Monday, 12 September 2016

Two weeks' productive painting

BOYL was good for enthusiasm but it was the deadline imposed by last Friday's game that got me actually painting. Figuring I needed six more orcs for my 1000 point force I eventually scaled my ambition back to these four chaps, and made do with a few more that really are due for the stripping jar.

It's hard to know what different people rate as productive output, but this is about my limit for two weeks, and with the motivation of a proper deadline and a bank holiday weekend in there as well. As a result some of the spinning plates of my life are left looking distinctly wobbly, so in conclusion a figure a week is probably my best-case steady output. It's a useful corrective to bear in mind when contemplating Snickit's recent painting challenge.

That said what I'd really like to do is some dwarves for that (about 50 figures) plus finish off my orcs (2 or 3) plus 1000 points of chaos (about another 20 figures) and still make progress on my SAGA vikings. Maybe not going to happen...

Still, at least in the meantime I now have a more respectably sized unit of savage orcs than I had previously. Need work on the bases and tattoos yet though.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Stone thrower wot won it

At BOYL I was introduced to a fellow Oldhammerer called Nick and we got together yesterday for a game of 3rd edition - 1000 points of orcs versus beastmen. Scenarios being important we raided Dragon Rampant for inspiration and opted for the Crystal Gale: 10 crystals placed around the table to add a treasure hunting element to the fighting.

The somewhat blurry photo above shows the initial setup - centaurs, beastmen, more beastmen, a troll with its shaman minder (or is that the other way around?) and a pack of chaos hounds facing (also left to right) some archers, warriors (in mid-move), savage orcs, shaman, elite orcs (also in mid-move), a stone thrower and some boar riders.

As Nick had observed he was fairly outnumbered, but I wasn't feeling too sympathetic at that point as his beastman general had 6 personal attributes - all beneficial ones at that - and I was feeling a bit concerned about facing him. To balance things out his shaman had an attribute of Stupidity, hence his delegation to troll duty.

The game left me with four main impressions: a good evening was had rolling dice, which is certainly the most important thing; those dice are probably more significant to the outcome of the battle than any generalship short of horrendous errors; 1000 points is about right for a short game (somewhat over two hours plus the table setup, attribute generation and so on) and war machines are still overpowered in 3rd ed.

Speaking of dice, Nick's centaurs swept into my archers fairly early on - and after a shocking initial round spent most of the game battling them. By contrast the chaos hounds, with very similar stats, made short work of the boar riders on my right flank and in the picture above are about to kill off my stone thrower crew.

The crew by that point had more than earned their keep. Their three shots of the evening (when they weren't busy animositying) had hit the shaman and troll (killing both, although the troll regenerated) and the general's unit twice - sending him routing off the table with a couple of his surviving beastmen. I was fortunate that due to the long minimum range of the stone thrower their failed animosity rolls couldn't inflict similar damage on my own units!

Definitely the dice were on my side, so I'm no doubt due the opposite result one evening soon. I was however left with the feeling that I should do a version of my 1000 point force with no war machines.

My final blurry picture of the evening shows the dispositions when time ran out. Nick was 4-3 ahead on the crystal collection front but depleted in terms of forces.

Which brings my to my final impression of 3rd ed - you can quite quickly get to the point where the result seems clear, but actually getting from there to a definitive end can take a long time. So it's quite handy sometimes to be stopped by the clock.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Going all modern (briefly)

I was tempted into playing a game of Force on Force this week at my local club - modern wargaming really isn't my cup of tea but this had all the right ingredients: a GM-lead scenario with mis-matched sides, hidden movement and complex objectives.

It turned out I was leading a force of rebels somewhere in the South Caucasus who were buying "a package" from a shady dealer who'd arrived by light aircraft. The authorities had got wind of our location and arrived just as we were concluding the transaction.

The above picture is from early in the game - the authorities have a big chunk of their forces in the wood on the top right and a few more behind the buildings at the top of the picture. One of my teams has started up the leader's Mercedes to help him get away, but it's all about to get very bloody.

The shooting emphasises troop quality as much as their equipment and the rules seem well set up handle opposed actions (such as when a unit comes into the line of fire of an enemy on overwatch - will the overwatch unit open fire before their targets can act, or not?), morale and the impact of wounded on the remainder of the team, suppressive fire and all that. 

As I said, modern isn't really my cup of tea as it's all a bit close to home, but I suddenly feel the need to paint up some gangers for Logans World or some such...

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Very belated BOYL report

I only managed a single day of BOYL this year, but it was as inspirational as always.

I spent the day playing Norse and Harry's and Siege of Dumezil Hold scenario from the First Edition Redwake River Valley campaign (although actually a lot of the day was spent wandering around chatting and admiring other people's models).

Harry has created a lovely set of dungeon tiles to go with his Frostgrave winter terrain, which allowed for the exterior and interior of the siege / assault.

My lads were leaving the messy fighting around the gate to some other fools (who did have the help of a couple of giants!) while we attacked a couple of sally ports. Our objective was to kill the dwarf king and destroy an artefact of theirs, leaving them too demoralised to help in the war against Psammon.

An interesting aspect of First Edition is that a character's attributes are rolled and adjusted for their species. I ended up having my hero Gublub (formerly Grack the Wise) with a very low intelligence and subject to stupidity, while my shaman Gruk the Loon was subject to frenzy. The latter came in handy as he also rolled up a mostly useless selection of spells.

As with the system of traits in Dragon Rampant I do think these random attributes really add to the game. Although sometimes you're going to end up with something a bit duff it does make you think of the leaders more in terms of personality than just as a generic champion, and also embrace the possibility that they're not actually very heroic.

I'm not sure whether it was Gublub's stupidity or my own tactical ineptitude that enabled the dwarf king and the dwarves' sacred artefact to escape, but in my defense dwarves are no easier to dislodge from tunnels in first edition than they are in later versions. We did decide though that the surviving orcs wouldn't be too unhappy - with the dwarves having fled and their commander felled by the devestatingly effective elven bows they were now in possession of a rather comfortable dwarven hold. Given his size Gublub seems favourite to become the new leader but I'm not so sure - Gruk is just as good in a fight and being subject to frenzy might tip the balance! If nothing else if should make for some interesting leadership debates...

The Rise of Morcar

There were several other impressive games on the day but for sheer weight of models on the table a mention has to be given to the Rise of Morcar game.

This scale of battle isn't really my cup of tea, but it's good to see someone doing it, and not only to see some of the models that had been produced for the occasion. Though having said that, somewhere in amongst that lot for example are some of the most interesting chaos spawn (or other gribblies in that vein) that I've seen. But equally when you focus in on what looks like a "normal" unit, and it turns out that actually it's a unit of trolls, then that's not my Warhammer.

But if this is your cup of tea then Snickit's write up contains lots of pictures, if you've not seen them already.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Game-related historical snippets

I'm reading a lot of history resources at the moment (slowly, as I need to keep a notebook on hand) and in my typical fashion this is a bit all over the place although mainly focussed on the dark ages early medieval period.

I've also at the strength of this intro at Ex Urbe started watching Borgia: Faith and Fear. That intro is fascinating in its own right (a couple of highlights: pink was for poor people, Vikings loved clown trousers), if anything after that the TV series itself is a bit of a disappointment although still worth watching. The main problem with the series is that the writing seems really clunky - characters spend an awful lot of time describing recent events to one another - but when I can overlook that it's very worthwhile for the scenery and mood.

The scenery because it's a good reminder how much more modern the Renaissance was, and hence WFRP is, than the vanilla pseudo-medieval RPG setting. Think palaces not castles - on which note, having also just watched Sam Willis' The Silk Road series, it's worth adding that the Doge's Palace in Venice is also in-period as far as WFRP is concerned.

The mood because it's great to see the cardinals being incredibly corrupt and self-serving while at the same time being devout and god-fearing (this is also a lesson I'm hoping to take on board from the Robert Low I've been reading recently, of having characters be properly influenced by their religious beliefs). Borgia is at times teaching me things I was just as happy not knowing - I'd dimly heard of the Breaking wheel in the past, I now have a much more gut-level appreciation of it thanks to the beginning of the second episode. I don't think there's anything gameable in that, but it always good to be reminded of other sorts of grim for the grim-dark.

On the early medieval side of things I'm struggling slightly to get my bearings. Thanks to Monty Python we know that in many ways the Romans were quite sophisticated, then you had the Dark Ages and then 1066 and all that. The general sweep of the period is quite easy to pick up but the day-to-day, which seems to me essential in a game setting sense, much less so.

A couple of interesting (to me, at least), and related snippets so far concern the development of agriculture. At the start of the period the two-field system was used for agriculture, but was relatively fragile leading to lower surpluses and more frequent famines. The three field system, which apparently was first used in the Loire region in the 8th century, seems to have spread slowly and erratically (both systems were in use in England in the 14th century). But the greater yields from and robustness of the latter not only reduced the likelihood of famine but in addition produced surpluses which in turn made horses more "affordable". Also the horse collar doesn't make its way to Europe until after 900AD so prior to that yoked oxen were the main source of power for ploughing and so on. Over the next few hundred years horses (being more powerful, faster, and having greater endurance) made agriculture still more efficient and made day-to-day existence less precarious.

So, oxen and famines it is!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

I covet minotaurs

A very banal piece of self-discovery, but you have to start somewhere...

When I first heard about the Diehard Kickstarter it was the undead minotaur that convinced me I had to back it. And he arrived in the post on Friday!

Diehard undead minotaur and Citadel minotaur lord
He's extremely crouched over and so a lot more imposing in person than he may seem from that picture. The detailing is lovely and I'm sure he'll be a delight to paint - I probably won't get to him this decade though... The one down side, which is purely a personal thing, is that his axe head is ridiculously large - I think I'm going to have to substitute something more in line with that held by my two minotaur lords. And I've no idea how I'm going to base him!
Citadel minotaur and minotaur lord
Speaking of minotaur lords, the original C34 lord is the figure I most coveted in my mate Ed's collection back in the day. I eventually traded with him, I don't remember on what terms, but since I got back into the hobby all I've managed to do is strip the gloopy enamel I'd started to paint over Ed's original paint job. Real life is rather interfering with hobby time at the moment, and I'm extremely behind on my Viking SAGA force, never mind getting onto anything else. One day I will get to these chaps though, and the remainder of their Marauder brethren!
All four together
The big minotaur lord on the right is another minotaur that I coveted - if in the last year I'd been putting together an eBay wish list he'd have been towards the top. Then a few months ago while sorting through a box of university-era clutter I found the Eldar scouts that I knew I had somewhere, and him (which up to that point I had no recollection of buying).
Son of Slomm with minotaur for scale
Son of Slomm was another key attraction from the Kickstarter and a properly interesting chaos something. Hints of dog and bear in there and who knows what else? And big, as you can see. The weapons again are a bit over the top for me, but I'll not be hacking this chap around.
My final non-familiar is the Eru-kin mage. I had no good reason for buying this chap, but it's an interesting figure and I've a feeling I'll end up getting some sort of sci-fi forces painted up at some point. My justification was that it's always good to have something a bit different to act as a focal point, scenario feature, contingent leader or so on. I can also see myself being tempted into putting together an Eru-kin Frostgrave warband or some such. Again, on the big side, shown above against about the biggest non-terminator marine I own (excuse the old and rather average paint job). As I don't have any other Eru-kin the scale isn't really an issue, and it's fair enough to have an alien race not be human-sized. But I'm left wondering whether it's scale creep from the last 20 years or intentional.

Monday, 25 April 2016

What does the medieval family look like?

Rick Stump's recent article about village and family demographics, and in particular the graph on there, really got me thinking about what the medieval village and family looked like.

The graph shows population before the first demographic transition which is yet another reason that, despite enjoying medieval game worlds, I really don't want to live there. In simple terms, people are dying as fast as they're being born, mainly from the old standbys - disease, famine, war and famine caused by war.

From the starting points in Rick's article I thought I'd try and visualise what the population of a village really might look like but then, deciding that particular rabbit hole was a bit too deep, thought I'd instead try to get a picture of just one family. I'm sure there's been all sorts of scholarly study on this but only a few interesting data points came to light from my initial hunting. This gives me enough to hang some ideas on to while seeming to me at least to be plausible, however wrong those ideas may in fact be!
  • Högberg et al, Maternal Deaths in Medieval Sweden: An Osteological and Life Table Analysis has all sorts of interesting information, but of most use is the life expectancy graph.
  • There's a widely quoted figure of 14.4 maternal deaths for every 1,000 births in 15th century Florence. This initially seemed a bit low to me given the gap in life expectancy for men and women in Högberg's paper, until you remember Rick's figure of 6 children per family and hence a 9% chance of dying in childbirth for the average mother...
  • The life of Lucrezia Borgia is interesting anyway, but especially so in this context, giving the stark reminder that a limiting factor in the size of a family wasn't the parents deciding not to have more children, but one of the parents dying! Again from the Högberg's paper it can be seen that the average life expectancy for a woman was around 33, for a man around 40 (although interestingly if they can reach age 50, life expectancy is actually slightly higher for women - presumably due to the risk from childbirth being removed).
From there I had enough (probably dodgy) data points to get started from -
  1. Given that 33 year life expectancy and an average family size of 6 children, in hand-waving terms I called that a 1/3 chance of a child being born per year from when the mother is age 16 until age 40
  2. Rick furnished figures for death in infancy and up to mid-teens
  3. The Högberg's paper allows me to generate life expectancy for those who make it to the advanced age of 15!
With some random number generation and the WFRP name generator I came up with the following for a family on a farm somewhere in Reikland in 2504 -

Klemens runs a farm where his recently deceased wife's grandfather still lives, her father having died just a few years before. They have four surviving young children (although the random number generator says Gustaf will be dead within the year). Brother-in-law Friebald and his wife Esmeralda are an invaluable help as is his sister-in-law Carlotta, although she'll probably be married off soon. Rigo (aged 13) and Eldred (aged 11) are both expected to do a full adult's share of the work as well.

I found generating the above an oddly poignant process, as the random number generator killed off children that various stages of infancy, or mothers with families, and that was just for entries on a page with labels like "Son A3-2"! But it did bring home those bare statistics about mortality rates in a way that will hopefully give my in-game villages a bit more soul in the future. 

There's are a few things I might give some more thought to when I get the chance, such as making couples more varied in age, especially if I ever tackle the "village" problem - the (fairly obvious) thought being that the smaller the community the more it comes to who's available, or simply not related to the suitor, rather than any thoughts of romance. Passing adventurers who show any sign of success and who have all of their limbs and some of their teeth suddenly move from "we don't like their sort" to "eligible"...!

The other thing to think about is to have the deaths cluster more - although certainly people would die from isolated incidents and accidents, such as the "minor wound becomes infected" theme that I've started to notice from certain historical and dark fantasy authors, at least some would be clustered from disease, famine or violence. It'd be interesting to know what the balance should be between the isolated and the clustered - maybe 3 of the 4 deaths across 2502 / 3 / 4 could actually have been caused by the same event? 

Meanwhile I go back to being thankful for epidemiology and all the rest of our modern wonders.