Thursday 24 November 2016

The Troll Cave

My wife is a very generous and understanding woman. Well, she would have to be to marry me in the first place, but recently she proved it all over again. For the last two years or so we've been doing a lot of rearranging to accommodate having children. We are now a family of four in a very small two-bedroom house. It doesn't leave a lot of room for a 'stuff' intensive hobby like wargaming.

However, knowing that I need just a little bit of 'my own space', my wife and I agreed that I could have the cupboard under the stairs as my personal wargaming domain. (So long as I share it with the hoover). Thus, I give you the Troll Cave!

Okay, it's not exactly a 'games room'; you could not hope to play a game in it. In fact, it is only because I am rather a short individual that I can stand up in it, but it provides me with most of what I need. The central feature is a butcher's trolly. This is a wonderful little piece of furniture which is the perfect height for me to work on miniatures while standing. It's where I do all my planning and prep work (actual painting usually takes place on the kitchen table). The trolly also has two cabinets for storing equipment and miniatures to be painted, and a wine rack which is perfect for holding cans of primer and sealer and the like.

Next to that is a short set of drawers which holds gaming accessories, as well as few other odds and ends. Beside that is a shelf which contains several miniature cases, terrain, and some larger models. Yes, that is the Glaurung sitting on top. I am hopeful that its new place out in the open will soon lead to some further adventures.

Hiding deep in the corner, behind the hoover and my back pack are a couple more boxes of small terrain bits and miniatures.

Currently on the wall, I've got a white board, where I keep track of things to paint (and read), a bulletin board that holds my collection of enamel pins, my ENie award, and the little plate from my 'Best Softball Pitcher 2016' trophy (I broke the mostly glass trophy). There is also a framed, colourized photograph of my ancestor Col. James McCullough dressed in his Confederate Grey, and a post card from the Bodleian library reproducing Tolkien's painting of Smaug. I really need to get a copy of my photograph with Colin Baker up there as well.

Sure, I dream of a big gaming space, and maybe one day I will have an actual game room, but at the moment, this is all the space I need, and it is more than I should really ask for. My wife really is a generous and understanding woman.

Tuesday 15 November 2016

The Golden Fleece

I spent this past weekend in Hastings. It was my wife’s grandmother’s 91st birthday, and the family was gathering in the seafront hotel that is owned by her son (my wife’s uncle). Saturday was a miserable day, windy, rainy, and uninviting. Still, my wife needed an errand run, and there was a bookstore I wanted to investigate, so I put on my coat and ventured out. Unfortunately, the bookstore I was keen to explore was closed. To cheer myself up, I decided to walk back via the ruined castle on the cliff top. Fighting the wind and rain, I made it up the steep hill to find that the gate to the castle was locked. So, dripping and disappointed, I started back to the hotel. Just a few doors from the hotel, I passed an antique store that had a load of books out front. Figuring I still had a few minutes, I went inside.

Its collection of books was small, but interesting. After a bit of browsing, I discovered this treasure - a folio edition of The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves for £6. Long-time readers will be aware of my ongoing fascination with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. I have read all of the major classic sources (in translation), and several modern interpretations. I was well aware of Robert Graves for his academic work on Greek Myth, but I was unaware of this work. So, in the end, I returned to the hotel happy!

The book has a bit of damage on the slipcase, but it is still in good condition overall. Folio editions are always well constructed books. My only gripe about Folio editions is the internal artwork. I always find the artwork to be a bit childish. Some people must like it though. That said, I do really like the artwork on the cover, which is the part I’ll see the most, so it works out okay.

I’ve read the introduction and the first few chapters. It is a chewy work, filled with Grave’s personal theories on Greek myth. For example, the whole story is put in the context of a theological war between the followers of the old Mother Goddess and those that follow the new Olympian Zeus. In truth, I’m 40 pages in, and we’ve only seen the baby Jason briefly, so I can’t yet comment on how good it all is, but it is certainly interesting.

For those that may be wondering, Grandma’s 91st went swimmingly, with loads of cake! I had to bow out of the party early to put my daughter to sleep (and do some quiet reading). The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. We decided to stay until lunch time in order to tour the new pier they’ve built in Hastings (really nice, if a bit empty out of season), and to let my daughter have a couple hours playing on the stony beach.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Frostgrave: Ulterior Motives

Photo and Painting by Kev Dalimore
With Forgotten Pacts just about to release, and The Frostgrave Folio coming in March next year, a few eagle-eyed players have noticed another Frostgrave expansion listed on Amazon. Here is the blurb:

The Frozen City harbours many secrets, and not all of them are ancient. While most adventurers who brave the dangers seek wealth and lost magic, some journey into Frostgrave for more personal reasons.

This expansion for Frostgrave consists of 40 Ulterior Motive cards, which add variety, depth, and new tactical challenges to wargames in the Frozen City. Each card presents the player with a specific task to accomplish and offers rewards if they succeed. Some of these missions must be revealed to all of the players, others must be kept secret. Will your wizard seek to slay a great demon? Rescue a desperate captive? Bring retribution to an enemy? All wizards seek power, but what are their ulterior motives?

Frostgrave: Ulterior Motives is coming in June 2017, and it is going to look significantly different than the ones that have gone before it. Instead of a book, this expansion will be composed of 40 over-sized cards in a box. I’m sure people are wondering why cards. Well, there is a very good reason.

Frostgrave: Ulterior Motives comes from my desire to add ‘subplots’ to the game, something like the fantastic subplots table found in the original Rogue Trader book many years ago. The more I thought about it, and worked on it though, the more I encountered a problem.  Wizards are by their very nature a secretive lot. They don’t like giving straight answers at the best of times, and they certainly don’t go around blabbing about the specific reasons they might be venturing into the Frozen City. Basically, I wanted a lot of the subplots to be kept secret, at least for part of a game. While I could have had players secretly roll on a table, I think wargames should always avoid hidden dice rolls wherever possible. They are just breeding grounds for arguments, and best left to role-playing games. After a bit of consideration, I realized the whole issue could be avoided if players just drew a card that they could hold onto and reveal at the appropriate time. My editor liked the idea, and thus Ulterior Motives was born.

So, coming June next year, wizards will have 40 new reasons beyond the collection of random treasure to lead their warbands into the ruins of Frostgrave!

Tuesday 8 November 2016

My Name is Dzozefs A. Makalo!

Or so it apparently is in Latvian! 

A few years ago, I wrote a short book entitled The Story of Santa Claus, which, rather unsurprisingly, tells the story of Santa Claus and how he went from a Turkish Saint to a sleigh-riding, present-producing Christmas spirit beloved by children the world over. The book did pretty well when it came out, selling around 5,000 copies between the UK and USA.

Last year, the book was translated into Japanese, which I wouldn't have thought was an obvious market for the book.

This year, it has been translated into Latvian! I must admit the closest I've ever come to Latvia was a short holiday in Estonia, but it's still kind of a thrill. The language is so far from anything I recognize, that I had to use Google Translator to see if they had changed the title (apparently not).

I think my favourite thing about this book though is that they translated my name on the cover. I have been translated as Dzozefs A. Makalo. I suspect that Joseph is in pretty common usage in Latvia, but I wonder if McCullough gave them a challenge? If I said 'Makalo' with my southern US pronunciation, it wouldn't sound a thing like my name. (In fairness, I've heard Scots say the name and it doesn't sound much like how I pronounce it, so there is a question about who is right here). I'd love to hear a Latvian say it.

Anyway, for anyone who might be interested in the book, in English, you can still buy it from Amazon.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Gandalf the Grey (and Blue)

When I was about ten or twelve years old, I took my first miniature painting class. It was held in a small room in the back of the local gaming store. As I remember, the only students were me, my friend Peter, and one other guy. The teacher, whose name I have long forgotten, was a kindly middle-aged fellow, who taught me a lot of important lessons about painting miniatures (most importantly, use acrylics, not oil-based paints!).

The teacher mostly painted Middle-Earth figures from Mithril Miniatures. I asked him once if he had a complete collection. He said that he had bought every figure that they had produced, but might give up if they produced another Gandalf figure.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are more unique Gandalf figures (both official and unofficial) than there are for any other character. Not only is he arguably the most recognizable and popular figure in fantastic fiction, he is the only character to play a major role in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (as well as some of the supporting material).

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I already have several Gandalfs in my collection, and I have just painted another one! This latest one is a plastic miniature that comes from the Mines of Moria box set. Unlike most of the other Gandalfs in the Games Workshop line, this one was not based on the movie version...or at least it isn't based on Ian McKellen. Still it is a wonderful sculpt and a really nice pose, and I thoroughly enjoyed painting it.

Since I already have several Gandalf the Greys in my collection, I decided to paint this one slightly differently. This time I gave him blue trim around his robes, which I think works pretty well, and matches the blue hat he is said to have in The Hobbit. I also made his scarf blue as well (said to be silver in the book). Even Gandalf must have gone through a few robes in his 3,000 years or so of wandering Middle-Earth!

Thursday 3 November 2016

Money is Time

As an American kid growing up in the 1980's, I heard the expression ‘Time is Money’ a lot. It was the catch phrase, or perhaps label, of a certain class of professional, career driven, movers and shakers that for many people defined the USA at the time. It was not, however, an outlook that I ever subscribed to. For most of my life, I haven’t been that concerned with making money. Sure, having money was better than the alternative, but at the highest levels, I just wasn’t that interested in most of the things that I thought money could buy.

Over the last year though, my whole vision of personal wealth and finance has turned dramatically. I realized something that any beginning student of logic or mathematics should have been able to point out. If Time = Money, then the opposite must also be true, Money = Time.

I am forty years old, but I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say ‘Money is Time’, despite the fact that we all understand this to be true. We all know that if we had enough money, we could quit our day jobs and do whatever we wanted to do. We all know that if you manage to save enough money over your working life, you should have enough money to retire. In both cases, you are using your money to essentially ‘buy’ time. How much is your time worth? How much would you rather have more time than most of the things you actually spend money on?

I'll leave this with you for the moment, dear reader.

* * *

This week, I have made a small, but I hope important change in my life. Looking over my finances, and factoring in the money I have made as a writer over the last couple of years (mostly from Frostgrave), I have decided to go down to 4 days a week at my job. I am going to use this extra time both to spend more time with my family (and help out my wife with our two young children) and to devote a specific bit of time every week to writing. It is my hope that freelance writing will be able to slowly replace my other work and reach a point where it can support me and my family nearly completely. 

It is a small step, but I hope it is just the first on a long journey. We shall see.