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.