Sunday 31 January 2010

Big Picture : Colossi

These are The Colossi of Memnon and are part of the Theban Necropolis on the Eastern side of the Nile across of Luxor. My wife and I visited the area on our Honeymoon in 1992 and did all the normal touristy things like the Vally of the Kings, Luxor temple etc. But it was the Colossi that had the biggest impression on me. Despite their time (and earthquake) ravaged appearance they are truly awesome to behold.

From The Big Picture

The Colossi depict the Pharaoh Amenhotep III (14th century BC) and originally guarded the entrance to his massive mortuary temple complex. The name The Colossi of Memnon is probably of Roman origin. Memnon was the King of Ethiopia and a hero of the Trojan War. He was known as Ruler of the Dawn, and in ancient times the Eastern Colossus reputedly sang in the early morning heat. The Voice of Memnon was probably caused by evaporating water escaping from cracks in the rocks and was last heard in the second century AD.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Mythos Investigator

I've finally finished a painting project! I'm working on several models at once just to get me back into the swing of painting. Once I've cleared these I'll pick another Flames of War project to paint. This is an old model that I found a while back. I'm in the process of painting several models for a possible Call of Cthulhu game later in the year and this guy is the latest. I made a tentacle for the base from some Greenstuff left over from another project. Ordinarily I would have used Milliput which would have cured faster but this did the job eventually. Once I had it made and painted I stuck it on the base. Other than that I decided to leave the base empty, painting it to look like a concrete floor. I'm happy with the overall effect.

The pictures aren't my best, I really need to think about getting a new camera or at least more lights. But that's a big investment for another year I think.

Friday 29 January 2010

Poll Position

The first Poll of 2010 has now closed and its possible to look at the results. Sixty Eight People responded to the question what sort of games do you play? and the answers are both surprising and what is to be expected.

Reassuringly 57% of respondents play Roleplaying Games which isn't surprising given my own bias in the posts I write about D&D and Roleplaying in general. However I was surprised to see that 80% of respondents are Wargamers. Maybe this shouldn't be such a surprise given that I regularly contribute to the The Miniatures Page forum which is itself a largely wargame dominated site. I have had several requests for more Flames of War related posts and I'll try to increase the number of posts I write on this over the coming months.

Perhaps more of a surprise is the fact that 58% of respondents are also computer gamers. I would have thought that a miniatures centric blog such as mine wouldn't appeal to techies but maybe there's more overlap between 'traditional' gamers and computer games than I gave credit for. Maybe one of the factors influencing this percentage is the seemingly ubiquitous nature of 'computer' games at the moment. Many homes have a games system of one kind or another and with the advent of game 'Apps' for the likes of the iPhone and its many derivatives more people have access to this form of entertainment than ever before.

Also interesting was the figure of 55% of respondents that also play boardgames. Again this isn't a miniatures oriented genre but like RPG's and Wargames it is a social activity and therefore has some overlap with these other games. I suspect that many 'gamers of a certain age' remember those heady days when companies like Games Workshop produced boardgames alongside their miniatures and wargames.

Overall these four categories accounted for nearly 95% of the votes cast so clearly there is considerable overlap in interests for readers that took part in the poll. In some ways this reflects the sort of varied material I myself write about. I play RPG's, wargames & boardgames and, on occasion, computer games, so its not surprising that readers of this blog do as well.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Duration Dilemma

I've been sitting down and making some notes for my third D&D campaign. The story outline was already prepared and I have some key encounters fleshed out but most of it is still a vague set of notes. I'm trying not to make the story too ridged and build in several options and alternate pathways for the players to take. But as soon as I picked up my outline again I saw one major problem immediately. Its too long.

Both my earlier campaign arcs have taken between 14-16 games to play out. For a group that meets roughly bi-weekly that meant the game stretched across several months. But over the last 18 months (since my last campaign ended) the regularity with which our group meets has fallen to a new low. Life, unfortunately, has a habit of getting in the way of a regular schedule. Nobody is 100% happy with the current situation but we all accept the inevitability of it and are trying to maintain games around our constantly shifting lives.

The problem with a very irregular pattern of games, with breaks between sessions of anything up to 6 weeks some times, is maintaining plot cohesion. By the time we have completed a side quest for instance we have forgotten who it was hired us in the first place. As a group we try to overcome this with comprehensive notes between games and recap sessions before we start play. But its not the same as meeting on a weekly basis and following a story through from beginning to end over just a few weeks.

One possible solution that I'm now toying with is a shorter, simpler campaign arc. It would mean making some radical cuts in the story I have already written but it might make for a tighter adventure that will stand up to the fragmented nature of our gaming sessions. A story arc that could be covered in say just 6-8 sessions could still last our group for months and stands more chance of being understood by infrequent players. The other advantage is that a tighter story might actually be better than one that rambles on for ages. In my last campaign my players had a long journey to their objective which on paper only last three games but in reality went on for nearly three months.

So I've broken out the scalpel and I'm trimming the fat. Size, as they say, isn't everything.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

By Tank

I received By Tank : D to VE Days by Ken Tout for Christmas and have just finished reading it. This book is an absolutely gripping memoir taking the reader through the last year of the war in Europe through to Victory.

I have read lots of books about the second world war but few covey the heat, dirt and noise of fighting inside a tank quite like this book. Tout's narrative style evokes the confusion, the fear and the pace of battle. Each event unfolds so quickly the reader often finds himself gasping in shock as comrades fall in battle. If Quinten Tarrentino had written this book he could have done no better to describe in full bloody detail the horror of war.

Any tank, could be a death-trap. But the Sherman had a tendency to burn like an evil roman candle if the engine was hit, earning it the nickname "The Tommy Cooker" by the Germans. Even the crews themselves gave these lightly armoured tanks the nickname "The Ronson" after the Ronson Cigarette Lighter whose slogan was "lights first time, every time".

When the young Ken Tout (he was only 20) wasn't imagining all the horrible ways death might come for him he was utterly bored. This wasn't the heroic war of honour and daring-do depicted in the cinema. "...most of the time nothing happens. The truest literary representation of a typical hour of war might well be fifty pages left completely blank... during that time nothing happens. Nothing at all except noise and dirt and smoke and glaring confusion."

What makes this book a fascinating read is not just the no-holds-barred brutality of the battles, but the equally graphic, but eminently more mundane, details of life in and on a Sherman. Cleaning the gun barrel prior to battle; toilet arrangements in hostile territory; the all too brief moments of comfort between advances; the 'gallows humour' of fellow soldiers; and the generosity of the liberated as the advance pushes away from the D-Day beaches.

This book would make a worth addition to any bookshelf but if you're into tanks and WWII then it is an essential and has earned the title 'classic'.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Cool Cardboard

Here's a cool new gaming concept that my mate Dave told me about. The gadget blog Crave describes the concept as the merging of cardboard and computer to make a more immersive board game.

The video shows what looks like a proof-of-concept mock-up of the finished product but it gives some idea of what might be achievable in a very short time.

Road Trip

I've been discussing with my Brother-in-Law about going to Tankfest at Bovington Tank Museum this June. I missed it last year for various reasons and I decided to try to attend this year. I wouldn't be much of a Treadhead if I didn't go at least once in my lifetime. So over the last few days the two of us have been busy plotting, planing and scheming.

Most of this early planning has involved searching for suitable accommodation for the Saturday night. There are hundreds of options in the 'local' area, mainly because its a popular holiday spot near to the Dorset coast and the New Forest. I've also been trying to keep the costs down (I'm not made of money you know) but you'd be surprised how hard its been finding somewhere suitable. I've narrowed it down to a couple of places and eventually settled on a local Inn only five minutes from Bovington.

Keeping an eye on costs I even looked into the possibility of getting a train to Wool, the nearest station. But I discounted that idea when I realised the journey would take an hour longer than driving (plus transfers at each end) and would cost about three times what it would in petrol for the car. So much for letting the 'train take the strain'.

Its still early days yet but both of us have booked time off work to accommodate the trip and (more importantly) cleared it with our 'significant others'! So baring some unforeseen disaster, were on our way to Dorset in June! WooHoo!!

Here's a film I found on YouTube from last years Tankfest... needless to say I'll be uploading lots of video myself after this years show.

Monday 25 January 2010

This and That

If you haven't done so already please register your vote on my Poll "What games do you Play?". One year on from the start of this blog I now have a healthy and growing readership. But I'm always striving to improve and I'm determined not to sit on my laurels. For that I need feedback from you, the readers. I'll write up an analysis of the results once all the votes are in.

Just in case you think I've given up painting (it has been a while since I last showed off anything new) here's a picture of something I'm working on. In fact I have started four models and all are in various stages of completion. I actually had a productive weekend painting and two models are nearly finished. It'll be a few days before I post any pictures as they still lack varnish and the bases need to be dressed. This usually takes a couple of days to complete properly so I hope to have some pictures by or over the weekend.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I started work on a couple of M10 GMC Tank Destroyers for Flames of War. I reported on this blog that I was missing a part (the turret counterweight) but had contacted the parts replacement service number and was awaiting a response. Well that was 11th November and I still haven't had my part. I have however had three empty promises to send it and my model remains incomplete and un-started. The problem seems to be with the local (i.e. UK) supplier rather than with Battlefront but that's little consolation. I'm starting the process again - this time with a strongly worded email attached - and have my fingers crossed for a swift resolution. I'll keep you posted.

Wargames Illustrated 268

I have finally received my copy of the February Wargames Illustrated, issue 268. I normally get it by about the middle of the month so its about a week late (disaster!).The focus of this issue is Operation Market Garden - the ill fated allied offensive that was designed to end the war by Christmas 1944. I have a personal interest in this period as my Grandfather almost took part. Fortunately for him he was invalided out of the army because he suffered from severe asthma. Unfortunately for many of his mates their unit was destined for Arnhem and the objective made famous in the film A Bridge Too Far (1977). I always got the impression my Grandfather was more bothered by the fact that he had not being able to "do his bit" with his mates than he was at being crippled by Asthma for most of his life.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Big Picture - Crimea

This weeks Big Picture is from May 2003. English Heritage ran several themed events at our local site, Tilbury Fort in Essex. These pictures are from the Crimea Re-enactment event they ran to celebrate the life of Florence Nightingale. This was James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan and commander of the infamous Light Brigade.
From The Big Picture
There was also a very interesting (if gruesome) display of medical instruments available during this period.
From The Big Picture

Saturday 23 January 2010

Convention Calender 2010

As regular readers will no doubt have noticed, I enjoy attending Wargames Shows and Game Conventions in general. I've already started to compile my calendar of events for 2010. I just hope I have the opportunity (and energy, and money) to visit them all.
  • 21st March : Skirmish : Sidcup, Kent
  • 24th April : Salute : Excel, London
  • 30th May: Firepower : Woolwich, London
  • 26th & 27th June: Rampage : Dagenham, Essex
  • 3rd & 4th July : Battlegroup South : Bovington, Dorset
  • 26th & 27th June : Tankfest : Bovington, Dorset
  • 21 -25 July - War & Peace : Beltring , Kent
  • 24 & 25th July: To the Redoubt : Eastborne, Sussex
  • 14th August (Date to be confirmed) : Present Arms : Romford, Essex
  • 7th & 8th August : Damyns Hall Military Rally : Rainham, Essex
  • 28th-30th August: Military Odyssey : Detling, Kent
  • 4th & 5th September: Battle of Britain Airshow : IWM, Duxford
  • 11th & 12th September: Colours : Newbury, Berkshire
  • 26th September : Skirmish : Sidcup, Kent
  • 17th October: SELWG : Crystal Palace, London
  • 27th November (Date to be Confirmed) : Dragonmeet : Kensington, London.
Of course if you know of any others in the South East of England please let me know, I always enjoy attending shows I've not done before.

Friday 22 January 2010

Ancient Booby Trap

When you think of Booby Traps in ancient tombs and temples the first image that leaps to mind is Indian Jones dodging poison darts, leaping stake filled pits and outrunning a gigantic stone ball. While this was an iconic opening to a classic movie it is, unfortunately, a complete flight of fancy. Or is it?

I recently discussed the myth of the pristine tomb and the fact that over hundreds of years a tomb will be anything other than clean and tidy. Certainly any mechanisms (if they existed) would have long ceased to work. So when a GM puts a trap into a tomb in a roleplaying game it is with a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief that we accept these adventure elements.

While modern day archaeologists are not in danger from mechanical traps like poison darts and crushing walls there have been a few examples of genuine ancient traps uncovered over the years. These have largely consisted of non lethal obstructions such as stone blocks, pits, false doors and labyrinths. One of the few descriptions of an actual booby trap comes from the time of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. His tomb is allegedly protected by hundreds of crossbow traps. Fortunately for future archaeologists (the tomb has yet to be explored) if this description is true these complex mechanisms will have long since seized up and lost their lethality.

One booby trap that has survived the millennia was discovered in a previously unexplored tomb in 2001 by Dr Zahi Hawass in Egypt's Bahariya Oasis. This consisted of up to 8 inches of finely powdered hematite dust covering the floor and sarcophagus. When Hawass and his colleges first entered the tomb they found that the dust, disturbed by their trespasses, irritated the skin, eyes so much they had to leave the tomb. Excavations were eventually resumed but only after the whole team had donned contamination suits and respirators.

OK this doesn't sound as dramatic as a gigantic stone balls squishing tomb robbers (or adventurous archaeologists) but it would have been none the less effective against ancient interlopers. Hematite dust is the mineral form of iron oxide and in this powdered form the sharp metallic particles can cause Siderosis of the lungs and damage eyes by chemical reaction with tissue. Any grave robber would have found the tomb a very unpleasant place to work and continued exposure over a period of days would result in bleeding eyes and mucus filled lungs.

I can imagine the designer of that tomb - realising he can't stop a determined grave robber -coming up with this devious trap that would ensure that any trespassers died a slow horrible death before they got to enjoy their spoils. In my book that is a nasty trap worthy of the Evil GM himself.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Art Sale

My good friend and talented artist Dave Stokes is selling some of his original artwork on Ebay. He is starting with two items of comic art and depending on response has several other items available for sale at a later date. The first two items for sale are:

X-Men Mystique Ink Sketch
Original artwork of on and off X-Man, Mystique. This is an A4 size (210 × 297mm) in waterproof India ink drawn on Bristol board with pen and ink. It is signed.

Nightcrawler Ink Sketch
Original artwork of X-Men fan favourite Nightcrawler. This is an A4 size (210 × 297mm) in waterproof India ink drawn on Bristol board with pen and ink. It is signed.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Paper verses Pixels

How do you get your information about your Hobby? If you're reading this blog then I guess there's a good chance you get some from the blogs you read and maybe from various Internet Forums like ENWorld or The Miniatures Page. I regularly use the Internet as a vast resource of news in general. In particular I follow (currently) over 50 Blog's using Google Reader and dip into this excellent pool of information several times a day. But I also enjoy that most endangered of species, the Magazine.

I subscribe to Wargames Illustrated and try to pick up several others (such as Battlegames and Minaiture Wargames) on the news stand on a semi regular basis. My reading selection covers the whole breadth of the hobby, from purely wargaming magazines through to those dedicated to roleplaying like Flagship and Kobold Quarterly. But there is an insidious trend spreading across the world of gaming magazines and I'm not sure I like it.

In recent years several magazines have stooped producing paper versions of their publication and either stopped entirely or made the move to PDF versions. The most famous example has to be Wizard of the Coasts decision a couple of years ago not to renue their licencing agreement with Piazo and to stop making paper versions of Dragon and its sister publication Dungeon. I used to buy both magazines on a regular basis when they were made from paper rather than pixels but I must admit they have lost their appeal for me completely now thay are pdf only. Part of the problem is I am not terribly interested in subscribing to WoTC's D&D Insider suite of tools which now includes the magazine content. However that is not the only down side for me, and others like me.

There seems to have been a concerted effort over the years to make readers feel like they are old fashioned or behind the times if they don't convert seamlessly to electronic format. I'm certainly not a Luddite when it comes to technology. I enjoy new tech and new modes of communication immensely. Aside from this blog I have an active facebook page and I participate in several dozen online forums. But I have to say that the electronic magazine is a step too far for me.

Part of the attraction of a paper magazine is that I can read it anywhere I like. In bed; On the bus: At my desk; Over lunch: In the bath and a dozen other places where a laptop or notebook just wouldn't be appropriate. I certainly haven't got the spare cash to pay out for a Kindle or other reader device. And I spend all day looking at a screen as it is without filling my spare time reading magazines on one as well.

I think that part of the problem is the nature of the format as well as its accessibility while sitting in the bath (sorry for the scary mental image). Digital information, especially when presented on a screen, tends to get skimmed across more quickly -its not called 'surfing the net' for nothing. That's not necessarily a criticism of the Internet per-se but a natural evolution of utility that lends itself to fast information presented in small parcels. I doubt if I'm alone when I say that I am more inclined to read something in-depth in a printed format.

On the plus side some pdf magazines, like Dragon and Dungeon are now in landscape format so they read better on a screen. And there has been a huge increase in the use of pdf sales to distribute smaller independent games. I've purchased lost of material this way, from Dungeon floorplans through to scenarios and sourcebooks.

Having said that I have to admit to being a hypocrite in that I do follow some pdf magazines like Kobold Quarterly and Flagship. But I would much prefer to hold a real life paper copy instead. At least with Flagship it's possible to purchase a paper version of the magazine as well as accessing it online. For my money that's a much better option than stopping the paper copy entirely.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Dredded Workload

A busy work day equals a picture cop-out instead of a proper post... Here's a little Dredd to fill your day. I'm not a dedicated comic collector by any stretch of the imagination but I did like 2000 AD when I was a kid, and Judge Dredd was one of my favourite characters along with Rogue Trooper.
I remember enjoying the stories a lot but it was the artwork that really caught my imagination.

Monday 18 January 2010

Panzer Commander

I've just finished an excellent book that my Brother & Sister-in-law bought me for Christmas. Panzer Commander : The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck is a book I have heard about but until now not got round to reading. Now that I have read it I wish I had sought this book out years ago because it takes the reader to the other side of the hill and shows the Second World War from the perspective of a German soldier. He was awarded the German Cross in Gold and the Knight's Cross and at the end of the war was the youngest full colonel in the Wehrmacht.

Von Luck was born in 1911 in Flensberg the son of a well to do Prussian naval officer. In 1929 he joined the Reichswehr as a cadet officer where Rommel was one of his tutors. He describes the German Army at that time as deliberately trained to be nonpolitical (some, even von Luck, would say naive). This naivety meant that few in the military saw the danger of Hitlers National Socialist politics until it was too late. Some would later attempt to assassinate Hitler in the 20th July Plot (immortalised in the recent film Valkyrie) while others, like von Luck found themselves trapped by their Oath of Allegiance and their sense of duty.

In 1939, von Luck's unit was one of the first to cross into Poland and later into France. Over the next five years he was almost constantly in action and served in virtually every major theatre of the war. He took part in Operation Barbarossa and reached the outskirts of Moscow before being transferred to commanded the 3rd Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion of the 21st Panzer Division in North Africa. During this time he arranged a 'gentleman's agreement' with the British units opposing him, swapping information on captured prisoners and even on occasion trading medical supplies for prisoners. Luck was wounded but returned to his Battalion as the war in North Africa turned in favor of the allies.

After the disastrous evacuation in which 130,000 German soldiers were captured, von Luck returning to Germany and was eventually posted to Paris. Later he was put in charge of the 125th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and played a central role in opposing Operation Goodwood. But Germany's days were numbered and battle after battle pushed them back towards their own borders. Eventually von Luck was put in charge of the remains of the 21st panzer Division and moved to the Oder Front trying to hold back the Russians. He was eventually captured during the Battle of Halbe encirclement in April 1945.

Unfortunately this wasn't the end of the war for von Luck and thousands of other German soldiers. Those lucky enough to be POW's of the Americans found captivity comfortable after the privations of war, but above all relatively short. For those captured by the Russians the future was completely uncertain and almost universally harsh. Luck found himself in what amounted to a slave labour camp in Georgia and later near Kiev for the next five years. This was the collective punishment they would have to pay for Hitlers invasion of Russia in June 1941 and the four years of war that followed.

Just as interesting as his recollections of the war is his story after he finally got home to Germany in 1950. Like many soldiers returning home (on both sides of the conflict) his war time relationship did not survive the outbreak of peace. It took some time for von Luck to build a new career for himself outside the armed forces. In the 1960's he became involved with veterans groups and forged friendships with former enemies including Major John Howard whose Airborne troops took Pegasus Bridge. Von Luck also became good friends with the US historian Stephen Ambrose (author of Band of Brothers) who convinced him to write down his memoirs which eventually became this book.

"I have often felt that in the first half of my life I was, in a double sense, a prisoner of my time: trapped on the one hand in the Prussian tradition and bound by the oath of allegiance, which made it all too easy for the Nazi Regime to misuse the military leadership; then forced to pay my country's tribute, along with so many thousand others, with five years of captivity in Russian camps.

I hope that nowhere in the world will young people ever again find themselves to be so misused."

Colonel Hans von Luck (15 July 1911–1 August 1997)

Winston Chruchill once said that "history is written by the victors". This book goes a long way to redressing that imbalance and is an excellent counterpoint to any of the classic books of the history of the Second World War.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Saturday 16 January 2010

Blast from my Past

I was surfing the Internet the other day and came across this picture of a game from waaay back in my youth.

Tank Commander was a 2 player game made by Ideal Games and released in 1975. The game consisted of a large plastic 'battlefield' with a movable plastic tray onto which the tanks were fitted. Each player had four tanks and the objective of the game was to force the opposing player to retreat into a minefield. Movement back and forth was decided by the use of numbered shells of varying firepower from one to ten. Each player would select a numbered shell and then both would simultaneously flip down the shield of their command bunker to reveal their choice. The winning player would then move the tank slider a number of spaces equal to the firepower of the combined shells.

When an enemies tanks were pushed back into the minefield the opposing player could 'fire' the landmines by pulling a lanyard which caused plastic pegs to pop up out of holes in the game surface. Not exactly high tech but if you pulled hard and sharp enough you could make your opposing players tanks flip into the air in spectacular fashion. 'Destroyed' tanks were then removed from play. I think the game was played over several turns but I can't remember now - after all it was 35 years ago!

I have to say, basic as it was, I loved this game. It rearly looks dated compared to the toys of today but when I got this as a kid I was in seventh heaven. Maybe my fascination with Tanks stems from this game in my formative years?

Years later, after the game itself had broken, the tanks met a spectacular end in my back yard. I taped bundles of paper Caps (the sort used in Cap Guns) to the front armour and shot them up with an air rifle. Happy days!

Friday 15 January 2010

Laws in a Fantasy Setting

The bureaucracy of government is usually the last thing on a GM's mind when writing a campaign setting. And when the game starts I suspect most players give the legal system barely any thought unless their story takes them into conflict with the Law. Most campaign settings involve some degree of organised society as a backdrop to the campaign the players undertake. There will be cities, towns and villages where trade and commerce take place. There will be civic leaders, nobles and kings to interact with. And a world full of inhabitants that live structured organised lives as part of some sort of civilisation. But civilisation is impossible without Laws to hold it together and govern how it functions. That remains so, even in a fantasy world.

About 1200 B.C. the Babylonian King Hammurabi inscribed a code of laws on a tall stele of black basalt. This wasn't the first document of its type but it is widely accepted as one of the most comprehensive, broad and intellectual of its type. Neither was The Code of Hammurabi the first example of law in this earliest of civilisations. Mesopotamia had already existed as a culture (if not a unified nation) for 1500 years and relied heavily on agriculture, trade and commerce. Clearly some sort of 'law' existed during this time but it was the invention of writing in about 2800 B.C. that enabled ideas of organisation and civilisation to be recorded.

How much detail the GM decides to go into largely depends on the type of game he is trying to run and what sort of society he has created. Law's reflect a societies 'norms' and define what is right and what is wrong based on those norms. The laws of an evil culture like those of Dark Elves would be different from a benign culture. Similarly the priorities - and therefore the rules - of a tribal society would necessarily be different from those of a structured and civilised state.

Some Laws however are universal and essential to the smooth running of any society, regardless of its socio-political belief system.

  • Do not kill people
  • Do not steal another's property
  • Do not damage or destroy another's property
  • Do not covet a neighbours property/wife
  • Do not challenge the rule of authority
  • Do not lie or bare false witness

These probably sound familiar as all of them are included in the ten commandments and other faith based laws. Without these basic rules society cannot hold itself together and function effectively. Moreover they form the building blocks for all the subsequent refinements and subcategories of law that we know today.

Punishment for breaking laws will again vary with the culture involved and the degree of importance that each law holds within that society. In most medieval and ancient societies punishment generally took the form of some kind of retributive action that reflected the crime committed. Therefore murder incurred a death penalty and stealing resulted in physical justice (decapitation of a hand for example). Unfortunately history also teaches us that in less developed societies social status & personal wealth greatly influence the punishment decreed.

There is plenty of material on the Internet that the GM can use to create a basic set of laws for their campaign world. Whatever you decide to use it will enhance the realism of your campaign setting and may even create some exciting roleplaying encounters along the way.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Getting to Know You

I haven't run a Poll in a while - the last was in July 09 - but since then the readership of this blog has increased tremendously. So I think its high time I tried to get some idea of what you, the readers, like to play. Are you into Roleplaying Games, Wargames or Computer Games? Or are you a Boardgamer or a player of Collectible Card games? Maybe your interests cover several categories or something entirely different and not listed here. Whatever they are I'd love to know.

Respondents can select more than one category and 'Other' includes anything that doesn't fall into the main categories, or if you don't play at all.

This Poll takes a very broad brush approach and is aimed at getting a general idea what categories of games are most popular amongst this Blogs readership. Depending on the level of participation I may run related Polls later in the year that focus on specific categories. Of course I'll post the results with a bit of analysis when the Poll closes in two weeks.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Cancel the Cataclysm

At 12:46 GMT a small asteroid, 10 meters across will buzz by the earth at only 76,000 miles (about a third of the way to the moon). 2010 AL30 was only discovered on Monday but unfortunately for conspiracy theorists and doomsayers it is neither a rogue spy satellite nor the end of the world as we know it. Both would have made for a great game plot hook, although the latter might have interrupted play.

The theme of a cataclysm seems to be a common one in fantasy world settings. I used it in my own campaign and probably the most famous example in a D&D game would be the Dragonlance Setting. Fortunately for us this little asteroid wouldn't pose a threat even if it did hit us square on. Ten meters across seems large but even if it was solid iron it would shatter and explode in the upper atmosphere with only small parts reaching the surface as Meteorites. Even an asteroid 50 meters across wouldn't see us go the way of the dinosaurs, although it would be big enough to wipe out a city or cause terrible destruction if it hit over an ocean.

In fact it would take an asteroid of between 1000-3000 meters to push humanity to extinction. The chances of this happening are remotely small (we're a very small target and Space is very very big) so cancel the Cataclysm. We're safe for now.

Existential Mumbo Jumbo

Once upon a time a D&D campaign consisted of hacking & slashing your way through a bunch of monsters and collecting as much loot as possible. Back stories and plot development were minimal and there was no underlying meaning to the quest for adventure. Things have moved on since then (thankfully) and plots have become more complex and stories more multi layered.

When I write a campaign I try to get a defining Story Arc settled in my mind before building encounters and options. In its simplest form the Story Arc is a way of getting the Characters from point A to Point B with adventure and rewards in between. These two points can be represented in a number of ways some more traditional than others.

  • First off is Level Progression where the purpose of the adventure is simply to increase in level and move on to new higher level encounters.
  • Then there is The Journey, where the course of the adventure takes the players from a home town or city, through several locations and delivers them to another city where the next adventure kicks off.
  • The Quest is a little more focused where the story arc is based on achieving a specific goal or target.
  • Character Development is another popular story arc, where the adventure is tailored to a particular characters back story and takes them from one state of being to another.

I'd like to put in a bid for another type of story arc, the Morality Tale. Morality tales or Morality Plays were popular in the middle ages and grew as a way of teaching Christian values to a largely illiterate congregation. Later they developed into proper theatrical productions as opposed to illustrated sermons. They were still used to convey a message to the audience but they were no longer a tool of the clergy having moved out of the Church and into Secular society.

Morality tales have remained a popular story telling format ever since, finding a new audience and a resurgence in Victorian England. Nineteenth Century fiction, especially Gothic novels like Frankenstein and Dracula, are classic morality tales that have an enduring popularity because at their core they have a simple message to convey - that good will triumph over evil.

When I first put pen to paper to design my campaign world I had already decided that each story arc would have a theme. The first arc for instance was about the characters becoming more than the sum of their parts. Rising above petty individual desires for the good of the whole. By the end of the story this ragged and battered band of adventurers stood outside the city gates and for a moment were all that stood between the city and a massive army of Dark Elves. In that encounter the legend of "The Hero's of the Slumgate" was born and it was a magnificent moment to behold.

Giving your Campaign a moral message may seem a bit heavy for a mere game but in my experience it can raise a story from being a mundane adventure into a Heroic tale that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

The Empire Expands

I read an interesting article yesterday on John's Toy Soldiers the blog of John Lambshead (great blog by the way, well worth a visit). John reports that Games Workshop seem to be doing quite well at the moment despite the tough time retailers are having generally across the board. They have just revised their projected profits for the 12 months to May 30th upwards from £9 Million to £14 Million resulting in an increase in their share price of 30%!

There are various reasons for this success but key to it seems to be the new one-man-stores. A recent article on the FT website suggests that this has enabled GW to open stores in smaller towns. Another factor highlighted by the website Sharecast suggests that part of the companies success comes from its licencing of titles to games developers. John also highlighted an article by the Times which suggested that factory efficiencies meant that plastic miniatures now had a larger profit margin which was also contributing to the success of the company.

Its interesting to note that often variable performance of Games Workshop over the years is hotly debated on various Internet forums. The most vocal contributors still look on GW as some sort of Evil Empire that has been around too long and is bad for the hobby in general. Clearly this old dog isn't dead yet and can still learn some new tricks. Whether they are good for the industry in the long run, only time will tell.

Monday 11 January 2010

Roleplaying Accents

When I first started writing this article my intention was to give some pointers on how to achieve different accents. But it soon became apparent that this isn't as easy as it sounds (no pun intended). I asked for some feedback from my group and what the Evil GM said pretty much summed up the experience of all our group. "Once I tried a different verbal style for my PC. It lasted one sentence. By the time the other players had stopped laughing I'd already decided never again."

So how can roleplayers enhance their character with an accent that doesn't leave the other players rolling around on the floor? Here are a few tips to creating a basic accent for your latest Character.
  • Pick a famous person with an accent and focus on imitating them. Mimicry is actually a universal talent, it just takes a little practice. Unless you are very very good (in which case you need to change your job) nobody will know who you are imitating.
  • Another approach is to try using Dialect to mimic an accent. For example using 'Aye' instead of 'Yes' or 'Och' as an exclamation of surprise to simulate a Scottish accent. Using the odd word like this makes it seem like your using an accent when your not. But beware of stereotypes.
  • Change the pitch of your voice. Higher or lower. It'll sound different from normal and will stand out as an accent in its own right.
  • Change some letters in the words you pronounce. Russian for instance can be simulated by deepening the voice and replacing the strong V's with W's... so Vodka becomes Woodka.
  • To create a disciplined, Teutonic accent (German) you do the opposite and replace the W's with the V sound, so. Welcome would become Velcome for instance. Also replace the Th sound with the D sound so Thank You would become Dank You.
  • Sometimes not saying anything is an accent in itself. Our gaming group had a rather thick Half-Orc character that said little, and when he did it was monosyllabic. I always considered that Character to have an accent, although nothing formal was used.
  • Use the Internet. It always helps when trying to recreate a dialect or accent to hear it for real. Use YouTube and other sites to listen to the accent you are trying to develop.
  • Getting an accent perfect isn't as important as making your character distinctive. If you remain consistent in your approach, even if you only apply a subtle touch or phrase, you will create a successful persona for your character that will be memorable.
The only other advise I can give you if your determined to go whole hog, is practice, practice, practice. I guarantee that your Character will be remembered long after the game has ended.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Big Picture : Lancaster

This weeks Big Picture is two for the price of one. This is the Lancaster Bomber Just Jane. I wrote about this last year but these are the full resolution pictures of this fully working aircraft. Just click on the picture.

From BigLee's Miniature Adventures

From BigLee's Miniature Adventures

Saturday 9 January 2010

Curse You, Pickled Egg!

I can't sleep. Now and again I have a night when the brain just won't shut down. I lay in bed will all manner of useless, disjointed rubbish bouncing around my cranium and I just can't drift off to sleep. Tonight is one of those nights, so I decided to get up, have a glass of milk and then go back to bed and try again. I don't hold out much hope for success. Last time this happened I was awake till nearly 4am.

Oh, in case your wondering, I didn't eat a pickled egg before bed. It just sounded funny when I was trying to come up with a title for this post.

Night night.

The Pristine Tomb

I caught the middle of a rather cheesy B-Movie the other night while looking for something to watch. I've no idea what the film was called, and I didn't hang around long enough to grasp the plot (if there was any). One of the reasons I swept past this film so quickly was the scene I watched. An adventuring archaeologist - a rip off of a popular Harrison Ford character - was entering a tomb he said had been sealed over 3000 years before.

Before I proceed let me say that I enjoy films and can ignore some level of disconnect from reality. I'm happy to allow willing suspension of disbelief (or "Willy Suspension" as Baldric put it in Blackadder Goes Forth) if it means enjoying a good story. But this movie took things to a whole new level.

First off there was no Dust. A tomb unopened for 3000 years and not a speck of dust has fallen. The ancient artefact's looked like they had come straight from the props department (which of course they had). Second there was the ubiquitous trap sprung by three millennium old rope that was as elastic as it was the day it was bought from the hardware store. Finally the walls of this underground stone chamber wobbled... dear lord... I thought the age of wobbly walls ended with the William Hartnell era Doctor Who.

I guess the thing that irked me most was that it looked just how a tomb would look in some D&D games. No debris, no dust or sand blocking doorways, every item found is in pristine condition and every trap works perfectly. When I think back to my very early days of dungeon crawls such a scene would never have bothered me. It's not that I've lost my Suspension of Disbelief, but I guess I've learned to like a little realism in my fantasy.

Friday 8 January 2010

Painted White

I just came across this stunning image of the UK from space taken yesterday by the Terra Satellite and posted on-line by NASA. I didn't go to work yesterday for various reasons, but the snow was a significant factor. I took the time to read my book, did a little painting and did some writing... and generally felt very guilty about taking the day off work (honest). But having seen this stunning picture of the UK blanketed in snow I feel less guilty. We are experiencing very unusual weather and the forecasters are already predicting this could be the coldest winter in the UK since records began - and were not even half way through yet.

I've gone to work today (more roads were salted/gritted so driving is a little safer) but I have a feeling this won't be the last 'snow day' I have this winter. The only problem with being in work is that looking at this picture of Britain undercoated white is making me think about all the painting projects I have yet to get started.

Thursday 7 January 2010

One Year Old and Counting

A couple of days ago this blog hit its first anniversary. This is a significant moment for any blog, to have survived its first year not only intact but thriving. In the first year it has received over 42,000 page loads (28,000+ Visitors) which is both amazing and humbling. Thank you everyone for your support. During the last year I've managed to write a staggering 435 posts and here are a selection of my favorites and some of the most popular pages.

  • In January one of my first big articles was about Lead Rot, Myth or Reality. I was very happy with the way this article shaped up and it has proved a consistently popular page, receiving hits throughout the year.
  • In February I posted pictures of my completed Hannibal Barca model. I still consider this my best work of the year and the model has pride of place in my display cabinet.
  • In March I posted a series of article leading up to Salute 09 called The Seven Days of Salute. To date no series of articles had proved to be as popular and to have generated as many hits as these.
  • In April I managed to visit the Bovington Tank Museum just a few days before falling seriously ill with an infection.
  • After a four week recovery period I finally got back to work and back to painting. In so doing I decided to write about my new found love for Windsor & Newton Brushes. Another extremely popular post from May was Dungeon Floor Tiles. I also wrote about my good friend Dave Stokes and his art blog.
  • June brought a local wargaming show, Rampage 09, and multi part photo report of the event.
  • In July I posted an article about Writing a Campaign Journal which I was very happy with. I also attended one of my favorite wargames shows at the Eastborne Redoubt.
  • I usually visit a Living History event during the summer but in August I went to one I had never done before, at Damyns Hall in Rainham. This was only its fourth year but was excellent and I will definitely be attending again this summer.
  • Before the kids went back to school in September we visited the Royal Engineers Museum in Chatham. I also wrote a review of Das Reich by Max Hastings.
  • October saw the return of the SELWG show after a two year hiatus due to maintenance work at its home in Crystal Palace. Also in October I posted a review of the excellent book Band of Brigands about the development of the Tank in WWI.
  • I did my Last show of 2009 at Dragonmeet in November. My daughter also went to Ypres with the school and wrote a Guest Post for me which attracted some nice feedback.
  • I wrote a well received post on recruiting new players at the beginning of December as was my article on The Golden Age of Gaming.
All in all its been a very successful and very busy first year for this blog and I'm hoping it will continue to grow and develop over the next 365 days.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Because they look good

Roleplaying games and tabletop Wargames usually involve a significant tactical element to the game play. So I think it would be a reasonable assumption that most people that play these games would describe themselves as tactically minded. But is this always the case or do we actually make choices (on unit selection for instance) for other reasons?
In a recent email exchange between myself and The Evil GM we got to discussing this very subject. "Back in our Wargaming days, if I'm honest there were some units & models I used not because of tactical considerations, but just because I liked the models. Take the Warhammer epic mad boyz for instance - they were almost impossible to control, you just put them somewhere you thought would give them the best chance to be useful and hoped they'd do something. A complete unknown quantity who most battles did sweet FA, but I just liked the idea and always used them. Or the Goff - one of the few mobs I'd painted and I liked the job I'd done so included them every battle whether they were appropriate or not.

In roleplaying, I'm sure I'm not the only GM who tailors a story or battle just so I can use my favourite new models just because I like them. How many of our decisions are hard nosed tactical choices or carefully crafted to drive the story and how many are just because model 'x' looks cool and we want to use it?"

I know I have written more than one D&D encounter around a cool model I have recently acquired. In fact I have even been known to retain some 'secret' models - hidden away, sometimes for years - for use at some unspecified time in the future. I'm also the sort of player who chooses feats and powers for roleplaying characters not because they are powerful but because I think they suite my character. Of course the power gamer might approach such choices from a different perspective but I suspect that many players, like myself, have more aesthetic concerns.

I think one of the reasons this is the case is because those of us that play miniatures based games instead of computer games have a different perspective. Yes we want to play games of tactics and strategy and we want to win, but we also want to play with our toys. For us owning, painting and handling the miniatures is as important as playing the game itself.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Lincoln : A Foreigners Quest

I've just finished reading a very engaging biography about Abraham Lincoln. I'm not normally drawn towards Biographies, the real person is rarely as interesting as the myth or legend you grew up with. But in this book the story woven by the author Jan Morris increases ones admiration for the 16th President of the United States rather than decreases it.

Born in Somerset, England, Morris looks in at Lincoln with a very English eye but also the dry wit that is typical of anyone that hails from the Mendip Hills. From the very first pages I felt that to truly appreciate Lincoln you needed to be a foreigner looking in. That's not to say that Americans don't understand the man but that when writing a biography there is an advantage to being culturally detached and immune from the sentimentalism attached to the life of the subject. The result is a picture of a true giant of history that has both clarity and incite.
I have long had an interest in the history of the American Civil War but I must admit to having remained ignorant of the bulk of Lincoln's story. Born into a poor Kentucky family this unassuming, some might say unhandsome man, rose to the presidency and forged a nation almost through force of personality alone. But it was his speeches - the greatest of them being The Gettysburg Address- that made this gentle man of humble origins into the legend he has become today.

If you read no other biography of Abraham Lincoln I think you could do much worse than pick up this slender volume which is both thoughtful and though provoking. Morris takes the reader on an intellectual journey across 19th century America that blends narrative, history and biography to reveal the real man that would eventually become the most iconic of American Presidents.

Monday 4 January 2010


Yesterday this Blog hit something of a milestone with its 50th Follower joining our little community. Welcome Joe and all the other new recruits that have become followers in the last few weeks (Robert, Andrath, Berman, jmilesr & others). I'll try not to let you down. Please feel free to comment on anything you read. Feedback is always helpful when deciding what to write about, and it's always nice to know I'm not talking to myself.

Building the Thunderer

My Great Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Hadley, was an iron worker at the Thames Ironworks in Canning Town. The Ironworks was one of the great employers of the area and was in part responsible for creating Canning Town by attracting skilled labour (including my forebear) into the area. The first Iron Hulled vessel (the Warrior) was built here in 1860 and the ironworks went on to fulfil admiralty ship orders for another 60 years. One of the last great ships to be built here was the HMS Thunderer.
Thunderer was a massive ship (22,500 tons) compared to the Warrior and had to be brought down the Thames to Dagenham - my home town - to be outfitted for active service. She served as Admiral Jellicoe's flagship at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916 taking part in a shelling duel with a Kunig Class battleship that left the latter burning and sinking. The Thunderer ended her days as a training ship for cadets in the 1920's.

Its strange where history takes us. In the early days of Canning Town the area had little or no sanitation, flooded regularly, diseases of poverty such as Cholera were rampant and child mortality was high. I sometimes wonder what my ancestor - someone for whom the rough realities of life would have been evident every day - would think of our relatively pampered lifestyle in the 21st Century. I doubt if Thomas would have had time for such trivial things as Games.