Thursday, 17 October 2019

Tunnel Fighter and War… Goat?

I’ve been continuing work on my new Frostgrave warband, and recently added two more figures. The first is my Tunnel Fighter. The miniature comes from the Rangers of Shadow Deep line, and I have painted it before, but it is such a great mini that I decided to use it again. I did, however, want to paint it completely differently to the first one.

I have decided that my warband is going to be a better-dressed than the untidy thugs and thieves that often accompany wizards into the ruins. With that in mind, I pulled magenta, one of my least-used paints, off the paint rack and got to work. I’m not sure I got the blonde hair quite right… it looks a little too vibrant, but otherwise, I’m happy with how it came out.

The rules for the tunnel fighter can be found in Into the Breeding Pits. It’s a rarely used soldier as its special ability (it’s better at finding secret passages) only comes up if players are specifically using the secret passage rules, which is uncommon outside of dungeons. That said, the soldier is no slouch in combat, and carries a pair of hand weapons, which is just cool.

The other figure is going to represent my warhound. I couldn’t find any dog models that caught my fancy, but I did have this Ghost Archipelago mountain goat laying around. I figure that not only will he do, but he actually matches the setting well. I must admit, I didn’t spend a lot of time working on him. That said, after originally painting him all white, I thought he really need some contrast, so dry-brushed on some black and grey.

Four members of the team are ready for action, six to go!

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Painting Lesson 2: Rainbowmane

A few weeks ago, I invited my daughter to have her first miniature painting lesson, which she enthusiastically accepted. I have been waiting for an opportunity for a second invite, but time has been hard to find during the busy school year.

I had a go this past Sunday afternoon, as we were all at home with no plans. In retrospect, this may have been a poor decision as we had gone swimming that morning, which generally leaves the kids exhausted. It’s probably a better time for reading stories than trying to teach painting, but I was excited to give it a try, as I had planned something special.

After our first session, I decided to find my daughter a miniature that would really excite her. She’s really into unicorns at the moment, so I figured that would be perfect. I knew Reaper did a good one in their Bones line, so it wouldn’t cost too much. As it turned out, it proved a little tricky to find one in the UK, but I eventually did with Spirit Games (great service by the way, and extensive Reaper selection).

So, I invited her to come paint with me, and when she accepted, I presented her with the miniature. She greeted it with mild excitement, and we sat down to get to work. My plan was two-fold, to continue with a main focus on care of the brush, but also to see if I could engage her imagination by asking questions about the unicorn – what is its name? what adventures has it been on? My wife is very good at inspiring this kind of creative play with the kids.

As it turned out, the whole session was a bit of a failure. She spent about ten minutes painting the unicorn. She destroyed the paint brush (well, for my use anyway, it’ll probably still work for her), and she wouldn’t really engage with my questions. We did name the unicorn ‘Rainbowmane’, but that was my suggestion. Then she said she was done and left the table. She immediately went and joined her mother and brother in the zoo they were creating in the living room.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that this is a girl who can happily colour, or do crafty bits with paper, all on her own, for an hour or more.

I sat there for a few minutes, looking at her unicorn abandoned on the table, and my own miniature that had only had a colour or two applied, and ruminated on the challenges of parenthood. I knew my daughter was tired, and I think she did actually enjoy those ten minutes, but I was so hoping for more – more time – more connection.

A lot of the time, when you are a parent, you feel like you are treading water - just trying to survive the day, keeping the kids protected, fed, and clean. For the most part, you don't expect any thanks for these things, and perhaps none is deserved. But, when you go out of your way to set up something fun, and really put some care and attention into it, in the hopes it will lead to some quality time, it hurts when it falls flat. 

I cleaned up and put the paints away.

The next day she did ask if she could put grass (flocking) on her unicorn, like I did with my miniatures. We couldn’t do it at that moment, but I told her we would the next time we painted…

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Monday, 14 October 2019

Entering the Perilous Dark

I haven’t spoken much about Frostgrave: Perilous Dark here on the blog for one simple reason – I’m nervous. Really, for the first time since the game was originally released, I’m actually worried about how a book will be received. 

Why? Well, Perilous Dark is a very different kind of book than any that have gone before it. While it’s got a lot of the same stuff – new scenarios, monsters, and treasure – and a hook – solo and co-operative play – it is presented in a very different manner. A good half of the book is ‘discussion’ of the various methods, mechanics, and ideas behind playing a wargame solo and co-operatively. Although there are rules, these rules are less about ‘Frostgrave’, than they are playing any wargame in this fashion. So really, it is sort of half supplement, half ‘how-to’ guide, and I’m just not sure how that is going to be received.

At any rate, I don’t have long to wait now, as the book will be out in a week or two. In preparation, I wrote an article for Miniature Wargames that talks about my personal thought- process for designing such a scenario, and then presents an exclusive solo or co-operative Frostgrave scenario. It even got the cover! (Though that probably has more to do with the amazing Burmak artwork that accompanies the article than the article itself!).

So, if you think the 10 solo and co-op Frostgrave scenarios presented in Perilous Dark aren’t going to be enough, and you might need another before you start designing your own, you might want to pick up the new issue of Miniature Wargames.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Captain, My Captain!

Having finished the wizard for my new Frostgrave warband, I got straight to work on his apprentice… And got very frustrated with the miniature in question before giving up and throwing it away. So, instead, I painted up my captain! Actually, I can’t afford a captain in my starting warband, so he’s going to start out as a Man-at-Arms, and hopefully get upgraded after the initial campaign day.

This figure comes from the Oathmark range, and while he’s a little short compared to the wizard, he’s got loads of character. I love the hair. I love the pose. I love the attitude. He just radiates tough. I can see he’s going to be my wizard’s right-hand man.

That said, considering he’s going to be such an important figure, in such a high-fantasy setting, I thought he needed a little more of the fantasy about him. At the same time, I was struggling with how to paint his shield. Then I hit on the idea of having the shield being covered in runes, almost like a scroll…

This actually gave me an idea for a magic item that will be appearing in Frostgave down the road, and highlights one of the reasons why I think it is so important for me to continue to paint miniatures, and play games – both are breeding grounds for creativity. [Insert justification for painting and playing games in 'work' time].

So, in some ways, this figure has more of a future than a present – someday he’s going to be a captain with a cool magic shield. For now, he’ll take charge of the soldiers in the warband while the wizard is busy working his magic and worry about his apprentice (should I ever paint one!).

Please forgive my rudimentary photoshop skills. It's useful, but not something I have a lot of interest in.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Varnish Wars

Last month I suffered a major hobby-related disappointment, when I discovered that my prefer varnish, Testors Dullcote, wasn’t available anywhere in the country! After a couple of days of moping, I set out on a quest to find a new varnish. As the painted minis crowded my shelf, waiting for their protective coat, I ordered half-a-dozen different varieties of varnish, including both sprays and brush-ons.

My biggest problem with most of the varnishes I tried was that either they were too glossy (I like a satin finish) or that the level of gloss seemed to be inconsistent from figure-to-figure. Several minis suffered extremely glossy coats during my experiments!

Thankfully, the last varnish I tried from my orders is giving me some great results. I’ve separately sprayed half-a-dozen minis so far, and all have a resulted in an even, satin finish.

So, for the moment, I think my search has ended. I’m still ready to go back to Testors should a supply become available, but I’m happy to use the Humbrol at the moment.

The can suggests spraying at a distance of 20 – 30cm, but, if you try it yourself, I suggest giving it a bit more distance than that, as it is a very powerful spray.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Gyer Gimblefoot

I just finished painting up this little guy, and while I’m extremely proud of the paint job, I can’t seem to capture him well in photograph. Please forgive the small photograph - anything above actual size massively shows off the imperfections in the paint job!

I bought this Reaper miniature because I was re-reading The Hobbit, because it was sculpted by Bobby Jackson, and because it just looked really fun to paint. I admit, I had no specific need for it. Now that I’ve got him though, I think he might get the call the next time my Ranger (of Shadow Deep) needs a thief companion or maybe even a recruit.

I’ve christened him Gyer Gimblefoot because I think it’s a great name for an adventuring Hobbit!

I actually wanted to buy both the metal and the Bones Black version at the same time and try painting them side-by-side to see how much of a difference I felt between the two materials while I painted; unfortunately, Reaper was sold out of the bones version when I ordered. I may try the experiment with another figure later.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Frostgrave 2020

Next year is shaping up to be a big one for Frostgrave. Of course the main event will be the release of Second Edition in June, with another – as yet unrevealed – supplement later in the year. And, there will probably be a few issues of Spellcaster magazine as well.

It’s not just about the books, not for me, anyway. I’ve got the Geek Nations Frostgrave Immersion Tour in February (still a couple of spaces left!), and a slate of Frostgrave activities at Adepticon. 

But for me, it all kicks off in January, in London. The guys from HATE (Hackney Area Tabletop Enthusiasts) have invited me up for a day of Frostgrave gaming! We are going to be fighting it out in a four-scenario campaign called ‘Swords Against the Slime Lord’ (coming to Spellcaster at some point).

Considering all of this, I thought it was high-time I painted up a new warband. In truth, every Frostgrave warband I’ve used up to this point has been somewhat thrown together. This time, I’m purpose building a warband from the ground up. So, to kick things off, I needed a new wizard!

I picked this guy up from Reaper. It’s a Gene Van Horne sculpt and just has buckets of character. In truth, I found the painting process a real struggle. The shallow detail – which make sense as most of it is detailing on the robes – really pushed my painting ability. Halfway through, I nearly abandoned it in frustration, but I pushed on, and I’m glad I did. It really came together right at the end.

I’ve been experimenting with new varnishes, and he’s come out a little glossier than I wanted (although the camera flash has made it look worse in the photograph than it actually is), so I may re-coat him.

I’m not sure what type of wizard he’ll be. He’s got a lot of the Elementalist about him, but in general, I’m not a big fan of playing Elementalists… we will see. I’ve got time, and I’ve got 9 more figures to add to his warband!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Barbarian Hack

Barbarian Hack is a very simple, solo miniatures dice-rolling game, I created a few years ago. It originally appeared in an issue of Tabletop Gaming Magazine, but I have recently released in my own Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine with a new print-and-play board designed by Andrew Vallas.

I printed one out and glued it to some foam board. Now my barbarian is ready to hack some skeletons!

Friday, 4 October 2019

Spellcaster 5 is Available!

After a bit of a hiatus, Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine has returned! Whether you are interested in exploring the Frozen Ruins or the Lost Isles, this issue has something for you. It includes:

·       Rules for higher level Heritors, including 4 legendary soldiers for Ghost Archipelago.
·       Rules for monster hunting in the Frozen City, including individual experience points rewards for all of the official creatures, as well as claiming bounties on these monsters such as spell components.
·       Barbarian Hack – a solo, quick-play, miniature, dice-rolling, print-and-play board game set in a dungeon beneath the Frozen City.
·       8 new Ulterior Motive cards for Ghost Archipelago.
·       2 new legendary soldiers for Frostgrave.
·        A solo dragon-hunting scenario.
·       A Frostgrave ‘Big Game’ scenario.
·       A Frostgrave scenario set in the breeding pits.

The new issue is now available in PDF on DriveThruRPG. A print-on-demand version will be following along soon, hopefully within a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019


(Click the Photo for a better look!)

Having finished painting all of the Rangers for Rangers of Shadow Deep, I felt compelled to share a ‘Team Shot’.

Look, I know I am biased, but I really, really loved painting these figures. Not only do I just love painting rangers, but these Bobby Jackson sculpts are some of the best. I’ve realized, recently, that the works of some miniature sculptors are just more fun to paint than others. Not necessary because the miniature looks better, but because of some inherent trait in the sculpting. It seems to revolve around both the level of detail, not too much, not too little, but also the depth of that detail. Bobby Jackson sculpts in such a way that the brush has an easier time catching the detail, which reduces frustration while painting. This extends beyond his work on Rangers as I am currently painting up one of his Reaper figures and it is very apparent there as well.

So, thanks again to Nick at North Star and to Bobby Jackson for producing such a great, fun to paint, set of miniatures to accompany my game. Now onto the bad guys!

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Painting Lesson #1

Here is something that is not easy to admit. I find fatherhood difficult. I love my kids to bits, and would do anything for them, but the actual day-to-day work of being a parent, I find challenging, even as I know that my wife is doing significantly more than her fair share.

For a while now, I have been struggling to engage with my children. Partly this is a natural introversion, which means I quickly tire in intense social situations, but more I think it is a difficulty engaging with ideas on the level of a five-year-old and a three-year-old. I just get bored really quickly, and find myself longing to be somewhere else. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way.

So, I got to thinking about it. I watched my wife engage with them, and I thought back to the best engagements I’ve had with them. Then, I made an interesting discovery. My wife, I realized, often tries to steer their play into areas that interest her. She loves the outdoors and the natural world, as well as arts and crafts, and tries to guide them in that direction. She actively instigates these activities. Meanwhile, one of the best interactions I’ve had with my daughter recently is when I suggested we do some painting together.

This is probably pretty obvious to some people, but it was a realization to me: interactions with my children go much better when we are doing something that I like doing as well! If I’m always passively reacting to what they want to do, I will often end up bored, engaging in play which does not interest me. If, however, I offer them options which I actually enjoy, as often as not, they will happily join in. This isn’t about steering the children in directions they don’t want to go – I want to support my children to find their own paths and interests – but at this age, they know so little of the world, they are likely to be interested in trying out all kinds of new things. The key is that I have to be active in offering these opportunities.

So, in an attempt to put my new idea into practice, I put my miniature paints on the table last night, and asked my daughter if she wanted to paint a miniature. Last time, I gave her a miniature and let her get on with it with her kiddie-paints and kiddie-paint brush. This time, I gave her one of my brushes (yes, I paused, but decided the sacrifice was worth it). I let her choose her paints from my miniature paints. I let her shake them, though I still squeezed the dropper bottles. I decided I would concentrate on the proper use of the paint brush – dipping and cleaning – and not worry about how she was painting the miniature. That could be for future lessons if she wants them.

I painted my own miniature along side her (another ghost that took very little attention). Of course, she said she was ‘done’ after 15 minutes and asked for another miniature, but I said, that’s all there was for tonight, as miniatures are expensive and we need to enjoy making each one as good as we can. She then happy carried on for another 10 minutes.

So, really, it was only 25 minutes, but it was 25 minutes that I really enjoyed, and I think she did too. I honestly don’t know if she enjoyed the painting for its own sake or just the fact that she got to sit there and use ‘Daddy’s paints’.  In a few days, I’ll dig out another miniature and ask if she’d like to have another go. I’d love it if she says yes, but if not, I’ll start looking for something else that we can do together that I’ll enjoy.

My son is a little easier in that he loves kicking and throwing a ball, and as I enjoy these activities to, it’s easier to go right into it - though again - I need to work harder to initiate this interaction. That said, I need to find something we can do indoors, as the rainy season is coming!

As they get older, I’m sure my children will find their own interests that in all likelihood will not parallel my own (though I can hope). Then, I think, I will need explore ways to find my own interest and enjoyment in those areas; but, for now, they are still deep in the exploratory phase, and there is plenty I can show them about the world that I love and enjoy.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Grim Man of a Somber Race

I have just finished painting up the last of the official Rangers of Shadow Deep ranger figures. I seriously enjoyed painting this one. There was just something about the detailing that felt so right under my brush.

I purposely left his eyes dark, and mixing that with his long hair and dark beard gives him an especially grim aspect. I was reminded of a line in the Robert E. Howard poem, ‘The One Black Stain’, which I used as the title of this blog post. That line refers to the character Solomon Kane, but I think works well for this ranger as well. (Give the poem a listen, it's got some great lines.)

I actually feel a bit sad that I have painted all of the rangers that Bobby Jackson has so far sculpted for the range. Hopefully, they’ll be some more in the future. In the meantime, I’ve still got some of the baddies from the range to paint up.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Paint Rack Minimalism

I have been painting miniatures for most of my life, at least the last 30 years. In that time, I’ve had several different ‘paint set-ups’, from my original red tool box, to a fancy desk-mounted drawer system. Two years ago, we moved into a new house, and I got my little office. Although it is a wonderful little space, and I’m grateful for it, it doesn’t have room for a dedicated writing area and a dedicated painting area – my desk has to serve for both. I soon realized that I would need a quick way to convert from one to the other.

After much thought, I bought the above paint rack (unfortunately, I can’t remember where from, though similar items are available from many sources). It holds 40 Vallejo or Army Painter, dropper-bottle paints. When I bought it, I set myself the goal to get my paints down to just 40. That way, I could just move the computer off my desk, throw down a cloth, and move my paint rack into position.

As you can see, I have never quite made it down to 40. I have a couple of colours I use so frequently (black, grey, and the green I use for bases) that I buy large acrylic paints. I also have a few washes and a gloss varnish that I use so infrequently that I keep them underneath the other paints. Still the system works.

I’ve been using this system for around two-years, and I’m really happy with it. Yes, I work with a limited palette compared to most figure painters, and much of it is brown and green (I love rangers!), but rarely, if ever, do I feel like I need a colour that I don’t have. It is easy enough to mix up a new colour from the ones I have available.

So, if you are just starting out on your own miniature painting journey – don’t feel like you need to order a mega-paint set and have every colour under the sun. You can achieve great results with a small, but well-chosen selection, and this will make the care and upkeep of your painting area, and your painting supplies, much, much easier!

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Cartoon Joe & A Ghost Archipelago Scenario

This month’s issue of Wargames Illustrated contains a piece I wrote called ‘A Wargame Designer’s Day’ which is about – believe it or not – how I spend my working day. What I wasn’t expecting was for the piece to be illustrated with a little cartoon of me working at my computer, riding my bike, and playing wargames.

In truth, it is a rather good likeness, even if my hair isn’t quite so long at the moment. I’m not sure who the illustrator is, but my compliments to him!

Also included in the issue is a new scenario I wrote for Ghost Archipelago to give myself even more excuse to use the Rangers of Shadow Deep giant fly models!

It’s a jam-packed issue and even comes with a sprue of the new, plastic Napoleonic ships for Warlord’s forthcoming Black Seas game. (These are really cool!)

You can order the issue from North Star or direct from Wargames Illustrated.

Friday, 20 September 2019

A Chance Meeting

My last few ‘hobby sessions’ have been spent painting up a hobbit house. It’s a resin cast from ModelEarth, that set me back £27 plus shipping. Looking at their website, it appears they may have sent me a mismatched roof and body, but they fit together well enough, so I’m not complaining. Anyway, it’s a quality piece, and the service was very speedy, so I can highly recommend them.

It probably took me about 6 hours to paint from start to finish. For the most part, I wasn’t using any fancy techniques. I just wanted a decent paint-job to get it on the table. I did add some lichen-effect to the roof, mainly to break up the sold brick-colour, but also because I see the Shire as a rather wet place. All of that good growing must mean lots of rain, and if it is really based on Oxfordshire…well, I lived there 12 years and saw a lot of rain! Roofs there are often speckled with lichen.

I pulled out a couple of figures to get some scale shots and just loved the little scene I created enough that I lead off with it – even though it somewhat obscures the model I’m showing off! It is said, somewhere, that in his later years, Bilbo often went for long walks to the edges of the Shire and spoke with strange people. I wonder, if in that time, he happened to meet Aragorn once or twice?

Bilbo is a Games Workshop model. Aragorn is a ranger from Rangers of Shadow Deep that I also recently finished painting.

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


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.


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


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.


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.