Sunday 28 February 2010

Big Picture : Hand Cannon

This is a replica Elizabethan hand-held gun - halfway between a small cannon and a musket. This sort of weapon was loud, produced a lot of smoke and (when filled with grape-shot) lethal to infantry. However its range was limited and was most effectively employed at close quarters on board ships or in prepared defensive positions.
From The Big Picture
This replica was on display at the English Heritage property Tilbury Fort a few years ago.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Three Dimensional Mapping

Anyone who has ever played D&D will instantly be familiar with the use of graph or grid paper to draw maps as an adventure unfolds. Often the GM's map will be much more detailed than the players but eventually both sides of the GM screen will have an essentially identical map. But some time ago I discovered a different type of graph paper and it put a hole new dimension into my map making.

Here's an example of a simple dungeon layout but presented in two different ways. The first example isn't strictly 3d but it does allow the GM to show vertical changes in floor level easily and graphically.
Here's the same plan but on standard grid paper.
An excellent site for different types of Paper is Print Free Graph Paper which does exactly what it's name suggests.

"Fundamentally, a good map should enhance the factors which make dungeon crawling enthralling: for instance, exploration, player decision making, uncovering hidden areas and secrets, as well as maintaining the pace of action."
(Source: Melan "Dungeon Mapping" at

Friday 26 February 2010

High or low Magic Settings?

As a writer and GM I am always looking for ways to re-imagine the setting of my games. The D&D world settings are typically very high magic with magical armour, weapons and artefact's as standard fare in all games. Indeed in 4th edition this seems to have been increased and magical items have become an essential part of progression and maintaining balance as the players increase in levels. But is it possible to play D&D in a low magic setting or should you be looking for an alternative game to play?

Evil GM " Hmm, Low Magic=Good, High Magic=Bad? I guess it's just a matter of taste and how familiar you want your fantasy. Personally I don't like magic to overcome all obstacles - ie a magic shelter to protect from the wind, a magical ever-filling cup, a bag that provides an endless supply of provisions. Maybe that's down to the style of fantasy novel I was brought up on - I remember reading the likes of David Eddings where magic wasn't something you used everyday to overcome every slightest issue - the characters still had to find food, got wet and miserable when it rained and got lost from time to time. I guess it made the stories and characters more accessible if, despite their magic powers, awesome weapon skills, ninja-like stealth etc they still faced the same issues we could imagine ourselves facing in similar situations. Hence I've always had a fondness for the 'book-keeping' side of the game - do you have enough rations, who has the torch, does the Wizard have his spell components, is your PC carrying enough to be encumbered yet etc. And for that to work you need a relatively low magic world.

But in the context of a fantasy RPG I can see the argument for removing these fairly mundane tasks with a little magic 'faerie dust' so the PC's can concentrate on the 'fun' parts of the game - storming floating castles, defeating fierce ogres, disabling deadly traps and solving fiendish puzzles without having to slope off home every few games to get more bread and bat guano, and counting every gold piece to see if your PC can still walk under the weight of all that loot. And as soon as magic is commonplace enough to solve all the mundane issues you will normally have a high magic campaign.

As for High vs Low tech - just doesn't do it for me. I've never been a fan of Steam Power or Gunpowder in D&D, and even Techno magic leaves me cold. Never bothers me when we play 'modern' games - Call of Cthulu, Dr Who, Buffy etc, but I like my fantasy medieval so ban anything overly technical. In fact my Anval campaign was originally conceived with a bronze age level of technology, but as soon as the players started creating their PC's and wanted Plate Mail, Repeating Crossbows and the like I dropped that idea to avoid keep saying 'no' to the players."

My personal leaning is that a setting that includes magic cannot stick to medieval 'norms' of technology and therefore its application should be carefully controlled by the game system. Magic in effect becomes a replacement for science in a fantasy setting and I would expect some bizarre and incongruous combinations of inventions to exists in any world where magic was as universal as it is in the current edition of D&D.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Daytime TV

I've been off work for a couple of days with a virus of some kind. I won't go into details, but it hasn't been pretty. I've spent a lot of time sleeping or laying on the sofa looking pathetic and annoying the wife. I hate being ill.

On the plus side I have spent the best part of two days watching some interesting TV. But surely, I hear you say, daytime TV is the domain of chat shows and cookery programmes. Well yes there is a lot of rubbish on during the day, but surprisingly there's also a few gems as well. Two channels in particular had an interesting selection of documentaries (Discovery and Yesterday (formerly the History Channel)). I'm not sure what sort of audience they think are watching in the middle of the day, but as a weak and pathetic sick person I appreciated something interesting to watch and take my mind off how awful I felt.

One programme stood out for me, Killer Tanks. I've not seen this before and It was full of interesting little details and interviews that brought the subject to life. Now all I have to do is either throw a few more sick days or learn how to programme the video recorder.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Painting the Panther (Pt 2)

The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf. A (Sd.Kfz.171) was arguably one of the best tanks of WWII. The 7.5cm armour piercing shell of the Panther was capable of penetrating 111mm of armour at 1000 meters and 89mm of armour at 2000 meters making the panther a formidable weapon. With a 46km/hr top speed (on roads) it was also fast for a tank of its size - certainly faster and more agile than the feared Tiger Tank.
This vehicle has taken some damage and has lost sections of the Zimmerit coating on the hull revealing the bare metal below. Zimmerit was used to protect tanks against magnetic mines. The coating itself wasn't anti magnetic rather its ridged application ensured magnetic mines did not have a secure grip and would fall off under their own weight or the vibration of the vehicle. I put the 3 digit identification number on the back of the turret rather than the sides. The crew of this vehicle has hung spare track sections on the sides as added protection. I actually took inspiration from a photo in a reference book that showed this same configuration for the number on a panther covered in spares and camouflage.
I'm quite happy with how the camouflage looks ob this model. I didn't extend the camo stripes into the 'deck' of the tank and it makes the whole model much brighter as a result. Again this is based on some reference pictures I have that show a similar camo design.
I have a box of Five other Panthers waiting to be painted but I'm holding off painting these until I have finished my next big project.... more on that later.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Painting the Panther (Pt 1)

I've been working on a Panther Tank (Ausf A) from the Panzer Kanonen boxed set. I wanted to give this model some special attention because it is supposed to be a command vehicle and because I like the Panther. For me it's one of my favorite tanks of the second world war.

This model by Battlefront required a significant amount of construction before undercoating. While I'm sure the finished model looks historically accurate the parts don't seem to have been made with the modeller or gamer in mind. By that I mean there is little or no reinforcing at the joint of various parts making the finished vehicle very delicate. For example the front mudguards fit one straight edge to another with no support to hold them in place. One miss placed finger and they would fall off, not ideal for models designed to be played with. To overcome this problem I reinforced the joints underneath where they could not be seen. I still think its a weak build and only time (and handling) will tell.

Once the model had been constructed I used GW Chaos Black to prime it ready for painting. This does make bright colours darker so I usually add two coats of basecoat (drybrushed initially) to produce strong block of colour.
I then used a dark brown wash to make the Zimmerit coating stand out and to accentuate the shadows before giving the whole model a light drybrush of Ivory to bring out the highlights and define hard edges. With this done I then focused on the detail, starting with the areas where the Zimmerit coating had been battle damaged.
I gave the bare metal areas a layer of German Grey and then picked out the edges using a Terracotta colour. Individual spots of orange were then added. This then needed to be toned down with a very light drybrush of Wolf Grey and a few small splotches of German Grey again on those areas where I thought the 'rust' was too bold.

The next step was picking out the tracks and other items in the red oxide colour that was typical on lots of German equipment (pretty much everything left German factory's primed this way) . I then focused on the various 'scenic' elements; Camouflage nets, crates, oil drum; personal equipment etc.

I spent quite a bit of time on the commander trying to get the insignia right but I'm not sure I've put enough contrast into his jacket. I need to work on this in future projects. 15mm figures are just so damned small compaired to 28mm !

Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the finished piece.

Monday 22 February 2010

Wargames Illustrated 269

I've received my copy of the March Issue of Wargames Illustrated, number 269. This months Theme is the English Civil War.

  • Prince Rupert : The Devil on Horseback - An article about Prince Rupert including a good painting guide.
  • The Skirmish at Powick Bridge - The first action of the English Civil War was little more than a minor encounter but is an interesting one to recreate on the games table.
  • The Battle of Edgehill - The first proper large-scale battle of the war, notorious for Prince Rupert’s devastating cavalry charge.
  • The Battle of Birmingham - Prince Rupert’s forces descend on the Parliamentarian stronghold of Birmingham. A tactical wargame using the 1644 ruleset.
  • The Battle of Marston Moor - The beginning of the end for Rupert’s command in the Royalist army. You will find all the background and a scenario for re-fighting this seminal ECW battle.
  • Point of the Spear - A FOW article about the Airborne commanders of the allied mission codenamed Market Garden.
  • 1588 and all That - In this series of three articles Tim Eagling explores the gaming opportunities offered by Elizabethan England.
  • Great Warrirors : The Landsknechts - A new, irregular series of articles begins with a look at the Landsknechts.
  • A Rearguard Action near Genappe 1815 - A scenario for one of the lesser known conflicts of the Hundred Days campaign; the Battle of Genappe.
  • Kaukopartiojoukot 1942-44 - A Flames Of War briefing for Finland’s long-range reconnaissance troops. A very interesting article on what is, for me, a little known corner of the war.
  • Sluys 1340 - A study of a medieval naval battle off the coast of France presented with some quick play rules.
  • Let it Snow - Jason Buyaki provides an excellent guide to painting and modelling snow and ice effects for the battlefield. I particularly like the ideas for creating a frozen river.

My first quick scan of this issue has whetted my appetite and it looks as good as ever. I've not gamed the ECW but the articles here look interesting and I think will appeal to a wide range of players.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Big Picture : Imperial War Museum

This weeks Big Picture is from the Imperial War Museum, in London. This is a Mark V Male Tank, although the Starboard gun sponson has been removed to create a 'view panel' into the tanks interior. Only eleven Mark V's are known to survive, most in Russia where large numbers were sent to support the White Russian Army in the war against the Bolsheviks.
From The Big Picture

It's been a couple of years since my last visit - a deficiency I should try and rectify this year. The main hall of the museum holds the large exhibits and its few locations where you can turn 360° on the spot and see a Mk V; a Sherman; a Jagdpanther; a Sopwith Camel ; a Spitfire; a V1 & V2 and a Polaris Missile!

Saturday 20 February 2010

Putting Brush to Metal

I'm planning on getting some serious painting done this weekend. I've been lingering on a single project for too long and I need to get it finished. I also have a couple more ideas in the pipeline that need to be started. I'm a painfully slow painter at the best of times but the last week or so has been slow going.

I've nearly finished the Panther A from the Panzer Kanonen boxed set. I have a few last details to paint then I have to add the insignia decals and then I can varnish. I'm pushing the boat out with this model and going for the best paint job I can do, just to see what I can achieve in 15mm. The previous FoW vehicles I painted were a more basic (read: practical) paint job. It'll be interesting to hold the two styles up next to each other so see if the difference is significantly noticeable on the game table.

Right, that's it from me today. I'm putting the computer away until Monday to avoid distractions from painting - although the usual Sunday Big Picture will be posted tomorrow.

Friday 19 February 2010

Castle Revenloft Boardgame

I've just read about an interesting new release from Wizards of the Coast (makers of D&D) due out in August 2010. Castle Ravenloft is a cooperative game for 1-5 Players and is set in the home of Count Strahd von Zarovich's castle in the realm of Ravenloft. Created by veteran designers Bill Slavicsek and Mike Mearls the product was first announced in August last year so its a much anticipated release.

Here's some info on the game from the WotC website: "Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within. Designed for 1-5 players, this boardgame features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative game play."

This game comes with the following components:

  • 40 plastic heroes and monsters
  • 13 sheets of interlocking cardstock dungeon tiles
  • 200 encounter and treasure cards
  • Rulebook
  • Scenario book
  • 20-sided die

Unlike similar games (eg Descent) Castle Ravenloft is designed to be played in an hour. Combined with the random tiles, wandering monsters, and character modela, this sounds an awful lot like a version of Dungeonquest. Having said that it remains to be seen how much this new game plays like its predecessors or if it will be influenced by the new 4th edition D&D ruleset. Its being billed as a "D&D Experience" so my bet is that there will be similarities in style to the current edition of D&D.

There's also been plenty of debate in online forums like ENWorld about the possibility of using existing D&D miniatures in the game (complementing the 40 models that come with the game itself). There has been relatively little info about what models come in the game although I have read here that one will be a Huge Dracolich!

Castle Ravenloft is currently targeted at a retail price of $65 and has a scheduled release date of August 17 2010.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Aspect of Tiamat

The Dagenham Dungeon Delvers met again last week in an almost unprecedented second game in a row without cancelling. I've not had time until now to download the pictures from the game but now that I have one thing stands out. Meeting the Aspect of Tiamat was a brown trouser moment. Let me explain...

Our characters have entered a dungeon complex deep underground that has been occupied by a Dark Elf and her Orc minions. The complex was once a temple to necromantic evil and she is digging in collapsed tunnels seeking a treasure trove of evil artifacts supposedly buried here. When I say she is digging that's a misnomer; the real work is being done by a group of Halfling slaves, including the father of the two Halfling adventurers in our party. Our mission to rescue the Halflings has been an eventful one. The abandoned temple is situated at a weak spot between the real world and the shadow realm. Its not a pleasant experience looking at the walls and seeing shadows leaping and cavorting across the plaster.

Having cleared the upper level (our entrance point) without raising the alarm we decided to rest and begin our rescue attempt the next morning. But during the night our Dragonborn Paladin had a nightmare linked to a crisis of faith that threatens to overturn his dedication to his god, Krull. Part of that nightmare and crisis took the form of an encounter with the Aspect of Tiamat. the GM presented the encounter in a way that left all of us wondering if this was a dream or reality. This dungeon complex is strange enough to have us all second guessing, but when faced with the aspect we all silently prayed it was just a bad dream.

Up till this point in the game the normal chatter and joking around between players marked this as a typical game session... then the Aspect model was placed on the table and everyone fell silent. Various oaths and curses followed as we all scrabbled for our character sheets thinking "how the hell are we going to beat this!?!". Fortunately the GM wasn't about to unleash this on us and the whole episode was a dream designed to test the faith of the Paladin.

The rescue attempt was a success by the way and we vanquished (read: 'splatted') the Dark Elf and her Orcs in a surprise attack that had them on the back foot from the first turn of combat. Our game session overran a little to finish this encounter but it was totally worth it. The only problem is we now have a dozen half dead Halflings to protect on our return trip to civilisation. Somehow I can't see the GM giving us a quiet trip home.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

More Scaremongering

Here's a recent new article about a supposed link between D&D and a murder. Suspect in slays fan of ‘Dungeons’. Ignore the poor standard of English in the title and brace yourself to read some utter rubbish. Its hard to believe that such poor reporting and nonsense still makes it into the press these days... what am I saying!

Here's the TPM thread that alerted me to this article, which has some interesting and valid comments. For me the idea that owning a copy of D&D, or being a player is an obvious motive for murder is just ludicrous. The article is suggesting a cause and effect based entirely on pre conceived bias and supposition. Its like saying that 100% of Murders occur after the murderer was born. Its a completely accurate statement but utterly disingenuous.

Right, I'll get off my soapbox now...

Clacton Hobby Store

Today's post is one of an occasional series on Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS). Clacton Art Craft & Model Centre definitely deserves its place in this series and is a store I try and visit whenever I have occasion to go to Clacton. This is a family run business run by Carol Paterson since its establishment in 1982. It is situated in the heart of the town's shopping district, right opposite a very convenient car park.

The store serves both the art and hobby communities in this very well stocked shop. The inside is what I call delightfully crowded and characterful. After I left the store I scribbled a few words in my notebook including the phrase "Aladdin's Cave". When I got home and looked up the shops website I was pleasantly amused to see those same words. Stepping inside this shop really does feel like your entering a magical world. There are so many products on display that I could easily loose myself in places like this for hours.

Aside from a wide range of 'craft' products for Card-making, stencilling, calligraphy etc. there is also a wide range of Game/Hobby products for the wargamer or miniatures painter. There is a well stock selection of fine watercolour and acrylics brushes by makes like Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney. They also stock an impressive range of acrylic and oil base paints suitable for the artist or miniatures painter alike, including a full range of Humbrol and Citadel Paints.

Hornby products are well represented in this shop as are a wide selection of building materials that will be familiar to the model railway or wargames enthusiast alike. Also available are a selection of Airfix and Revell plastic kits.

The store also stocks a selection of Games Workshop miniatures for the Lord of the Rings games and for 40K. In addition they also stock the pre painted D&D and Star Wars Miniatures. Last but not least they have a selection of CCG's including Magic the Gathering, World of Warcraft and Dark Millennium.

This is really is a fun and interesting shop to visit and they have taken obvious care to stock as wide a selection of products as possible without loosing quality or sacrificing product knowledge. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and I have never felt uncomfortable taking my time to browse their wares before making a purchase. If you have an excuse to visit Clacton then I recommend a slight detour (some might call it a side-quest) to visit this store.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Bleak Midwinter

My kids are on their Half Term holiday this week, and I've taken a few days off with them and my wife. But this has to be the coldest, bleakest, most depressing time of the year to have a holiday. We've only been doing day-trips but when the temperature is hovering around Zero and the sky is steely grey and windswept it's hard to be enthusiastic. However, being Brits, we've managed to get a trip to the seaside in (I know, insane..) and several family visits. If I haven't developed Pneumonia by the end of the week then I'm doing something wrong!

All this is by way of a feeble excuse for not doing any painting this week. By the time we get home of an evening I'm shivering too much to paint anything with precision. I'm a little over half way through painting a Panther A so I should have that done in a week or so (I'm a dreadfully slow painter - far too many distractions). Needless to say I'll post pictures when I finish. In the meantime I need to find my sunglasses and swimming costume... were off to the beach again this afternoon.

That Errol Flynn Moment

Us gamers can be a right boring lot sometimes. It's like we've spent a lifetime nurturing our creativity and then put a cork in the bottle to stop it escaping. We've become worshipers of min-maxing, dedicated to rules-lawyering and slaves to convention. What am I rambling about I hear you say. I'm talking about impetuousness and those acts of seeming stupidity that define the ordinary character from the hero.

When was the last time your character leapt on a table and kicked a bowl of food in the face of his enemy? When was the last time one of the party swung through a melee, hanging from a chandelier? When was the last time your party threw caution to the winds to save the day? Could it be that we have become conventional in our playing, striving for safety over action? Shudder!

Swinging from a chandelier may not be sensible or tactically wise, but is heroic and in the best tradition of those old Hollywood classics. It could end badly or it could be a turning point in a battle. As players we have a responsibility, nay a Duty, to have fun. Stop playing it safe and do something rash and heroic for a change. Take the initiative and shock your enemies (and fellow players) by being unpredictable.

Responsibility for turning this tide of conventionalism is not just in the hands of the player. The GM needs to be flexible with the rules (an anathema to the rules lawyer) and be prepared to reward acts of gross heroism/stupidity. Give bonus XP for those Errol Flynn moments and encourage players to be the hero's we envisaged when we first rolled their stats. If necessary throw the rulebook away and just run with it.

One last thought. If you thought rashness and daring-do were just the province of Hollywood then pull out a history book. Their are dozens of examples of hero's that risked everything to achieve the impossible. T.E. Lawrence, Hannibal, Douglas Bader and William Wallace to name but a few. All of these heroes failed, all made mistakes but we remember them for those sometimes rash and impetuous actions that became moments of triumph.

Monday 15 February 2010

For Cause & Comrades

I read For Cause & Comrades a few years ago and decided to pick it up again because it was such a good read. This book does not try to explain the reasons for the American Civil War but instead looks inside each soldier - on both sides - and asks, what made them fight.

The thing I liked most about this book is that it was filled with the voices of the men that took up arms. Literacy was high amongst ordinary soldiers and they were prolific letter writers. Those communications that have survived paint a picture of life and death amongst the common soldiers in a way that that had previously only been the preserve of the learned officer class.

The author, James McPherson, tries to answer a very important question. How does an army hold itself together in the face of extreme hardship. What is it that stops its constituent parts from packing up and going home. This question is all the more relevant when looking at the armies of the south, consisting largely of volunteers. Unlike the North, which raised new conscripts throughout the war, many Southern soldiers saw service until death or defeat brought that service to an end.

McPherson concludes that religion, honour and duty played a great part in holding these men together. But perhaps more surprising is that he found men on both sides considered themselves to be fighting for the same principles of liberty, freedom, justice, and patriotism. Tales of families split by the war - Brother verses Brother, Father verses Son - have become common folk law. But the real tragedy of the Civil War is that the soldiers of both sides were not as different as history would like to believe.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Big Picture : British Museum

The British Museum is without a doubt one of my favorite places in London. I have been visiting it since I was a wee nipper and even today I can find new and exciting exhibits in its many galleries.
From The Big Picture

The Great Court (pictured) was once an open space, but in 1857 the Reading Room was built in the center. Other buildings followed and slowly the courtyard was obscured. In 1997 the Library Department was moved to a new facility in St Pancras and Lord Foster won the contract to redesign this lost courtyard. The new Great Court with its glass roof was opened in December 2000 and is, for me, one of the most amazing open spaces in the whole city.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Conflicting Backstories

Following on from yesterdays article about teamwork today I want to talk about Backstories. Some players are not interested in writing a history for their character. The PC just pops into existence at the appropriate time and goes on an adventure. Then there are those players who write an Epic narrative for their characters complete with family tragedy, personal epiphany and a Nemesis or two. But what happened when two Backstories collide?

The long suffering GM has several jobs to balance when writing a game. First he has a story to tell; second he has players he needs to motivate to explore that story; and third, he has several back stories that need to be nurtured and developed. This latter part can be frustratingly difficult to do because unlike the other elements in the puzzle the GM often has little or no control over the Characters past histories. Here are four ways in which the GM can take the creativity of the players and run with it.

Pick one bit and expand on it. A character backstory could be as little as one paragraph and as long as a piece of string (trust me, I've seen some whoppers!). If the GM tries to incorporate everything into his game their will likely be no time to explore the adventure laid out before the players. I found that by taking just one bit of a backstory and weaving it into the game your both acknowledging the effort the player put into writing a history and giving them a direct and personal link into the adventure. Its also easier to take one small bit and then expand on it than taking a complex chunk and trying to make it fit into the game.

Find common threads. Roleplayers tend to have similar backgrounds. if you were to look at the books they have read you'll probably find the same list of Fantasy classics coming up time and again. Consequently many character histories have similar themes of hardship, tragedy, trials of personal strength and ultimate triumph over adversity. The rag tag group of adventurers may have come together by accident but they could find they have a common bond and shared values (even if their alignment is different).

Link stories in unexpected ways. Taking the idea of using a small element from a character history a step further, why not link those bits in some tangible physical way. If two PC's are orphans, make the killer of both families the same man.

Make those back stories your own. Use character backstories as a starting point, develop them and bring them to a common point. This approach doesn't invalidate anything the players have written but it does bring stories together into one single thread that can then be exploited by the GM.

Diverse and conflicting backstories can be a challenge. But they should also be looked on as an opportunity to make adventures more personalised and rewarding to play.

Friday 12 February 2010


As the old -and much maligned - saying goes, there is no I in Team. Yet when we write up our Characters there is often little or no mutual connection between the characters and each comes with his own intricate (and sometimes conflicting) back story and motivations. Wouldn't it be better if all the characters were created together, with a unifying motivation guiding them towards their goal?

Unity of purpose can create a streamlined and efficient team but it can be constricting and even act as a hindrance. I like to think of the analogy of a multi billion dollar business that had a strong and well defined mission statement. The company actively pursued this mission and encouraged all its staff to strive for the same goal. Yet ultimately such inflexible dedication brought about a paralysing lack of imagination that stopped them from seeing the disaster they were creating for themselves. And when that business came to grief it took the whole of the financial sector with it and ultimately failed to achieve its mission in the most spectacular act of self destruction seen for 80 years.

Individuality may not be efficient but it is dynamic and can throw up unpredictable strengths. One is the ability to deal with a wide variety of situations. This is why we don't create an adventure party that consists wholly of fighters or clerics. The strength of the team comes from its differences, not its similarities. I think this is even more evident in 4th Edition D&D than in previous versions. In 3.5e for instance the adventuring party sometimes felt and acted like a group of individuals that just happened to be going in the same direction as each other. In 4th edition the subtle interplay between the powers of different PC's can produce some stunning and unexpected results.

That's not to say that individuality doesn't have its restrictions. Extravagant and conflicting back stories can be a nightmare for a GM to circumnavigate. But that's a subject for another day.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Rogue Trooper

Rogue Trooper was a Boardgame published in 1987 by Games Workshop. Designed by Richard Halliwell the game was based on the popular 2000AD comic strip of the same name. This was a game for 2-6 players although it worked best with 4 or more. A typical game could last a couple of hours so it was a good evening filler.

Rogue was a Genetic Infantryman on the world of Nu-Earth where the Southers fight the Norts in a dirty battle of chemical and biological warfare that has made the atmosphere lethal. The genetic infantry were designed to survive and breath this toxic atmosphere but were almost completely wiped out in the Quartz Zone Massacre. They were betrayed by someone on their own side and the sole surviving GI, Rogue, has dedicated his life to hunting down the traitor.

The Boardgame takes a few liberties with the storyline allowing all six players to play a different GI, all searching for the traitor. (Picture from The game used a hex game board representing different areas of Nu Earth and several packs of cards for equipment, encounters and enemies.

Games workshops even produces a metal Rogue Trooper model which I bought and painted to accompany the game. Unfortunately I don't know what happened to my model - I presume it went with the game when I gave it to a friend. I've recently seen a couple of near mint copies up for sale on EBay but they always seem to fetch a very high value at the end of the auction, certainly beyond my limited means. Now I look back and curse myself for parting with both items because I remember it being a great game.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Play Unsafe

I've just read an interesting and inspirational little book called Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley. The premise of the book is that using improvisation can change the way you roleplay.

This book is about finding the Zen of roleplaying. Cutting away the rules and 'work' until you are left with improvised play in its purest form. This isn't to every gamers taste, some feel safe within their framework of rules. But even if you only implement a few of the ideas in this book your roleplaying (and GM'ing) will become more spontaneous and open up unexpected possibilities for fun.

For example, in the chapter Play, Walmsley says don't plan ahead. "The stuff you make up on the fly is better. When you invent on the spot, we see the excitement on your face, hear the urgency of your voice...Without a plan, you lose control. Anything could happen".

Most of the ideas in this book are common sense but have been overlooked or pushed aside by traditional game styles. Some suggestions may go too far for some readers - such as running a game with no notes, no rulebooks and no story - but there are plenty of little gems of advice that can be incorporated into your playing style.

The Quote on the cover says it all "Quite, quite brilliant... there are few roleplaying games which wouldn't be better of they tore up a hundred or so pages of rules and replaced them with the text from Play Unsafe" (Source: RPG.Net)

This 82 page paperback is a little expensive at £12.99 from Leisure Games but must be measured against the fact that its self published (a feat in itself) and packed full of useful hints and tips.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Battlefield Robots

Yesterday the BBC ran an interesting article about the use of Battlefield Robots in modern theatres of war. The role of the Reaper Drone plane is well known but increasingly ground forces are resorting to the use of robots to venture into harms way instead of sending a soldier. Robots can be used to shoot down incoming artillery shells, attack buildings and deal with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's).

The picture above is a weapon carrying Talon robot developed by QinetiQ. The amazing thing about these vehicles is that, in many ways, they are not a million miles from a vehicle that saw service in WWII! The Germans developed a remote control mini-tank called a Goliath which was essentially a tracked mine used for battlefield demolition. This picture shows three such vehicles captured by the allies after D-Day. There's a Goliath at the Tank Museum in Bovington.

Few people would disagree with the statement "If technology can be used to reduce the danger to service personnel on the battlefield, then it should be". In practice this has lead to the use of Drones in remote and dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan which have undoubtedly saved the lives of many soldiers. The flip side of course is the unknown number of civilian casualties that come with the use of such weapons.

A lot of what I have read in recent years suggests that military thinkers are loath to make battlefield robots fully independent of human operators. A 'driver' or 'pilot' has to make a judgement call at the end of the day, and they are accountable for their actions. But a robot can only carry out its function as well as the programming that controls it. I for one am not happy at the prospect of letting the machines make their own decisions - and not just because I grew up watching the Terminator movies!

We are entering an age of technological warfare that even a few short years ago would have seemed like science fiction. These new weapons bring with them a whole range of new ethical questions that need to be addressed before we get to the battlefield. I'm very much of the school of thought that says just because you can create a thing, does not mean you have to use a thing. Restraint and humanity are what separate us from our enemies and I don't think we should ever lose sight of that.

Monday 8 February 2010

Alchemists Lab

When it comes to describing their laboratories it is all too easy to rely on clouds of coloured smoke to hide the details. Alchemists are inextricably linked to the obsessive search for a way to turn base metals into Gold. But the reality is that many were employed as doctors and philosophers, and their scientific skills were much in demand. Their laboratories were the setting in which many of the modern day lab techniques were first developed. These included:

  • Distillation – heating 2 or more liquids (mixed together) so that the liquid with the lowest boiling point (the most volatile or mot easily evaporated) is turned to vapor which is then condensed (returned to liquid state) and collected in another container.
  • Filtration – using some material which strains out solid particles from solution
  • Crystallization – causing some solution to form crystals, usually by drying it.
  • Coagulation – causing a liquid to become a soft, semi-solid mass.
  • Evaporation – using heat to cause a liquid (or some part of liquid) to be changed into a vapor.
  • Extraction – removing one liquid or solid from another mixture by using solvents that dissolve only one of the original substances, thus forming a separate layer or area where separation takes place.
  • (Source: Alchemy Notes)
These early pioneers of chemistry and science are often used in fantasy settings like D&D as a way of providing characters with non-magical weapons and useful items. This painting from the 17th Century gives a much more realistic idea of what to expect when entering the world of the Alchemist.
Looking around this painting there are many items that could be incorporated into the description of an alchemists lab. Vessels of many different sizes, glass jars, scales and weights. All in all more interesting than the stereotypical smoke shrouded, wild eyed eccentric of most fantasy games.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Big Picture : Sutton Hoo

This weeks Big Picture is a replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet. This beautiful object is on display at the National Trust site in Suffolk. The real helmet - what's left of it - is in the British Museum.

From The Big Picture

The archaeologist Basil Brown started excavating the site in 1938 and what he found was one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon burial sites in the country.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Bad Dad

My youngest daughter wanted to paint today so I set her up (complete with plastic bags as splash covers!) and gave her some old models to paint. She's only five so the standard of painting is more enthusiasm than skill but I'm hoping she'll learn a few skills - like cleaning her brush and mixing colours - which will develop as she gets older. I took a few pictures for her school scrapbook and got a little close to her as I clicked away. "DAD!" she moaned "your jogging the table!! You always say "don't jog the table""...

She'd definitely going to be a model painter when she gets older.

Colour Scheme Inspiration

Until recently I mostly painted fantasy miniatures and always struggled with colour schemes for my projects. Unlike historical models the colour pallet used by the painter of a fantasy or sci-fi model is firmly in the hands of the artist. They are after all fantasy subjects and the sky, literally, is the limit. Mind you getting the colours right on historical models can also be a challenge to the newbie, so how do you get around this painting equivalent of writers block?

Inspiration can be found in lots of places; Magazines, Books, Museums, the Internet. I make it a point of collecting interesting examples of painted miniatures or real world objects so I can refer back to them at a later date. But I often also find myself thumbing through the model catalogues of various manufacturers, and I seldom resist buying a new catalogue when I come across one.

I should stress that the object of collecting catalogues isn't necessarily about copying the colour scheme for a particular model - although I have done that for challenging projects. The aim instead is to build up a database of images and ideas that can be reviewed when planning a new painting project.

Now I can't claim to paint as good as the examples inside the pages of these catalogues but the pictures certainly provide inspiration. More importantly they give you a chance to see which colour combinations work well for a given subject. I often find it hard to visualise what a given colour scheme will look like when completed so its always handy to have some reference material to refer to when working.

For example I painted half a dozen pirate models last year and needed some ideas to make each one stand out. I used pictures I downloaded from the Internet and from catalogues, pasted them to a large board and used it as a guide while I painted. I found this particularly helpful when painting striped trousers for the first time!

Miniatures painters are often presented with a multitude of options when starting a new project so its not surprising when inspiration runs dry. But many miniature manufacturers produce colour catalogues in a bid to secure their share of the market. Naturally these are painted to a very high standard and present the painter with an excellent resource that is often overlooked and undervalued.

Friday 5 February 2010

New Layout Suggestions

Hi folks. I've just added a Painting Tally List to the sidebar. I made a New Year Resolution to paint more than last year so this tally will help keep me (and you, my conscience) informed how I am doing. I'll update it whenever I finish a new project.

I'm also considering adding new pages to my Blog. A recent new development of Blogger is the ability for users to create additional pages. This feature lets you easily publish static information - such as a Gallery for instance - on stand-alone pages. You can create ten such pages and Blogger lets you add links to them as tabs at the top of your blog, or as links in your blogs sidebar. The big question is, what to do with this new facility? So I'm throwing this out to my readers for suggestions. What pages would you like to see?

As always thanks for your feedback and ideas.

Halfling Barbarian Hut

I've finished another project and this is one that has been sitting in the sidelines for some time. I bought this resin model a couple of years ago at Salute with a very specific use in mind. Now that I'm writing the next part of my D&D Campaign game it's time I completed projects like this.
I can't give away too many details just in case my friends actually read my Blog (I live in hope).

The model is a single resin cast but was quite porous and soaked up two coats of primer before I could start painting. I then used a light brown wash to bring out the detail and help me identify what needed close detail. As always I used Vallejo Game Colour paints and gloss varnish before applying a layer of Testors Dullcote to finish.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Wind Cannon

I was surfing the Internet again yesterday, looking at random stuff and generally relaxing, when I came across this bizarre contraption. It purports to be a German Wind Cannon, designed to knock allied aircraft out of the sky with a directed vortex of air.

This devise was allegedly built in Stuttgart and was designed to fire a blast of highly pressured air and water vapour. Early experiments showed some promise with its effective range being about 200m.

"Experimental trials of the cannon at Hillersleben demonstrated that a 25mm-thick wooden board could be broken at a distance of 200m. Nitrogen peroxide was deployed in some of the experiments so that the brown color would allow the path and destination of the otherwise transparent projectile to be observed and photographed. The tests proved that a powerful region of compressed and high-velocity air could be deployed with sufficient force to inflict some damage.

However, the aerodynamics of a flying aircraft would almost surely neutralized the effectiveness of this cannon. In addition the effects of the cannon on a fast-flying aircraft was quite different from that on a fixed ground target. Still, the cannon was installed on a bridge over the Elbe, but with no significant results -- either because there were no aircraft or simply no successes (as one might suspect). The wind cannon was an interesting experiment but a practical failure."

I've since seen this picture on several other sites but they all repeat the same text (copied word for word but not credited to a source I might add) so its hard to tell if this is a genuine weapon or an Internet myth that has been copied and propagated (which of course is exactly what I'm doing!). The Nazis seemed to waste a lot of time and resources on their wonder weapons, many of which never came to fruition, so a wind cannon might not be all that improbable after all. Myth or not its intriguing.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Painting White

I recently had a couple of questions about how to paint white clothing. I've painted several figures over the last year or so that feature a significant element of white clothing or snow covered bases and I'm generally happy with the results I have achieved. Having written an explanation of my method I decided it would make a good mini-tutorial... so here it is.
Painting White

White is a tricky colour to get right. My first attempts just looked like I'd forgotten to paint over a section of white base coat. The problem is that painting white is not as simple as it first seems and requires the same techniques as painting any other colour - laying down a base colour, emphasising shading and building up highlights - but with more emphasis on the shadows than the highlights. Its the shadows that define the finished effect because they 'frame' the white highlights.

First you need to decide what colour of white you want to finish with. This may sound a little strange but by this I mean do you want a Cold or Warm finish. For a cold white you want a hint of grey in the shadows. There are lost of greys to choose from but I like the Vallejo Wolf Grey (Game Colour Range, # 47) because it has a hint of blue in it. Another good alternative is Stonewall Grey (#49) which is a neutral colour. For a warm white use a yellowish brown colour (not red!) such as Leather Brown (#40).

Some painters I have spoken with suggest painting the whole area in the darker shade colour as the base and then building up the layers of white towards the highlights. In my experience this just tones down the final effect. To get white highlights that really shine you need to start with a white undercoat and work from that. I use Vallejo White primer for this as it gives a good solid base colour that will even cover a black undercoat without obscuring details.

Once I have the base coat in place I work my way out from the shadows to the highlights concentrating on the harder to reach areas first. The beauty of working with white is that it covers sloppy work in the early stages, so if you don't get your shading quite neat enough don't panic.

To apply the shadows I mix up a strong Wash of the Shade colour with one part paint to 4 parts Water (my mixing water is actually 20% Flow improver and 80% Water which stops the wash from pooling or forming beads of liquid). In then apply the wash sparingly to the recesses in several coats until I'm happy they are dark enough (I use the Wash more like a Glaze at this stage). Bare in mind that some shadows will be darker than others - under arms or in deep folds for instance. The beauty of using a wash in this way is that you can feather the colour up towards the highlights relatively easily.

The Highlights are for me more difficult as it is here that the final effect will be achieved. If you want a dirty white you need to keep the colour just a shade off of pure colour except for the extreme highlights. If you want crisp clean white you need to make the topmost highlights solid white. I use a mixture of dry brushing and paint applied directly with a fine brush to apply the highlights. I usually start by diluting the white with my special water mix but only to a 1:1 consistency. Application at this stage is critical, too much liquid on the brush and the paint will run into the shadows and ruin your earlier work. If you lay down several thin coats like this you can build up the highlights to a pure white.

White if often considered very hard for beginners to master. However in my experience its just a matter of taking the techniques you already know and being bold in your use of them. The contrast between shade and highlight is much greater with white and the greater the contrast the more striking the finished effect.

Tuesday 2 February 2010


Our gaming group, the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers, got together last week for our first game of the year. Other responsibilities (Jobs, Kids, Partners etc) stopped us meeting earlier but on the plus side most of the gang was able to attend for a change. Despite a late start we got a lot done and this was one of the best games we've had in a long time.
One of the factors in our favour was the fact that we only had our own characters to run instead of two each. Each player was able to focus on his PC's strengths and we worked well as a team. The Evil GM tried his best to ruin our fun but with our PC's working in unison we overcame each of the three combats thrown at us easily.

Possibly the best encounter of the evening occurred when our PC's burst into a room where a Dark Elf Wizard stood chanting a spell outside a chalk circle. Inside the circle were two swarms of vicious looking red spiders. The Mage was able to break the chalk line with his foot, releasing the swarms at us, before combat started. Events unfolded fast with our own Wizard, Mindaris, casting Incendiary Detonation on the Mage, knocking him prone. There then followed a torrent of ranged attacked from our Eladrin Swordmage and the groups Halfling Brothers Janek & Jarped.

By now the Dark Elf was bloodied and in trouble... so my Dragonborn Warlord, Uthek, rushed into the room - ignoring opportunity attacks from the released spider swarms - to attack the still prone Wizard. Then Uthek used his action point to make another attack which dealt an improbably 32points of damage, killing the Dark Elf Mage stone dead. The look on the GM's face was worth every hard fought level up to this moment. His lip quivered and he whined "But my Mage didn't get to do anything"... "That's wrong...[said I]...he smudged a chalk line on the floor".

Thankfully the GM has a sense of humour.

I have to add that while my PC dealt the killing blow it was very much a team effort and proved what we could achieve when we employed our resources in a combined strategy. In that one moment of guts and glory we had shown what D&D is all about; co-operation, teamwork and good clean fun.