Friday, December 24, 2010

Fritz Leiber: A Centenary Celebration

December 24 2010 is the 100th anniversary of Fritz Leiber's birth. As a fan of his fiction particularly the Lankhmar series of stories featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser I couldn't let this pass without some small celebration.

I think compared to many of the other SF and Fantasy authors of the era that he was active in, Leiber's work holds up well even now. I think this is due to the humour in his writing where the heroes are rarely taken completely seriously and because of the overall quality of Leiber's writing. For example though Howard's Conan stories in particular often have a thrilling narrative drive they often are weakened by the tendency towards particular patterns of writing and lack of surprises in the narrative.

Anyway tonight I'll raise a glass in Leiber's honour.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Year projects - wargaming

My wargaming projects for 2011 are:

  1. Keep painting up my ACW collection to get sorted out with the figures I need to play the scenarios from Fire &, picking up any extras I need from Peter Pig.
  2. Start painting my 10mm Zulu War figures from Pendraken miniatures for use with The Sword and the Flame rules and possibly an adaptation of the Sharp Practice rules from Too Fat Lardies.
  3. Make strongholds for all my 15mm Hordes of the Things armies. These will be a Pirate Stockade; Arabic Castle gate; Mountaintop stronghold for the eagle flyers and a Garden Pond for the gnomes.
  4. Finish painting the eagles for my 15mm Hordes of the Things army.
  5. Make plenty of terrain for 10mm and 15mm figures. This will include buildings, trees, roads, water features and hills. At least most of it will be suitable for both scales and some might even work with 25mm figures too.
  6. Paint up the remainder of my 25mm medieval figures that are still unpainted. 
  7. Keep rationalising my miniatures collection and sell off any odds and ends that I don't want any longer. 
  8. Sort out and get my 25mm fantasy figures usable for gaming - plenty of old MiniFigs that need to be given weapons and painted or just stripped of old paint and painted.
  9. Sort out my last 15mm ancients DBA armies and get them painted and based up.
  10. Look at doing Spanish Civil War games in 10mm with Pendraken miniatures and Through the Mud and the Blood rules .
  11. Last and most important - get playing more often!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Miniatures Gaming - Free rules from the web

There are currently a wide range of good sets of miniatures game rules available for free on the internet. My particular favourites out there are:

Fast and Dirty FAD from Weasel Fierce's website. This is a set of SF large skirmish rules for platoon to company level actions with no specific background specified and a design influenced by Stargrunt II.

Stargrunt II from Ground Zero Games is an interesting set of SF miniature rules for large ground skirmishes. They are possibly a little fiddly in use because of the different types of dice used and the mechanics for resolving fire fights needing multiple die rolls.

Full Thrust is a set of starship combat rules from Ground Zero Games, who produce an extensive range of human and alien nations' starships to use with these or any other sets of suitable rules. Full Thrust does give a fairly quick and enjoyable game and can be used with any set of starship models that you want.

GZG also have Dirtside which is a set of larger scale ground action rules intended for use with 6mm or similar small scale miniatures.

The fantasy miniatures rules Hordes of the Things have now been made available for personal use till the next edition appears at some future time from the Wargames Research Group.There are quite a few other sets of miniatures rules avaialbe for free from the WRG website. The old version of the DBA rules is also there and that provides a fun game though it is somewhat of a chess with miniatures game.

There are also a large number of sets of rules at Freewargames Rules, but I haven't tried any so can't really say more than point people at them.

I'll post some links for the paid for rules that I favour in a separate entry on the blog soon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Miniatures collection - 25mm Fantasy and Medieval

Some images of my medieval and fantasy figures that I use with rules like Song of Blades and Heroes and Retinue, as well as for role playing games. 

Manufacturers (l-r) MiniFigs, Asgard, Asgard, Ral Partha, Ral Partha, Citadel

All Citadel miniatures

Dwarves and a Gnome
Manufacturers (l-r) Heritage, Heritage, Citadel, Citadel, Citadel

Giant Goblins
All Asgard miniatures

Goblins (most with replacement weapons)
All Asgard Miniatures

Manufacturers (l-r) Essex, Essex, Asgard

Manufacturers (l-r) Ral Partha, Lamming, Citadel

Peasants and tradesmen.
Manufacturers (l-r) Lamming, Lamming, Minifigs, Citadel, Lamming

Knight's retinue. 
Manufacturers (l-r) Asgard, Lamming, Essex, Asgard, QT

Monday, December 06, 2010

GROGNARDIA: Mutant Future News

I was pleased to see that from the Grognardia blog there is an updated version of the Mutant Future RPG due out soon. I've been looking to use this ruleset and will probably do a play by post game some time once I've worked out my addon rules for trade and bartering and to see what amendments I might want to the mutations and creatures.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Miniatures Painting - Work in Progress - November 2010

My current work in progress and most recently completed miniatures.

Irregular miniatures 6mm Spanish Civil War republican infantry.

My 15mm PeterPig pirate army for Hordes of the Things

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Blast from the past - MInifigs bring back the pig faced orcs

The Miniatures Page reports that Miniature Figurines are bringing back into production their old range of Orcs with pig like faces from the late 1970s - this is pretty welcome news to me as I still have a fair number knocking around in my collection for gaming. Though Otherworld miniatures do figures in a similar style they are a lot bigger meaning that they wouldn't be so compatible with my existing collection so this is a relief to me.

Now I just have to hope the old SF range gets picked up for re-release too.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Current Listening - Robert Plant - Band of Joy

Band of Joy

Currently I'm listening to Robert Plant's new Band of Joy CD, this is really excellent and like much of his recent solo career has a lot of background in the traditional musical forms of English Folk, American Bluegrass and Blues. Not really surprising as even Led Zeppelin had a both a strong root in the Blues from the British late 60s Blues scene and English Folk music with tracks like Gallows Pole and When the Levee breaks. Anyway I highly recommend Band of Joy. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gaming Podcast review: 24 RPG Haven podcast

The RPG Haven podcast is a fairly regular podcast on roleplaying games that I've been listening to recently. I think that I've now listened to enough episodes to put a review in place so here goes.

There are quite regular interviews with game designers and other industry figures, with some semi-regular segments like 'Friendly Neighborhood Gamer', where a gamer who is not heavily involved in the online pen & paper RPG scene is interviewed. I was particularly interested in the interviews with Neil Gow, designer of Beat to Quarters and Duty and Honour & Simon Washbourne designer of Barbarians of Lemuria, but I've found all the interviews to be well presented and conducted. The two hosts - walkerp and Mount Zion Ryan work well together to discuss games and conduct the interviews.

The podcast is produced in mono with a 96khz bit rate and can be dowloaded from the website above or via iTunes. I've found the downloads to be quick and reliable. The audio quality is good particularly considering that much of the podcast is produced using Skype to conduct the interviews or link up the two main presenters who are quite remote from each other.

I definitely recommend this podcast to anyone interested in the design and development of roleplaying games and will be listening regularly in future.

Friday, September 03, 2010

More lovecraftian audio reviews: Cthulhuwho1 blog

Just when I thought I'd started to produce a comprehensive list I get a lot more interesting audio content for lovers of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, so with a nod to YSDC for pointing this out I can provide another review.The content is at Will Hart's Cthulhu who 1 blog.

The Iguanacon recordings from 1978 are fascinating to listen to with a number of very well known names making up the panel.The panel members are:  J.Vernon Shea; Fitz Leiber; Donald Burleson; Dirk W. Mosig and S.T. Joshi. The topic is "what if H.P. Lovercraft lived into the 1960s" giving a lot of scope for reflection on Lovecraft's personality and beliefs with the changing times between 1937 and the 1960s.This is a fascinating discussion and very worthwhile listening. The audio quality for this recording is actually not bad considering it was originally made on cassette and has had to be digitised and converted to mp3 format.

The other audio content that is available is a reading of Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth and some samples of computer generated voices reading excerpts from Lovecraft and Poe. The samples are there to get comments from listeners while the actual reading does deserve a proper review. To use my normal headings of Content Technical and Overall Summary, I'd say that the technical quality is good on the new computer generated voices and the Fungi from Yuggoth and understandably poor on the Igauanacon recordings. Contentwise the recordings from Iguanacon I would class as unmissable while the readings not so essential.

Overall this site is well worth a visit from any fan or scholar of Lovecraft.                          

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Redesign in progress

Time to change over the design I think as my old extra simple approach is not working quite as well as I'd hoped over time, particularly with the vast list of labels used. Things will keep altering till I reach a final image that I want.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whisperers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Podcasters

There now seem to be a fair number of podcasts relating to H.P. Lovecraft now, as some new ones have started to supplement the existing ones. Broadly these can be divided into two categories - Literary and Gaming, though there is a strong cross over as many readers came to reading HPL from the game. My own path was actually from reading HPL as a youngster and starting with D&D long before the Call of Cthulhu game came out, though it was a natural choice to play as an RPG for me once it appeared in 1981.

All of the following podcasts can be found either from their own sites (links provided) or on iTunes.

Literary podcasts

H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast
This series of podcasts is a discussion of Lovecraft's stories in roughly chronological order with excerpts of the stories being read to illustrate the discussion. The two regular hosts are Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey, but there are frequent guest presenters such as Andrew Leman and Ken Hite.This is a pretty light hearted podcast which can highlight the absurdity in some of HPL's stories. I do find it entertaining to listen to and recommend it strongly.The average episode is around 30 minutes long.

FNH's Cthulhu podcast contains readings of horror and supernatural fiction, primarily by HPL, but with other authors featured. There are also archive recordings of music from the 1920s and 30s and short factual pieces either discussing events in the period or readings from other books, such as Teddy Roosevelt's Through the Brazililan Wilderness. There are full stories read or serialised in the normal podcast releases with a variety of readers or actors involved meaning that it is possible to get away from the monotony of a single voice that can happen with some podcasts.An average episode is around 1 hour in duration.
FNH has several other podcasts that feature readings of literary material from other genres though I am not sure how active all of these are now, these are linked from the Cthulhu podcast site. 

Lovecraftian Obsession
Rick Dakan's podcast is new and has been started after publication of his novel,  The Cthulhu Cult. He is interviewing well known writers about Lovecraft, with the first four subjects being Kenneth Hite, S.T. Joshi,
and Chris Lackey & Chad Fifer. The usual episode length is around 1 hour depending on how talkative the interviewees are.The topics usually covered are the subjects relationship to Lovecraft's fiction (YSDC)
There are a number of recorded lectures at Yog-sothoth dot com about H.P. Lovecraft and related topics, examples being "H.P.Lovecraft as shaman" or the Necronomicon in culture. These are by academic writers such as Dr Justin Woodman or Dan Harms and often recorded at Treadwell's bookshop in London. These have reasonable sound quality given that they are recorded live in a lecture theatre and are reasonable size files. YSDC also has recorded readings of some Lovecraftian stories, though I haven't seen many of these being added in recent times.

Gaming podcasts
These can again be divided into actual play, with recordings of gaming sessions or gaming discussions, of which Yog-Radio is an early and notable example. Apologies to anyone I've missed on the actual plays particularly, if you add a comment I'll update the list to include it.

There are a number of audio games that have been released by the Bradford Players, with only the most recently completed and current in-progress game being freely available. The past games can be downloaded by media patrons of the site or bought on CD. Currently the in-progress game is Tatters of the King with the recently completed game being Walker in the Waste. The audio quality is very good on these with surround sound used which really is noticable if listening on headphones as you can hear who is sitting where. There is not a great deal of swearing in the group, but like any Call of Cthulhu campaign the themes are dark and horrific. The usual length of an episode is between 2 and 3 hours.

YSDC also has a lot of links to actual play sessions so is probably the best starting point if you are looking for these on Lovecraftian roleplaying.

Role Playing Public Radio
RPPR has a number of actual play recordings of Call of Cthulhu games, including some with Adam Scott Glancey as the Keeper. These are pretty entertaining, but probably need a explicit language tag as the RPPR crew are not as circumspect as some gaming podcasts with language. The audio quality is good on these, but does not have Yog-Radio's surround sound. In the general RPPR recordings there is quite a lot of mention of Call of Cthulhu as it is one of the favoured systems of the people that produce the podcast in the general role playing games advice and discussion.

There are a large number of other actual play recordings that I either haven't a chance to listen to or maybe haven't heard of. If you've got one that has been missed please add a comment to let me know about it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sky gives up plan to remake Blake's 7

As a fan of the original BBC series from the late 1970s I'm glad to see that Sky has given up its plan to reimagine Blake's 7, though it seems like there is potential for it to be picked up by another producer. I'd not be keen on a remake of the original with the lead characters like Blake, Vila or Avon recast given how definitive Paul Darrow was as Avon.

A series set after the original could be viable, e.g. "Blake Lives!" with new rebels against the Federation inspired by the memory of Blake and maybe led by survivors from the shootout at the end of the fourth series. Potentially if the setting is not too long after the events of the series the Federation could still be led by Servalan, but it might be better to make it a longer gap and create a clear break in the way the Time War was used in Doctor Who by Russell Davies.

Monday, August 02, 2010

F1 2010 at midseason

So the 2010 Formula 1 season has managed to stay interesting with the drivers and constructors championships still being able to be won by more than one team and its drivers. The 5 drivers still in the frame for the championship may not have been who'd I've have predicted after Bahrain where it looked like Red Bull would be the biggest challengers to Ferrari.

The big question is whether anyone can catch up on Red Bull's technical superiority over the next few races, I think Button would be best served by a few more wet races where his smoother style helps him keep control. I think if I'm going to make a prediction now it would be Webber to win the drivers title and Red Bull the constructors championship.

Personally I hope Williams can have a bit of an improvement which looks possible with both cars getting into the points and I think that Schumacher needs to retire again as he's not really showing his best side and really showed his worst side when Barrichello overtook him in Hungary.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Under a Steel Gray Sky - Mutant Future on a lost starship part 1

The lost generation ship is a concept in SF that appeals to me as a GM because of the ability to mix setting types on different decks of the ship and to create what are in effect dungeon crawls in exploring the various areas.

I've been inspired in this by the original Metamorphosis Alpha game, which was one of the first RPG I bought back in the 1970s. The literary inspirations comes from  Brian Aldiss' Non-stop, published in the US originally as Starship. There are not a huge amount of stories set in this specific setting apart from Non-stop and Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, but I have found Aldiss' stories in the Hellonica series of novels and Hothouse as useful inspirations.

In my choice of title I have used the idea of the characters not being aware of where they are and the ceiling above the deck where the characters above is the seen as the sky. This means that often there will be a low ceiling making flying mutations less useful than in a conventionally Earth setting, this means that I've opted to ban the Complete Wing Development and Psionic Flight mutations.

I'll discuss this some more in another part where I'll set out my base assumptions about the setting and start to develop some of the details of the settings.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gaming Podcast review: 23 Tatters of the King (YSDC)

The Bradford Players have now got another audio game recording series running with the Tatters of the King, available from or iTunes. This has now reached 13 episodes on open release at time of writing with media partrons of YSDC able to get advanced releases.

The campaign is based around the King in Yellow from Robert Chambers' stories and is published by Chaosium. Even by Call of Cthulhu standards this is quite a dark campaign with a lot of adult content and a strong tone of despair, so is not always comfortable listening.

For those who have listened to the earlier Horror on the Orient Express audio game there is the welcome return of Val's character, Mrs Betty Sunderland, and Fin has another of the Goodenough family. The character generation session is highly entertaining, particularly when Paul of Cthulhu unveils Septimus Vane, with his extensive back story. There is a lot of decent roleplay in the sessions recorded and I've found that listening to other groups gaming has made me think about my own gaming sessions.

The music provided by Aliicorn as a dedicated soundtrack is very evocative and suitable for the game and this is available in full to patrons of YSDC, so there are plenty of reasons to sign up.

The recording is done in surround sound and is put out as a 128kbps mp3 - this does give good sound quality and it is possible to hear 'who is sitting where' on the podcasts. The downloads are pretty quick from YSDC and iTunes.

Strongly recommended for fans of audio games, with the standard proviso that it will have large numbers of spoilers for the adventure used.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Current Reading

My recent reading - some of these will get fuller reviews in the course of time, but I've been busy and not had much time to write my blog.

Rifles by Mark Urban is a history of the 95th Rifles in Wellington's army fighting in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. It is heavily based on the many accounts that came out of the unit and features descriptions of the soldiers' life in the unit and the rifle's part in various actions including the major battles at Bussaco and Waterloo and more minor ones that only involved the Light Division.

Urban concludes by discussing the growth of wider consciousness of the part that the Rifles and the Light Division played in the Napoleonic Wars for Britain leading to such things as Bernard Cornwell's hugely popular Sharpe series of novels. There is also a discussion of the impact on military thought and tactics from the Rifle's methods of fighting and the success of the British army against Napoleon's forces.

Mud, Blood and Poppycock is a revisionist history of the First World War, aiming to challenge the popular myths of how the war was fought in British culture. Corrigan's approach is quite technical in terms of using statistical analysis to disprove false perceptions like the numbers of casualties being massive and creating a lost generation. He does acknowledge the effect of the 'Pals Battalions' in leading to localised pockets where heavy losses did occur and that have heavily influenced the common perception of the war.

One book that I'm surprised he doesn't mention or list in his bibliography is Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, which was one of the first titles that I know of that did address the topic. Fussell is mainly an analysis of the copious literature of the First World war and the way this shaped the popular view.

I've still not finished Corrigan yet so I will probably return to discuss the subject of perceptions of World War One in a later post.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More miniatures pictures

The Minifigs hobgoblins from this  post, now cleaned up using Dettol.

Old Minifigs 25mm SF figures - Ceyhan Pinheads and Robomen.

I'm now going to strip the old Humbrol enamels off the SF figures and repaint them, I'll post pictures as I go.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Review: The Bloody White Baron - James Palmer

Insane, murderous and worshipped as a god, no not your humble reviewer, but the subject of The Bloody White Baron, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, an infamous White Russian commander in the Civil War.

This biography of Baron Ungern-Sternberg is James Palmer's first book. Ungern was born into the Estonian German nobility of the Russian Empire and seems to have had an awkward childhood being made to leave a number of schools before going to a military academy. He became a junior officer in the Imperial Russian Army with a cavalry regiment in Siberia, where he became fascinated by the Mongol and Buryat nomads. Due to disciplinary problems he was moved between regiments and sent away from active service with his violent behaviour remaining a problem through his life.

Ungern was recalled to the military with the outbreak of the First World War, gaining a reputation for reckless courage, but still being indisciplined. Under the Provisional Government he was sent back to Siberia to establish stable military units there before the October Revolution. Joining the White Russians in the Transbaikal region after the revolution he served under Semonov as part of the Siberian forces that undermined Admiral Kolchak's forces by stealing their supplies being sent across the Trans-Siberian railway.

Splitting from Semonov, Ungern lead a small army into Mongolia to drive out the Chinese. He eventually succeeded, setting the Bogd Khan as spiritual leader and becoming dictator. The Bolsheviks establishing control of Siberia started to attack Mongolia. Ungern's troops rebelled against his irrational cruelty as he led them against them, ending in his overthrow and capture by the Red Army.

Ungern's life, like that of many minor historical figures, suffers from being poorly documented which means that in places Palmer does have to speculate, but there is enough information used to avoid this being wild guesses. There is also a depiction of Mongolia and its history in the early Twentieth Century stuck between the Russian Empire and China, both of which had territorial ambitions over it and at times Palmer slips into writing a travel book about his research in Mongolia rather than concentrating on Ungern's life. I did find that this helped to give a sense of the region that the action occurred in. The writing is clear and tends to avoid being either academically dessicated or slipping into purple prose.

Palmer has chosen to try and portray the intellectual milieu of the Russian aristocracy in the period where Buddhism, Theosophy and pan-Asian ideas were popular and undoubtedly influenced Ungern. The discussion of Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism was interesting in showing aspects of Buddhist beliefs that are different from the usual western views of it as being a peaceful religion.

One irritation with the book is the lack of illustrations and only having two maps in the front it is hard to relate to some of Palmer's commentary on images of the protagonists or the terrain of Mongolia and Siberia. This criticism can also be applied to the descriptions of the Buddhist temples in Mongolia and China and the images of the warlike gods included. Footnotes have been used to show the sources and an index and bibliography are included.

Overall this is an interesting and entertaining biography of a figure that has maintained a shadowy presence in popular culture and I would recommend it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World building - inspiration v perspiration

A post on James Malizewski's Grongardia blog has got me thinking about world building and the mixture of approaches that can be taken which I have called inspiration and perspiration. My definition of these is that inspiration is taking ideas and not ensuring that every little detail has been matched up and thought through or particularly not rejecting ideas as being out of place to readily. Perspiration is based on the painstaking development of the base concepts.

Of course pretty much any world building starts with a light bulb moment (the usual cartoon depiction of an idea), but after that there can be the divergent approaches of trying to construct a detailed, logically fleshed out setting with much perspiration or just detailing the immediately needed areas of the world and then improvising on the fly after that.

I suspect that the reason that the inspiration approach often produces more effective results is that it uses internalised knowledge of world building and existing settings that allows something that 'feels right' to be identified unconsciously. The other strength of the inspirational approach is that not elements in a world do make immediate sense or fit together in an obvious way allowing a more organic and realistic feeling with the setting.

Personally I've not been the biggest developer of my own worlds often preferring to detail an area in a published or historical setting such as Glorantha or the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, but even then I find that I can get things to fit together well, often from long experience of the setting. In Glorantha there is a much stronger sense of the world compared to the Wilderlands which has always had a fairly loose approach to anything like 'canon'.

I think my favourite source of inspiration is often listening to my players' comments as we are in a gaming session with that leading to me being able to create adventure hooks and seeds in the campaign and that can go on into other campaigns in that setting.

Monday, May 31, 2010

My oldest miniatures

These are the oldest metal miniatures that I bought, Minifigs 25mm Hobgoblins from the D&D range. They show some efforts to remove the poor paintjobs and are due to be properly cleaned off and repainted sometime this year.

The next ones are some 25mm Napoleonics that I was given when I was about 10 years old, they were already painted and I'm not sure of the manufacturer, so if anyone has any ideas about which company made them I'd appreciate it as a comment.

British Line


French Line

French Grenadiers

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

I've recently reread Patrick O'Brian's first book in the Aubrey and Maturin series, Master and Commander. As the first in the series it had to be written as more of a stand alone novel than the others as there was no certainty of it being warmly received. In this novel particularly Jack Aubrey's exploits are more strongly based on Lord Cochrane's real life experiences than some of the other novels in the series, particularly the taking of the Cacafuego which is based on the capture of El Gamo. In using Lord Cochrane as a model O'Brian follows a precedent set by Captain Marryat and used by many other writers of naval fiction.

The large number of supporting characters that appear in subsequent books have much less of a bearing upon this novel though some of the characters featured here do go on to appear in many other novels in the series. One of the more frequently used is Master's Mate Mowett whose poetical bent is established and often has the role of explainingnautical terms to Doctor Maturin.

O'Brien is careful to try and evoke the speech of the Georgian age and avoids excessive description though he does need to have passages where nautical terms are explained. This is mainly achieved by having Doctor Maturin, whose only experience of the sea has been as a passenger, recieve explanations from various members of the Surprise's crew. The pacing of the novel is good managing to have several peaks and keep the reader's interest and there is a depth to the characterisation that is not evident in all books of this genre. I would certainly recommend this novel and the series as a whole to other readers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tim Powers' historical fantasy fiction

I've reread a couple of Tim Powers' fantasy novels recently, The Drawing of the Dark  and The Anubis Gates. These two are pretty interesting to me because of the settings with the Drawing of the Dark being based around the Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks in 1529 which matches my having had an Ottoman Turkish wargames army for many years.

The Anubis Gates could be subtitled 'a history of William Ashbless, poet' and is mainly set in the Georgian London of 1808. It does feature time travel using gates created by a failed summoning of the Egyptian God Anubis, hence the title. It is an entertaining novel with an enjoyably self-referential set of subplots and a surprisingly open ending.

Drawing of the Dark is centred on the siege of Vienna in 1529, though the purpose of the siege is revealed to be part of a magical struggle between East and West rather than the Turks conquering Europe. An ancient brewery in Vienna lies at the heart of the conflict and this is where the dark ale of the title is drawn. The ale has mystical powers that tie in with the theme of reincarnation and rebirth in the novel. The legend of the Fisher King needing to cured to restore the lands of the West to health is a basis of the plot and this links it into Arthurian and Grail legends. The Drawing of the dark was published earlier than the Anubis Gates and I think that the latter shows a more confident approach to integrating the traditional elements with the plot, but both are entertaining novels and good sources of ideas for fantasy roleplayers.

One consistent element in both is the need of magicians to avoid contact with the earth, which matches some of the older elements from mythology such as fairies being afraid of cold iron and shows Powers' liking for use of traditional mythical elements such as the Grail legends.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

RIP Frank Frazetta

I was a fan of Frank Frazetta's art on the old Conan and other fantasy books from the 1970s and his work definitely influenced how I conceived the world that my D&D adventures took place in. Though I have to admit I preferred other versions of Conan, such as Barry Windsor-Smith's work for Marvel comics or Chris Quilliam's work for Mongoose Publishing. Some obituaries are at the Guardian and NY Times showing how well known his work was in the mainstream.

My personal favourite from Frazetta's artwork is the Death Dealer which has been widely used including as a model for miniature figures from various manufacturer.

Friday, May 07, 2010

RPG for the age of sail: Beat to Quarters

I've recently been looking at the RPG Beat to Quarters from Ominhedron Games which is for roleplaying in the Age of Sail, specifically the era between 1780 and 1815. So this goes from the American War of Independence to the end of the Napoleonic era. This post isn't going to be a detailed review as I'll probably try and do one for sometime.

For  me as a fan of Patrick O'Brian's naval stories this did have a pretty immediate appeal which has been confirmed on actually reading the rules.

Unusually for a RPG the rules use a deck of playing cards as the randomising factor instead of dice, but this does give a method of having a broad set of outcomes and ranges of success by using the suit and value of the card, e.g. an ace of diamonds is not the same result as an ace of clubs. Resolution is at a high level rather than D&D style detailed approaches, for example to resolve sailing round Cape Horn you would have one test rather than navigation, seamanship, etc skill checks.

There are a number of features that I like about how the design models the social interactions of the characters and the milieu that they exist in, such as the ship they are serving on being modelled as a NPC and the ship's captain usually being a NPC rather than one of the player characters. Character generation is largely designed by the player, but includes random elements that I like as a spur to creativity.

I'll probably return to writing about this soon once I've played around with the character generation rules.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miniatures work in progress 15mm Pirates and SF figures

At last I've finished the first set of 15mm Pirates for my Hordes of the Things army.

Gun crew waiting for me to finish the cannon.

The first set of shooters (pirates with longarms)

First set of warband (melee weapons)

Officers (blade general)

FSE Legionnaires

FSE Legionnaires closeup

Size Comparison 15mm figures (Laserburn, Ground Zero Games, Laserburn, Peter Pig) 

Kim Newman - Master of Post-modernist Horror

I've recently been reading a lot of Kim Newman's older short stories in the collections  The Original Dr. Shade and Famous Monsters. This has been interesting to see the evolution of his writing style as many of the stories in the Original Dr. Shade are very early pieces where the use of pop culture references, particularly to film is not as developed as in his more recent work.

Doctor Shade features a number of Newman's recurring characters including the sinister figure of media mogul Derek Leech. Though funnily enough the figure that Leech seems closest to in real life has actually changed from its original target in my opinion, though others may not agree with my expression of it.

My favourites stories in The Original Dr. Shade are the title story, which is an interesting riff on an apparently fictional character emerging into the real world; Gargantuabots versus the Nice Mice, satirising the toy industry and its 'hot toys'; D-and-D and The man who collected Barker. D-and-D is one of the first times I've seen the fantasy Vietnam scenario used in wide circulation, though we did have A Private Hell in the Dungeoneer from 1979 as the first time I saw Vietnam era US soldiers trapped in a fantasy world. Newman makes good use of the alternative reality scenario with dwarves and other creatures allied to the human forces.

Generally the stories in Famous Monsters show the development of Newman's writing style and it includes alternative histories as well as horror stories. There are a lot of stories including one of Newman's favourite tropes of mixing historical figures with existing fictional characters, both his and other authors. An example of this is The Big Fish, a Cthulhu Mythos story where Geneviève Dieudonné from Jack Yeovil's Warhammer stories appears. The Big Fish is a nicely written piece that works by conflating the horror and detective story genres. Some of the stories are a bit dated such as Pitbull Brittain which is very much of the Thatcher government era and I think might be hard to understand for a reader that, unlike me, couldn't remember the era.

There is an interesting rework of the Zorro legend in Out of the Night and I'd say that is another of my favourite stories from Famous Monsters using a werewolf trope and a finale in contemporary Los Angeles.

I'm probably going to return to writing some more about Kim Newman and his associate Jack Yeovil's fiction in the near future.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Miniatures Review 6: Ground Zero Games 15mm SF

Ground Zero Games has a number of SF figure ranges in scales ranging from 25mm to 6mm. The figures I'm reviewing are 15mm scale which is probably my favorite for SF miniatures gaming. These are a small selection of figures from the ranges they have which are mainly intended for the Stargrunt rules, which can be freely downloaded from the GZG website. Price wise GZG are at the higher end of the 15mm market with a pack of 8 figures costing £2.50 in the UK, but there are a wide range of platoon packs, etc which allow saving money on purchases.

Overall comments are that these are a pretty much standard 15mm size with the measurement being foot to eye with a less pronounced sculpting style than the Peter Pig figures that I have reviewed. The sculpting is reasonably correct anatomically and has quite clear definition of weapons and equipment against the clothing, the folds are not as deeply modeled as Peter Pig, but are still clear enough and will allow use of washes in painting. There is a little flash on many figures and some moulding lines to remove before painting. I intend to pick up more of these figures and will soon do a size comparison of them against some of the Laserburn 15mm SF range.

GZG make an extensive selection of vehicles mainly in resin and at some point I'll try to look at these and the starship models for Full Thrust.

Pack SG15-U1 UNSC Hardsuit Marines (8 figs)

This pack contains 8 figures in 4 poses, 2 of the poses only have 1 figure supplied the pointing squad leader on the left and the support weapon trooper second from right, with 3 figures in each of the other 2 poses. These are an armoured troop, but not power armoured with most having an assault rifle type weapon.

SG15-U2 UNSC Light Infantry in Advanced Combat Armour, Rifles Pack A

This pack contains 8 figures all with an assault rifle type weapon.

SG15-G1 Generic Command Team pack (8 figures, 2 each of 4 types)

This set includes 4 different poses with 2 of each provided. These are a seated figure for use as a vehicle crewman or equipment operator, a standing officer in peaked cap, a standing figure using a laptop computer and a standing figure with a small personal weapon (SMG). These are pretty much usable for any human nation as the uniforms and equipment are not particularly specific to any group.

SG15-F2 FSE Colonial Legionnaires (8 figs) in kepis

These figures have two heavy weapons included the squad automatic weapon third from left which is pretty much just a heavy version of the assault rifle carried by the other troops and a rocket launcher with the figure at far right of the picture. Only two of the figures are bareheaded, the rocket launcher operator and another figure that I took as the squad leader. Their assault rifle resembles the French FAMAS bullpup design with a handle on top.  There was a little flash between the legs of these figures which probably reflects them being one of the older packs in the review and the amount of use the moulds will have received. There have been a few figures with a moulding fault in the middle of their kepi which has required a small amount of filler to correct and this probably reflects this being an older mould.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wargames rules and realism, part one command and control

One thing that often tends to crop up in debates about wargames rules is how historically accurate they are, with often more 'rules dense' systems being claimed as more accurate than other systems simply because of the volume of rules included. One problem with many sets is a lack of clarity about the actual part of warfare or level of command that they are simulating. This leads to the games lasting maybe a dozen turns which according to the scales in the rules would actually be less than three hours for the action. Another factor will be excessive concentration on details which may not be relevant to the level of command being represented as an army level game should not be trying to include a detailed simulation of combat at platoon or lower levels.

An example of a popular game system where I feel one key element of simulation is omitted despite there being an abundance of 'chrome' in other areas is Advanced Squad Leader.My main objection is the telepathic communication between groups that may not be in Line of Sight of each other and the ability of the player to have pretty much total control of their good order units (it is true that broken units will only rout to safety if possible). The advocates of ASL would maintain that it is a highly realistic system because of such factors as ammunition depletion numbers for ordnance, multiple versions of support weapons such as bazookas and panzerfausts for different years and the different unit and national characteristics for squads. That said I have all three of the Starter Kits for ASL and will happily play using those, though I feel the whole game system is too much for me.

Another problem for ASL has been the fact that it is used in competitive gaming where it is important to make rules unambiguous in meaning requiring a more detailed and legalistic style of writing that unfortunately makes it harder to learn the system.

This problem of rules becoming less clear and more legalistic in their content has been apparent with the Wargames Research Group ancient rules, which due to their early success and adoption for competition tended to a more legalistic drafting in the familiar 'Barkerese'. Ironically more complex detailed drafting continues to create or leave gaps that can be exploited by the dreaded rules lawyers. The best option is probably to have umpired games, but unfortunately it is hard to find many people eager to give their limited gaming time up for running games for other players.

Probably the two biggest problems that reduce the realism of wargames are the lack of the 'fog of war' where all troops are visible all the time and telepathic command where units are able to receive and obey perfectly orders and changed orders from a general that is physically distant from them. Both of these are easily addressed in the traditional umpired Kriegspiel where players give their orders to the umpire who then records the movement onto the map and only reveals the presence of opposing forces at appropriate times.

The 'fog of war' is something that can be represented by use of blinds which represent bodies of troops, but do not actually show what is present to the opposing player. The actual units will be revealed when the opposing player is able to spot them. It is not a perfect system, but this does at least create an element of uncertainty that is workable in a game without an umpire or referee and using dummy blinds increases the level of uncertainty.

Limiting command and control can be achieved in a wide range of methods from written orders which will be followed until a messenger figure is able to move from the general figure, to limited numbers of moves based on a die roll (e.g. DBA) or drawing cards from a deck (most Too Fat Lardies rules). I think that will be worth discussing in a separate post as this is quite a lengthy topic in how they can affect the play of a game and I would like to include quite a large number of games including Crossfire and Song of Blades and Heroes.

As an example of a ruleset that tends to include the elements of limited visibility and command limitations that I desire I'd use Troops, Weapons and Tactics from Too Fat Lardies. In these rules a card driven system is used to control which units can move or act within a turn, though at turn end all units are able to fire if they have not already used all the dice allocated to them. In TW&T all units will normally start the turn represented by blinds, which are standard shaped cards with each side having a number of these depending on the size of the forces involved plus a number of dummy blinds. Leaders are important in being able to motivate units to take additional actions or to un pin units. I'm going to make a more detailed comment about these in the next post on this topic to avoid this turning into a vast essay.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Miniatures work in progress Pirates and SF figures

Continuing progress with my Peter Pig 15mm Pirates and starting on some Ground Zero Games FSE Colonial Legionnaires.

Pirates overview

Pirate captain close up

GZG FSE Legionnaire squad in the start of camouflage based on French Foreign Legion Paratroopers