Tuesday 2 December 2014

The Voyage Begins

A solitary bell rang from a high white tower as dawn crept over the city of Dol Amroth. Down in the harbour, the long, sleek warship known as the Glaurung slowly rowed out to sea.  After the festivities of the night before, the city had slept late, and only a few, quiet folk had come down to see the ship off.

Once free of the harbour, the ship dropped its sail and used the gentle breeze to carry it slowly along the coast, past the numerous settlements that dotted the coastal road. Apparently word of the voyage had proceeded them, for hundreds of people lined the shores near these towns and villages, waving flags, blowing trumpets, and waving wildly to the adventuring heroes. Most of the voyagers paid little attention to the fanfare, but Darcarven often stepped upon the bow and waved his red scarf in appreciation.

That evening, after covering approximately 65 miles, the ship pulled into a quiet cove near the village of Yenth. Most of the crew went off to the village where warm beds were found for them. The next morning, the ship once again put out, running with the morning light. They passed more villages, though most of these were quiet. In the early afternoon, Nereth turned the ship away from the land, heading for the island of Tolfalas, which could just be glimpsed as a thin line along the horizon.

Luck was with the adventurers in their crossing, and the weather stayed fair, with a gentle breeze at their back. As late afternoon approached, they could see the harbour walls of Tolfalas, lined with guards and flapping banners. This was an island constantly under threat. Today, however, it was celebrating, for a beloved son was coming home. Althérion, the Sea Prince, and member of the crew of the Glaurung was the first to step ashore.

Once again the crew were invited to a great feast in their honour. More songs were sung and tales of valour told. Wine flowed freely, though most of the crew of the Glaurung drank sparingly. Rymond, who sat at the table next to Lady Valetha, watched intently the interaction between Althérion and his father and older brother.  ‘There will be trouble here one day,’ he said with a frown. Valetha turned her dark eyes to him, but said nothing. While the feast continued into the early hours, Breged made sure that all of his crew left in time to sleep well before the morning. 

Over the next three days, the Glaurung slowly turned south, passing through small islands, a few of which contained Gondorian settlements. Away to their left, the sandy expanse of the Haradwaith sat quiet and empty. As night began to close in on the fifth day of their voyage, the ship rounded an island and came in sight of the Wenlack fishing station, the most southern outpost of the kingdom of Gondor.

However, instead of the warm welcome of the fisher folk that the crew had expected, they were met only with silence and the smell of rotting corpses…

* * *
I manage to play my first little game with the crew of the Glaurung, which I hope to share in the next few days. First, though, the crew had to cover some ground. So, I took a few shots of the ship at sea.  The ‘sea’ here is actually my bath mat, but it works pretty well, even has some waves in it.  I didn't even try to put all thirty crew members in the ship. Instead, only the actual heroes are visible.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

The Story of Santa Claus for £0.99!

For those in the UK who might be interested in reading my book The Story of Santa Claus, it is currently selling for £0.99 on the UK Kindle store. 

The sale has propelled the book to number 1 on Amazon UK’s Holidays & Celebration list, just edging out Thailand: Deadly Destination

For those who missed my earlier post about the book, you can read more about it and see some photos of the book here.

It's now less than a month to Christmas, so if you haven't gotten Mom a present yet, perhaps a cute little book full of Christmas cheer?

Just a suggestion.

Monday 24 November 2014

The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition

Last week, with the baby asleep, and Mom on her first night-out in five months, I got to sit down and watch the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug that has been sitting on my shelf, taunting me with its unbroken shrink wrap.

For those who have seen the movie, but don’t want to invest either the time or the money in this edition, I thought I might briefly review the major differences.


Although there are lots of little bits in the EE which differ from the theatrical release, there are three that I would consider ‘important’.

The first of these is Gandalf’s introduction of the dwarves to Beorn. This is one of the real highlights of the book, but, much to my disappointment, didn’t appear in the movie. The EE edition includes the scene, although it sets it after the dwarves spend a night in the house. (Beorn only appearing the next morning). The scene is actually a great comedy piece, with the dwarves repeatedly mistaking Gandalf’s ‘signal’ and appearing before he is ready. Unfortunately, there is just something a bit off about Beorn in the scene. In a series that has constantly had to deal with making people appear different sizes, this seems to be the worst example. He just doesn’t quite seem ‘there’. Also, his acting isn’t quite as good as it is in the scenes included in the regular edition. Having watched the scene and somewhat enjoyed it, I actually agree with the decision to cut the scene from the regular release. There is also a short conversation between Beorn and Gandalf about Dol Guldur, which I think should have been left in as it gives a little more reason for Gandalf leaving the Dwarves at Mirkwood.

It is in Mirkwood where we get the second major extension, and the reinstatement of another lost piece of the book.  Basically, we get several more minutes of Thorin’s company wandering in the confusing woods, including the crossing of an enchanted stream with a collapsed bridge. During the crossing over some twisted vines, Bombur falls in the water and into an enchanted sleep, forcing the rest of the party to carry him. This scene adds nothing to the overall plot, but it is fun, is in the book, and makes Mirkwood feel more like the great wood that it is – they cross so quickly in the regular edition that it makes it seem like a very small forest.

The last, and biggest, change from the regular edition is the inclusion of a new character, Thrain, father of Thorin. Thrain is briefly seen in the flashbacks in the first movie. We actually get some new flashbacks right at the beginning of the EE when Gandalf is talking to Thorin in Bree. (This also includes Gandalf asking Thorin about Thrains ‘ring’ – nice to see Gandalf doing his job).  Later in the EE, when Gandalf is exploring the ruins of Dol Guldur, a crazy, emaciated version of Thrain attacks him. This is an odd scene, as for a moment, Gandalf feels hunted, only to be jumped by a really unthreatening old man.

I think this scene is an attempt to work back in an element from the book – Gandalf meeting Thrain in the dungeons of Dol Guldur. However, in the book that event happens before the events of the Hobbit (though it is told later). Here it seems strangely out of place. In fact, it is so out of place, that the writers obviously didn’t know what to do with Thrain and have him quickly dispatched by the Necromancers for no particular reason. It’s all a bit strange really.

Peter Jackson and crew, however, must have realized the scene didn’t work and removed it. It is fascinating to see how they managed to completely remove the character from the scene. I think in some instances they must have digitally removed him from specific shots that made it into the final cut of the theatrical release.

So, all and all, while the EE is fun to watch, it probably isn’t as good of a film as the theatrical release, with only the Mirkwood scene and a few tiny bits of pieces that might have added to it.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Goodbye Middle-Earth

Although The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn't due out for another couple of weeks, Peter Jackson has already composed his goodbye to the fantastic world of Middle-Earth. In case you missed it, I've embedded it below. It's sung by Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in The Lord of the Rings and gave us one of the great moments in the trilogy when he sang his song to Denethor in The Return of the King.

It's a melancholy song, no doubt, but that is certainly fitting with Middle-Earth. In fact, I think many people will perhaps be surprised by how sad the final installment of The Hobbit is likely to be. Personally, I'm looking forward to it. While I've enjoyed the first two installments, I think they have lacked some of the real emotional moments that drove The Lord of The Rings forward.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Doctor Who – Season Finale

For those who haven’t seen the two-part, Doctor Who season-ending finale, I have just one spoiler – it’s garbage.

I mean it is really nonsensical trash.

I’d love to talk about the plot holes, but frankly, it’s more hole than plot.

Now, one might argue that Doctor Who has pretty much been nonsense for a while, and I think there is some truth to that. However, in the past, I was able to forgive a good bit of lack-logic because at least I enjoyed the ride. While Matt Smith was the Doctor, his episodes bounced along with a manic glee, led by a Doctor with a large heart.

While this episode moved along with the same speed, it proceeded by bouncing from one distasteful point to another, led by a Doctor who seemed annoyed to be caught up in the whole affair. If I wasn’t such a large fan of the series, I probably would have turned it off.

In many ways, this episode reminded me a lot of that other Steven Moffat led television series, Sherlock.  Even though I thought Sherlock was great television in many ways, in the end, I found I didn’t actually enjoy watching it. Instead, it just brought me down. In both instances, I feel like Steven Moffatt wants to write modern morality plays but can’t quite figure out the difference between right and wrong…

So, I fear I must join the growing ranks of fans who think it is time for Steven Moffat to step aside and give someone else a chance with Doctor Who.

Monday 3 November 2014

An Update?

Nick at North Star Military Figures posted a couple of very interesting announcements on his company facebook page. Now, I can't say which game Nick is talking about, but I can say that I'm very excited about the news.  Here are the posts -

The last couple of months have been very exciting times behind the scenes at North Star. The next Osprey/ North Star project is a real Allied Forces affair, a combined effort from the hobbys best designers, Mike Owen, Mark Sims, Mark Copplestone, Nick Collier and Bob Naismith, bringing you quite a unique collection of figures for Osprey's 2015 game. We'll start to show the miniatures off soon, just so you know, this is one for the Fantasy gamers.


I announced earlier about how exciting the next Osprey project is for us at North Star as it is a fantastic collaboration between five great designers, all of whom are good chums of ours. What I didn't mention is that for the first time, we will be producing some of the range in plastic. And what I also didn't mention is that we are not just working alongside Osprey on this one, it is a true joint project, Osprey's first figure range. More details to come.

More news when I get it!

Friday 24 October 2014

The Last Island Fight in Iceland

Drawing by Jack Powning
I just finished reading The Saga of Gunnlaug Wormtongue. Like most Icelandic sagas, this short piece was difficult and often dull, even in translation, containing as much genealogy as narrative. Still, I like to read the old sagas every now and again, because I often find little nuggets of interest. This saga claims to have an account of the last island fight in Iceland.

'Island Fights' were a part of the early Viking law-code. Essentially, it was a one-on-one duel, taking place on a small island. They could be to the death, or to first blood with the loser being ransomed. Generally, such fights were a last resort.

Near the end of The Saga of Gunnlaug Wormtongue, the eponymous 'hero' challenges his rival Hrafn to an island fight, as Hrafn married the woman that he loved. Since Gunnlaug is the challenger, Hrafn got to strike the first blow (that'll make you think about it before you challenge someone). As it happened, Hrafn struck such a heavy blow on Gunnlaug's shield that it snapped off the blade of his sword, the broken shard nicking Gunnlaug on the cheek. Immediately, both men claimed victory. Gunnlaug argued that his opponent was disarmed. Hrafn countered that Gunnlaug was wounded. The other men who had come to view the duel decided that the whole thing should be called off, and, soon thereafter, island fights were outlawed in Iceland.

Of course that didn't end the feud. A few years later, the two met again in Norway, where such duels were still legal. This time, Gunnlaug killed Hrafn, but was himself mortally wounded.

Monday 13 October 2014

Steampunk Soldiers Pages

As it turns out, the internal pages of Steampunk Soldiers are nearly impossible to photograph. The high-gloss paper, which makes the artwork look so good, also causes any kind of light to reflect back into the camera, blurring the photo. Well, no matter.  I've managed to secure a couple of promotional 'page spreads' (images of the interior produced for promotional purposes. They are low-res, so the text is unclear, but it gives you the idea).  So here they are:


Monday 6 October 2014

Steampunk Soldiers

The second book I have coming out this year is Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam, which I co-wrote with Philip Smith. This large, hardback book, features 65 colour plates depicting the various soldiers who fought in the fifty or so years between the discovery of hephastium in 1862 and the outbreak of the Great War of the Worlds in 1914.

Hopefully, in the next few days, I'll be able to show off some internal spreads.  

The book will be available in November and is now up for pre-order on various sites; however, if you are a wagamer, you might consider getting it from North Star Military Figures as it comes with an exclusive Steampunk Soldier miniature.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Bike Miles 9,750

It was an unusually dry and warm September here in Britain. This not only seems to put the whole island in a better mood, but it is also great for cycling. I managed to ride a lot of miles during the month and have just crested 9,750 on my road to 10,000! I was hoping to hit my goal by the end of the year, and while that is certainly achievable, it could, very much, depend on the weather.

With the days rapidly growing shorter, a process that happens much faster here that it did in my North Carolina home, and daylight savings looming near the end of the month, I am running out of time.  I don’t much care for cycling in the dark, and once daylight savings kicks in, it will soon mean that both ends of my commute will be in the dark. Also, the rains will come sooner or later, which not only takes the fun out of it, it also turns the back yard into a mud pit that likely won't dry out until April.

So October is my last really good month for cycling.

Monday 22 September 2014

Dwarf Rangers

A trio of Dwarf Rangers that I painted up this weekend. 

I think these little plastic figures are some of my favourite models in The Lord of the Rings line. There is just something very Tolkienesque about them. I have heard some people claim that they are supposed to represent Thorin's company (before the new Hobbit movie and before Games Workshop technically had the rights to depict those characters), but I can't see any specific evidence to back such a statement. Regardless, they are some great miniatures.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Ponderings on The Pledge

I’ve only been on The Pledge for the last month and a half, but already I’ve seen a shift in my thinking about the ‘cost’ of miniatures. For most of my life, the only real limiting factor to buying miniatures has been the price. When I was young, that was enough to stop my miniature buying from ever getting out of hand; however, as I have gotten older and made a bit more money, this became much less of a limiting factor. As a hobby, miniatures are relatively inexpensive and it is easy enough to accumulate huge numbers of them without spending huge amounts of cash. Some might consider that a good thing; I do not.

Over the last forty-five days, I have painted 8 miniatures, and I have bought none. In that time, there have been plenty of miniatures, both new and old, that have tempted me. In most cases, the actual monetary cost of those miniatures was not high, and I would have likely bought them in a moment of excitement (or just as likely, in a moment of boredom). With the pledge, I have another consideration to take into account – each of those figures would cost me two hours.

Two hours is about how long it takes me to paint an average miniature. I don’t begrudge this time; I enjoy it. But now I know that every miniature I buy means two more hours of painting time before I can buy another one, and that is something that has to be considered carefully. 

Here’s a real life example. Recently, I have been tempted by the new System Scavengers from Pig Iron Productions (one of my favourite one-man miniatures companies). They come in packs of 5 for £10. While I’m not a wealthy man, especially since the birth of my daughter, £10 is not a huge amount, and, if I wanted to spend it, I would feel comfortable doing so. On the other hand, I have only painted 8 figures in the last 45 days. If I buy those five troopers, I’m going to have to find 10 hours of painting time to get back to the same level of miniature buying power… 

I think that is the true power of 'The Pledge'. Not that it fixes a specific limit on miniature buying, but that it forces a re-examination of the full cost of those purchases.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Call of Dungeons & Dragons

Over the last few months there has been a lot of excitement in some parts of the nerdosphere about the release of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Old pros call it 5th Edition (or 5e), but Wizards of the Coast, who are producing the new books, simply call it Dungeons & Dragons without any numerical designation.

Now, I haven’t really played D&D in a couple of decades, but I have watched with interest from the sidelines as various incarnations of the game have come and gone. I grew up with AD&D (1e), thought 2nd edition was terrible, marvelled at the sheer scope and breadth of 3rd edition, and finally mourned when 4th edition wrecked it.

Probably the most interesting point in the history of Dungeons & Dragons came in 2009, right about the time 4th edition was released. It was then that a schism developed among the D&D players. Some carried on to the new edition, but most turned instead to a new game called Pathfinder. In one of the great marketing backfires of all time, WOTC had created a situation where another company was able to come in and essentially repackage Dungeons & Dragons 3e under a different name. That name was Pathfinder, and it quickly rose to become the most popular role-playing game of them all, slowly pushing aside D&D 4e.

I’m sure that’s all pretty confusing to those who didn’t watch it happen. 

What is interesting to me, however, is the number of people I have heard in various blogs and forums who want to return to Dungeons & Dragons. It is not because they have grown dissatisfied with Pathfinder; quite the contrary, people still seem to love the game. Yet, something seems to be calling people home...

Is it really just the name, Dungeons & Dragons? Is it the association with many ill-spent college nights rolling dice and eating pizza? Why do people care if their game is called Pathfinder or D&D? Surely it only matters which game is better?

Why do I, who haven’t thrown rpg dice in anger since D&D books were printed in black and white also feel the call?

Friday 12 September 2014

Christmas in September!

I have two books coming out this year, and the first one is just about to hit the shelves. That might surprise some people since the book is The Story of Santa Claus. Well, as it turns out, if you want a book to be a part of the Christmas rush, it is best if it is released in September. Before everyone gets up in arms about Christmas books coming out before Halloween (or even the month that includes Halloween), apparently this has more to do with supply chains and such than it does getting the books on shelves this early. Regardless, I think I’m entitled to be excited and to encourage everyone to start their Christmas shopping (extra) early!

I have written books for various reasons, usually for fun or money (or both), but I wrote this one specifically because I wanted to learn more about the subject. I knew a bit about Santa. I could name all of his reindeer. I knew he was originally a bishop named Nicholas and... well, that was about it really. So I set off on an academic journey to figure out the true story of Santa Claus, starting with the tales of St. Nicholas and doing my best to follow his development into the fat, jolly elf of today. On the way, I had to read some heavy texts; I even had to ask my bother-in-law to translate a work from ancient Greek. It was interesting, but difficult.

In the end, I took all that I had learned and tried to write it in a fun, family friendly narrative, that focused on the magical stories that led to our modern interpretation of Santa Claus. It includes the early stories of St. Nicholas’s life, such as his early gift giving, his appointment as a ‘boy bishop’ and his rescue of the three Roman generals. It then shares some of the great stories of his appearances after his death, where he time and again comes to the aid of children. From there it moves through the confusing years of the Reformation, the rise of other strange Christmas spirits such as Krampus, and the different faces of St. Nicholas, including Father Christmas and Sinterklaas. Finally, the book ends in America, where St. Nicholas takes on his modern form, thanks to writers and artists such as Washington Irving, Clement Clark Moore, and Thomas Nast. It’s all true, in its own way.

Throughout the book, I scattered little asides, explaining St. Nicholas’s supposed actions at the Council of Nicaea, his relationship to the Norse god Odin, and the extent to which Coca-Cola actually factors into his story.

It was my hope to bring a little bit of magic and truth back to the character of Santa Claus that I think has been lost in the last hundred years or so. In this, I was greatly aided by Peter Dennis, who provided all of the illustrations for the book, both black and white pencil drawings and several full-colour paintings.

So, if you know anyone that might need a bit more Christmas magic in their lives, might I suggest helping them discover The Story of Santa Claus?

Friday 5 September 2014

A Tale from the Time War

The Dalek saucers tore through the Alliance fleet, suffering little damage, but leaving a trail of shattered and lifeless human vessels. In less than two hours, they would reach the planet Harkon II, where their planet killer warheads would exterminate the world's two billion inhabitants. Although a mass evacuation was underway, it was too little, too late. Still, every minute meant another ship that could escape the destruction, another hold full of innocent civilians flown to safety.

The Alliance's last hope rested with a team of eight marines who had successfully boarded the Dalek mothership during the battle. If they could work their way down to the power core, they might just cripple the ship, causing a massive delay in the Dalek assault. Millions would be saved.

In the chaos of the brief space battle, the marine boarding pod had gone undetected as it latched on the Dalek ship. It took several minutes to cut through the ship's outer hull, but soon the marines dropped inside. Using their suit's scanners to detect the strongest power readings, they made their way through the dark, lifeless corridors. The only sound was their heavy breathing and the clank of their boots on the metal floor.

Then, around the corner, stepped a roboman, one the Dalek's lifeless, human warriors. The marines quickly gunned him down, but more followed. A vicious firefight irrupted in the tight corridors of the ship.

The marines' superior firepower, mowed down the robomen, but they just kept coming in what seemed like endless waves. Laser blasts sizzled down dark corridors, blasting through armour and human flesh. A marine fell, and then another, but slowly the survivors advanced, stepping over the still smoking bodies of friends and enemies alike. As the marines closed in on the power core, a pair of Dalek's rolled around the corner.

In seconds, three marines had been cut down, their armour no defense against a Dalek death ray. With only three men remaining, it appear the battle was over. But, just when all was darkest, there was strange sound, a groaning and wheezing. Out of nowhere, a blue box materialized, and an old man, in a battered leather jacket stepped out.

The old man drew a small metal tool from his bandoleer and pointed it at the Daleks.

The tool gave a high pitch whine, which seemed to confuse the Daleks. They spun around in circles, screaming gibberish.

Taking advantage of the confusion, the remaining marines concentrated their firepower on the Daleks, quickly killing them both. Then, with the old man keeping watch, they planted their explosives in the power core. The old man then commanded the three surviving marines into his box, and they faded from existence...


Inspired by the latest episode of Doctor Who, I set up this quick little game, just to have fun and take a few snaps. All of the wall were made quickly by taking last week's recycling and spray painting it black, it's all just cans and plastic food containers along with a few hirst arts barrels.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

While it is not my intention to review every episode of the Doctor Who season, I thought it only fair to say a few words about this week's episode. After my lukewarm review of the season opener, I am happy to say, Doctor Who came back strong this past weekend, presenting one of the best episodes of the past few seasons, and arguably one of the best since the show's revival.

Having left the silliness of dinosaurs and lizard-women in Victorian London behind, the Doctor once again travels into space to take on his greatest enemy, the Daleks.While the Daleks have definitely been overused in the last decade, this is a story that could not function without them.

I am happy to report that Peter Capaldi truly shines as the Doctors in this episode. Although he is still gruff, and at one point seems somewhat callous, it is all part of the greater exploration of his character that is the focus of the story. A story that is presented in a fantastic, action-packed package, that includes a huge shoot-out between a squad of Daleks and human 'rebels'. Dalek's explode, human's are zapped, flames spew in all directions. This is classic Doctor Who, but with a budget the original series could only dream about.

Not every note was pitch perfect, there is a real dud moment when the 'over arching plot line' is badly integrated and detracts from the terrifically building tension, but this is overshadowed by the generally terrific dialogue and really nifty sets.

If even half of the episodes of this season are this good, or even close, it will be a strong season of Doctor Who indeed.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

A Frostgrave Report

I finally had a chance to sit down and have a game of Frostgrave with Phil Smith, the Games Manager at Osprey Publishing. You can read his full write-up of the game here. Basically, I got trounced. I got off a few good spells early, including a poison dart against his apprentice, but then a lucky bow-shot took down my wizard. That left my poor, outnumbered apprentice to fend for herself before a crossbow bolt took her down as well.

I followed that game up with an even worse beating at the hands of Duncan, the Osprey Games Developer. (He got a lot of help from those stupid wandering zombies.)

Well, at least they had a good time. Just because I wrote the game doesn't mean I'm good at playing it!

Hopefully, there will be some more exiting news coming out about Frostgrave soon.

Monday 25 August 2014

Rohan Captain

People often ask how long it takes me to paint a miniature.  Accepting that it varies wildly based on the amount of detail on the mini and exactly how much effort I decide to put into it, I would estimate that it takes me about two hours per miniatures. Most of the Rohan miniatures I have painted lately have taken me about that long, although a good chunk of that time is taken up by the shields.

My new Captain of Rohan took just a little bit over two hours. I know that because it is a rare example these days of a miniature that I painted from start to completion in one sitting. This fantastic miniature comes from Musketeer Miniatures Roman-British/King Arthur line...

(Blog interrupted by massive baby vomit. All cleaned up now)

I knew when I started painting this miniature that he would serve as a captain for my Rohirrim foot forces. There is just something noble and heroic about him. To that end, I decided to make his shield design more complex than most. I figure he is distantly related to the royal line, which gives him the right to carry the sign of the crown on his shield. The character on the top of the shield is his personal mark. It is just a squiggle I made up, but seems to fit well enough. It all looks a little rough when seen close up in a photograph, but smooths out when viewed at tabletop distance.

*  *  *

The Pledge – Painted: 1  Bought: 0

Sunday 24 August 2014

Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who

Doctor Who returned to television last night with Peter Capaldi driving the Tardis as the twelfth incarnation of the rogue Time Lord. Here are my thoughts –

(Spoiler Warning)

·         While Peter Capaldi turned in a good performance in his first episode, the writers and producers have made it very tough on him. By attempting to keep this new Doctor ‘mysterious’ they have made him hard to get a handle on, and, dare I say it, hard to like. In fact, he was so in danger of becoming unlikable, that they basically had to bring back Matt Smith at the end of the episode to ask the audience to please give this new Doctor a chance! By comparison, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor reminded me most strongly of Colin Baker’s Doctor, and that is not a good thing. Remember, the Doctor has to remain a hero that kids can enjoy and look up to.
·         The plot of the episode was a mess. It is basically a loose collection of set pieces that had more imagination than coherence.
·         I absolutely hate the characters of Vastra and Jenny. If the producers are trying to make a political point by shouting about their ‘marriage’ in every episode in which they appear, they could at least present the audience with a healthy relationship, instead of the Silurian-dominated, slightly abusive one that is always shown. Regardless of one’s view on inter-species, same-sex marriage, these overly sexualized characters have no place in a family show. 
·         The episode did have some good moments. The part where the Doctor and Clara were under the restaurant with all of the androids was terrifically creepy, as was the bad-guy with his spinning mechanical brain.
·         The evil cyborg’s escape plan was the same as that of the Wizard of Oz?
·         I’m not sure I care for the new intro. The music especially was grating. It needs some work.
·         I did like the new Tardis interior, at least what little we saw of it.
·         I’m looking forward to the next episode where we get the Doctor off earth, fighting the Daleks, in what will hopefully be a more straightforward adventure that gives this new Doctor a chance to shine

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Doctor Who: Engines of War (A Review)

As a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I am pretty much a sucker for special events. Thus, when BBC Books released Engines of War, the first book to feature The War Doctor, I was one of the first in line to get a copy. Of course, it then took me several weeks to find the time to read it, even though it is a relatively short novel. (It’s over 300 pages, but both the font and margins are suspiciously large.)

For those who are not up-to-date on their Doctor Who, The War Doctor was the incarnation of the Doctor, between the eighth and ninth, that fought in the Time War. He isn’t counted in the traditional sequence of ‘The Doctor’, because...we’ll, you would have to watch the show for it to really make sense (and even then, not everyone agrees that it does).

As for Engines of War, I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed. Although the writing was fine, the overall plot just isn’t that interesting.  Considering the imaginative possibilities of a ‘Time War’, the back and forth between the Daleks and Time Lords in the book is pretty conventional. Actually, this is an argument my sister made against the one depiction of the Time War in the television series, so I suppose the book is just following true to form. Still, I was hoping for more.

The flat plot is made more noticeable by the somewhat flat character of The War Doctor himself. In the author’s defence, he doesn’t have a lot to work with, trying to write a novel about a character that only appeared in one episode. However, instead of presenting what should be a unique Doctor, we actually get a Doctor that is depressingly generic. Except for a bit of facial hair, anger and world (universe?) weariness, there is nothing to set this Doctor apart from his better-defined incarnations.

Thinking about it further, this book suffers a good bit from the ‘Problem of Prequels’ which I ranted about in an earlierblog. Since the book is set before the episode in which The War Doctor appears, the reader knows more or less where the story has to end up. This also makes the one, possibly emotional, element of the story rather predicable.

This is probably somewhat harsher criticism than the book deserves. It is, after all, a book based on a television show that has to work within strict guidelines. It is well-written, and it’s not a terrible adventure. It is also probably aimed at readers somewhat younger than myself, and perhaps many of them have found the book thoroughly enjoyable.

I was hoping for more.

* * *
As for the pledge this month, that’s one book bought, one book read.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Archers of Rohan (The Painting)

I finished painting these guys a couple of weeks ago, but, with my parents visiting from the States, a wedding, and all of the various baby-related business, they have remained tucked away in my Troll Cave.

These are the two archers I converted from Musketeer Miniatures Goths. Both gained beards and longer hair. One also gained a leather breastplate, while the other got some fur trim on his tunic.

When I came to paint the figures, I realized I had badly overdone the beard on the archer with the fur trim. These are Rohirrim after all, not wild Dunlendings. Since re-sculpting the beard would have been a major operation, I decided to cheat and paint the bottom part of the beard as though it were a scarf. The result was a partial success. I’m not sure it stands up to careful scrutiny, but I don’t think it will be noticed on the tabletop in the midst of a battle.

I’m actually much happier with the leather-armoured archer. Although the armour still looks a bit  rough, I think a bit of roughness is worth it for a unique figure. While I'm still not that comfortable with freehand painting, the tunics on these figures contain so much flat space that some detail needs to be added. On this one, I painted a simple row of arches running along the bottom of the tunic. Arches for archers!

Taken together, I’m pleased with the first archers to join my slowly growing Rohirrim ranks.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Bike Miles: 9,500

Well 9,503 to be exact.

With my most recent cycle to work, I passed another milestone on my road to 10,000 miles. When I originally set my cycling goal over five years ago, I had hoped to have reached it by now. However, I didn’t factor in the crashes and broken limbs that ended up costing me 8-10 months of cycling time.

Since I have returned to work after the birth of my daughter, I have been cycling as much as my body can take. The weather has been excellent around Oxford, and I wanted to take advantage of it. Occasionally, I have pushed it a bit too hard, and all the cycling has sapped me of the energy that I have needed for parenthood. Thankfully, I think I am starting to find a balance. I can cycle to work 2-3 times a week and generally be okay, but I do have to keep an eye on it.

With that schedule in mind, I am on pace to reach 10,000 by the end of the year. That assumes, of course, that I don’t break any more limbs and the weather holds for at least a few more months. 

Here’s hoping.

Sunday 3 August 2014

The Pledge

At the beginning of July, I declared that I would refrain from buying any books or miniatures for the month, and I am glad to report that I succeeded. In truth, between work, the baby, and the near constant stream of family and friends coming to see said baby, I had little time to think about it. I did, however, managed to read one book to completion (and very nearly a second) and to paint six miniatures. This month, I have decided to take ‘The Pledge’.

The Pledge is an idea that sprung up on wargaming forums a few years back. At its most basic, it is a declaration that you will paint more miniatures than you buy over a given time period (usually a year). There are lots of variations on the idea, but essentially, it is an attempt to actually decrease the number of unpainted miniatures a wargamers owns (often referred to as ‘the lead mountain’).

I have decided to extend the idea and have it cover my books as well. So...

I pledge that for the rest of 2014, I will read more books than I buy, and I will paint more miniatures than I buy. 

It’s a clean slate starting today; I have not painted, read, or bought anything. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Thursday 31 July 2014

Archers of Rohan (The Sculpting)

Since J.R.R. Tolkien based the Rohirrim on various dark age Germanic tribes, it is not surprising that so far I have had great success using Musketeer Miniatures line of Goth figures as the basis for my own warriors of Rohan. For the cavalry and foot soldiers, I have found I can achieve terrific results with just a paint job; however, when it came to archers, I needed to put in a bit more work. The biggest problem with the Goth archers is their hair. They are all clean shaven and sport bob-style haircuts, neither of which worked for me. So, grabbing a couple to experiment upon, I went at them with the green stuff.

The first order of business was more hair. I increased the length of the hair of both figures, so that it was just beyond shoulder length. I then added beards. After the fact, I think I probably went a bit overboard on the beards, especially on the figure on the right, but I decided to see how it looked after I painted him up. Hair, it turns out, is probably the easiest item I have ever tried to sculpt. It’s very easy to make it look good just by drawing lines through the greenstuff.  It’s much harder to do beards and not have your figures end up looking like wolfmen. Again, I think I did a better job on the figure on the left than the one on the right.

The other issue I had with the Goth figures is that they are all completely unarmoured. While historically that’s probably correct, it didn’t fit with my vision of Tolkien’s fantasy world. I figured at least some of them should be wearing leather, so I attempted to sculpt a leather breast plate on one figure. While I did a decent job laying down the base of this, I don’t think I did so well working in the detail. Next time I try this, I’ll see if I can find an online tutorial first. Still, I’m hoping it will look okay once painted.

Finally, I had a bit of greenstuff left over, so I used it to add a bit of fur trim around the bottom of the tunic of the other archer. This is just for a bit of visual interest as otherwise the figure is pretty plain.

At the time of writing this blog, I’m almost finished painting these guys, so hopefully, I’ll have an update on them soon!

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Back-to-Back with the Black Knight

Considering that I’m an author, an editor, and an all-around bibliophile, it is perhaps surprising that I did not take to reading as a child. I don’t remember any of this of course, but apparently, my parents only really convinced me to read when they gave me comic books. 

These days, I only occasionally read comics; I just like prose better. However, a few bits of the many hundreds of comics I devoured as a young lad have stayed with me, including this Thor cover. I suppose the artwork doesn’t really stand up to today’s standards, but at the time, it was one of the coolest covers I had ever seen.  I even remember tracing the cover with tracing paper.

The comic was part of the run that saw the Ancient Egyptian gods invade Asgard, leaving Thor and his allies to save the day. Part of me would dearly love to read that series again, but I have a strong feeling that my memory makes the story better than it actually was. Perhaps it is better to leave childhood memories as they are...

Sunday 13 July 2014

Strider (or Painting is Still Possible!)

Here it is, proof that there is still painting after fatherhood! I took four or five weeks, but I have painted my first miniature since the birth of my daughter! Actually, I’ve also painted an orc and finished up one other figure that was half-painted, so really, I’m not doing too bad. The key is thinking ahead. Whereas before, I could pretty much paint whenever the whim struck, now I’ve got to think – next time she’s asleep, I’m busting out the paints. It does mean that painting is now, even more, in competition with all of my other hobbies, but that is just life as a parent.

So, here is Strider. This figure comes from Games Workshop's plastic Fellowship, originally released as part of their Mines of Moria box set. This is the only version of they made of the Fellowship that they claim is not based on the actors in the movies. That statement is more accurate for some of the characters than other, but regardless, I think this is a terrific version of The Dúnadan, especially considering that it is plastic. The only real flaw is the unfortunate connection where the hair merges into his bow. This is minor, though, and somewhat offset by the wonderful sense of movement conveyed.  

The pose is very unusual; he appears to be just finishing a baseball swing, and I love the way his coat is swishing around behind him.

I gave him a very drab and dirty paint job as I think befits a ranger, using greens and browns nearly exclusively. I did also mix just a bit of grey into his hair, as he isn’t a young man anymore.

A really fun figure to paint, and I’m looking forward to working on the rest of the Fellowship...when I get the chance.

Friday 11 July 2014

Cycle Up That Hill!

With the excitement of the Tour de France, I have found my own interest in cycling renewed. Last weekend, I gave my bike a quick service, cleaning and re-greasing the chain, pumping up the tires. It’s amazing what a little work can do to increase efficiency (and thus fun) when it comes to riding a bike.

This morning, for the first time since fatherhood, I managed to cycle all the way up Cumnor Hill without stopping. Smug with my victory, I began to wonder if Cumnor Hill would register as a ‘climb’ in the Tour de France. So, I did a bit of quick research.

As it turns out, there are no hard and fast rules for how climbs are classified in the Tour, or in cycling in general. That said, there are guidelines for comparing the length of the climb versus the average slope that give you a pretty good idea.

Using free, online maps (which may or may not be completely accurate), I was able to determine that my climb up Cumnor hill is about 2.25km (approx. 1.4 miles) long with a gain in elevation of around 68 meters (approx. 223 feet). This gives an average slop of just over 3% (Is that it!?! In truth the first part of the climb is much stepper than the second half.)

To measure a climb in the cycling world, you multiply the average slope (3) by the length in meters (2250) to get a score (6750).  To qualify as a ‘Category 4’ climb, the lowest level climb in the Tour, the lowest score needed is 8000. So, my climb, unfortunately, doesn’t even make it onto the chart. If it were another 400 meters long, I’d get the badge, although another 400 meters might also finish me off…

As a side note, all the playing around with maps made me realize that my ride to work is actually longer than I thought, slightly over 8 miles as compared to the 7.5 I thought. I’ve been short-changing myself a mile every time!

Thursday 10 July 2014

Relief Pitcher!

For the first time in three years, I decided not to play softball over the summer. There is just too much going on in life right now to make a commitment to the team. So, with a heavy heart, I told the Oxford Knights to play without me this season. I didn’t completely shut the door though. I said, if they ever found themselves desperate for a player, especially a pitcher, I might be able to make a guest appearance...

On Tuesday night, I got the call. I grabbed my glove and cycled through the rain to the diamond. By game time, the rain had stopped and the dark clouds had moved on, leaving a clear, blue sky.

It just so happened that I had been brought in especially to pitch to the Angels, the (overwhelmingly) best team in the league. And pitch I did. Despite not having tossed a ball in over a year, I pitched the entire game. I gave up three walks (which is probably the truest measure of pitching performance in underhand softball), which, considering how out of practice I was, I don’t think it was too bad.

I went a disappointing 0-2 at the plate with a pop to first and a fly to center, but that is probably even more to be expected when out of practice.

It was a lot of fun to be out on the diamond again, but it further convinced me that I probably made the right decision not to officially play this year.

Career Hits: 102

Friday 4 July 2014

The Glaurung Prepares to Sail

Six months have passed since Denethor tasked his nephew Breged and the aged seer Mandracoth with the recovery of the ancient Nauglamír. To aid in their task, the shipwrights of Dol Amroth have spent months crafting a mighty vessel, the ship called the Glaurung. With room for a crew of thirty, Breged and Mandracoth have recruited warriors from far and wide. Along with a complement of the best soldiers of Minas Tirith, they have gained the services of a number of mighty heroes. From Gondor came the Lady Valetha of Pennith Gelin, Darcaven of Lossarnach, Galinor of Pelargir, and Althérion, the Sea Prince of Tolfalas, with a contingent of his household guard. From further afield they recruited Halvarn the Reiver, an experienced sailor; Traegan of Dale, a far traveller and herbalist; Peldroc the Hunter; and Rymond the Breelander, a master of languages. Finally, Breged’s mother, Princess Ivriniel of Dol Amroth, offered the services of her personal ship captain, Nereth, to guide the vessel.

On the night before the vessel was set to depart, Princess Ivriniel summoned all of the crew to a great feast in their honour. All attended, except for Peldroc, who claimed illness. During the feast, many great tales were sung of ancient seafarers and their voyages of exploration. Then Prince Imrahil stood up and spoke. He wished good fortune upon the travellers and offered hope that the stars would eventually guide them home. 

Then his sister, Princess Ivriniel, stood. She added her wishes to those of her brother, but also gave out small gifts of appreciation to those who would travel with her son. To Traegan she gave a book of southern herblore, to Halvarn a pipe carved of bone, said to keep away insects. To Rymond she gave a runic scroll, to help communicate with those who shared no language. Galinor received a ring, whose small diamonds glowed faintly with blue light. To Darcaven she gave a silver whistle that sang with bird song, while Valetha received a string of obsidian beads, whose rattle spoke to snakes. To Peldroc she sent a leather pouch, which water could never enter, and to Mandracoth she offered a wooden staff, carved in runes of old that no one could now decipher.

Finally, the Princess turned to her son. To Breged she said she had a mightier gift, but one that came with an obligation. Then she told the story of her grandfather, Imrathel, who led an expedition against the pirate port of Arech in Harad. It was a famous tale in Dol Amroth, of the successful, yet doomed mission, that left Arech an abandoned ruin, watched over only by the dead. Somewhere in those ruins, Imrathel’s body lay, and with it, his great sword Skymír. Ivriniel tasked her son to visit Arech, to find the tomb of his ancestor, to return with his bones if he could, and to claim the sword as his own, to aid him on his greater quest.

The feast continued long into the night, but slowly, one by one, the heroes slipped away and made their way back to their lodgings near the harbour, near where the Glaurung waited quietly to take them into unknown lands...