Thursday 31 October 2013

The Great Pumpkin!

My wife and I had a pumpkin carving contest last night. I will leave you to judge the winner. I will just say that I went for the more 'classic' design.

Last year, the presence of a couple of lighted jack o' lanterns in the window seem to make all of the difference in our trick-or-treater numbers. (You've got to advertise!). So, we are hoping for another big turnout this year. I'll report back with numbers tomorrow.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Frostgrave: The d20 Decision

Not too long ago, I announced that I had been commissioned to write a fantasy wargame called Frostgrave for Osprey’s wargames series. The game is set in the frozen ruins of a magical city overrun by undead and other dangerous creatures. The players each control a wizard from one of ten different schools of magic, each with their preferred list of spells. These wizards are then allowed to hire an apprentice as well as a group of soldiers to accompany them into the ruined city in search of lost treasure and magical secrets. Once in the ruins, far outside the laws of society, it is every warband for itself...

I knew from the beginning that I wanted Frostgrave to have a little bit of classic Dungeons and Dragons flavour. Some of that would come from the setting and the large part played by wizards, but I wanted something a little more, some connection to actually playing the venerable role-playing game. While I was thinking about this, I also began to think about the mechanics of the game, and, as so often happens, one question ended up answering another.

Most wargames these days still use six-sided dice as their main means of randomization. It is easy to understand why. Everyone has a few d6s lying around, even if they have to raid the Monopoly set. Also, since people are used to seeing these dice, they are less intimidated by games that use other, stranger dice. That’s the theory anyway. The problem with the d6 is that it only has very limited outcomes (six to be exact) and thus it is difficult to use a d6 to  ifferentiate probabilities. That is to say, the chance of rolling above a 3 is a lot more likely than the chance of rolling above a 4. How then do you represent a chance that is only a little bit more likely? You can roll multiple d6s and add them together, but this introduces a bell-curve into the probability of results. This is undesirable as it means that modifiers such as a -1 to a roll will affect the probability of a roll differently depending upon the base target.*

Recently more and more wargames seem to be moving to d10 as their main dice of choice. I think this is a definite improvement and probably works fine in mass battle games, where the distinction between troop types doesn’t need to be as refined. However, in a game like Frostgrave where every miniatures represents an unique individual, I wanted to take it one step further. Thus, I decided the game would use a d20 for all rolls.

As far as I know, the twenty-sided die didn’t exist before Dungeons and Dragons, and even though it was just one of six different dice used in the game, it became the die that symbolized the game. This is mainly because it was the die used to make attack rolls, the most common roll in the game. So, by selecting the d20 as the randomizer for Frostgrave, it draws an immediate link with D&D. Now, the actual attack roll in Frostgrave doesn’t work anything like the one in D&D, but I’ll go into that in a future post.

So, not only does the d20 give me the connection I was seeking, but I also believe it gives me the best use of probability. With twenty different outcomes, it is much easier to establish comparative probabilities, with each number difference being a straight 5% probability difference, and by only using the one die it means that modifiers remain consistent.

And of course, twenty-sided dice are the most fun to roll, but that’s just a bonus.

*It is also possible to roll a number of d6 independent of one another, needing a certain target, with the number of dice hitting the target determining success. However, the math needed to understand the probability of results is extremely difficult and certainly beyond what I wanted to put myself through in designing Frostgrave!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Spiel – Here I Come!

Tomorrow morning I’m heading over to Heathrow to catch a flight to Dusseldorf. From there it is just a short train ride to Essen, host city of Spiel, the world’s largest board game convention. (Actually, it’s not just about board games any more, they’ve also got wargames, card games and even comics books).

Technically, I’ll be working all weekend, but I wonder how much it will feel like work. I’m pretty excited. Not only does the convention sound amazing, but it will be the first time I’ve been to Germany (well, the first time I’ve left the airport in Germany anyway).

I’ll be taking the camera, so hopefully I’ll come back with some good photos for the Troll readers.

Sunday 20 October 2013

The Lord of the Rings Miniatures

I first discovered miniatures when I was around ten years old. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I think I remember the order of events. I bought a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons box set from a yard sale, but I couldn’t understand it. My father saw this and, for reasons known only to him, went out and bought the original Middle-Earth Role-Playing box set. (I was already a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by this point).

Dad became my first Games Master, and in one of those early games, he brought a couple of painted miniatures! These were some of the old Ral Partha D&D minis. My character was represented by a fully armoured knight (a bad representation of a Beorning, but seriously cool to ten-year-old me). I also remember a neat troll.

Soon after that, I began buying my own figures. In the US in those days, there weren’t many choices available. You could get Ral Partha and some imported Citadel miniatures, but by far the best were the Mithril Miniatures from Prince August. While, I was certainly attracted to these minis because they were Lord of the Rings, I also believe they were the best miniatures available at the time.

As the years passed, I dabbled in all kind of different role-playing games and wargames. I had several different miniature painting teachers, both official and unofficial, and I worked in two different gaming stores.

Then I moved to the United Kingdom, and a whole new world of miniatures opened up. UK miniature companies outnumber those in the US by about ten (or more) to one. I was like a kid in a country-sized candy store, and I sampled a bit of everything. But, taking the metaphor one step further, I ate too much and got a bit sick.

I still love painting and playing with miniatures and spend a large amount of my free time engaged in the hobby, but I long for a simpler time. I long to go back to when my hobby was focused. I long to go back to Middle-Earth.

Mithril Miniatures still exists, albeit in a very changed form. It is now more of an expensive collectors club. Some of their figures are fantastic, and I would like to pick them up at some point, but in general the style no longer suits how I find enjoyment in painting. Lucky for me, Games Workshop picked up The Lord of the Rings license when the movies came out and has produced some seriously good miniatures.

So, for me, The Lord of the Rings is a homecoming in miniatures. It is also my all-time favourite fantasy world.

There are a few drawbacks to the miniatures as pertains to Games Workshop. They are expensive. Some of them are now produced in ‘Finecast’ resin, of which I’m not a huge fan, and it isn’t really clear what GW is planning to do with the license for the next two movies or if the will keep it afterwards. Still, these are all minor concerns from my hobby perspective. I’ve already proved that I can buy more figures than I can paint. I can deal with a finecast model or two, but there is still plenty of metal and plastic ones out there as well, and GW has already produced enough different models to keep me painting for the next twenty years or more

Well, that’s the current state of affairs anyway.

Saturday 19 October 2013

More Miniature Musings

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about my recent struggles with my miniatures hobby, and how it was causing me as much stress as enjoyment. I determined that my main problem was that I had far too many unpainted miniatures, so I resolved to get rid of most of them. Well, I did, and I can honestly say, I’ve felt much better about my hobby since.

That said, I have continued to investigate the question, wondering if there are ways I can increase my enjoyment even more. For the last few years, I have found myself slightly envious of those miniature gamers who are able to focus on one period/setting/model range. Because of their greater focus, these gamers are able to assemble very impressive collections where every piece fits into the whole. They can also take their collections into much greater depth. If only I wasn’t such a ‘miniatures butterfly’ flitting from period to period...

Then it occurred to me, maybe the reason I can’t stick to one period is because I’ve never actually tried.  I’ve been perfectly willing to paint giant robots one day and Napoleonic soldiers the next. Would I be happier if I just picked one period and stuck with it, even if it proved to be an occasional test of willpower?

Well, I’ve decided to give it a try. After a lot of thinking, I have decided, at least for the next few months, I’m going to paint and collect nothing but The Lord of the Rings figures. (I’ll explain why I settled on this period in a future post). I want to see if this focus actually brings more enjoyment to my hobby. I have a suspicion that the underlying problem of having too many unpainted miniatures, was that they were distracting me from the miniatures I really did want to paint.

Also, I have reason to believe that over the coming year, I will probably have less time to paint miniatures than ever before, and I think focus could be key in my continued enjoyment.

I’ll keep you updated.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Royalties: The Glamorous Life of a Writer

I admit it, one of my favourite aspects of being a writer is the concept of royalties, that little bit of the contract that says I will continued to be paid for the sales of my books for the rest of my life. Eventually, I’ll be able to just kick-back and let the money roll in. Right?

Well, this week, I got my royalty statements from Osprey publishing, who hold the rights to all of my royalty-earning books. Here’s how they look:

The American Civil War Quiz Book

As it turned out, this book did not sell well. It certainly didn’t sell anywhere near as well as The Military History Quiz Book, which unfortunately I do not earn royalties on. So, according to my statement, my royalties for The American Civil War Quiz Book are -£655.08. That is to say my royalty earnings for that book are still that far below the amount I was given as an advance. That’s actually a £41 improvement over the previous statement, but considering the book has now been out for several years and probably sold the vast majority of copies that it will ever sell, I don’t think I’ll be including future payments from this book in my long-term financial strategy...

Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide

This is the original version of the book and not the newly released hardback edition. I won’t see any royalties on the new addition until the next royalty payment six-months from now. Anyway, on this book my total earns were 
-£6.26. Actually, this book has sold really well. At one point, this book had earned out its advance, and I actually earned about £15 for it on my last statement; however, since then, there have been some returns. So, despite selling a few copies and sales of the ebook, I’m in the red on this one as well. With the new edition out, this older one isn’t likely to sell too much, but some day, it might creep back over £0.

Dragonslayers: From Beowulf to St. George

My latest book netted me -£406.58. Sigh. Now, on the plus side, this book only had about three months of sales in the royalty period, so there is still hope for the future, but not a huge amount really. 

And there you have it, a big lot of negative. Now, just to make clear, I don’t actually owe anyone any money. The advances I was given for writing the books are not refundable. However, those advances do have to earn-out before I see another penny.

There is still hope. I was not paid an advance for the new addition of Zombies, so royalty earnings for that volume will start at £0. 

Something to look forward to anyway.