and several boxes for accessories.

Another factor was the way that Battlefront sell their miniatures. By supplying boxes that include whole platoons and companies, you don’t have to find all the bits yourself. For example I recently bought a Panzer Grenadier platoon that has all the models for five half tracks and 15 squads of troopers plus a command stand. I think this 'modular' approach makes it much easier for new players to adopt the rules system. Now that I have done more research I feel more confident in buying tanks and infantry platoons from other manufacturers such as Peter Pig.

This brings me to one of the other main deciding factors. I'm a bit of a Treadhead and I have a particular interest in the German Panzer Divisions of the Second World War. The first time I saw this game being played it featured a brilliantly painted Panzer company and I thought to myself "I want one of those"! For me the models are important and those that I saw were excellent quality castings. My painting hand was twitching when I saw those models.

One final point. I've never really been a connoisseur of rules systems. You won't find me discussing the relative merits of System A over System B on the web forums. So when I was deciding whether to throw my lot in with the Flames of War camp I went out and asked players what they thought of the game. I read reviews and feedback on various forums but most importantly I spoke face to face with actual players to find out what they liked about their chosen system. Everyone I spoke with was friendly and helpful but what came across most about the FoW players was their enthusiasm for the game and willingness to help a newbie grasp the basics.

I'm sure there are plenty of hard core wargames out there who would love to tell me why 15mm isn't the best scale to play; why WWII isn't as interesting as Napoleonic's; why FoW isn't as good as PBI or Rapid Fire; and why Battlefront are the spawn of the devil, only equaled in 'Selling out to The Man' by Games Workshop. FoW might not be to every wargamers taste but the quality and variety of the models, Battlefronts product support and the enthusiasm of existing players made this an easy choice for me.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Filling the Empty Room

Since I first encountered D&D I have alternated between being a player and a GM. I have written and GM’ed games from the Basic Set (Red Box) through AD&D and 3rd edition (& 3.5e). But whatever system you decide to run the GM is often faced by the same dilemma. What to put in that 10’ by 10’ room.

Back in the beginning none of us saw a problem with a lone Orc guarding a treasure chest, oblivious to the sounds of combat in the chamber next door. The Orc would duly await the adventurer’s arrival and then fight to the death to protect the treasure. Things have moved on a little since those days of simple pleasures. The GM now has to come up with detailed storylines, monsters that cooperate with each other, and complex multi-level encounters.

I still like the 10'x10' room though. It’s a staple part of D&D mythology just like the Dungeon Crawl and starting an adventure in a Tavern. If I include an underground complex in my games I feel compelled to include a 10'x10' room as homage to our roleplaying origins. Maybe this is because I still think its possible to make this smallest of rooms an interesting place for an encounter.

For a start a confined space like this is a great place to put an area effect trap. A well placed fireball with everyone standing closely packed can be great fun for the GM. Gas traps, Pit falls and rock falls also work well in a confined area. And of course a 10'x10' room is the perfect size for a Gelatinous Cube dropped from above on a group of greedy adventurers.

Aside from opportunities for lethal fun small rooms can also fill a number of more mundane roles. Well shafts fit nicely into a small room like this so maybe this room houses the dungeon complexes water supply. It could also be a store room of some kind filled with books, alchemical components, weapons or food. Small chambers can easily be overlooked by other adventuring parties that decided to bypass the area for larger pickings elsewhere. This may mean hidden caches of loot.

Not everything is as it seems, especially in a D&D game. That small, insignificant room may hold a secret door to a hidden passage. It may be a treasure chamber cunningly divided by a false wall. It could in fact be an illusion designed to make a larger more important chamber look like a the sort of room you'd put a Garderobe in.

But for me, whenever I include a 10'x10' room in my dungeon complex all I want to do is put a an Orc guard in there, sitting patiently on a treasure chest and waiting for the inevitable.

Monday 28 December 2009

The Big Idea of 2009

Its been a hell of a year. I normally enjoy roller coasters but there have been so many 'ups and downs' this year that I'm looking distinctly green around the gills. But one of the big positives to come out of 2009 has been my 'discovery' of the bloggosphere. It's definitely changed the way I view my hobby.

I've always (well for the last 10 years or so) been a heavy 'web surfer'. Over the last decade I have developed a web presence in several online forums and social networking sites. From the beginning my aim has been to increase my coverage and participation in the wider gaming community. But it was my decision to start a blog earlier in the year which has taken things onto another level. I'll be posting some site statistics next week when the site reaches its 1st Birthday but trust me when I say I never expected to generate so much interest and to be involved in so many discussions as I have this year. Its been a blast.

In becoming a blogger myself I have also come to appreciate the role of other peoples blogs as a source of information and inspiration. I'm a bit of a web cynic and hold to the idea that 99% of the stuff on the web is pointless rubbish... but by tapping into the bloggosphere I seem to have found the mother load of genuinely talented people and useful sites. Its been a genuinely transformational experience.

All of which is my way of saying, thanks for reading my blog and thanks to you for the amazing variety and quality of the blogs that I read every day. Your daily efforts keep me sane... pretty much.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Christmas Loot - Part 2

Yesterday I posted details of some of the presents I received on Christmas day. I have since received a few more books that I thought worth mentioning.

My Brother & Sister in law bought me two excellent books. The first is Panzer Commander which is the memoirs of Colonel Hans Von Luck. Von Luck was in one of the first Motorised units into Poland at the start of the war and saw action almost constantly until his capture by the Russians in 1945. He fought in Operation Barbarossa in 1941-2, with Rommel in the North African desert in 1942-3, the collapse of Tunisia in 1943 and participated in the German defence of Europe after Normandy in 1944. He knew almost every German commander of distinction in the conflict and his memoirs have become a classic in the literature of the panzer divisions of the second world war.

The second book is Overlord by Max Hastings. I reviewed one of Hastings other works, Das Reich, earlier in the year so I know this is going to be an interesting read. As with previous works Max Hastings has looked at this pivotal battle of the Second World War from both side of the conflict from the Strategic viewpoint down to the Tactical and from the Staff rooms of headquarters down to the troops on the ground. This books gives a full picture of the battle for Normandy in 1944 and is often quoted as an essential part of any Library of work on the Normandy Campaign.

My Daughter bought me Last Post by Max Arthur. In this book (first Published in 2005) the author tracked down and interviewed the last twenty one British veterans of the First World War. This is a particularly poignant read now that all of these men have now passed away. As well as describing their experiences during the war each of the men interviewed has also reflected in the massive social changes they have experienced during their long lives. As one reviewer says "This is not a book about facts, dates and statistics.... Its about real people, normal in almost every way, who gave so much."

The last book I received was Endgame 1945 by David Stafford. After all the campaigns and hardships comes Victory. But That is not the end of the story. When the war ended everyday life didn't resume the next morning. The recovery and retribution that followed victory is not a subject often written about. The author of this book sought out the personal stories of what it was like to be the victor and the vanquished in the days and months after the war was ended. In so doing David Stafford brushes aside some of the myths and reveals new truths, often unpalatable ones, that cast the end of the conflict and the beginning of peace in a totally new light.

All told I've had a quite a good haul of books this Christmas which will keep me occupied for months to come. I'll try and give fuller reviews as a I finish each book.

Saturday 26 December 2009

Christmas Loot

As well as the usual Christmas Fare (Socks, smellies, DVDs etc) I also got several presents that will keep me fruitfully occupied for months to come. In particular some books from my Amazon Wish List (I knew that would be a good idea).

The first is Tank Men by Robert Kershaw. This book looks at the history of tank development and the men that fought in them. This should be a good complement to Band of Brigands which I read and reviewed recently and focused on the very early development of the tank. Tank Men takes the story up to the end of WWII and looks at the pivotal tank battles of this war including Kursk, the Blitzkrieg and the War in North Africa.

Also following on from Band of Brigands is the second book I received, Cambrai 1917 by Brynn Hammond. This battle was described in Brigands but now I can get a much more in depth look at this most famous of tank battles in WWI. The book looks at the new technological and tactical innovations used in this battle and the implementation of them. It also looks at the new tactic of the German Storm trooper, first seen at Cambrai. Like many of these works it relies heavily on the letters, documents and records of the time and many of the reviews I have read suggest this makes this a very personal book to read.

The last book is By Tank by Ken Tout. This is a book written not by a historian but by a veteran of Normandy itself. It is the collected memories of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry through France, the Ardennes and across the Rhine into Germany. "The author graphically describes the total experience - the heat, noise and smells - inside the Sherman tank, nicknamed by their enemy the 'Tommy Cooker'. Hit in the engine the Sherman exploded within seconds, instantly cremating any crew members unable to escape.... By Tank vividly recalls, in one complete volume, the whole experience of battle with utter authenticity: the fear, confusion, boredom, excitement and grief." I for one am looking forward to reading this book.

When I'm not reading I'm hoping to find some time to play my first few proper games of Flames of War. I've been collecting and painting the miniatures for some months, and even done some small scale play testing to familiarise myself with the rules, but I haven't played a proper game yet. This should be made much easier by my now growing collection of wargames terrain, including this Battlefield in a Box : Rivers set that my wife got me for Christmas. What more can a gamer ask from his wife?
I also received several other small items of scenery and some interesting DVDs so all-in-all a pretty good Christmas horde. Not that its about the presents of course...

Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

May the Christmas Beholder bring you everything you wished for...

...what? You've never heard of the Christmas Beholder? He's a regular in our household, something of a Christmas Tradition in fact. I'm not sure where I got this little picture but I usually print a couple out (no bigger than 2cm square) and hide them around the house. I then see how long it takes for guests to notice the little critter. One year when taking the decorations down we missed one of the Beholders and it sat hidden on a light fitting for most of the following year. I guess we should dust more often.

Wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.


Thursday 24 December 2009

The Christmas Truce 1914

In the Winter of 1914 one of the strangest events of the whole war took place. The story of the Christmas Truce soon took hold in the popular imagination and has come to represent the triumph of sanity and Christmas goodwill over the madness of trench warfare. The reality however is much more complicated, and therefore more human, than the popular image of a football match in no-man's-land.

By Christmas 1914 the realities of modern warfare had become apparent to both sides. The machine gun and high explosives had ground the war into a cold wet morass of mud and trenches. For the men of both side this was not the war they had envisaged when they signed up in a wave of patriotic fervour. But optimism was still high, the long bloody battles of the first world war were largely ahead of them and both sides were awaiting what they thought would be the decisive campaigns of the fighting season in the new year. Both sides had also received extra rations and treats from home, parcels from the Red Cross, King George V and the Kaiser containing chocolates, Christmas pudding, cigarettes and cigars. The Germans had even received miniature Christmas trees - Tannenbaum - decorated with candles and strung along the parapets of the trenches.

Its not surprising therefore that the men of both sides - who shared the same hardships - should have called for an unofficial truce. The 'Brass Hats' back in HQ (in a Chateau, 27 miles behind the lines!) did not approve of fraternisation and issued stern warnings to their officers against such conduct. In reality many officers at the front turned a blind eye as their men sang carols such as Stille Nact (Silent Night) and exchanged shouted greetings from trench to trench. Soon men were calling for a ceasefire culminating in face to face meetings in no-man's-land.

In some areas the ceasefire was an opportunity to recover the recently killed and burials were organised where former enemies mourned the fallen of both sides. With so much extra food available from the Christmas parcels the soldiers had received, it was not long before gifts of Jam, Cigarettes, Whisky and Chocolate were exchanged. There was even a famous game of football (reported in the letter of an officer of the Medical Corp, published in the London Times on 1st January) in which the British were beaten 3-2.
In some sectors the truce lasted through to Boxing day and even on to New Years Day. The fact was that a lasting peace could not have developed from this unofficial ceasefire. The appetite for war was still high on both sides back at home and overtures for peace by Pope Benedict XV were roundly denounced by the British and French authorities.

The war resumed and ground on for another 4 years eventually claiming the lives of 9.7 Million service men of both sides [Source]. Although the Christmas truce has become somewhat romanticised over the years it still stands out as a brief moment of sanity in the midst of a black period of history.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Naughty or Nice

My good friend Dave Stokes sent me a special Christmas Card. He also posted it on his blog and I thought It would be appropriate to re post it here. He clearly has too much time on his hands, the Naughty boy.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Coming of Age

I'm Indoctrinating teaching my children to be gamers like their old man. My eldest, Sarah, is already running her own D&D campaign. She recently had a surreal experience in school and I asked her to write about it for this blog.

"You may think that its only the older generation that ever plays d&d, maybe once or twice a fortnight round a friends house with a couple of crates of beer [How much beer does she think we drink?!]. However I know from experience that that's not the case, and I've often convinced my cousins to play - after much nagging - a simplified version of the game.

In fact, the other day I had a rather bizarre experience in school which made both my dad and I laugh. My lunch table had some new editions to it at the far end, when I joined my friends at lunch. We were getting on well with them when one of them pulled out a box of pre-painted models. I lost the thread of conversation then, but soon not only models but character sheets, rulebooks and dice were being put on the table and to my utter astonishment a D&D game [4E] began to be played right there, in school, in the middle of break.

A couple of them looked a little embarrassed when they caught me looking, and began to explain, but I told them I knew what they were doing (to their relief) and I politely declined when I was invited to join in (not that I wasn't tempted). Okay, I realise that this could be a one off, and its likely that there aren't many kids who play D&D in our school, but I like to think that this is a good sign that there is hope for us after all."

There are a couple of things about this incident that gave me pause for thought. First, these are 12-13 year old's, yet they have already begun to develop a sense of embarrassment about their hobby. But on the plus side they did start their game in a public space which means they may yet be developing that thick skin we often seem to need. I'm quietly optimistic for this budding gaming group.

The second thing I noted, this time with much more satisfaction, was the fact that Sarah referred to 'us', including herself in the collective gaming community. She clearly already thinks of herself as a gamer. My Padawan Learner has come of age. My work here is done.

Monday 21 December 2009

Ral Partha Giant

I found this old model recently and decided to give it a makeover. I'm not sure where I got it from but it had been painted and based by another painter. Unfortunately the quality of the paint job was, well, poor (I'm being charitable, it is Christmas after all). The model also looked like it hadn't been varnished because pretty much every surface was chipped and bare metal showed through in several places. So I decided to strip it back to a clean surface and start over. So far I've only got as far as priming it but needless to say I'll post pictures of my progress when I finish. I made an interesting discovery while preparing the model. It had been based using some sort of clay material and I wanted to put it on a much larger plastic base. So I chipped some of the clay off and the last slab, covering the bottom of the base, came off in one chunk... revealing the makers date of 1977! This old fella pre-dates my introduction to D&D. I would have been 7 or 8 at the time this first hit the shelves.

I'll be painting him with reverence and when finished he'll get a special place for display. If anyone can identify the model further (Who sculpted it? Did it have a name?) I'd appreciate any information you can supply.

Sunday 20 December 2009

The Lebedenko Tank

I came across this picture of a rather strange vehicle prototype from 1914. The Lebedenko Tank or Tsar Tank was designed to Cross any obstacle, including trenches and ran on two large and one Small wheel. Unfortunately in its one and only trial the small wheel stuck in a ditch and the engines proved insufficient to pull the 40 ton vehicle out.
The final design would have featured several weapon turrets. The hull of the vehicle was designed to have one top-mounted turret, equipped with MG's and/or light cannons. In addition to this, on the outer flanks of the hull, small MG turrets would have provided anti-infantry protection.
As it was the trails were such a resounding failure that they left the prototype where it stuck until 1923 when it was broken up for scrap. The design may have been impractical in 1914 but it allegedly inspired the design of the IG-227 Hailfire-class droid tank from the Star Wars Prequels.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Stripping Metal Miniatures

Removing paint from old miniatures can be difficult. There are lots of techniques for stripping acrylic paint from metal, but most require some patience and a little bit of elbow grease. The basic method is to soak your miniatures in one of the paint removing mediums listed below for 6-12 hours and then use a soft brush to remove the softened paint. This process may need to be repeated several times to get all the paint removed.

I've used several products over the years so here are a few of the more popular examples for returning your lead miniatures to bare metal ready for repainting. Some of the products listed may not be available in every country so I have tried to give generic names or alternatives where possible.

Pinsol / Pine oil- Good on Acrylics and Enamels. Soak miniature for at least 6 hours, longer if possible & remove with a soft brush. may require several applications. Bets not to use this on plastic models but can produce good results removing acrylics from metal after only 2-3 hrs.

Castrol Super Clean - A non smelly product that is also bio-degradable and is safe to use on plastic models as well. This product contains Sodium Hydroxide and can produce excellent results after only 6 hrs. The main drawback is that this product comes in a gallon can which is probably more than anyone needs for this type of job.

Simply Green - A 2-Butoxethanol based product that can be used on Plastic or metal models. Best used as a soak rather than sprayed or brushed on. The product is Non Toxic, Biodegradable and non corrosive. Gives good paint removal after only 6 hrs but for best results soak for 12 hours.

Oven Cleaner - This is another product that uses Sodium Hydroxide as its main active ingredient. There are lots of different products available but the one that get mentioned often in various miniatures/painting forums is Easy-Off Oven Cleaner. Soaking produces the best results after 6hrs.

Brake Fluid - Can be bought in relatively small quantities from any garage. Brake Fluid gives best results after 24hrs soaking so this isn't a fast option. Safe to use on plastics but needs to be disposed of responsibly as it is harmful to the environment.

Dawn Power Dissolver - Recommended by the guys at From the Warp this product can produce results in a little as 20 minutes. Because it is a foam it can be sprayed on to the model and left to do its stuff, but be careful not to spray it onto anything you don't want stripped!

Nail Polish Remover / Acetone - Easy to acquire but smelly as hell. Use in a well ventilated area and soak your model for at least 6 hrs. Do not use on plastic miniatures unless you want them to turn into slag.

There are several other products that I have read about, but the application and results are (allegedly) broadly the same. Some of these such as Linseed Oil and regular DIY store paint stripper are fairly logical options. Others like Lighter Fluid sound distinctly dangerous and then there are the weird and wacky options such as Coca-Cola and Distilled Water.

Aside from the paint removing medium you will need some or all of the following tools to clean your models. Most people won't have a problem with any of the products listed but some may have a chemical allergic reaction so its always a good precaution is to wear some rubber gloves. A ceramic or metal container to soak your miniatures in. An old toothbrush is also essential. Regardless of what method you use an good scrub with a toothbrush can help lift loose paint and get in those hard to reach spots. An absorbent cloth or paper towel to mop up spills... trust me this is essential. A small bit chamie leather to grip the model with while scrubbing. This is soft enough not to damage the casting and can be washed out between uses. The tool of last resort is the dental pick which lets you get in the deepest recesses and remove those stubborn bits of paint.

Friday 18 December 2009

Wargames Illustrated 267

My copy of Wargames Illustrated turned up five minutes after I left for work (which is just typical) but it was well worth the wait. This months issue is focused on The First Crusade and the Conquest of the Holy Land. This is a fascinating period of history, the ramifications of which still ripple down to the current day. If anyone has not yet seen the excellent documentary The Crusades (1995) by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) then I urge you to track down a copy.

As always this issue is full of eye candy and at 114 pages, well worth the money. Here's a run down of the key articles in this months WI:

  • The First Crusade 1096-99 - Introduction to this months issue
  • Contact, Contact: Yellow One Down - Following on from last months special on Vietnam this scenario gives another opportunity to play the Air Cav or NV Regulars
  • The Battle of Dorylaeum - One of the deciding battles of the 1st Crusade
  • New Zealand Grand Tournament - A FOW tournament held in Auckland
  • Islamic Armies of the First Crusade - A look at the Seljuk Turks and Fatimid Caliphate that faces the Crusaders
  • The Italians can rob my Country when I am Dead! Part 2 - The second part of a fascinating review of the Italian campaign in Ethiopia in 1935-6
  • How to Build Siege Towers - A building guide to making engines of war
  • The Heat of Battle - Wargaming at the WWII museum in New Orleans
  • The Power and the Glory: The Siege of Jerusalem - All you need to know about the Crusaders capture of the City
  • Guards Battlegroups - The History and Tactics of the Late War Guards Armoured Division for FOW
  • First Barrier to Bastogne - A Rapid Fire scenario simulating the initial assult on the 9th Armoured Division during the Battle of the Bulge
  • A New Era for Plastics - Michael Perry reveals the new period in Plastic miniatures - The Wars of the Roses
  • The Severn Valley in Flames - A civil war rages in Britain in 1938!
As well as these articles there are the usual product reviews, news and rules roundup. All in all another excellent issue.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Pity the Low Roll

"Before he types a word, he rolls a pair of dice – one green, one gray – both eight-sided relics from pre-teen Dungeons and Dragons bouts." So begins the story of a blogger who's objective is to write a short story every day for a year. The length of the story however is dictated by the number rolled by the two dice. His year is almost up, but he still dreads the 11's.

I like to surf the net and dip my toes in the ocean of information pretty much most days. Now and again I come across a blog or a news article or a website that catches my attention, and Flash Fiction 365 is today's little gem. Other than the use of the dice to determine his story length this has nothing to do with gaming. But it did strike a cord with me, a blogger who finds the daily discipline of writing sometimes very very hard.

There's a bit of me that's saying, what a great idea...maybe I could do something like that. Then there's the other side of me screaming Noooooooo! in horror at the prospect. Whether I'm writing for this blog or writing a campaign there are days when the words flow easily (like today) and those when every syllable has to be painfully wrenched from my brain. I've written about writers block before because I think many GM's that embark upon a self created campaign setting have hit this particular brick wall at some time or another.

So next time you find the words don't flow, roll two d8's and be thankful you don't have to abide by the number you rolled.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

How to Rule

Following on from yesterdays post about Court Etiquette I thought It would be a good idea to look at this sort of roleplaying encounter from the other side. While players may benefit from yesterdays advice on how to talk to those of higher rank, that doesn't help the GM roleplay the NPC in a convincing way. So this is a guide for GM's on how to make their rulers more realistic.

One of the key lessons learned yesterday was understanding rank and your position in it. For the Players that will invariably be much lower down the social order than a Duke or a King. But for the GM playing an NPC of higher rank means recognising that higher status and conveying it to the players through words and roleplaying. Portraying authority doesn't necessarily mean being rude or aggressive - although this works too - it can be done through the careful use of language and the manner in which it is delivered. Here are some examples.

When conversing with the Player Characters the ruler NPC should only speak in the Third Person. This is a narrative style where every character is referred to as "he", "she", "it", or "they", but never as "I" or "we" (first-person), or "you" (second-person). This elevates the speaker above the mundane world that surrounds them and sets them apart from everyone else in it.

Do not use contractions such as Don't, Isn't or I'll. Conversation sounds 'older' when spoken in full and the deliberate absence of verbal contractions will make your NPC stand out. In combination with the Third Person style this language technique can be very effective in conveying superiority and aloofness.

Another trick is to speak slowly but with complete self assurance. This languid approach conveys the speakers control of the conversation. It also gives you, the GM, time to formulate your response to the ongoing conversation. Never reveal hesitation when talking with your inferiors. Hesitation equals weakness and weakness invites usurpation and insurrection. As a ruler you will have learned never to show it and your roleplaying must reflect this.

Never be afraid to interrupt your inferiors. They should be hanging on your every word and (if they are following the etiquette rules outlined yesterday) will stop talking immediately to listen to your wisdom. Once again this buys you time to formulate a response to unforeseen tangents in the conversation and it reinforces your superiority and authority on the encounter.

Finally if you are roleplaying a leader, show leadership. When you speak you expect your commands to be obeyed not debated. You are quite comfortable making decisions on behalf of other people and when you make decisions you have the court bureaucracy (advisers, ministers, clerks etc) to to do your bidding. The PC's have entered your domain so whenever you exercise leadership in this way you are demonstrating you're authority and thereby your credentials as a ruler.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Court Etiquette

If I had a penny for every time one of my PC’s ended up in the court of a King or Nobel then I would be a very rich man. The problem is that as players, were a common bunch and frankly we don’t truly understand the do’s and don’ts of Court Etiquette. Of course the GM may overlook our rude and clumsy handling of these replaying encounters for the sake of the storyline. But wouldn't it be better if we could at least approximate the proper social rules of the feudal society our Characters inhabit? Here’s a very rough guide to court behaviour and most importantly how to address those NPC’s of higher rank we encounter.

Firstly you must address those of higher rank correctly. Here is a list of the most common titles in order of importance and the correct from of Address for each:


  • King or Queen: "Your Majesty"
  • Hereditary Prince or Princess who rules a principality: "Your Royal Highness"
  • Crown Prince or Princess in line for the throne: "Your Royal Highness"
  • Princes or Princesses who will not inherit: "Your Highness"

The Nobility

  • Dukes: "Your Grace"
  • Barons, Counts and Viscounts: "Your Excellency"
  • Lords & Ladies: "Your Lordship or Ladyship"
  • Untitled Nobles: "My Lord or Lady"

The Gentry

  • Knight, Baronet: "Sir" "Dame"

Now you have the correct Honorific for addressing your superiors, but successful court etiquette is more than just getting the title right. History shows us that the rules of Royal Courts were often incredibly intricate and only the leisured classes could hope to master them. For the purposes of roleplaying the following examples are the distilled version of the rulebook and will help to give your encounters a more authentic feel.

Whatever you do, do not sit down if an out-ranking noble is standing in the room. Always bow or curtsy to a ranking noble upon arriving, leaving, or being acknowledged by them for the first time. Failure to do so is a terrible insult and depending on the nature of the lord can lead to isolation, duels of honour or even execution! Always ask permission to speak before conversing with someone of superior rank. Never interrupt a noble when they are speaking and if they interrupt you, fall silent immediately and wait for them to finish.

Games like D&D are usually set in a semi feudal society and most Player Characters start with humble origins. If this is the case then the best and most universal rule you can learn is simply this... remember your place!

Happy grovelling!

Monday 14 December 2009

In Defence of the Rules Lawyer

The Rules Lawyer is that generally derided species of gamer who seems to know (or thinks they know) the rules better than anyone else. Every group or club has at least one example. According to popular legend their sole purpose in life is to ensure that no one has fun at a game because they have discovered every loophole in the rules and twisted everything else to fit their warped, sometimes megalomaniac, gaming style.

Of course if this were true then why would anyone put up with them? I suggest the reason is that the Rules Lawyer actually enhances a group and raises the game of the other players. Controversial, maybe, but as we shall see they do have a purpose aside from striving for world domination through intimate knowledge of the rules.

There are two basic types of Rules Lawyer but their natural habitat and prey are essentially similar. First is the traditional Fun Vampire, the type that know every rule no matter how small and, given the space, will argue their point till everyone else either agrees with them or commits Harakiri through boredom. The other type is the Bullshit Salesman who actually know less rules than the average player but pretend they know more than anyone else. they usually communicate this fact by sighing dramatically and rolling their eyes in mock disgust. Ironically only the Fun Vampire can vanquish the Bullshit Salesman quick enough to save the game.

How can these players (if they can be called that because they spend more time Lawyering than playing) be a good thing? I've read lots of advice on how to deal with Rules Lawyers but in my humble opinion it comes down to just two things. How you (the player) deal with them and how the GM deals with them. First lets look at the GM's role.

The GM also has a large role to play in controlling the Rules Lawyers. One of the best bits of advice I have ever read suggested challenging the Lawyer to find the rule they are quoting, but they have to do it on their own time. In other words they have to step outside the game while the rest of you get on with play and they cannot rejoin the session until they either back down or prove their point in the text of the rules. But the GM must be firm and set some clear house rules before the campaign begins. It helps to clearly define which rulebooks are in and which are not and stressing the GM's decision to use a rulebook is his alone. The GM shouldn't ignore the Lawyers protestations - he might actually have a point -but once a ruling has been made it should be clear the GM's decision is FINAL!

As a player, if you let the Lawyer annoy you or wind you up, they have won already. The moment you loose your cool you also loose the initiative and you make the Lawyer the centre of attention (which what they actually crave more than anything else). But if you can control that desire to rip their throat out with nothing but a sharpened d20, you have the upper hand. Nothing frustrates a Rules Lawyer more than the patient forbearance of his fellow gamers. Its also vital that players abide by the GM's house rules as defined above. Dissent will be leaped upon by the Rules Lawyer and pretty soon the game session will descend into a messy argument.

But for Players and GM's alike another good bit of advice is look on the Rules Lawyer as a useful resource. If they are of the Fun Vampire variety and actually do have an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules use that expertise. For example if the GM wants to introduce a new house rule, ask the lawyer do look at the implications of that ruling. Or of a new rulebook or supplement is brought out, use the Lawyer to review it and make his recommendations to the GM on inclusion or exclusion. What the GM is doing here is channelling the Rules Lawyers natural tendencies and employing them into an advisory role. The GM needs to maintain his authority on the final decision but that does not preclude taking the Lawyers advice from time to time.

The Rule Lawyer in his wild and untamed from can be a game killer. But when controlled and managed properly they can be a force for good in a group. Their pedantry can actually raise the game of the whole group and certainly makes player interactions more interesting.

Sunday 13 December 2009

The Golden Age of Gaming

This post is inspired directly from an article in the gaming magazine Flagship (Issue 128) written by Shannon Appelcline. She asked when was your Golden Age... and have you had more than one?

"The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve" this doesn't mean the age 12 specifically but rather describes the age at which the author of that quote (David Hartwell) first encountered Sci-Fi. This idea of the Golden Age neatly encapsulates the sense of wonder and excitement we have when we encounter something for the first time. In future years we invariably look back at this time through rose tinted glasses. With each passing year the mythical proportions of this time grow and settle deeper into our consciousness. That's why our childhood is always described as the "Best Years of our Lives", even if they were actually horrible... given enough time they really do become the best years.

My Golden Age of D&D would be 14 and is forever 1983. This was when I encountered D&D (in the Red Box) for the first time. I'd discovered the Fighting Fantasy books a few months earlier and it was a small step for my friends and I to progress to a proper roleplaying game. Our first ever game will always stick in my mind, especially the moment when my character (a Barbarian that bore a not unsurprising resemblance to Conan) killed the Carrion Crawler outside the dungeon entrance. To quote John Kovalic, "I THACO'ed and I liked it!"

Of course before D&D I had a different Golden Age and it was my discovery of the so called 'Pulp' writers of the 1920's and 30's such as Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. I was about 12 (so this is 1981) and I had discovered the Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery genre. Some of the forewords in the books I read mentioned other authors and the magazines they write for such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. It didn't take long before I encountered the Cthulhu Mythos and the works of writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch and August Derleth. Ironically It was my love of these so called 'Pulp' authors that lead me to the more scholarly work of Tolkien and

Going back still further (way back to 1977) was my Golden Age of Science Fiction. This was the time when I - and pretty much every kid my age - was transfixed by films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact I'd suggest I've actually had two golden ages of Sci-Fi, the first in the Movies and the second many years later in the printed works of Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. I still love Sci-Fi but nothing will ever match the moment I first saw a huge Star Destroyer gliding onto the screen and first heard the music of John Williams.

I've been lucky to have several Golden Ages covering a wide range of genre's, and each will remain special to me. They shaped me into the Gamer I am today and for that I will be ever grateful. So what is your Golden Age and have you, like me, had more than one?

Saturday 12 December 2009

Games Britannia - Game On

I've just had a chance to catch up with the first part of a three part series about gaming on BBC4. Games Britannia is part of the Game On season, celebrating the act of play. This three parter by historian Benjamin Woolley "looks at how popular games in Britain, from the Iron Age to the Information Age, are a rich source of cultural and social history".
The first part takes the viewer from the 1st century BC to the Victorian age and the birth of the first commercial games industry. It was during this period that games from around the Empire (but particuarly the orient) were Anglicised and turned into the games we recognise today as Snakes and Ladders and Ludo.

Next weeks programme looks at the political & social impact of boardgames. I'm also assuming there will be some mention of Roleplaying games as this thread on EN World suggests at least one gaming group were approached and asked to play D&D for the camera's.

Friday 11 December 2009

Finding Players

I recently stumbled upon a new website specifically designed to help you find new players. Game, Setup, Match! which aims to establish a nationwide gaming community in the UK. I recently discussed how to introduce new players to an established group but of course that depends on you being able to find a new player in the first place! Often word of mouth is all you need but if that fails there are several 'player finders' on the Internet. Here's a selection of my favorites.

  • also has a Gamers seeking Gamers section.
  • If your a member of The Miniatures Page there is also a Player Finder option available.
  • If Flames of War is your game then you can use the Battlefront websites Club Finder to locate a nearby game.
  • Similarly if your a Roleplayer then go no further than UK Roleplayers and their club finder.
  • Pen and Paper Games has an excellent Player Finder as part of its forum. You can search by proximity, genres and whether they are a player or GM. The best bit is the use of a navigable map that makes identifying local players easy.
  • For Call of Cthulhu gamers's Players Directory is an excellent searchable database of players.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but they represent sites that I have either used myself or had recommended to me at one time or another.

Thursday 10 December 2009

The Nerds are Rising

I was intrigued recently by a suggestion that us Nerds (or Geeks/Dorks as appropriate) are on the increase and are in fact the dominant power in the world. This might be inspired by the fact that one of the most powerful men in the world is a self confessed technology nerd. It may also have something to do with the fact that it has become de rigueur for Hollywood stars to declare their geekiness and admit to playing D&D.

Anyway here's a YouTube video of a very inspirational speech given by Jim Kakalios. Jim was the science advisor for the Watchmen movie, and recently wrote a book called The Physics of Superheroes so he's definitely one of us. This is for every gamer that has been made to feel inadequate or embarrassed by their hobby. It's time to be proud of who you are...

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Your Friendly Local Gaming Store

I'm a big fan of Internet shopping but there are times when you need the hands on experience that only a real shop can provide. The problem is that most high streets are full of the same old shops following the same old formula and that leaves little space for independent games retailers. Those that do exist definitely need our support, especially in these tight economic times.

I have noticed that many Gamer Bloggers have taken time to promote their Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) and decided it was time I did the same. So this is the first of a semi regular slot to promote stores that I have discovered and enjoyed in the course of my travels. I always make it a personal goal to visit local games stores when I'm on holiday and I'm always seeking out new stores close to where I live in Dagenham. Unfortunately I've had to define 'close' as anywhere within an hours travel of my home.

Many shops have come and gone over the years but Orcs Nest in London has remained in business and independent since its establishment in 1987. I think Games Workshop made an play for them back in the 90's when they were gobbling up lots of independent stores. Fortunately they failed and the Nest has gone from strength to strength ever since. Orcs Nest also carries a very wide range of Roleplaying games, boardgames and CCG's. They also sell a full range of collectible miniatures, a wide selection of Reaper miniatures and their own range of models launched a few years ago. In addition that have pretty much every accessory you might ever want or can think of. I make a trip into London at least twice a year specifically to visit the Nest but also take advantage of any trip into London on business to drop in and get a fix.

You can find more great FLGS's at the Matthew Gray's Game Store Database or there's a Gamer and Store Finder on the Steve Jackson website. Wizards of the Coast (makers of D&D) also have a Store Finder on their site, as do Games Workshop.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Beaten by a 4 year old

The other evening I got a chance to play the board game Zombies! which I bought while I was at Dragonmeet in November. The game fulfilled an important function, saving the family from another evening of rubbish TV. So we all sat down to play the game, including my 4 year old daughter, Emily. Yes I know, maybe a game about zombies is a little 'scary' for a four year old, but she's a gamer in training... she can already name most of the monsters in the Monster Manual so a few Zombies are nothing to her.

Unfortunately, being a gamer in training means that games like Snakes and Ladders just don't cut it with her now. She may have needed help reading the cards but she's a canny tactician and definitely didn't need help figuring out a winning strategy for this game. Basically while the rest of us were fighting zombies and trying to collect bullets or health tokens (and getting mauled in the process) she just kept running. She didn't play a single action card or fight a single Zombie but instead concentrated on running away as fast as possible.

So when the Helipad card was revealed the rules said the player with the least number of zombie kills can decide where to place the location...and she placed it right next to her. So when she made a dash for the helipad she did so with three lives and three bullets in reserve. She easily cut through the two zombies in her direct path and won the game fair and square.

Emily had quickly learned that Humans are faster than Zombies and had thereby stumbled upon the unwritten rule of surviving a Zombie plague... never stop running.

Monday 7 December 2009

Pearl Harbour

Today in 1941 is "a date which will live in infamy"... the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

This photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on the ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. The picture includes Battleship Row at the beginning of the attack. The explosion in the center is a torpedo strike on the USS West Virginia.
The attack took place before the last part of a 14 part message was delivered to Washington and therefore before the formal declaration of war. The surprise nature of the attack changed US public opinion significantly from their previous isolationist position. Nazi Germany's declaration of war shortly after also propelled the USA into the European theatre of WWII.

This has always seemed to me to be a hard battle to recreate in a game but I was proved wrong at Salute 2005 when the South London Warlords staged their realisation of the action.
The level of detail was quite stunning with lots of background information available for visitors to read.

Sunday 6 December 2009

The Riddle of Steel

"Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god, Crom and he lives in the earth. Once, giants lived in the Earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered. And the Earth shook. Fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. We who found it are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one - no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts... [Points to sword] ...this you can trust."

This is one of my favourite scenes from the film Conan the Barbarian (1982). But the truth about the discovery of steel is maybe a little more mundane.

About the 11th century BC it was discovered that iron can be much improved if it is reheated in a furnace using charcoal. The charcoal raises the carbon content of the worked iron and it is the carbon content that is vital to the creation of steel. Iron typically has about 0.5% carbon whereas steel needs about 1.5% carbon. The metal then needs to be reheated and quenched several times to harden the material with a final reheating to a specific temperature to establish the steels eventual strength. Steel can be wrought just like the softer iron but can be worked into a sharper edge and will retain that edge much longer than softer metal weapons. Its not hard therefore to see why steel makes a much superior weapon to those made from bronze or iron.

The exact process for making steel was none the less vague long after the 11th century BC and in ancient Rome the practice of quenching the metal in the "urine of a redheaded boy" continued for many centuries. Indeed the Romans even went so far as to attribute mystical properties to the urine required for steel production, rather then realising it was the quenching process itself that was needed.

So now I'm thinking that maybe it should be called the Jimmy Riddle of Steel?

Saturday 5 December 2009

Day of the Ninja

Way back in 1999 the parody website Ninja Burger suggested that Ninjas had taken to delivering burgers within 30 minutes of placing an order. Ninja Burger got wider recognition after it was featured on, and it was later turned into a Roleplaying Game. There is also a Card Game of the same name by Steve Jackson Games.

In 2005 the makers of the RPG declaired that December 5th would hensforth be known as the Day of the Ninja. This has been taken up by various sites and different variations on the same theme have evolved such as Creep Like Ninja Day and Die Like a Ninja Day although they all fall on Dec 5th.

Friday 4 December 2009

Recon 2009

Just a quick note to remind everyone that tomorrow is the Recon Wargames show. Recon is the annual event of the Wakefield and Ossett Wargamers (their 17th show in fact) and will be held at Pudsey Civic Hall. Entry is £2 (unwaged £1) and doors open at 10am. The show features competitions, a Bring & Buy stall and lost of traders (listed below). There is also car parking for 300 cars.
Confirmed traders include: Baccus 6mm; BakerMick's; Caliver Books; Cuirassier; Dave Lanchester Books; East Riding Mins; First Corps/Curteys Mins; Forge Games; Gateshead Gaming; Grubby Tanks; Instant Armies; Kallistra; Lesley’s Bits Box; Magnetic Displays; Mr Models; Mutineer Minis; Pendraken; PG Scenics; Realistic Wargames Ltd; Rif Raf Miniatures; Rumbling Guns; Squashgoblin; Stafford Games; Tumbling Dice; Under the Bed Enterprises; West Wind Productions; and Worley Books.

Breaking News - Richard Todd

The BBC has just announced that the actor and real life war hero Richard Todd has died at the age of 90 from cancer. Todd is probably best know for his roles in the war films Dambusters and The Longest day.

In The Longest Day he portrayed Major John Howard, CO of the 2nd Oxford & Bucks L.I. in their airborne assault of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. Todd actually took part in that action on D-Day, as part of the 7th Parachute Battalion which relived the troops at the Bridge.

One of Todd's greatest post war movie roles was that of as Wing Commander Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters.

Sex and D&D

Before you get all excited, this isn't about Ladies of Ill Repute (well not entirely) but rather about those intangible and often 'off screen' relationships that RPG characters develop in the game world. Often its a subject that just doesn't come up because its not relevant to the adventure in hand or the needs of the quest. Relationships are important to real people so why not also to our Characters?

Some GM's treat the whole subject of 'relationships' beyond the adventuring party as taboo. Indeed at low level it seems more important just to survive and level up. But eventually your PC's wealth and standing in the world in which you play will mean they have to put down roots. This might mean renting permanent lodging in a tavern but it could also mean a base of operations like a small keep, or even a house. Once they have established themselves in a community they would logically need to become part of that community in order to acquire new work and stay on the good side of the Law. And nothing cements a union like that than marriage.

As with GM's many players have no interest in developing the back story of a PC to include a wife and two kids (how many of your PC's have been 'Orphans'?). But some do want to make internally consistent stories that link their character to the world in which they live. Giving a PC a home and familial commitments also gives them a reason for their adventuring life, as convincing as any life quest or search for redemption. A married PC needs to adventure and bring home the gold to put food on the table!

OK I accept that this is all a little mundane for a world that (in D&D at least) is meant to be fantastical, but it does give your PC a much more rounded and realistic feel. Unfortunately it also gives the GM a world of opportunities to disrupt that quiet existence. Once you have a home, a family, friends etc you also provide the GM with multiple potential adventure hooks. Kidnap, robbery or even murder can take an adventure into an entirely unexpected direction and make the adventure seem much more than some abstract quest dished out in the local Tavern.

As well as relationships there are also sound reasons for introducing sex to the game that go beyond mere titillation. Brothels and those that work in them can potentially be a huge font of local knowledge and intrigue. If wooing the lady friend of the local evil genius is OK for Mr Bond then why not your own character? In my last campaign for instance I introduced a brothel where the real business was the acquisition of secrets and its subsequent sale or suppression. Intrigue and tension thereby took the place of combat and action.

So next time you're players start to 'put down roots' don't panic. Just remember that adventure is where you find it!