Wednesday 29 September 2010

SMBC does D&D

I've mentioned before my love of web comics and their ability to cut right to the heart of sometimes complex issues. One comic that I follow on a daily basis is Saturday Morning Breakfast Club. There isn't a theme as such (unless you class off the wall humor as a theme) but its guaranteed to make me laugh out loud. I'm a relative newbie to this comic - I started following it about 6 months ago - and I was taking a look through the archive of old cartoons when I found this gem.

This is clearly an Intimidate skill check and the DC has been set at 16....the problem is the player has a -10 penalty for being a Dork and a further -6 for being Ginger! And unless his luck radically changes he's almost certain to roll a 1.

Monday 27 September 2010

Heroclix DC Super Heroes

The Dagenham Dungeons Delvers gather last week for our regular game session but this time without our GM. Unable to continue our D&D campaign we decided to spend the evening playing something else. One of our group brought a HeroClix starter set of DC Super Heroes. He also had a few other (earlier) models and between them there were enough figures for three players to put together a 300point team each.

Two of us had never played HeroClix before but we were quickly able to grasp the basics of the game and understand its simple mechanics. We started off with a training game just to get acquainted with the rules them moved on to selecting our own 300pt team and battling it out against each other. And I have to say it was great fun.

Battle on a HeroClix town scape
 In many ways what we were doing wasn't a great deal different to our regular D&D games where combat (and the use of miniatures on a map) is a large element of each game. I saw a strong parallel between the powers and abilities of the HeroClix system and the powers used on 4e characters. Certainly the combat didn't feel much different from playing out a 4e combat scenario.

The Green Lantern goes head to head with The Scarecrow
Clearly we are not about to abandon our D&D campaign to concentrate on HeroClix but I suspect that this won't be the last time we don the Spandex (metaphorically speaking of course) and battle it out against fellow superheroes. 

Sunday 26 September 2010

Big Picture : Artifact from R'lyeh

This strange artifact is in the British Museum and is listed as a Minoan Amphorae made about 1600 BC. But the Mythos investigator in me see's a stylised image of Cthulhu in his house at R'lyah! Note the strangely 'aboriginal' style of artwork ... clearly this isn't Mediterranean but instead hails from the southern Pacific near the sunken city itself!!!

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtan!!!

Ahem. Sorry. Must have failed my sanity check dice roll.

Friday 24 September 2010

Wargames Illustrated Issue 276

My copy of Wargames Illustrated landed on my doormat early in the week and not a moment too soon either. It seems that whenever I finish a book and starting looking around for something new to read WI turns up.

This months issue is focused on the role of Chariots in warfare. I've only every used these once in a game and it didn't go well for me. Way back when I was a student my friends and I played Warhammer fantasy Battle and I had an undead army featuring a unit of skeletal chariots. Unfortunately I used them against a stalwart unit of Dwarven warriors and it was like driving a car into a brick wall. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The opening article on the theme of chariots is Begatting and Smiting and is a look at the dawn of the chariot as a weapon of war. This is followed by a piece on the Sumerians and Akkadians who slugged it out back at the beginning of recorded history about 3000BC. This article is accompanied by a great selection of colour pictures of a wide selection of miniatures guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing.

Another great article which I enjoyed reading was an interview with former US Marine, Captain Dale Dye. This is the first half, the whole interview is available as a podcast from This part focused on how Captain Dye became involved in Hollywood.

One of the things I enjoy about WI are the How to Build articles that are integral to every issue. This month there are two and both are excellent. The first looks at how to make your own war chariot for gaming with. The second article is about how to make battlefield defences including Facines, Gabions and Mantlets. Although written with 28mm models in mind I'm sure the tips here could be adapted for the 15mm battlefield.

There is also a great selection of other articles covering several periods making this a good all round issue.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Airfix Tiger

This week I've been tinkering with an Airfix model. This is something I haven't done in many many years. As a kid I was never very good at fixing the models together and always seemed to get covered in glue as soon as I looked at the tube. None the less, like many men my age, I have fond memories of building and playing with my Airfix models. So when I got the chance to pick up a model Tiger Tank I couldn't resist.

I bought this particular kit while I was at Duxford last week (The irony of buying a tank model at an air show hasn't eluded me). There was an 'Airfix' tent amongst the traders where eager fathers tried in vain to get their iPod wearing, Social Networking, techno kids to tune out for half an hour and make a model. The heady fumes of Polystyrene Glue wafted out the tent door and many a '40 something' could be seen wandering into the tent with a far away smile on their faces.

I was one of them, and enjoyed my brief visit to this tent enormously. Just as I was leaving I saw the boxed Tiger Tank and knew "it must be mine"! Its a 1:76 scale recreation of the infamous Tiger I as it appeared in 1942. There are two sets of water decals inside the box and a comprehensive set of instructions.

I've made a bit of a mess gluing it together but it was fun non-the-less. The most difficult part was putting together the multiple layers of road wheels. The whole job took about an hour and half to put together, although it is far from complete. I didn't do a great job of building the rest of the tank and gaps are showing in several places. I'll have to use a bit of gap filler to clean up these areas before having a go at painting it.

I doubt if this model will ever make the display shelf but it has been great fun to play around with and has brought back a lot of childhood memories.

Monday 20 September 2010

Bletchley Park

Last weekend I visited the home of the code breakers, Bletchley Park. It was here that the countries most talented mathematicians and engineers worked to build a mechanical code breaking machine which they called  the Bombe. All the original machines were destroyed after the war but a project to rebuild a working replica has recently been completed. This machine, and a selection of the Enigma and other cipher machines it was designed to crack, are on display for the public to see.

The intelligence decrypts at Bletchley were code-named Ultra and they contributed greatly to Allied success in defeating the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.Ultra was also vital to the North African campaigns but it was prior to the D-Day landings, of June 1944, that the Allies probably benefited most. By 5th June 1944 the allies knew the locations of all but two of the 58 German divisions on the Western front. They were also able to evaluate the success of the deception campaign (Operation Fortitude) which ensured the bulk of German forces remained poised for an invasion at the Pas De Calais.

The work done at Bletchley breaking German codes almost certainly shortened the war by as much as 2 years and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. After the war Eisenhower credited Ultra with having made victory possible.

Here are my pictures from the trip.

The site itself is huge and encompasses several buildings and houses a wide range of exhibits and collections. Particularly interesting - from a gamers point of view - was the Toy Museum. Included amongst the hundreds of exhibits were a great selection of toy soldiers. There were also some great Mould kits for making your own lead models. One kit included the important safety notice to ask your mum which pan to use for melting the lead in! Some of the moulds also had painted examples of the figures they produced which was interesting to see.

This is well worth a full day visit as there is so much to see.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Big Picture : Churchill

This Churchill memorial sits in a small park overlooking St Margaret's Bay in Kent. The beach at St Margaret's is the closest point to France and was therefore a key strategic position. The area was evacuated during World War 2 to allow military personnel to move in. Several guns were positioned at St Margaret's including two ex-navy guns from the HMS King George V nicknamed "Winnie" and "Pooh".

The statue is accompanied by Churchill's famous words in his speech after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender"

Friday 17 September 2010

The Glory Thief

My D&D Gaming group met a few days ago to continue our current 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The groups schedule has been a bit erratic over the summer due to family and holiday commitments so we were all looking forward to this game. Our Characters are currently on a side mission for a nearby Dwarven city to clear the trade tunnels (the game is set deep below ground) of an undead infestation. Thus far we have killed dozens of skeletons and wights with no end to the supply of not-so-fresh victims in sight. We must be nearing the climax of this mini adventure because we have started to meet several powerful minions of whoever is pulling the strings on this undead scourge.

The game concluded with a tough(ish) battle against several skeletons and their controller, a Dire Guard Death Bringer. He/it used his/it's powers to keep our characters away from him/it while the skeletons tried their best to kill them. My Character, a Dragonborn Warlord, was able to avoid the main combat and attacked the Dire Guard directly. Within three rounds Uthek had dealt enough damage that the Dire Guard was clearly about to be defeated.... then the halfling rogue in the group stepped in and finished him off with a tiny stab of the dagger. Now I know that's called teamwork and is for the greater good, but that was my Kill!

And this isn't the first time the little s**t has stolen the glory. A few games back we fought a Black Wyrmling and had a tough time of it. My Warlord, the groups Fighter and the Swordmage (the main offensive portion of the group) had cut this beast to ribbons, taking severe damage ourselves in the process. And just when it looked like we were on the cusp of a well deserved victory over the Wyrm, in comes the halfling with his toothpick of a dagger and kills it. And worse still, he now insists on calling himself "Jarped the Dragon Slayer"!!!

Its our own fault... [Sigh] ...this is what we get for allowing halflings in our party. Still, it could be worse. I recall with horror the time we were playing a Dragonlance campaign and we allowed a Kender to join our group. Now that guy was a sociopath!

Wednesday 15 September 2010

The Amazing Mr Stokes

Harwood Hobbies have just realsed a new range of miniatures for their Sinbad Fantasy range... and my mate and fellow member of the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers did the concept art for some of the figures. I have featured the artwork of Dave Stokes here several times and it was one such article that linked Harwood Miniatures up with the talented Mr Stokes.

This is one of my favorites, Zokoura the Sorceror. Sculpted by Sebastian Archer and painted by Adam Skinner it is 32/33mm and cast in metal. I'm currently working on a version of this myself but I keep getting sidetracked. Rest assured I will eventually post some pictures!

I really like this range (I know, I'm biased) and especially its 'utility'. Many of the figures would be just at home as character models for a D&D game or in a skirmish wargame. They are also very dynamic in their poses, outfits and general design and as such are an enjoyable challenge to paint.

Monday 13 September 2010

Space Invaders

I came across a great cartoon recently that sent me on a trip down memory lane. I'm not a big player of computer games these days, but when I was a kid I was hooked like pretty much every boy my age. I remember a family caravan holiday at Clacton (on the East coast of Essex) where I spent a large amount of time - and pretty much all of my pocket money - playing Space Invaders at the local amusement arcade. I'm not sure that my parents thought it was a productive use of my time but it beat the hell out of fishing.

I think of myself as fortunate that I grew up just as computing, and computer games, started to become accessible to the ordinary people. That's not to say I or my parents could afford to take advantage of the latest home technology. We always seemed to be a few years behind everyone else and that's still the case for me now (I'll get that iPad eventually). Maybe this is why I was hooked to the video arcade when we went on holiday. For a measly 10 pence I could play the latest game, if only for a few seconds until I got killed or the credit ran out. And that for me was the great attraction of Space Invaders. It was the first game that I personally had encountered that rewarded skill with extended play... and for a while I got quite skillful indeed. What an incredible summer that was.

The game was designed and programmed by Toshihiro Nishikado for the Japanese company Taito and was first released in 1978. It was later licensed by the US company Midway and in 1980 was licensed by Atari for the 2600 home system. Its still around in various forms for modern media which says a lot for the durability of this simple game. The original game was actually in monochrome with the coloured parts simulated by use of coloured plastic overlays. Space Invaders has allegedly earned Taito in excess of $500 Million USD since it was first created. #

Not bad for the most basic of shoot-em-ups.

Sunday 12 September 2010

Friday 10 September 2010

Battle of Britain Air Show

70 years ago the Battle of Britain reached its peak in the skies over England. In honour of this the Imperial War Museum Duxford hosted the Battle of Britain Air Show last weekend. I went on the Saturday and of course took my camera with me. As I reported on Wednesday I got a little 'trigger happy' and shot nearly 600 pictures in the course of the day. However I have managed to whittle this down to 120 which I have now posted below as a slide show. I hope you like them.

The highlight of the Air Show was a flyby of no less than 16 Spitfires. This was a truly incredible sight and sent shivers down my spine and made me get all patriotic and tearful. Wonderful stuff indeed. There were also other highlights including a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the B17 Sally B and an excellent display by 19 Squadron RAF showing off a new Eurofighter Typhoon.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Trigger Happy

The Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show took place on Saturday and Sunday and I was lucky enough to attend on the Saturday. The weather was dry and fine although it did cloud over a little in the afternoon but not enough to prevent the planes flying. I shot just under 600 pictures in one day and as my Brother-in-law put it I "got a little trigger happy!". Anyway here's a couple of preliminary pictures from the Air Show and the rest will follow once I've had a chance to sort through them.

Here's a shot of Sixteen Spitfires in formation over the airfield. This was a rare privilege indeed and sent shivers down my spine. 
Their were also several re-enactors in period WWII uniform and I was able to get a couple of evocative shots with the spitfires in the background.

I'll try and get through all my pictures in the next day or so and post a slide-show of this excellent event as soon as I can. 

Monday 6 September 2010

What is Roleplaying?

Last week I posed the question "are you a closet gamer?" and so far the associated Poll has had a good and quite interesting response. One of the reasons I brought the subject up was the fact that in the last couple of weeks I have twice had to explain to a non-gamer what roleplaying was.

My hobbies are more diverse than just roleplaying but even the supposedly ‘peculiar’ hobby of Wargaming is easily understood by lay-folk. With Wargaming there are opposing players, definable objectives and usually a winner. All within the realms of most ‘normal’ strategy games. In short Wargaming has a familiar format that anyone who has ever played chess or draughts will recognise. Roleplaying however is a different beast entirely and defining it in a simple way is hard, if not impossible.

A commonly referred to description is “co-operative storytelling” which perfectly sums up roleplaying to a roleplayer. But whenever I have used this phrase on non roleplayers I see their eye’s glaze over and just know they haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. I usually try to correct matters by expanding the explanation, drawing parallels to Improvisational Theatre or childhood games of make-believe. This just makes matters worse because it seems to the outsider that roleplayers are just sitting around talking and making stuff up. This isn’t clearly isn’t a grown up pursuit and hints at child like behaviour or worse still, mental illness.

Of course the reality is that roleplaying games do have more in common with childhood games of lets-pretend than they do with structured board games or computer games played by adults. Despite the proliferation of rulebooks that provide the internal structure of a game like DandD, at heart it’s still a game of make believe. And it’s this element of childlike behaviour juxtaposed with a grown up game that I think freaks people out and has often turned DandD into a taboo games that people can’t understand.

History teaches us that which cannot be understood is often feared. Its irrational and bigoted but its also an evolutionary throwback to our caveman days when the unknown usually came with 9 inch sabre teeth and a taste for human flesh. And its this combination of confusion, lingering suspicion and sometimes outright hostility that makes the need for a clear definition all the more important.

So here's my definition, for what its worth.
"Roleplaying is game of storytelling where the players imagine themselves as characters in a fictional adventure and work together to explore the location and events as described and guided by a referee."
 I'd be glad to hear what you say when asked, What is Roleplaying?

Sunday 5 September 2010

Big Picture : Dorkmaster

One of the things I love about attending conventions is the people you meet. In 2004 I was lucky enough to chat with one of my favourite webcomic artics, John Kovalic of Dorktower fame.

As well as being a very talented artist he was also a very funny guy to chat to... and he drew me a personalised cartoon in one of his books I'd bought. I'm proud to call myself a member of his Army of Dorkness. 

Friday 3 September 2010

Poll: Are you a closet gamer?

It's time for another "getting to know you" poll. With the readership and Followers of this blog increasing I thought I'd pose another question that will not only help me understand who you are but is also a subject I have a keen interest in. The poll can be found on the Right of this column and comments or discussion can be left below.

For many years I kept my 'gamer' persona strictly private and out of the public domain. Back in those heady days when I thought I might have a glittering career before me I decided coming out about my hobby might prove damaging to my job opportunities. Now I'm older, tireder, considerably more cynical and don't give a huff what my colleges think of my hobbies. To steal (and mangle) a well used slogan "I'm a gamer, and I'm Proud". So my question to my readers is simply this: Do you keep your Roleplaying/Wargaming/Painting interests a secret from your work colleges?

If, like me, you have a blog or other social site about your hobby then the cat is well and truly out of the bag, but many gamers I know keep their hobby interests segregated from their work life. I guess if your a high ranking Civil Servant, a High Court Judge or CEO of a big multinational, letting on about your 'little metal men' probably won't do your image much good in the shallow culture we live today. But for the majority of average people do our hobby interests really have that much of an impact on career opportunities?

I took a conscious decision not to hide my hobbies from view when I started getting involved in online forums and game network sites. I knew that the Internet would 'blow my cover' and I took some time to really think about the impact this might have on my career. In the end I concluded the answer to that questions was "next to none" and decided to stop hiding my hobby like an embarrassingly illness. That's not to say I publicise my interests. I don't turn up to meetings and say "My name is Lee Hadley and I paint toy soldiers..." and I don't have an "I brake for Kobolds" bumper sticker on my car. But now and again the subject comes up and I no longer hide my interests. Has it damaged my reputation? I don't think so. I've had promotions and pay rises since I 'came out' and most people I talk to seem to be genuinely interested in my hobby. I've even discovered a few closet gamers in the company, although I'd never reveal this fact unless they felt comfortable about it.

The silly thing is our hobby isn't something to be embarrassed about. Thanks to my hobby I have a keen interest in History and Art and have developed skills in Photography, Computing, Painting and Writing. Put like that our hobby is a bona fide asset on any CV.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Tiger 131 on DVD

Back in June I went to the Bovington Tank Museum annual Tankfest show with my brother-in-law. We had a great time and I shot several hundred pictures and posted them on this Blog. But I also treated myself to a couple of DVDs  while we were at the show and have been meaning to review them ever since.

The first DVD is "Saving the Tiger : The Story of Tiger 131" and is exclusively about the only running Tiger I Tank in the world. The story of its capture in 1943, its assessment back in England and its renovation are dealt with in detail and some of the key people involved at each stage are interviewed. In particular Peter Gudgin who's Churchill tank was knocked out by Tiger 131 and who later found himself being assigned to assess and report on the Tiger's capabilities.

In addition to the main documentary there are some extra features including the full length version of the 1943 Tiger recognition film produced for the Allied forces. I found this quite a useful insight into the training techniques employed during the war as well as highlighting some interesting recognition features of the Tiger.

The second DVD also features Tiger 131 extensively and is called "The Tiger Files".  This is a very interesting documentary lasting 72 minutes and includes archive footage and veteran interviews throughout. Whereas the first DVD looked specifically at the life of Tiger 131 this documentary looks at the full story of the tiger from drawing board to battlefield.

One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is some film shot inside the Tiger during a driving run. It shows the both the technological and technical innovation of the Tiger and some of the difficulties faced by all tank drivers on both sides of the war.  There is also some interesting interviews with various veterans that faced the Tiger in combat including Joe Ekins who is attributed with killing the German tank ace Michael Wittmann.

Tiger 131 at Tankfest 2010
Both DVDs can be bought via the Tank Museum website or in the shop at the museum itself. I think they are an excellent insight into this iconic weapon of war and well worth buying if you have an interest in WWII Armour.