Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Mr. Lulu

My son (3 years old) wandered into my office, pointed at my bookshelf and said:

'Can I have Mr. Lulu.'

I had no idea what he was referring to. The dinosaur? The mech? The Chimera? After a little bit of trial and error, I discovered he was referring to the knit Cthulhu doll that sits on top of the shelf.

Considering my daughter (5 years old) calls him 'Mr. Squidface', I'm not sure how he got that close to the name...


Mr. Lulu was hand-knitted by my sister. No she doesn't sell them... we'll, I guess if you offered her enough she might.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

In the Wargaming Mags!

It was a bit of a quiet summer on the Ren. Troll. Partly this was due to a lack of hobby activity on my part, but also because I ended up writing a slew of magazine articles, which kind of fulfill the same writing urge as blogging. This wasn’t something I set out to do, it just sort of happened. Well the first fruits of those labours can be seen in the newly released issue of Miniature Wagames (#438).

I’ve actually got two pieces in the issue. The first is a couple of pages discussing my starting point in designing a wargame, namely a game’s ‘Core Mechanics’. If you are interested in game design, you might want to have a look. I also get ‘The Last Word’ in the issue, where I write a bit about the rise of 3D printing in wargaming. This piece also features a very large photo of my face (not sure how that’s a selling point, but there you go).

Actually, the issue feels a bit like an Osprey Game Designer party as it also features an interview with Ash Barker about his new expansion for Last Days – including a new scenario, and an interview with Mike Hutchinson about Gaslands Refuelled – also including a new scenario.

My stuff aside, it’s an interesting issue that also includes a couple of cut-out card bunkers, a long interview with the Perry twins, and even a set of rules for historical battles in the Renaissance (no trolls though).

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Catching Up on Star Wars

I received an email recently stating that my Star Wars geek-accreditation was due to expire. As I deem this important to both my professional and social life, I figured I had better brush up and get recertified. I mean, I can tell my Trandoshans from Zabraks, but what’s this about Darth Maul surviving The Phantom Menace?

So, I


This is the only one of the feature films that I hadn’t seen, and, in truth, I hadn’t heard any glowing reviews. Still, I went in with an open mind. I enjoyed it, but I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a few weeks. It just seemed to lack a bit of heart. In truth, while I’ve enjoyed some of the Disney movies, and parts of others, their main accomplishment has been to demonstrate how rare and difficult to duplicate the original trilogy was.


This was, I think, the first Star Wars novel released under Disney. It was a fun read, a fast-paced adventure novel. I like that it didn’t feature any of the movie characters in a major role. Although it is the first book in a trilogy, it pretty much stands alone. I will likely read the others at some point, when I feel I need a Star Wars fix, though I’m not rushing out to get them.
            I do love the way that Disney restarted the Star Wars universe. They apparently said everything in the films was canon, everything outside of them was not. Then, they stated that everything in their new books, comics, cartoons, etc. was canon and have then slipped some of the old stuff back into the new universe (such as Grand Admiral Thrawn).


This four-series cartoon has gotten a lot of good press. I watched the first season and really enjoyed it. It’s a kid’s show, but that can be enjoyed by adults. Although it’s broken into 25 minute episodes, its 15 episode seasons means it can spend more time on character development. In truth, I think it has more of the feel of the original trilogy than any Star Wars media I have seen since. I will definitely be watching the rest of the series, which I hear gets even better.

Bought and painted some Star Wars: Legion figures.

I was a bit miffed when Star Wars: Legion came out. The figures are something like 35mm, which means they are incompatible with all of my other figures, including the Star Wars: Imperial Assault figures I’ve collected. Since I wasn’t particularly interested in the game either, I ignore them.
            Then I saw some of the new Rebel Pathfinders in the shop and decided to give them a go. They are extremely nice figures. Although they are cast in a somewhat bendy plastic, the detail is very sharp - as good as most metals. Although they need super-glue to assemble, they fit together perfectly.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Chimera!




The Chimera has always been one of my favourite mythological monsters, but for a long-time I never found a miniature of one that completely satisfied. Then, not too long ago, I came across this one from Atlantis Miniatures. It’s absolutely huge. It’s also very expensive. I loved it, but I couldn’t justify it.

Well, a couple of months later, it was given to me as an overly-generous birthday present from a friend.



I must admit that the ‘miniature’ is so big and so beautiful that for a while I was too intimidated to paint it, fearing that my paint job could only make it worse. But minis need paint – it’s just a natural law.

The miniature is composed of a very plastic-like resin. There wasn’t a single air-bubble to be found. The pieces fit together perfectly, except for the tail/serpent-head which gave me a little trouble.

Painting it began as a bit of chore as it took awhile to get the base coat down; however, once that was in place, the body was just six layers of dry-brushing. Then I spent a few hours on the two big heads, before quickly painting the serpent-head and the base. All-and-all, I probably spent between 6 and 8 hours on it.

It’s truly a centrepiece figure, and while it comes at a premium price, you really are getting what you pay for here. This may not be the last Atlantis Miniature to join my collection!



Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Occult Investigator

I finished painting the last figure in the Dracula’s America Hired Guns II pack that I bought from North Star. I had a lot of fun painting all of three of the figures, and I can definitely see myself getting a few more.

This last one is some sort of paranormal investigator, and frankly would probably fit just as well into a Victorian game as an Old West one. With my renewed interest in Deadlands and now Sagas & Six-guns, I can definitely see him getting onto the table at some point.

I also painted one of the wizard shades from The Maze of Malcor. The paint job for this figure isn’t particularly remarkable, it is literally just blue highlighted all the way up to white, but the circumstances of its painting make it special.

This is the first figure I have fully painted while sitting and painting with my five-year-old daughter. I gave her a plastic Frostgrave figure to paint, which she ‘finished’, in about five minutes. She went on to paint several paintings (all of them masterpieces) while I worked on this one figure. Since the paint job didn’t require much attention, I was able to chat with her the whole time, which was wonderful.



I should get the other four wizard shades based up and ready to paint just encase we have another opportunity!

Monday, 12 August 2019

Rangers of Shadow Deep: Ghost Stone

Ghost Stone, the latest book in the Rangers of Shadow Deep series is now available as a PDF and print-on-demand!

If you are unsure if you need this is your life, I have included the introduction to the book below to help you make up your mind.


Introduction

Welcome to Ghost Stone, the latest supplement for Rangers of Shadow Deep. This book is divided into two main sections. The first section presents a new mission with four scenarios. Unlike previous missions, this one is designed to be played by two different ranger groups of differing levels. Scenarios 1 & 3 are designed for level 0–5 rangers, while scenarios 2 & 4 are designed for rangers that have reached levels 10–15. Each of the scenarios has an effect on future scenarios, and the whole mission is structured to show how different ranger groups sometimes work together to complete a task that is too complex for one to handle alone. I did, briefly, worry about writing a mission that would force players to create a second ranger, as I know how people get attached to their characters. However, I figure this mission gives players a chance to use their main ranger in the higher level scenarios, while creating a new ranger for the lower level ones. Plus, I’ve come to realize that most players take the need for a new figure as an opportunity! As an added bonus, the mission potentially gives players the chance to bring back some older companions that may no longer have a place in their main ranger’s party and use them to support the new ranger. One of the scenarios also calls for the rangers to work with a unique companion, who can potentially be used in future missions, assuming she survives…
           
The second part of this book is called ‘The Weapon Hoard’. Not long ago, I went to the British Library to see a special exhibit on the Anglo-Saxons. The exhibit mainly contained ancient manuscripts, but there were a few other items as well. One of these was an Anglo-Saxon seax. The word means ‘knife’, but most people would call such a large weapon a sword. What was peculiar about this seax was that it had bronze wire beaten into the blade so that it spelled out a name. No one knows if the name belonged to the creator, the owner, or was actually the name of the blade. Looking at that beautiful ancient weapon, I realized how important a unique weapon can be to a legendary hero. King Arthur, Roland, Strider, the Grey Mouser, they all had their own named weapons that accompanied them on their adventures.

I decided in that moment that I wanted to give Rangers of Shadow Deep players the opportunity to find unique weapons with their own special abilities and their own mysterious pasts. After all, the Shadow Deep has existed at least as long as recorded history, and in that time it has swallowed an unknown number of lands. Many of the weapons of those lands will likely have survived, either left buried in the rubble, or recovered by the minions of the Shadow Deep. So, ‘The Weapon Hoard’ is essentially a list of 52 unique weapons that can be found during your adventures. Hopefully, this will bring a little more narrative, a little more mystery, and a little more fun to your games.

As I’ve continued to work on Rangers of Shadow Deep, I’ve come to realize that there are two types of supplements, or, at least, two types of missions: those that carry forward the main narrative, such as the main rulebook and Temple of Madness, and those that are part of the greater war but not driving the central narrative forward, such as Blood Moon. Ghost Stone fits more into this second category. While it covers some large events, it really serves more as a side-quest. It keeps us in touch with the ongoing conflict, but can essentially slot in anywhere during the story. Going forward, I hope to continue writing both kinds of missions, to keep the story rolling, but also to provide players with adventures that they can work into their stories at any time.

Once again, a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who has bought the game and otherwise supported my work. I continue to get a huge amount of satisfaction out of developing and experimenting with the game, and my ability to do so is largely due to your support. I hope you enjoy this new supplement, and, if you get the chance, please share the results of your adventures on the Rangers of Shadow Deep Facebook page, on Board Game Geek, or on one of the great miniatures forums.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Starfire Elemental

It’s a well-known fact that artists often have a hard-time sticking to the brief. Such was the case for Bobby Jackson when he came to sculpt the starfire elemental for Maze of Malcor

Basically, a starfire elemental is just a big ball of floating fire. Instead of that, Bobby sculpted a floating metal sphere, burning with internal fire, and smoke pouring out of it. I love it. It doesn’t match the description at all, but it’s just such a cool figure.

In the end, it was decided to use this figure and sculpt the more accurate version and include them in the same pack. I think it was the correct decision.

The starfire elemental is technically a creature, but in truth, it acts more like a spell effect. Soon after it was released, Games Workshop saw the model and stole the idea for their entire range of ‘EndlessSpells’. (Okay, that’s almost certainly not true, but I figure a little GW controversy might help sales!).

It was a fun, quick paint (except for trying to paint in the small, flaming cracks in the sphere), and it looks fantastic on the tabletop!

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Sagas and Six-guns by Robert Buckey

What happens when you mix Viking culture, as written in the Sagas, with the American Old West? You get Sagas & Six-guns.

Sagas & Six-guns is a new setting book for Savage Worlds written by Robert Buckley and published by Gallant Knight Games. It is available on DriveThruRPG, either in PDF or print-on-demand. Since I had a strong inkling that I was going to like the book, I ordered a hardback.

The book opens with creating a character. Characters can be any of your usual Old West tropes, along with several fantasy options including Valkyries (trapped on Midgard), Runesmith Engineers (weird scientists) and three types of magic-user (essentially the Viking equivalents of priests, witches, and bards).

It then gives quick coverage of the world, including the major kingdoms, cities, and organizations. There is enough here to get started, but it really is just a framework, and obviously designed to be filled in by the players or later supplements.

Also included are a selection Norse monsters that occupy the setting, including how some are ‘updated’ to the Wild West.

Finally, the book includes a host of adventure ideas, including one longer campaign. None of these are fleshed out, so game masters will need to do some work on them.

All-and-all, I think it is a lovely work. There isn’t a huge amount of artwork, but what is there is very nice. A map would have been a nice inclusion, as we get a good amount of discussion about the relationship of the various kingdoms, but only a bit on their geographical position. Also, the book could really have used one more proof-read. The mistakes aren’t terrible, but there are enough to be noticeable. 

While comparisons with Deadlands are inevitable, especially since this game uses the Savage Worlds system, I think the two can be thought of as complementary. It would be very easy to combine elements from either setting into the other if it were desired. 

So if anyone is looking for a fresh take on a weird west setting, I recommend giving this one a look.  I suspect there will be more material available for Sagas & Six-guns in the future. 

Be aware though - you will need the Savage Worlds book in order to play the game.

Monday, 5 August 2019

The Wizard of Oz's Tractor


I just figure if the Wizard of Oz had a tractor, it would look something like this.  It was parked outside a cafe, a few minutes from my house, as I was walking by. I spoke to the driver briefly, and he said it was from 1916. He was from Brighton and heading for a steam rally. 

(That's quite a drive considering...!) 

One of the great things about living in Kent is the sheer amount of strange, restored, vintage stuff you see. 

Friday, 2 August 2019

Back to Battletech




I recently purchased, read, and enjoyed Battletech: House Arano, which interestingly appears to only be available through DriveThruRPG. It’s a source book based on a recent Battletech video game. I know next to nothing about the video game, but the book was a fun read, none-the-less. It covers the previously unmentioned periphery state, the Aurigan Coalition.

It is very easy to get lost in the vastness of the Battletech universe, so it’s nice to sometimes see these self-contained books, which presents a smaller setting, with all of its notable personalities, and give a few scenarios to play.

Anyway, it got me in the mood to paint a mech, so I pulled a Griffin out of the ‘lead box’ and slapped some paint on it. He’s the newest addition to my Firehawks legion – you can see the unit’s emblem displayed proudly on the left leg.

At the same time, I painted up a little APC. It’s a nicely detailed model from Strato Minis – kind of like a sleeker version of the APC in Aliens. It’ll be useful for moving around VIPs or maybe special strike teams.

Of course, all of my Battletech reading and painting is somewhat overshadowed by the massive Battletech kickstarter that is running. It’s already well over $1,000,000, which is doubly impressive with only just over 6,000 backers. 

I am not one of those backers. I looked at it, and looked at it again, and again, but I just couldn’t see a reason for me to back. I have no need or interest in the core ‘Clan Invasion’ box set. I’m not much of a fan of the ‘Clans’ as a concept, and most of their mech designs, even the new, admittedly much improved, versions, leave me cold. It looks like there is going to be some awesome new mechs coming out of this kickstarter, but they don’t need my money to help with that.


Most importantly, nothing is going to be delivered on the kickstarter for a year, assuming it stays on schedule. I have no idea what I’ll be interested in at that point. Maybe it will be Battletech, in which case I’ll buy some of the new mechs when they come market. If not, I’ll just wait until the mood hits me again.

This is not to put down anyone who has backed the campaign. If you are a long time Battletech player, you can probably feel pretty confident that you’ll be excited about the new stuff whenever it arrives. But I run hot and cold on these things, and if it hits me when I’m cold, it’ll all just get chucked into a box, which isn’t much of an investment.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Gravedigger

Here is another figure I have painted for use in weird west role-playing games, possibly Deadlands, although I’m also interested in SagasSix-guns.

It's not the best photograph, for which I apologize. 

I’m not sure why gravediggers have such an association with the Old West. One assumes that one person = one grave is a pretty common formula for many historical periods. Although, it perhaps makes more sense in a weird west setting. In fact, I have a gravedigger character who has appeared in several weird tales I have written over the years.

This figure is another one from the Dracula’s America range, sculpted by Mike Owen. As usual, I find Mike’s sculpts a real joy to paint. I didn’t intend to go with a black and red colour scheme, but after I painted the red belt over the black primer, I thought it looked pretty sharp and decided to go with it. The black also contrasts nicely with his pale skin.

It was a quick paint-job, but it came out look great. A nice one to add to the collection

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

A Letter from Anne McCaffrey

I find it difficult to talk about fan mail. As a writer/game-designer, I am in one of the few professions that actually tends to receive it. This makes me extremely privileged. Many people go through their days without receiving any praise at all, even though it is often deserved, whereas I often get praise out-of-the-blue from people I have never met. These little confidence-boosters can really make a difference when I’m having a hard day, when the writing is not going well, or when I’ve seen a bad review somewhere. All of that said, there is also a time-commitment aspect to fan mail that can be, at times, a burden. I feel arrogant when I say this, but, when you are self-employed, work-time is a precious commodity, and it must be very carefully guarded. If I don’t produce, I don’t eat. And yet, despite that precious time, I try to respond to all of the fan mail that I receive. Partly, there is a practical business reason for doing so, but mainly it goes back to childhood…

When I was about thirteen years old, I read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery. I’m pretty sure my mother gave it to me, and it was, probably, the first ‘grown-up’ fantasy book I read cover-to-cover, on my own. After that first book, I was so completely hooked on the world that I read every book in the series. I even got the accompanying The Dragon Lover's Guide to Pern. In fact, I was so completely hooked on Pern that I wrote my own dragon riders story. I scrawled it out in pencil on loose-leaf paper, some dozen pages, front and back. When I finished, I wondered what to do with it. What did anyone do with fan fiction in the pre-internet days?

With my mother’s help, I sent the story to Anne McCaffrey’s publisher, along with a letter expressing my love of her books. There were no easy photocopies in those days, so we sent the original and only copy of the story. As a thirteen-year-old, I soon forgot about it, and moved onto other thing, such as making my own Pern money out of bits of wood, and painting dragon miniatures using oil-based paints.
            
At the time, Anne McCaffrey was living in Ireland, and I wonder how much of my letter actually went from the New York publisher all of the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Some of it must have, for some months later, I got a reply. It was a small, hand-written letter…

Think about this for a moment. In 1986/7 when I received this letter, Anne McCaffrey was sixty-years-old and at the height of her popularity. She’d won the Hugo and Nebula – the two biggest prizes in the genre. She had one of the first fantasy books ever to make it onto the New York Times Best Seller List (a much bigger deal then than it is today), and while it would still be a couple of decades before she was rightly named as one of the Grand Masters of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, the ground-work had already been laid. This grand dame wrote me a letter.
           
That letter is now very sadly lost. For years I kept it tucked into the dust jacket of The Dragon Lover's Guide to Pern, but sometime during all of the moves and shuffles, it disappeared. I still remember one fragment though; she wrote to me ‘…I also used to tell myself stories in bed at night…’. 

I would give a lot to have that letter back, or to read it again, but in truth, it’s not important. What is important is the effect that letter had on me then and there. My favourite writer of the time, one of the biggest writers in the genre, had acknowledged me. Looking back, I recognize this as one moment, one crucial link, in a delicate chain that led to me becoming a writer. I will never know why Anne McCaffrey chose to write to me, but perhaps now, some thirty years later (and sadly eight years after her passing), I can hazard a guess.

The creative ego is a terribly fragile thing. Just a few words or bad experiences can crush it into nothingness. Conversely, it can take a lifetime of positive experiences for it to develop to its full potential. For those lucky few that receive that nurture and encouragement, creative expression can be one of the central, defining joys of their life. My mother knew this, that’s why she helped me send my story. I suspect that Anne McCaffrey also knew this well, and having reached this creative fullfilment, she found joy in helping others strive to the same goal. She knew that she was sending more than a letter. She was sending a little piece of magical armour that could help guard me in the years to come if I pushed on with my writing and faced the inevitable waves of rejection.

I am no Anne McCaffrey, and the world of wargaming, where I do most of my writing, is just a tiny speck compared to the world of science-fiction and fantasy literature, but I do receive a significant amount of fan mail. There is a practical, business reason for me to respond to all of these. These fans are directly, or indirectly, paying my salary. But the real reason I try to respond to all of them, is because I want to pass on the little gift that Anne McCaffrey gave to me. Most people that write to me have no desire to be writers, or even game-designers, but it doesn’t matter. I am in a privileged position where I can also provide a little bit of magical armour to protect against the inevitable negativity that accompanies life, and maybe, just maybe, help someone along their own path to fullfilment, in whatever capacity they chose.

 ----

Afterward
I am now almost positive that Anne McCaffrey didn’t read my story as almost all publishers and agents advise authors against it to avoid any possible claims of idea theft. I don’t read unsolicited fan material either, though it really has more to do with time than fear. I don’t have enough time each day to complete the work I want to do, so I really don’t have time to read other peoples work.

I no longer remember anything about the story I sent to Anne McCaffrey, except that the main character's name was P'nal, shorted in dragon-rider style from his full name of Panethenol, which is perhaps a better name for an industrial grade cleaning solvent.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Swordmaster



Sometimes, I’m just in the mood to paint something swash-buckley. Thankfully, when the mood struck, I had this figure ready to go. It’s the swordmaster from Ghost Archipelago: Gods of Fire. It was sculpted by Bobby Jackson, based on artwork in the book.

Much like the artwork, the figure is slight, and probably one of the smaller figures I’ve worked on in while. Combine that with a lot of detail, must notably the fancy sleeves, and it was quite a challenge. As always, the answer was to just take it colour by colour and not to rush it. I didn’t use any fancy techniques, just a bit of layering, inking, and dry-brushing, along with a very small brush (10/0) for a lot of it.

I’m glad to add this one to the collection as I think she suspect she'll appear in more games that just Ghost Archipelago!

Friday, 19 July 2019

Nick Bury Returns


While I spend most of my days writing for games or about gaming, I still produce the occasionally work of fiction. The latest of these was a little piece featuring my weird gravedigger, Nick Bury, who has proved one of my most-enduring creations.

That new story was bought by Tales from the Magician’s Skull, along with three older stories featuring Nick.

The third issue of the magazine (which is more like a book, really) is currently up on kickstarter

So, if you are looking for a new batch of sword and sorcery stories, plus maybe a couple of weird tales involving a gravedigger, check it out!


My Confederate Uncle’s $40,000 Mistake

A friend back in the USA recently sent me a stack of Civil War magazines, as he knows I am a fan (in fact, it was the biggest topic of study during my University days). I grabbed the first one on the pile last night and read it cover-to-cover. While I enjoyed the whole issue, the best came near the end when there was a passing mention of one of my ancestors!

The article was ‘Swindling Sociopath’ by Bob Gordon, about a man named Alexander ‘Sandy’ Keith. Keith was Scottish born, but came of age in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When the Civil War broke out, Keith set himself up as a key ‘Confederate Sympathizer’ in the port. In reality, the man was a swindler and fraudster with a nasty habit of insuring ships and then plotting their destruction at sea! He would survive the war, but committed suicide in 1875 after one of his plots went awry, and a barrel of dynamite meant to blow up a ship, exploded in the port of Bremerhaven, Germany killing 60 people.

Back in 1864, my great-great-uncle, Norman Walker, (brother of my direct ancestor Maj. John Stewart Walker) who served as the Confederate agent in Bermuda came to Halifax with his family to escape an outbreak of yellow fever. While there, Keith convinced Norman to invest $40,000 in a shipment of barreled pork to smuggle into the Confederacy. Keith took the money, but never bought the pork, and doesn’t seem to have made any attempt to do so. Anyway, he soon slipped into the USA, and went beyond Norman’s reach. 

The article doesn’t give any more details of the story, and perhaps that is where it ended. I’ve certainly never heard the story before, but I do have a copy of the hard-to-obtain diary of Norman Walker’s wife, and it does put the family in Halifax at the time – and it’s not surprising that such a story might not be mentioned! I'd love to know where the author discovered those details.

How great is that though? Picking up a magazine at random and learning a little piece of your own family history?

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Rangifer Shaman


This figure has been sitting on my lead-pile for quite a while, for the simple reason that I was kind of intimidated by it. It’s just such a cool figure, I really wanted to do it justice.

Recently, I took it out, assembled it, and decided that I would take it slow, detail-by-detail. In that way it probably took twice as long, or maybe more, than a standard figure, but I enjoyed it, and I think it shows in the results.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I think I will have to get a few more rangifers and make up a full warband.
 
Interesting factoid – this figure is the only Frostgrave figure that was created specifically because of something I wrote in Spellcaster Magazine. Generally, the magazine is kept separate from the ‘official’ publications, but everyone involved agreed that a Rangifer Shaman was just too neat of a figure not to create.

For those who are interested in creating their own Rangifer Shaman and warband, the full rules for this can be found in Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine #3.


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Jacob's Room is Full of Books

I’m not sure why I picked up Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill. I didn’t recognize the author, although she is famous as the author of The Woman in Black, and the title meant nothing too me, other than it contained the word ‘books’. And maybe that is it – the cover and the word ‘books’ together attracted my eye. And why wouldn’t it? I was in a bookstore after all.

Regardless, I got it; I read it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Essentially, the author charts a year of her life, focusing on the books she is reading. It is sort of a wandering conversation about writing, publishing, literature, and just the love of books in general – mixed with the passing seasons and the comings and goings of various birds. She talks about books from the inside and from without, mixing in interesting facts about authors and her own writing career.

We don’t agree about everything – she’s no fan of science-fiction or fantasy (which strikes me odd as for a writer of ghost stories), but she loves Robert Louis Stevenson, so we definitely share some passions.

She is opinionated, but doesn’t force her opinions on you.

If you are a book lover, this might be one for you. It is extremely well-written, and really does flow along like you are sitting in the chair next to her, listening to her talk as the year rolls by.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Revisiting the Deadlands


Throughout the year, I am slowly revisiting some of the games that helped create and replenish my love of gaming and that have spurred me on to my own creative journey. Lately, I have been re-reading Deadlands. 

I was in university at UNC, working at a dingy, but wonderful gaming store called Cerebral Hobbies, when Deadlands hit the market. To me, it came crashing in like a tidal wave. Not since my earliest days of gaming had I been so completely blown away by a new book, a new setting, a new ruleset. For me, it was revolutionary.

The original Deadlands had an amazing run. It even sparked a miniature wargame spin-off called The Great Rail Wars. Years later, the whole Deadlands system would be re-imagined, using a lot of the mechanics from Great Rail Wars, into a new generic system called Savage Worlds. This wonderfully simple, fast-paced, role-playing game remains one of my favourites.

I’ve had so much fun revisiting Deadlands that I wanted to paint a few figures to go with it. Thus, the above. This figure is actually from the Dracula’s America range, but fits right into Deadlands as well.

I might just have to bust out a character sheet and stat this guy up!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Skeletons


If you play any of my games, you will probably have need of a few skeletons. Maybe more than a few. Skeletons have always been one of my favourite fantasy monsters, and because they are so fragile, they are great for scenario writing. You can throw them at the players, but you know they aren’t likely to hang around too long.

When I first heard that a new company, Wargames Atlantic, was releasing a new set of plastic skeletons, I knew a box would be in my future. Well, I recently received that box, and have started putting some together. These are the first three that have made it all the way through painting!

Assembly-wise, I was pleased with the figures. Skeletons are always going to be a bit tricky, as their thin pieces make them more difficult than most figures. This is especially true when removing them from the sprue and cutting off any excess bits. It wasn’t hard to do, but I wouldn’t want to hand the sprue to a hobby newcomer either. Each sprue has enough parts for 4 skeletons, but one of those requires gluing both of the legs onto a torso. I’ve got to admit, I really just can’t be bothered to do that – just way too fiddly for me. So for me, each sprue comes with 3 skeletons and a small pile of spare bones.

I realized, after the fact, that I glued the archer skeleton’s bow arm onto the wrong side. Completely my own fault, and it should have been obvious when I couldn’t find many matching arms for the other side. Anyway, it seems to have come out okay.

Considering their status as horde enemies who tend to not stay on the table too long, I don’t think skeletons are worthy of careful paint jobs. These three are literally: prime, ivory base, wash, ivory again, and then white. Then a quick paint of the weapons and the base. That’s it. I tried both a black wash and a red/brown wash, and I have to say, I much prefer the red/brown. They just look a bit more menacing that way.

So, all-and-all, it’s a nice box set, and a great deal for anyone who wants a pile of skeletons.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Rhino-Man


For me, miniature gaming has mainly been about buying the figures I wanted to paint, and then figuring out what they are actually for later. I suppose that is one of the reasons I started writing my own games, and the major reason that all of those games tend to be very open about the figures used.

I knew I wanted this rhino-man from Reaper the minute I saw him. He’s big, see the comparison photo below, but he’s from their Bones plastic range, so he’s also attractively priced. I have mixed feelings about Bones, but have found them to be really good for larger creatures. I have no complaints what-so-ever about this one. The casting was good, the details well-defined, and sculpt (by Jason Wiebe) is top-notch!

I thought it was going to be pretty quick to paint, what with all of that open pachyderm skin, but actually, it took me about twice as long as a normal 28mm figure. I’m honestly not sure why. That’s fine; I enjoyed the time, so it was time well spent. I’m very pleased with the results.

So, what’s he for? I’ll probably use him as an Eritherean in Ghost Archipelago… although he’s obviously from a different tribe, so he might need some special stats…

By-the-by, for those in the UK, did you know you can now order Reaper figures direct in the UK? Just go on their website and switch the currency to £. Yippee!


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Sprue Exchange

Actual Sprues May Vary

Is anyone up for a ‘Sprue Exchange’?

Basically, like most wargamers, I have collected a bunch of plastic wargaming sprues that I don’t actually want, and think it would be fun to trade a few for those that I do. So, I have thrown a small pile of my extra sprues in a box, and I’m ready to ship them off.

Here’s the idea. This is a limited exchange. Just me and ten other people. I will ship the box off to the first person. That person can swap two of the sprues in the box for a couple of their own. This person should then email me, and I will give them the next address. This person then sends the box on to person number 2 – and emails me at the same time, so I can track its progress. Eventually, the box works its way around to everyone and back to me. If it’s fun, I’ll do it again. If not, that’ll be the end of it.

Here are the rules.

1.     You agree to send the box off to the next person within a week of receiving it. Less if possible.
2.     Each person can take two sprues, but they must exchange them for two different sprues. (The sprues you put in must be different from each other).
3.     You can toss in extra sprues if you want to get rid of them and there is space in the box.
4.     A sprue can be missing up to two pieces, but only if you can still fully assemble all of the figures the sprue was designed to assemble. (So it can be missing a couple of heads, if there are still sufficient heads for all of the bodies.
5.     Plastic is preferred. Other sprues are allowed if they are very light (such as MDF, Resin, ect).
6.     All postage is 2nd Class.
7.   UK residents only. Sorry, shipping outside of the country makes it not worthwhile.

If you want to participate, drop me an email. You can find it on this blog if you look hard enough.

Remember, spaces are limited to ten.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The Final Ranger


I have painted all four of the official Rangers of Shadow Deep ranger figures! Now just the giant flies to go.

After painting the first three rangers in classic green and brown, I wanted to go with something a bit different for this one. So, I painted her up in blue – the traditional colour of Lorenthia, the kingdom that has just fallen prey to the Shadow Deep at the beginning of the game. There are still lots of Lorenthians around, and many of them are fighting with Alladore to avenge their fallen country. In fact, in a future mission, I’m planning for it to matter whether a figure is from Alladore or Lorenthia – so decide now!

I went with strawberry blond hair to further separate her from the Alladoreans who are mostly dark haired.

Another great little sculpt from Bobby Jackson. I’ve always been a fan of Bobby, but I think his digitally sculpted figures might actually be better than his traditionally sculpted ones.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Frostgrave: Second Edition


Well, the news has leaked, so I might as well go ahead and make an official announcement.

There will be a new edition of Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City coming from Osprey Games in June of 2020!

Why?

When I wrote Frostgrave nearly five years ago, it was my first real attempt at writing a wargame. Since that time, I have learned huge amounts about both game design in general and about Frostgrave in particular. I now feel that I can make the game significantly better. So, with the blessings of Osprey, I set out to do just that.

I had two main design goals:

1.     Make the game more fun, not less.
2.     Make the rules clearer, more balanced, and more streamlined, but not at the cost of #1.

For #1, I wanted to do two things. I wanted to make every spell in the game desirable and useful, and I wanted to increase the direct player interaction. The truth is, of the 80 spells in the game, there are about 20 that are never used, or at least never taken, because they are too weak or too specialized. I have gone through each spell one-by-one, tightening the wording, tweaking where necessary, changing the mechanics in others, and, in just a few cases, replacing spells with new ones. As I did this work, I concentrated on how these spells could, and would, be used by players to interrupt and interfere with the plans of their opponents. I wanted to increase the back-and-forth nature of the game, making each scrap for treasure an opportunity for a real magical duel.

For #2, I wanted to improve the whole experience of players, from reading the book and learning to play the game to running a campaign. I wanted to eliminate a few things that never quite worked right, or led to strange, unwanted results, and I wanted to increase the balance, both during a game and over the course of a campaign. A lot of these rule changes will be immediately recognizable to people who have read Ghost Archipelago and The Maze of Malcor, but there are a few new ones as well.

I am still making a few tweaks here and there, but most of my work is actually done. While I don’t want to reveal too much at this very early date, I can say that there are no fundamental changes. The game is still its wacky, D20 self. The ten wizard schools remain in the same alignments. Most of the spells haven't changed. The goal is still to grab treasure, gain experience, and try not to get killed by other wizards or wandering monsters. Frostgrave never cared which figures you used before, as long as they made you happy, and it is not going to care in Second Edition either.

Is this going to make all of your existing Frostgrave books obsolete? No. I mean, the original rulebook probably won’t have much use anymore, but all of the supplements, with all of their optional rules, scenarios, new soldiers, new treasure, etc., will still be usable for Second Edition. There are few things that will need clarification, but not many, and I’ll post a PDF covering those when the time comes.

I will be revealing more as we get closer to the release date, but it is still a long way off, and I hope everyone will still play many games of Frostgrave before then without worrying about any changes. I mean, Perilous Dark is still to come out first, so that players can have lots of solo and co-operative fun, and I’ve got a Frostgrave Immersion Tour to attend!

So, more news coming later, but that’s all I’ve got for now.

P.S. You won’t be able to Leap off the table with treasure anymore…

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Ten Non-Magical Books for Fantasy RPGs


Sometimes I just get the urge to write something purely for the heck of it. So, here are ten non-magical books that can be included in any fantasy role-playing campaign. The next time one of your players wants to know the the title of every book on the bookshelf, you can just hand them this.

1. Glassblowing by Vim Messis

Bound with bright blue cloth covers, this folio contains detailed instructions on the art of glassblowing, including techniques for making a wide variety of bottles and ornaments. The printed text is accompanied by numerous wood-cut diagrams. In many places the book has been annotated in green ink by one of the previous owners in neat script. The last page of the book has been torn out, but it does not appear that anything was printed on this page.
            Price 10gp.

2. Giant Arachnids by Anonymous

This thin sextodecimo claims to be a detailed and authoritative study of giant spiders, but in fact, is really a collection of sensationalist tales mixed in with a few facts. The text, which features both black and red ink, has been poorly applied to the paper so that in some places it fades almost to illegibility. The book is bound in stained, brown leather.
Price 5gp.

3. Villains of the Sea by Tekroth Larn

This thick, octavo book is bound in red cloth and features a black ribbon sewn into the binding. The title has been pressed into the cover with gold foil. It was printed on a traditional press in black ink and includes a number of wood-cut portraits. The book is a collection of short biographies of 23 notorious pirates who sailed a hundred years ago or more. Each entry includes details of both the pirate and their most famous vessels.
Price 20gp.

4. The Cranium by Victurn Lessten

This striking octavo is bound between two ivory plates with a heavy leather spine. The names of the book and the author have been carefully carved into the cover and then stained with ink. The text, which is accompanied by a large number of sketches, is a lengthy examination of the different skulls of sentient races. While all of the factual details are incredibly accurate, it is mixed in with incredibly racist statements about the maximum potential intelligence of the various races.
            Price 50gp.

5. The Second Dragon War by Captain Sederick

This lovely duodecimo is bound in black leather with a highly-detailed impressed dragon on the cover. The texted is printed in black ink in a small copperplate, and gives a detailed history of an otherwise unknown war. None of the place names in the book have been identified and the dates are given in an unknown calendar. It is thus unclear if this is a work of history or fiction.
            Price 15gp.

6. Keys by Anonymous

This tiny book is of a non-standard size, but can comfortably rest in the palm of most people’s hand. It is bound in a reddish-brown leather. The book has no text other than the title on the first page. Instead, every page contains a detailed, ink drawing of a key. There are 296 keys in total, representing numerous different styles and designs. The last three pages and the back cover have slight water damage in one corner.
            Price 5gp.

7. The Animated Dead by Kenth Zandimere

A heavy, octavo containing nearly 900 pages, this book is bound in red velvet cloth over heavy wooden boards. The entirety of the dense, small text is devoted to the advantages and disadvantages of reanimating the skeletons of different creatures. There is no discussion of necromancy or the magic necessary to actually preform the reanimation, just an exhaustive discussion of the practicalities when it comes to such things as number of legs, opposable thumbs, total size, etc. A couple of the species discussed in the book are otherwise unknown.
            Price 5gp.

8. Paints and Pigments by Helbreth Givorn.

This octavio is bound between wooden covers that are painted with swirling colours. Each of the pages contains detailed instructions on how to create specific colours of paint, including what ingredients are necessary, the best ways to mix them, and, in a few cases, cooking instructions. Each page also contains a small circular sample of the colour being discussed. At some point the book had a small hole drilled through it near the bottom of the spine. This was likely done so that the book could be chained to a shelf.
            Price 40gc.

9. The Magic of Sea Glass by Dafrinth T.

The covers of this octavo are made out of thin sheets of metal. Tiny bits of sea glass have been inset onto the front cover to form a colourful mosaic square. The printed text, which seems overly large, and occasionally switches between black, green, blue, red and purple with no identifiable pattern, purports to tell the numerous ways that sea glass can be used in spellcasting, including as a spell component, as a focusing device, and as a target of specific spells. Unfortunately, none of the results purported in the book can be replicated.
            Price 25gp.

10. Edible Underground Fungus by Humster Flinn

A thin, duodecimo bound in green cloth, this hand-written book details over thirty varieties of edible fungus that can be found growing underground. While the hand-writing is clear and extremely precise, the same cannot be said of the accompanying illustrations which look somewhat childish, and are of little help in identification. Many of the fungi mentioned can be dried out and preserved for significant amounts of time.
            Price 10gc.

* Artwork by Barrett Stanley, created for the game Rangers of Shadow Deep.