Monday, December 26, 2005

Squad Leader Revisited - a grognards first taste of ASL

Well its taken 20 odd years for me to do it, but I've finally tasted Advanced Squad Leader with Starter Kit 2. Up till now I'd be put off by the fact that ASL seemed to me to be more a way of life than a game, but the scale of the starter kits (and the fact that I only needed one to use the Brits) was all the encouragement I needed.

So far I've only read the infantry rules needed for the first two scenarios included and played through these solo to get the hang of the rules before playing against a live opponent. There are a couple of things that are very different, the defensive fire rules, though in SL it was possible to use tracking to fire against an opponent while they were moving it was not resolved immediately like the current rules. The possibility of using subsequent fire as well makes the defender more effective and really creates an incentive for attacking forces to spread out and minimise the possible damage from any attacks.

Apart from this the handling of rallying and troop quality is a change, with the steady erosion of quality and unit strength that can occur from morale checks has increased the penalties for these. On the whole the changes emphasise the need for force conservation by a side and this is realistic.

So far I've not found it overly complex and I look forward to playing this more regularly now. Probably adding the other two starter kits, but I'm not sure I'll look at making the investment of buying the full rules and associated supplements needed to play ASL in the round.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Greatest geek books of all time

The Guardian has recently had a poll for best geek novels of all time (from 1932, which rules out some potential authors in Verne, H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle - yes I'd class Sherlock Holmes as being definite geek books). This made me think, not least the fact I'd read almost everything in it, apart from Consider Phlebas, American Gods and the Illuminatus trilogy. I have read other books and comics by Iain Banks and Neil Gaiman, but it's a bit surprising considering that I've played the Illumniatii games from Steve Jackson Games many times that I haven't read the trilogy. Fnord.

I found that the discusssion was interesting - and pointed me towards certian authors I've neglected (John Brunner, for example). The genre of 'geek novels' spans both SF, fantasy, 'literature' and other genres. For example I'd argue that Thomas Harris' novels like The Silence of the Lambs is pretty geeky for the ways that research is dropped into the text in a similar fashion to Neal Stephenson's later novels. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland is a novel about geeks, rather than necessarily being about the usual geek obessions. Though coding does feature as a part of the characters professional lives, but the main Coupland themes of the Generation X lifestyle are the novel's main features.

I'd be hard pressed to name a top 20 quickly and will return to this at some point in the near future.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On the work of reviewing

This is my fairly random thoughts about writing reviews, in particular reviews of RPG products. A common falacy seems to exist that reviews of products purchased by the reviewer will be fairer than ones done where the publisher has provided a complementary copy of the product. I find this to be a fallacy for a number of reasons.

Firstly the purchaser of a product can be prone to self justify their purchase, which would lead to giving a higher rating than a more balanced reviewer. Conversely if a purchaser is disappointed in a product they will be prone to ignore useful or good content because of their anger at wasting money.

For assessing value for money it's hard to see why a purchasing reviewer will have a clearer view than a reviewer recieving complementary product as the price of anything which is not completely unique can be compared to similar products.

The big advantage for a paid reviewer or a reviewer recieving complementary product is that they are less limited by personal finances in the production of reviews. Although a paid reviewer like those working for newspapers, etc may need to rush reviews to match deadlines and to get enough produced to give them an adequate income.

In truth a good reviewer will produce a fair and balanced review usually regardless of whether they have recieved the product free or been paid for producing the review (unless paid directly by the publisher).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

On-going campaigns

Well this weekend sees us reaching the 18th session of the Lost City of Barakus camnaign, which is the longest running 3e campaign I've played in, though the first 3.0 campaign that I restarted D&D with in 2003 is only on hold rather than definitely finished for good. Warning, this post will contain a lot of spoilers for the LCoB, so I would not advise players expecting to be adventuring in it to read this. Campaign website here.

So far there have only been two survivors all the way through, both as characters and players. My cleric Cambyses of the Holy Flame and Ravi's Loren Silverleaf, an elven wizard. So far we've seen another four players and their characters leave and had another three join with the latest only coming in this weekend. The other long running PCs have been Kiru, the fighter/ranger; Khai Ningnoon, monk; Armando Gallant, fighter/rogue and Nip Mylan, rogue.

Generally the Rogue and Fighter characters have been shortest lived with the toll of NPC followers/associated killed now totalling seven, due to use of fate points no PC has been killed, but several have been left for dead, with Cambyses having has this happen to him three times, most recently on encountering a Blue Slaad. Generally I think that fate points do help and am houseruling them into my D&D campaign, as I prefer to run at lower levels and with low magic and treasure so less healing is available and this makes it possible for a character to survive the occasional -10 hit point experience.

The ability to keep the campaign going has been down to a number of things, such as being able to cope with occasional player absences on some weekends, using what is more likely to be a free day with Sundays, only having a couple of sessions per month, but always having the sessions. I've had other campaigns fall down with cancelled sessions being a common cause as the enthusiasm gets lost and the players lose track of the game. That's always hard to manage when as with the last campaign I gm'd half the players lived a long way away (2 hours + journey time). I've not yet had enough experience of play by post or play by email games to see how those pan out over the long term.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Time, Space and Dave

Like many things keeping up entries to this blog are proving to be part of the juggling act that managing my time has turned into. I've done the more basic time management courses for work many years ago and got to the what do I remember - err, make lists and prioritise those items and manage interruptions, with not a lot else still sticking in my mind. Recently the Getting Things Done school of time management is getting a lot of press, from what I see it has nothing revolutionary, but like any other methodology relies upon application. Time to investigate it to see if it helps with my overstretch.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Miniatures - a lifelong obsession

I've recently started on the potentially futile exercise of getting all the miniatures I own in all the different scales (30mm, 25mm, 15mm, 6mm) into a state where they can be used for gaming or else selling them off on e-bay or at conventions bring and buy sales. The other aspect of this is actually cataloging all the many that I've aquired over the last 28 or so years that I've been doing miniatures gaming.

The main thing that has struck me has been the steady growth of figures in the supposed main scales of 25mm up to 28/30mm and 15mm to 18mm, usually with a welcome increase in detail and sharpness of casting, but making older figures look a bit undernourished in comparison. I've particularly seen this with the fantasy figures where my old Ral Partha and Citadel metals look tiny compared to the Reaper figures that I've bought recently.

The other part of this exercise has been to start to try and paint everything I'm going to keep and get them into a usable condition for gaming or display purposes, this is going to take a long time and it's a good thing I enjoy painting minis or else I'd be going crazy at the thought of how many thousand of the things are there to be worked on (possible exaggeration, but well into three figures). Initially my focus is on my 15mm armies from Peter Pig for the Hordes of the Things rules from WRG, and my 25/28mm figures for the Duel from Alternative Armies and Warhammer Fantasy Battle by well, you know who.

Actually as well as being enjoyable this exercise is proving to be a productive one, with me starting to realise just how much is available in terms of painting advice on the web. There is a definite feel of satisfaction in seeing figures arrayed in painted ranks on their bases and its helping to keep me working at it.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Board and card games

Like a lot of other gamers I play a mixture of things as well as RPGs and miniatures games. With the card games its mainly been Munchkin in recent years, with a mixture of Chez Geek and its spin off games and also Up Front. With the fun type games Munchkin and its different versions have been favourites with my group for times when we are not able to play Roleplaying games due to time or availability issues and it is highly recommended.

Board games have included the usual family type ones, mainly Scrabble, but with my gamer friends its the old Judge Dredd game which Games Workshop produced many years ago and is incredibly good fun. For two player board games it often tends to go back to a military theme with Ogre from Steve Jackson Games, originally Metagames who produced the edition I have, and Avalon Hill's Squad Leader designed by John Hill. In fact this post was inspired by my having seen the release of Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit 2, which piqued my interest as up till now I've steered clear of ASL due to its sheer size and investment required (especially to use the Brits), but this could be a winner for me as it contains British, Italian, and Allied Minor Nations as well as the Germans and Americans. The mix of artillery included is a little disappointing in having the German 88, but not the Brits iconic 25 pounder. Even so it still goes onto my to buy list.

I've found using Board game geek useful and its been interesting to be able to see easily what other games people have designed and what the history of things is. Its also nice in having lots of information on games including user reviews, pictures of mapboards and counters and content lists such as scenarios.

With card games I've not been a huge buyer of the Collectible Card Games, with only Illuminati New World Order and Mythos ever being purchased by me. With INWO I took the easy route and bought the big boxed set with all the cards rather than buy lots of packets and get into trading. This has always meant me avoiding like mad the M:tG and Pokemon fans.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

History of a gamer

Well this was how I first started gaming, using miniatures initally with hardly any rules using the old Airfix plastic figures in 1/72 and I also had Britains 54mm plastics. Probably the first rules I can remember using were the ones from Don Featherstone's Wargames book and then I got fairly into Western Skirmish using the rules published by Skirmish Wargames.

At a similar time I'd started playing D&D using the White Box rules in 1977, and continued with these for a while as the AD&D books were fairly expensive on import and the paperback Games Workshop editions didn't come out till around '79 or so. My brother bought most of the D&D stuff and the RPGs I bought were Metamorphosis Alpha, Bunnies and Burrows, Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo and RuneQuest2. Of those RQ2 was the one with by far the most play and I largely abandoned D&D for RQ by the early '80s. I'd also discovered Judges Guild by then and bought my copies of the City State of the Invicible Overlord, Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor and a lot of issues of the Dungeoneer.

The second rulebook for the Old West Skirmish actually had a lot of rules for characterisation which certainly moved it well towards RPG, I'll have to dig it out to look at when it was published as it shows that RPG forms were not unique to the D&D community in the States.

I dropped out of gaming pretty much entirely in the mid 80s due to starting full time work, moving more to drinking and pubbing as social activities, then going to university where there wasn't actually an RPG or wargaming society in the first two years and increasing my commitments to running and my athletics club. I still occasionally played Call of Cthulhu and even some supers games, but not often.

2003 I came back into D&D starting again at GenCon Europe in London, with 3e rules playing through the Wizards Amulet/Crucible of Freya from Necromancer Games. This did get me back the gaming bug and I've been playing steadily since then, with two different groups, one being my old group and the other one I joined through an advert on ENWorld.

I've GMed a campaign in the Wilderlands for a few sessions using a couple of homebrew adventures and a prepublished one from Dungeon magazine. I've also had a chance to play the Conan RPG which I like and I have the original edition and haven't really had that much of a problem with the typos for all the ire that they caused at the time of publication.

With the main D&D Campaign I'm currently playing its using the Lost City of Barakus from Necromancer Games and am one of the two players to have been in the campaign since the beginning as sadly a lot of the other players have had to drop out for personal reasons. This has proved to be a good campaign as most of the characters are able to have their own quests and motivations which have given it a bit more life than a straightforward dungeon bash.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Ancient Empires pt 1

Went to the British Museum today to see the Persian exhibition. It was striking to see some of the exhibits, but it was very crowded unlike the Sudan exhibition which used the same gallery space and was free.

The workmanship on some of the objects was incredible, mainly the seals either cylinder or stamp type, which needed very fine carving done on the stone they were produced from. The other impressive work was on some of the gold and silver objects, which showed the wealth of the persian empire.The carved statuary had very stylised elements, with the frequent use of a lion or bulls in the figures. In some ways there are many similar items from the babylonian and assyrian collections in the museum so I would not really class this as unmissable, but it is worth seeing.

I think the other thing that struck me was seeing distinct national styles of dress reflected for the different subject peoples from the Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians and Sarmatians, though always seeming to be led by a Persian in their tribute giving.

There are a few inspirations that this gives me mainly back toward one of the first periods I ever looked at wargaming which was Alexander's wars of conquest and establishment of the Macedonian successor states across the near east to India.

All I ever needed to know I learnt from Gaming

Thinking about what skills or abilities gaming, specifically tabletop RPGs have taught or developed in me, I realised that the list of them is reasonably impressive:

  • Research - finding out information from libraries about arms and armour, mediaeval life, obscure fantasy authors all developed this
  • Imagination - this must have been developed by thinking 'outside the box'
  • Tactics - both RPG and wargames encourage this
  • Writing - reading fantasy fiction and the Gygaxian prose of early D&D encouraged me to develop a broad vocabulary
  • Interpersonal skills - co-operating with other party members or managing a group of people as a GM
  • Statistics and odds - knowing why rolling 3 d6 or 2 d6 + 6 gives both a different set of results and different probabilities of any result occuring

Still not something that makes it onto my CV these days as personal interests take up space that my long work history needs, but I can see with less workplaces to demonstrate skills from how there could be value from it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Starting off

First post on my first blog.

Stuff to be written about includes RPG, films, art, sport, etc. Hopefully avoiding the solipsism of some bloggers and looking to create a useful journal.

Okay, how much to say now.

Role playing game boards
I post to a few of these usually as 'Monster Mash' - I can often be seen on Necromancer Games, ENWorld and Randomlingshouse, with a rare excursion onto I'm spending less time on these now as I'm trying to spend more time gaming and less writing about it, and I've got a heap of scenarios I want to work on which take time to write up.

On friday I finally saw the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie, first impression - not as I feared, and reasonably good at trying to get a stab at the spirit of the radio shows and books, but lacking the digressions that really added to the humour. So watchable, but not brilliant probably about a six out of ten, I liked Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent as he is probably the ideal everyman type actor and the cameos from Simon Jones and the original Marvin were nice to see. The special effects were ok, and the change in the plot to make the Vogon's more directly threatening probably was needed with a stand alone movie.