Thursday, 31 December 2015

Nor way to paint an army

I originally hoped to have 6 points of SAGA vikings painted by the weekend before Christmas, as my club was holding a competition. I always knew it would be a big ask, but I rather thought I'd get further than this...

For the benefit of the uninitiated that's only 4 points worth, and 3 of those points are elite quality, so that's about the smallest starter warband you can conceive of.

As always it took me ages to select the models - my starting point was always going to be Foundry's ex-Citadel Norse, and I was hoping some Gripping Beast plastics plus a couple of their berserkers would round off the force. Unfortunately although the GB plastics are 28mm they're realistic rather than heroic proportions compared to the Foundry Norse (i.e. a bit skinny, with small hands and heads), and GB's berserkers and character models look enormous next to them. Eventually I settled on one of the smaller GB berserkers and a Foundry character model who Marcus sold me on at Colours, along with a mix of plastics and Foundry Norse. There's definitely a bit of a variation in sizes, but I think once painted and based they'll look fine together.

I've since found that Crusader's vikings are a pretty good match size-wise for the Foundry ones, so I'll add a point of their hirdmen to the final warband.

I also found assembling the plastics to be a further hurdle - there's the decisions to make as to the pose to go with, then when you're obsessive like me also a question of filling some of the more obvious joins, all of which slow me down further. More of a reason to stick with metals where I can!

My painting approach may seem a bit odd, being neither a batch or single model. As can be seen from the photo I've undercoated everything then painted the metal (and flesh in case of the berserkers), I'm then adding the main colours (including shading) a model at a time, and will then do all the leather (belts, straps, scabbards, etc.), hair and finally give them shields.

There are a couple of advantages to this - firstly I can field them in the right company with only minor embarrassment from an early stage, but also the stage I'm at now has rapid results and is much more enjoyable than a standard batch process. Hopefully the whole group will slowly "come in to focus" - but time will tell...

Monday, 30 November 2015

More lovely things to spend money on

At the worst possible time of year not only is the Diehard Miniatures Kickstarter in its last few days but Bood wants to take our money in exchange for dwarves.

It doesn't look like Diehard will quite make the Son of Slomm stretch goal, and to my mind some of the warriors and wizards are a bit ordinary for the £6 price tag (which to my mind is slightly into premium pricing for figures that size), but I'll be honest and say I'm salivating over some of the others!

I've been looking forward to getting some of Bood's dwarves ever since I first became aware of the project. Real life seems to have impacted his plans somewhat, which while understandable is something of a worry, but seeing that some of the dwarves have already seen the light of day on Blue's blog is a reassuring counter to that.

I wonder if the kids will mind Christmas being postponed for a few months...?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Starting a Norse force

It's a long story, or perhaps merely a convoluted justification for starting yet another project...

No one at my local club plays Warhammer, except for when I can entice other Oldhammerers along. I'm going to try and rectify that (our games in the past have attracted some interest) but in the meantime I'm likely to be playing SAGA, Dux Brittaniarum, maybe Hobgoblin and hopefully Frostgrave at some point.

So plan A is to have some painted wizards that I don't feel need the Dettol treatment and 6 points worth of SAGA vikings. That gets me set for SAGA and Frostgrave, with some chaps also usable towards some Dux Saxons. It also gives me the excuse I've been looking for for about 25 years to get some of the Citadel Norse (now from Foundry).

Juxtaposing the sorcerors and the vikings gave me another idea. In the good old days the WFB Norse were basically vikings with a side order of werewolves and some colonising of Lustria. In modern-ish Warhammer they seem to have lost a lot of that flavour and become basically chaos followers in fur - I don't want to go all the way down that road (and close the door on the Magnificent Sven) but it seems to me that, with the chaos gates pretty much on their doorstep, at least some would take the path to chaos. I thought at first if mixing some Norse in with my Citadel mercenaries and some Wars of the Roses (i.e. Empire) infantry to create a renegade / outlaw / wanderer chaos warband. But then I decided it'd be much more flavourful - and so much more work - to create separate Empire-themed and Norse-themed warbands.

Of course I can't have my more exotic beastmen (rhinos, slugs, lizards) in a Norscan chaos force - I need to stock up on beastmen more suited to the climate. So hopefully boars, bears and wolves can be added to the standard goat and dog types.

Or maybe I'll be side-tracked again before I get much beyond the viking warband...

Friday, 23 October 2015

So, Tékumel...

On Thursday evening I got to try Tékumel in a Hangouts game brilliantly hosted by Barry Blatt, and I'm still digesting the experience.

Barry's clearly a Tékumel devotee, the players mostly (or perhaps all) novices to the setting. The session took the traditional approach of having the characters be refugees newly arrived in Tsolyánu (the city of Jakálla to be specific) which helps deal with the fact that the players as well as their characters are dazed and bewildered.

Amongst my notes of the session I jotted down "claustrophobic, exotic, bewildering". There are lots of things to love, including the fact that the chief vermin are not your standard rodents but some overgrown bug, and the mishmash of sword and planet meets vaguely ancient Eastern meets advanced (does having lawyers mean advanced?) civilisation.

It's also quite unsettling - in your typical pseudo-medieval (or even grimdark) setting a starting character may be at the bottom of the food chain but they're out to improve their lot - it may be risky but one of these days... And in the meantime they've got a reasonable idea of how the society around them works. Our characters were (literally) fresh off the boat with no contacts other than their fellow refugees in this society where it's not what you know but who you know and what clan you're in that counts. Clearly the whole Foreigners' Quarter saw us as marks whereas the city proper barely acknowledged our existance. And one of the worst things that could happen to you would be for anyone that matters to pay any attention to you. We were very much in the "them" camp, and exceedingly unlikely to ever become "us".

So in a bizarre way the setting's both very offputting and incredibly fascinating, and as a roleplaying experience deeply rewarding as a result.

I'd very much like to play again (I think...). But it does leave the impression of a setting that's extremely hard to GM, which is a shame.

Monday, 3 August 2015

So that was BOYL '15!

Good to see people already planning for next year, I can't wait to see what springs from the hive mind as the focus event for that. Oldhammer Ahoy pipped the Deathrace to the highlight title for this year, at least for me, and the photos over on Shadowking's blog showcasing the quality and quantity nicely illustrate why, although they looked even better "in the flesh".

Captain Crooks travelling from the other side of the world to put on a game rather puts everyone else to shame though!

I was glad to get my caravaners onto the beautifully prepared table for the Fallout game -

The Nuka-Cola bottle caps are re-roll tokens, which we each had 3 of, and hint at the shear level of effort that LegioCustodes had put into preparing for the game. 

The game was a great showcase of how GM'd scenarios outshine straight forward two-player games. There were six of us playing, with only the supermutants and the Children of the Cathedral having the luxury of knowing who was "against" them (everybody) or who they were "against" (everybody).

I spent the game feeling decidedly out-gunned, but my objectives didn't actually set me against anyone and I was extremely fortunate that all the potential obstacles in my path were either dealt with by other players or decided they had other groups they'd rather fight elsewhere.

I managed to achieve my objectives without firing a shot, and with only one or two unsuccessful shots aimed at me. I had the occasional feeling that it'd be fun to take a more active role than was strictly necessary but was conscious that to do so would probably go badly for me, never mind the fact that ammo you use is ammo you can't sell later!

Fantasy remains where my heart is, but on this showing I would happily paint more stuff with guns.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A post apocalyptic diversion

When LegioCustodes of Oldhammer 40k suggested a game of Rogue Trader set in the Fallout universe for this year's BOYL I thought that'd be a great opportunity to wallow in two different forms of nostalgia, plus I'd only have to paint a handful of figures so that'd be no problem...!

I must learn that I'm (a) slightly obsessive, and (b) a very slow painter. But with lots of forbearance from the family, plus abandoning the plan to include cargo with my brahmin conversion, I'm finally done, and with nearly a week to spare.

As an added bonus I've finally painted a couple of Imperial Guard figures I bought when they were new (one of them even has base colours from then), and got some practice with painting flesh tones other than green. Still a lot of work to do on that (especially my attempt at "weather-beaten Caucasian"), but while there's bits I'm not happy with they're a lot better than they would have been if I'd painted them 20-some years ago.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

So I played Age of Sigmar, and...

... in the words of Warlord Paul's social experiment I'm mostly A (a good time was had), with a pinch of B (not quite my cup of tea).

Anatol Rathbauer's comments on WP's blog bring home some key points. There are a couple of things I'd add -
  1. I really like the size of the game - I'd turned up with a shade under 40 orcs, which felt about right. This is a major advantage in terms of making the game accessible (and, probably not coincidentally, is about the size of a SAGA or Dux Britanniarum starter force, or so I understand it). In 3rd edition terms I still feel I'm 20-odd orcs, plus a boatload of goblins or some sort of allies, short of having a reasonably sized but still small-ish army. Realistically that's a year's worth of painting, without me being distracted onto countless other projects.
  2. Wizards are good to have, but more of a supporting element than a game winner.
  3. I don't like having to translate out of GW-speak.

To go into some detail on that last point, I spent a good part of the game trying to get my head around what the attacks of my orcs counted as. The orc warscrolls (available from the GW site) describe them as being "armed either with Choppas or Pigstikka Spears...  Some units of Orcs are instead armed with a pair of Choppas.", and then there's a profile for the Choppa attack, and a special rule for it also (there are lots of special rules, which add a fair bit of flavour and interest, but also mean a lot of flicking through print-outs). You're constantly tempted to apply the Choppas rule, but then on reading it's clear it only applies to the dual-wielding option. This would easily be fixed by re-labelling the rule as "Pair of Choppas", and eventually you'd naturally get the hang of it, but in a first game even with only 5 units it broke the flow of things somewhat.

In the same vein, but more significantly, is the issue of fielding something for which there's no warscroll. One of our club members had brought along his SAGA force, which in the good old days would easily have stood in for a Norse army. But currently there's none such, and while creating new warscrolls on the surface of things doesn't seem to difficult on looking further it's not trivial either. For a start there are an awful lot of the "special" units and relatively few standard units to use as a baseline, and even then the patterns don't seem to emerge. For example -

Orcs (warriors and archers): Save on 5+
Peasant bowmen: 6+
Men at arms: 6+
Crossbowmen: 6+
Greatswords: 4+
Knights: 4+

Nowadays shields seem to give a re-roll rather than a bonus, so presumably 6+ is your unarmoured baseline (otherwise a re-roll's not much use!), however I've seen at least one warscroll with no armour save...

Equally mounted troops seem to get an extra wound rather than higher save, which is kind of refreshing - no more bashing away until they finally roll a 1.

But it seems odd that orc archers seem armoured by default, whereas crossbowmen aren't, and greatswords are as heavily armoured as knights. By this measure I'm guessing that my Norse example would be 5+ as well, probably with a shield (and a Choppa with a more dignified name), but who knows? Anyway, it's not unsurmountable, but a lot more opaque than I'd like.

Finally it's worth a mention of the miniatures - the proper Age of Sigmar ones really aren't my cup of tea at all, and the infantry seem about 9' tall (in scale). But it did occur to me how much my much younger self would really love the properly big demons and dragons that kids these days seem to get.

Some pictures

My lads line up against some halberdiers, a steam tank(!), and some chaps in gold
I do like the way that the turn structure / initiative work, both on the wider scale and for combat, and the dicing for charges. It brings in a nice element of the uncertainty that I enjoyed in my Dux Britanniarum experience.

Angelic space marine types - you really didn't want to stop just there...!
My high tide point for the game - boar riders are having fun, and the infantry are still hopeful
Beating on the steam tank didn't go as hoped. The boar boys are doing OK, but it's not looking like a win...

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Middle Earth gaming and power levels

An amusing and informative post ranking the most metal deaths in Middle Earth has been doing the rounds on G+. It's given me somewhat more sympathy for the writers of MERP, to add to my appreciation for the critical hits tables - although they still have a fair way to go to make up for the mundanity of the magic system.

It is a good reminder though that Middle Earth as a setting seems almost impossible to systemise. Even setting aside the (perhaps legendary?) exploits of various Noldor in the First Age, it's clear that the Dúnedain, not to mention various elves of different heritages still around in the Third Age, are capable of extraordinary feats.

Personally I'm comfortable with playing in Middle Earth as a fairly low-powered game, but in doing so I'm quietly ignoring arguably a major aspect of the setting. So am I being fair on game designers where that option may not be available, else they would risk short-changing some portion of their audience?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Stormbringer and the world of Elric

Nearly 30 years after buying the game I've finally read the main books in the saga of Elric of Melniboné. Somewhat backwards you could argue, but such was the power that Games Workshop's marketing department held over me back in the day...

Inspired by the How Do I Run a Tolkienesque Game? column over on RPG.Net I thought I'd try and draw out the main themes that a successful Stormbringer game should incorporate, at least in my mind.

Everyone's someone

Elric is obviously exceptional himself (Emperor of Melniboné, etc., etc.), so this maybe a poor inference to draw, but equally just as the whole tone of Lord of the Rings is that it's told primarily from the point of view of the hobbits, it seems important to me that in the saga everyone is someone. The warriors, like Brut of Lashmar or Rackhir the Red Archer are, in Joe Abercrombie terms, all Named Men. Other supporting characters are merchant princes, or kings and queens.

So this doesn't seem to me to be a game where a freshly generated character should be setting out for the first time to make a name for themselves. They're not rich or famous yet, but they've at least seen a bit of the world and made something of a name for themselves. They should also have some contacts, and maybe foes, out there.

No one is safe

Not quite on a Game of Thrones scale, but these named warriors, kings and merchant princes often don't last very long, often discarded in a bare sentance once their part is done. And of course (spoiler alert!) everyone dies by the end. It's a dangerous place.

A menagerie of monsters

The rulebook seemed odd to me when I first owned it, in terms of the shear variety and diversity of the creatures it presents. No longer - it's simply a listing of what Elric encounters in the saga! In terms of a novel it's a bit jarring - some new creation appears without rhyme or reason, sort of like when I sat down to populate my first dungeon many years ago. Except that comparison does Moorcock a great disservice of course; not only does he have to first imagine his creatures, but also he's trying to convey the multitude of planes that are out there, and the breadth of the sorcerors' arts. It only works at all because Elric, as the primary focus of the books and the most powerful sorceror of the age, can recognise these creatures on behalf of the reader, and can and remember their particular weaknesses or the rite to summon their sworn foes.

For it to work in a game I think two things are necessary - firstly to tone things down a little, after all hopefully the characters won't have made quite as many powerful enemies as Elric has. And again, have the characters be reasonably well travelled, or to have studied the arcane, so that they have at least some rumours of the creatures they're facing. But a diverse range of dangerous things seems to me another core theme to bring out.

Globetrotting (and plane-trotting)

Elric and his associates really do get around a bit, not just in the Young Kingdoms but on various planes too. The Young Kingdoms are well connected and varied, so it seems to me a campaign should make the most of this - chasing a quarry, searching for an artefact, or otherwise touching on a wide swathe of the world. My WFRP background makes me think of plots involving local interactions with interweaving factions but that wouldn't really fit the spirit of the saga, which is far more broad-brush.

A bit of planar travel is important as well. With the wide variety of creatures and environments available just in the Young Kingdoms this risks becoming a bit too much to get across without all becoming a bit blurred.

Alternatively there's the option of just starting off in the Young Kingdoms and then moving to a truly planar campaign - maybe not a bad idea given what the planet has in store. But that's another genre entirely - it's noticable that Elric always manages to find his way 'home'.

The eternal battle is central

The Lords of Chaos are ever-present in the saga, and although again Elric is a bit special any long adventure should see the impact of this struggle. It's difficult though to know where to strike the balance if characters are active agents of Law or Chaos - on the one hand the Lords do actively intervene (when it suits them), on the other Elric acts directly against his patron demon on a number of occasions without apparent repercussions. They are distant and mysterious, so maybe the patron's true goals and wishes are unknown, but there's more to it than that.

It's a long way from your typical D&D or WFRP experience where a cleric receives their powers directly from their god and suffers real consequences if they sway too far from the tenets of their cult. An agent of Law or Chaos may have a patron, but also deals with other more minor demons so in a strange way although direct manifestations of the Lords are apparently more common than in other settings, the relationship is also more distant.

Plenty of pulp

Elric may have been conceived as the antithesis of Conan, but the saga is pulp high fantasy all the way. Even setting aside the creatures you have boiling seas and perpetual mists, not to mention a literal edge of the world. Quests end in fantastic castles containing puzzle traps, or tunnels and caves with overt supernatural features. Despite his demeanor Elric himself is a swashbuckler in deed even when not powered by a glut of souls from Stormbringer - in pitched battle he becomes superhuman.


I had and have reservations over the Young Kingdoms as a setting - it has much to recommend it but overall I'm not quite sold. It doesn't call to me as somewhere I want to play, unlike Middle Earth or Warhammer's Old World. I think though I'd like to give it a go some day - but if I do there's one question which I would need to answer, which is where or when to set the campaign.

A big concern with the setting in game terms is the heavy hand of Fate - Elric is firmly on a railroad, the end of which is very much The End. Presumably the entire world is on the railroad with him, which doesn't immediately appeal. It seems there are 7 or so years between the sack of Imrryr and the end of the world so if you do want to adventure in the timeline of the saga then there's scope for that, but not a great deal!

To my mind there are 3 other possibilities -
  1. Set the campaign in the past, with Melniboné still a recognisable Empire. However you can't go too far back without redrawing the map, as the Young Kingdoms are called that for a reason. Perhaps in the youth of Sadric, Elric's father. It gives you longer, but...
  2. Take the multiverse concept to its first stage. The campaign is set in the Young Kingdoms, but with slight, perhaps barely discernible differences. You probably should let on that this isn't the Elric's world, but maybe not...
  3. Go for the full treatment, and slightly rename all the places and people. This though seems the weakest option - why is this a Stormbringer campaign at that point?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Chaos warbands and the pathetic aesthetic

A few weeks back I took some time to get to grips properly with the warbands rules in Slaves to Darkness, in preparation for our mini campaign. In the process one thing that stood out to me was the disconnect between the Realm of Chaos material and Warhammer Armies in terms of tone.

From second edition onwards the rules and army lists have seemed (to me at least) to emphasise the power of chaos warbands and armies, and de-emphasise the consequences. Yes, the warriors have made some perhaps unwise pacts with the chaos powers, but Look At Those Stats. Ravening Hordes and onwards toned this down somewhat with the introduction of chaos thugs and marauders but the theme remained - small, elite, hard-hitting forces.

In Slaves to Darkness the tone is, dare I say it, grimmer and darker, but done well, and before the slide into cliché. The artwork is a big part of this, but also the rules themselves. The champion has a chance of ascending to deamonhood - but will probably end up dead, incapacitated, or a chaos spawn. The warband will primarily be made up of beastmen and standard humans, with a chaos thug - never mind a marauder or warrior - being the rare elite.

With this in mind my slow progress towards a force of chaos raiders has taken a turn towards the pathetic. Or, to put it another way, I want my chaotics to encompass the mad, the bad and the sad.

The bad are clearly the proper chaos thugs - on the path to worldly power and damn the consequences. But before they get there they'll start out like the chap in the middle there - angry, violent, but not especially accomplished fighters.

The sad would rather not be in the ranks of chaos at all. But the taint of chaos has given them the choice: exile or death. Perhaps they took the job of guarding that wierd-looking crate - probably not strictly legit, but they had a family to feed! Or maybe they just woke up one morning with an extra ear. Either way, the path has been chosen for them.

And the mad - probably started off as the bad, or the sad. But now the attention of the chaos powers has overwhelmed them, and in a fight they're lucky if they remember which end of the club to hold.

In model terms, I was always thinking of mixing in various proxies along with my recognisable thugs. But I think I should also field some human "levy" types - probably eager to fight, unlike their counterparts in other armies, but inadequately armed and carelessly led. And chaos spawn, which I never really saw the attraction of before - I'm definitely going to need some of them, and some spawn handlers.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Realm of Chaos campaign reflection, suggestions and MacGuffins

I spent last Saturday enjoying a Realm of Chaos campaign put together by Gaj, along with Jeff McC and Paul D. For all of us I think it was our first "proper" taste of RoC, although Jeff and I had also played in the big warbands game at BOYL '13, and I think it's fair to say we're all keen to play again another day. There are a few things we'll probably do differently next time, mainly down to what seem to be shortcomings with the campaign system itself, although probably a degree of user error was involved as well.

There are photos too, but if that's all you want to see then probably best to scroll down...


  • We played in pairs across two halves of a 6' x 4' table - small was definitely better
  • Warbands games are small (and fast - we managed to fit 4 (and even 5) in the day), but because of that also spikier than a typical game of Fantasy Battle. Although WFB can also be prone to bouts of streaky dice it's exacerbated with a warband where for example a lucky round of combat can lead to enough casualties (maybe only 1 or 2) for rout tests to be required
  • In a bid to even up the starting strengths of the warbands we'd settled on each having a level 10 hero plus two rolls on the followers table. This seems in hindsight to have given (slightly) overpowered champions.
  • In every game the losing warband also had its champion killed / incapacitated - typically there was a fight between the champions which tended to also settle the scenario outcome. In one case at least though a champion was killed by missile fire alone
  • Overall though the RoC campaign system seems to have a significant flaw - once a warband starts to fall behind in strength it doesn't seem possible to catch up.


  • Personally I feel the "Dying in battle - No rewards" rule is wrong - instead I feel that as long as your actions were aligned with your chosen power's wishes then a degree of failure can be overlooked (bearing in mind that half the time "dying" only means knocked out). So I'd suggest the major actions (e.g. killing a sorcerer if a Khorne follower) should be rewarded, but halved. The minor (i.e. half point) rewards wouldn't be earned. Hence if you're zealous enough you have a chance of some reward from any battle.
  • We were awarding a reward for achieving the scenario objectives (which I believe is a stated rule in Lost and the Damned, but I could be wrong). Hence we nearly always had a situation where one of the warbands got 2 rewards, and one none (as their champion was dead / knocked out), leading quickly to disparity between the warbands. I think we shouldn't do this in future, especially as achieving the objective tended to set the winner of the battle, hence invoking the "survive on the winning side" reward. More importantly from a flavour point of view though, presumably the scenario objectives is the champion's worldly concern - it may or may not please your chosen power.
  • The survival rules are quite generous in often making models "killed" in combat actually just incapacitated / knocked out / etc. and hence available for the next battle. However they also (not unreasonably) state that the loser's survivors "become prisoners of the victor, who may dispose of them as he wishes". Consequently I'd suggest that, where appropriate, the scenario conditions encourage the winning side to vacate the field as part of the scenario, hence increasing survivability for the loser.
  • I think our starting champions were too strong. You could of course just play as written and roll randomly, but if, as we did, you don't want to start with wildly inbalanced champions then perhaps go for level 5 heroes rather 10. Or, when starting out, roll on the tables but cap the rolls at level 15 (for warriors) or 10 (for wizards), but if one player is re-rolling part way through a campaign after being wiped out then they use the full table (and hence have a slim chance of starting with a powerful warrior or wizard).
Note: the median roll on the standard champion tables is a level 5 dwarf or elf, and with my suggested initial caps a level 5 human. However the modal value is a bog-standard human so I think (my stats knowledge is a bit shakey) you're better off settling for a level 5 than rolling. But then if playing it safe is your thing then the path of the chaos champion probably isn't for you...


Many little lead (and plastic) people were locked in combat for a day in pursuit of a MacGuffin known simply as "the MacGuffin", which seems a little undignified. So, in Realm of Chaos-style, a MacGuffin generator seems useful -

d10 First part d10 Second part
1 Eye of 1 Chaos power (d6: 1: Khorne; 2: Slaanesh; 3: Nurgle; 4: Tzeentch; 5: Malal; 6: Hashut)
2 Tears of 2 Old World god (d6: 1: Morr; 2: Taal; 3: Ulric; 4: Khaine; 5: Grungni; 6: Liadriel)
3 Claw of 3 the Oathbreaker
4 Essence of 4 Eternity
5 Orb of 5 Hunger
6 Blade of 6 Eldritch Sight
7 Gourd of 7 Dispair
8 Casket of 8 the Archmage
9 Crown of 9 Avarice
10 Tome of 10 the Earth


The games

Finally, on to the pictures...

Scenario 1 - below ground. A band of adventurers find the MacGuffin, and now must escape past a warband who are also after it. They routed a pack of wolves, after which it was a simple chase to the exit, which we decided was a bit dull. So mysteriously the exit became barred by a door - surely the adventurers could break it down before being caught by the warband's main strength...?

Moral of the story - adventuring party modelled on a low-ish level WFRP party can't go toe-to-toe with a warband. If we use this idea again it needs a bit of a re-think (and a buff). Or less doors.

Scenario 1 - above ground. Meanwhile two further warbands are fighting for control of the area, to give them a chance to find another entrance to the dungeon.

Scenario 2 - below ground. The adventurers must escape the tunnels (still), but this time through a different warband. Somehow they manage it this time.

Scenario 2 - above ground. Now in possession of the MacGuffin, the winning warband from below ground must escape past another, whose champion has now ascended to pseudo-daemonhood. Or, rather than escaping, kill the champion and all his followers...

Scenario 3 - in town. The warband with the MacGuffin have infiltrated a town for nefarious purposes, and are now resting up in a barn before making good their escape at night. But the adventurers have tracked them down.

Meanwhile various townspeople and guard patrols do their best to overlook groups of armed somethings in the dark, but the guards can't quite ignore obvious sounds of battle.

Scenario 3 - the bridge. A couple of chaos champions have worked out that if they can take possession of - or better yet destroy - this bridge, they can prevent the escape of the warband with the MacGuffin. If only they can get out of the surrounding mud for long enough to make a contest of it...

Finale. The warband with the MacGuffin is getting relatively powerful at this point. But the other two warbands, and the adventurers, get one last chance to acquire it.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Do you have a flag?

My main orc warriors unit does, finally.

I must admit to a fair amount of procrastination for this one - adding the replacement arm was a bit daunting, not to mention the banner itself.

The banner is arguably slightly over the top size-wise, but I blame my younger self for that. We never really paid much attention to standards when we were playing 2nd edition, but when 3rd came out they seemed to be given much more prominence, and army standards were introduced as well, so obviously enormous banners were called for. I found the template for my original at my parents' house a few months back, so felt compelled to reproduce it. I must say it came out rather better second time around, not least thanks to Nico's excellent tutorial.

The banner is newspaper soaked in watered down PVA and allowed to dry before painting - although it still sags alarmingly while being painted it eventually mostly flattens out - if anything I feel it could do with being a bit more wavy.

The one part of the process which really didn't work for me was trying to make the standard pole - hence the use of actual twigs, which have the additional advantage of coming pre-painted! The twig is slightly on the chunky side, but I do like the idea that he's carrying around most of a tree with a battered flag attached...

Figures painted for year to date: 6

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Squat heresy

If you haven't read Cryptonomicon the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson go and read it now, then come back... [edit - vagueness on the title, they're both good but one's far more relevant to this!]

Good, wasn't it?

That mindset of Hooke and co. is just a hint of what it's like to be a Squat in the 41st millennium. Except rather than twisting yourself into knots, and going off on false tangents, trying to square your understanding of your god with your understanding of the world, there is no separation. There's no science, only worship of the Emperor and the relics of the past, and your every thought is heretical.

That device in your hand - what on earth are this and that bit doing there? They're completely useless, throw them away. And if you just adjust this, like so then it's so much more efficient... Except this is a sacred artefact created by the priesthood, and your very soul is now forfeit.

Squats are not cool biker dudes. Those in the mainstream of the Imperium's society are outwardly very, very conformist and occasionally manage to conform well enough to rise moderately (but not too far, they are mutants after all) in the Army or the Adeptus Mechanicus.

But hidden at the heart of their society is a heresy - the Guild: tinkering; investigating; discovering... and acutely, constantly aware that everything they do goes against the priesthood and their living god. Squats are a proud, stubborn race - sometimes hurt pride or jealousy lead to betrayal, and another cabal is rooted out and destroyed by the Inquisition. Those that survive in secret may have magnificent beards, but furrowed brows and few hairs on their heads.

Left to their own devices Squats could well be the saviours of humanity - or at least help them claw their way back towards their previous technological glories. But there's no hope of that while the deathless Emperor shuts off any chance of regime change.


It may be derided as grim and dark, but the original Rogue Trader universe has enormous potential I feel, even if I quibble with the balance on the tabletop. However brilliantly realised it is though there's only so long you can visit a universe illustrated by Ian Miller without wanting something a bit more shiny. And so it's been slowly watered down into what it is today - but the occasional quick glimpse of the grim dark is so much more interesting.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

New old hobgoblins - plan E

When I first started drafting this post it was to declare that, if I could happily field old and new Citadel goblins, with their drastically different proportions, then I could also happily field the slightly tall, skinny Wargames Factory orcs alongside my Fantasy Tribe hobgoblins.

1989 Kev Adams wolf rider, C21 goblin on Citadel wolf, Wargames Factory orc, FT hobgoblin
Then I decided that, even if I stripped and repainted the brutal childhood paint job, then I still couldn't field those wolf riders together, and I was going to have to shell out on more of the newer ones. A more immediate point though was that, much as I like the Wargames Factory orcs (not so keen on the reversible torsos, but they have buckets of character), I just couldn't field them along with the proper hobgoblins either.

So my search continued. I picked up another of the Grenadier goblins (lovely, but too few poses in the right style), and still more to go in what will be my more-eastern-equipped elite unit. But there's nothing out there quite like the Fantasy Tribes, and the more I look at them the more I like them.

One option at this point, and not inconceivable given the cost of all these false starts, is just to pay the silly prices these chaps go for on eBay. But I'm determined to stick with the original how to Oldhammer initiative (which specifies cheap as chips or still available) and besides, I'm getting a bit obsessed at this point (nearly a year and counting)...!

So I took another look at my earlier observation that there's something a bit Roman about the FT hobgoblins, and am hoping that some of Warlord Games' imperial Romans (plastic kits, so easy to convert, and seem more chunky and less regimented than some out there), combined with Hasslefree orc heads, plus some green stuff, might get me somewhere close.

So far I'm cautiously optimistic - the heads are a bit on the small side, but I'm feeling that once they're bulked out with hair and helmets they might be there, or thereabouts.

Hopefully in less than another year's time...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The WH40K universe - in my head

This hopefully isn't one of those situations where a geeky person takes something they love, applies their geekiness, and sucks all of the fun out of it, but it might be (just how does the small town of Bree survive in desolate Eriador, anyway?).

In my youth 40K was only ever a passing interest, with its fantasy cousin proving far more of a draw to our gaming group, but my older self sees the Rogue Trader universe as a brilliant but flawed creation. Mostly I can happily continue to shun it and stick to my orcs and dwarves, until something like Axiom's astropath grabs my attention.

The setting's brilliance is in how it frames "medieval in space" as vaguely plausible, and hence allows table top battles between space-faring civilisations, without the technical levels being so mismatched that the only possible conflict is asymmetric. At least within the Imperium.

But you can only pull that "technology is religious mantra" trick once, so where does that leave our other standard races?


I like orcs probably more than most, but let's be clear - orcs are not a spacefaring civilisation (or arguably even a civilisation at all!). In orcish society there is none of the standing on the shoulders of giants that's needed for any sort of technological process. Let's be generous and say that their limit is muzzle-loading firearms.

Who knows how orks came to be spread through the galaxy from their home world, or even if they had a home world - maybe they were seeded widely by the Old Slann? When they travel through space now it's in the retinues of Renegades, or mercenary commanders keen to make use of their love of battle. Occasionally an exception individual will rise to lead a mercenary company themselves, but when that individual is killed or toppled the remnants of the company may well find themselves stranded on whatever world was the scene of their latest engagement.

So, orks have no space fleets or dreadnoughts of their own, and their vehicles (invariably wheeled or tracked) have a Heath Robinson appearance which reveal their cobbled-together origins and are highly unreliable.

The occasional wealthy mercenary my have carapace armour, and a mercenary company will often be outfitted in a moderately uniform fashion, although there will always be the odd lucky individual with a prized favoured weapon (usually loud = good!). Conversely though there will also be units where the prime weapons have been lost or gambled away and hence the slowest and weakest members end up mustering with clubs, muskets or bows.

"Native" orks on frontier worlds will be even more variable - any more advanced weapons will be the spoils of previous battles and raids, with primitive firearms in the hands of the majority.


With Eldar the paradox is in the other direction - they're in decline, in terms of numbers and ambition, but they still have the full capabilities of their civilisation. There are hints in the Rogue Trader rulebook of their mysterious abilities, including mastery of the warp, but in combat they're on a par with, if not somewhat more fragile than, the Legiones Astartes. It seems that any serious encounter between the Imperium and the Eldar should be more akin to Arnie and his team meeting the Predator!

Clearly the Imperium's xenophobia isn't going to accept that they're in any way superior - of course they're decedent - but do recognise that they have abilities bordering on witchcraft. So, to take a leaf from Arthur C. Clarke, I'd suggest that all craft world Eldar (including dreadnought and vehicle pilots) be treated as psykers with the following abilities -
  • Telekinesis (level 1)
  • Jinx
  • Hide (level 1 Elementalist spell)
I toyed with suggesting Teleport, but then backed away from this - although now I'm wondering whether I've gone far enough!

All abilities should automatically succeed, with no need to test against or track psi-points, but for points value purposes assuming they have 20. Hence your basic Eldar now costs 68 points (without equipment).

These powers are technical rather than psychic in nature though so aren't detectable as such. They're consequently not always available to mercenary Eldar (50% chance) or pirates (25% chance of having these abilities).

I've no idea what these ideas would be like in actual play - in fact I'm sure that in purely commercial terms the direction taken with the rules of effectively having a level(ish) playing field is a more sensible solution. But in my head as big a degree of disparity as possible feels so much more "right".

Monday, 5 January 2015

Painting projects for the year - ambitious version

I've been idly musing several painting projects in my head, while failing to put paintbrush to the orcs I'm meant to be painting...

Having looked at my actual output for 2014 I've scaled this list back somewhat - but it's still way more than I'm likely to finish in 2015. However, stuff I'd like to paint next -
  • My Oldhammer forum avatar and the standard bearer for my main orc unit
  • The hobgoblins and wolf riders from the Dolgan Raiders scenario, including Bagnol, Blackeye and a wagon. In other words about the same figure count as my entire output for 2014, but by August...
  • Some Gondor guards in mail - because in Middle Earth they've not invented plate armour yet
  • The figures from an entire old school scenario - OK, Terror of the Lichmaster's Assault on the Mine only has 21 skeletons and 6 dwarves, but still...
  • Some good guys - my daughters refer to my orcs as "my knights", I think it's time I painted something a bit closer to knightly. Probably the billmen I picked up at Foundry last year
  • The thugs from my Gulgan's raiders project
That's around 100 figures - realistically way more than I'll get to paint this year. Hopefully BOYL will be enough motivation to get the biggest chunk done though, and then we'll see!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

My gaming 2014 - not quite as planned

Apparently this sort of post is meant to be written on New Year's Eve - instead I was trying to get a group of savage orcs finished... and in fact didn't manage either. I'm still going to count them against my 2014 tally though!

So, how did I do against my so-called unambitous goals from this time last year? It seems I wasn't unambitious enough!


Buying stuff continues to be the easy bit of the hobby, although rather haphazard - partially due to the vagueries of eBay, but also down to inconsistent focus.
It looks from the figures I've bought as though I'm focussing on Empire and hobgoblins, and for hobgoblins that's true - although with several false starts. The Empire figures are just down to a splurge while at Foundry for BOYL 2014, it's just possible they'll become my first "good guy" army, although I'd prefer for that to be dwarves. My firm preference for the old Perry dwarves, and the eBay prices for these, mean that stunties are still a distant dream.

On the RPG front I've picked up a lot of the older books I was after - Death on the Reik and Power Behind the Throne, as well as Moldvay's D&D Basic and Expert rules. The last of these gave me quite a nostalgia trip when it arrived in the post, well worth the relatively modest outlay. On the new-but-old front I signed up to the Bethorm Kickstarter, so now have a toe-hold in that setting as well.

Score: 6/10

This year - more of the same -
  • On the figures front I'm going to let myself dabble a bit - more in my projects post to come. But at a minimum I need to put together a hobgoblin force for this year's BOYL
  • On RPGs it's time to focus on stuff from this decade - in particular The One Ring has caught my fancy.


My colour mixing has improved somewhat, mostly thanks to help from my wife who knows what she's doing on this front. I'm often not ending up with exactly the colour I was looking for, but at least in the right direction. I'm feel doing better on the planning side of things as well, although by leaning heavily on ideas from others in the community.

In terms of output it's a bit of a failure though - I'm only really at the 1000 point mark of painted orcs, and my avatar's not seen a brush in over a year. I've gone through productive and stagnant periods, although the latter often down to life being too busy rather than lack of motivation. Hopefully this will improve this year.

Score: 5/10

This year -
  • Move to using a wet palette
  • Blending not dry brushing where practical
  • 60+ figures painted, including my forum avatar and some "good guys"


A much busier year on the gaming front, but still it didn't seem full enough. I didn't manage a game of 2nd edition, and am still rather mixed up on the rules front, but I did manage both days of BOYL. 

Score: 6/10

This year -
  • Keep up the Oldhammer, while becoming more involved with my local club


Not a good year - less than half of my target output, and while I did branch out slightly to looking at the Old World setting from an RPG rather than wargaming point of view, still focused exclusively on the Warhammer world.

Score: 4/10

This year -
  • Try again at last year's plan. Focus on regular and structured blogging, that's not beholden to my painting output

Reading list - 2014

The Dreaming Tree - C.J. Cherryh

I was prompted to re-read this book by its inclusion in the bibliography for GURPS Celtic Myth. It's included there under modern fiction "likely to inspire GMs" and it certainly lives up to that! In fact my reading of it was some slowed by the need to have a notebook at hand at all times.

If I had to sum it into a single word though that would be "atmosphere" - impossible to convey in a short review, especially by a writer such as myself. Suffice to say that Cherryh's sidhe are nothing like Tolkien's elves, and at times the feeling of impending doom makes the book hard to read.

The one flaw is the ending, which left me feeling cheated of the denouement that the books had been building up to. I note from Wikipedia that my copy has a revised ending, which Cherryh felt more satisfying than the original - some day I must find the original and see how I feel about that.

I'm still very glad to have revisited it though - if I ever do get to develop a Norse / Celtic / Sidhe campaign, and it's even 10% as atmospheric as this book, then I'd consider it a resounding success.

The Hydrogen Sonata - Iain M Banks

A good Banks book, but not amongst his best, although that still makes it pretty damn good by most writer's standards.

It's an enjoyable tale, with some surprising twists, but at times the plot armour shows through somewhat. And in places the Culture characters are so smug that you find yourself hoping they'll lose, but I don't think I'm giving too much a way by revealing that they don't... 

It also suffers slightly from uneven pacing - it seems to me a hundred pages or so could have been edited from its length without the story suffering.

I tend to take gaming lessons away from most non-work-related books I read and this is no exception. Firstly it reminds me why I steer clear of sci-fi in RPGs - the breadth of imagination required on even the mundane areas of world-building is a very high hurdle, and authors like Banks put most other works to shame on this score. And equally on the wargaming front, as this story shows it's hard to give much credence to any two space faring races to being close enough in technical level that a straight table top battle could occur - asymmetric warfare seems the only plausible type to me. Even for example in the 40K universe, which has a good backstory as to why the Imperium is a non-technical space faring civilisation, it's a bit hard to swallow that any two factions are effectively equal on the battlefield (I know, I know, stop over-thinking and enjoy the game!).

The Explorer - James Smythe

Another incursion into my reading list from my wife's book group, and a story only one of the group members enjoyed. I did as well - the plot twist right at the beginning almost makes the book worthwhile by itself, but from there it gets even better, although the claustrophobic atmosphere makes for difficult reading at times. Another down side is that none of the characters are sympathetic, which makes it a hard book to enjoy.

Good exercise for the brain though, once all is revealed you're left with the feeling you should go back and read it all again, to see it all in yet another light.

Apparently there's a sequel - hopefully I'll get to that this year.

The Forest House - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Another book from my Celtic reading list, although perhaps less distinctly so. Like Kay's Sarantium, it's a nice touch that it crosses the line from historical / romantic to fantastic in that the druids and priestesses mix learning (e.g. medicine) with actual magic.

Bradley conveys the period with some clever devices such as focussing on a few mundane features of the setting, such as the furnishings. It's interesting to me to contrast this with Tremayne's Seventh Trumpet - Bradley with (I assume) far less scholarship, but more talent, succeeds much better in portraying a distinctive view of the time.

From a story rather than atmosphere point of view the book has a few grating moments - the central relationship between Eilan and Gaius rings rather false at times, with their inner voices seeming rather forced into conveying a romance which somehow isn't supported by the rest of the story.

I'll come back to finish the series at some point, but it's not top of my list.

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch

Another from my wife's book club, and my favourite read of the year. A very British take on the supernaturalist genre which seems to be in vogue at the moment.

Peter Grant, a rookie bobby, sees a ghost while on guard at a murder scene, which abruptly changes his career path. The book mixes police procedural with mystery and elements of horror, its tongue slightly in its cheek but avoiding decending into farce.

The plot makes use of a central deception, of the sort I know intellectually as a reader of a mystery that I should be looking for, but which I unfailingly fall for. When the deception is revealed at the end you're forced to give a wry smile while mentally revising the entire story, but at the same time this always feels like a bit of a cheat to me, since as the reader you're so dependent on the author for information. The same devise could easily be transposed to an RPG scenario - on the one hand the players do have the advantage that they can ask the GM questions, conversely (assuming no railroads) the GM doesn't have the author's assurance that they'll be able to dangle all the right clues in front of their audience. Not a new conundrum since someone was good enough to invent Call of Cthulhu - in fact I remember John over at Dreams in the Lich House having an interesting series on the subject...

Elric of Melnibone, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate - Michael Moorcock

A flurry of interest in the Stormbringer RPG on G+ prompted me to dig out the novels I have, and fill the gaps in my collection. Back in the day I read through the Corum books, but could never really get on with Elric.

Second time around I'm finding them much more readable, overshadowed slightly by the dimly remembered precis from the RPG - it's not going to turn out alright in the end... But they're good, short, enjoyable yarns, and a good antidote to Conan (as apparently their author intended).

Obligatory RPG observations -
  • Sketching out Melnibonean society as an author is a great feat of imagination, but in many ways far simpler for the author than the GM to convey. What sort of dishes are there at the banquet anyway (for example)?
  • Elric is burning through his ancestors' ancient pacts with various elemental lords at a prodigious rate...
  • Definitely not an "everyman" novel - everyone's a named warrior, a prince, dragon lord or duke (although the same accusation could be levelled at Lord of the Rings, for example). I'm not getting much feeling of the world as seen by mere mortals - although enough to know I wouldn't want to live there!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A smidgen of savages

My hobby time rather plunged off a cliff in the last four months of the year, with the result that of my target of 50 or so miniatures to paint since early September I've managed only a handful of savage orcs and a shaman.

A handful of savage orcs

I tried to keep their colour scheme to pale clothing (where worn at all) and light wood colours. Along with the blue war paint I'm hoping that they'll stand out from the drabber normal orcs on the table, without themselves being garish.

I'd ideally add some more war paint at some point (I rather like what Thantsants did with his), and devices for their shields, and also give them a matt varnish to knock back the gloss finish that their skin has ended up with. For now though I need to consider them table-ready and move on to other things.

I also want to considerably add to their numbers - while a small group has some tactical value as a slayer-type unit, really I'd like to be fielding a tribal contingent of probably 40+ of them. Not any time soon though!

Mostly still not painted