Tuesday 30 June 2020

A Game at Cerebral Hobbies

As far as I know, this is the only photograph of me playing a game at the legendary gaming store, Cerebral Hobbies in Chapel Hill, N.C. It’s incredible really. For four-and-a-half years, I spent more time in Cerebral than I spent anywhere else. It was my home-away-from home. My haven. It kept me in university, and provided an incredible gaming-education that continues to feed right into the creative work I am doing today.

I’ve got a lot more to say about Cerebral Hobbies, but I will do that elsewhere.

I’m pretty sure this photo dates to either 1998 or 1999. It is certainly towards the end of my time in Chapel Hill. That’s me, in the black, with my back to the camera. Apparently, I was already losing my hair even back then. The other people in the photo form left to right are Chris, George, Stacey, Al, and Doug (recognizable by his sandals if nothing else). The photo was taken by Matt, who I suspect was sitting in the chair next to me.

I’m pretty sure we are playing Call of Cthulhu as that looks like the book in front of Stacey and the style of character sheet in front of me looks right. Though it doesn’t explain what the decks of cards are for.

This shot shows one corner of the store and visible in the background is a map of the Warhammer Old World, a large selection of books and models for Silent Death, Heavy Gear, and Babylon 5 Wars. Also visible are a bunch of Reaper Miniatures and even a few Battletech ones, a game I never remember being played in the store.

There are so many memories brought back this photo. A huge thanks to Matt for taking it and sharing it with me 20+ years later. Also, a huge thanks to Steve for creating this gamer-haven and for his kindness for many years.

Monday 29 June 2020


For my birthday, my family presented me with a copy of Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. I’ve been interested in this game since it first came out, but avoided it for a couple of reasons. First, I was deep into my work with Rangers of Shadow Deep when it was released, and I didn’t want any of its solo-play mechanics to influence my own. Now that my mechanics are pretty firmly established, I’m not too worried about that anymore. The other reason is, that for all of the good I see in the game, it lacks two things which I really love – you can’t make your own characters and you don’t need a pencil to keep track of things. I won’t go into either of those in depth here, but they are important issues to me.

All of that said, the game looks really interesting, and it is such a glorious box of models! Honestly, I may or may not ever play the game, but I am looking forward to painting a bunch of the figures, especially the bad guys. These are great generic baddies that I’ll be able to use for lots of games.

I decided to start my painting with a pair of beastmen, and here they are! There is no doubt that these are great models, but, I must admit, me and GW are drifting apart on model philosophy. As their models continue to get more detailed and more dynamic, I find myself longing to paint models that are less detailed and less dynamic. Partly this is due to my slowly eroding eyesight, but mainly I just like my models to have an element of ‘toy soldier’ in them that overly dynamic models just don’t have. For example, I really love the beastman standing upright, but I’m less enamoured with the one that is crouching over, running. He’s a great figure in many ways, but his pose means you can’t actually see his most of his front most of the time. 

Still, as a pair of generic baddies, these guys are great.

Friday 26 June 2020

Daemon Hunters Army

Back in 2003, Games Workshop released Codex Daemonhunters for the 5th Edition of Warhammer 40,000. Although I had long dabbled in 40K, this was the first time that an army really appealed to me. These were the monster-hunters, the knights that took the fight right to the greatest evil they could find.

At the time, I was working at Dream Wizards, the legendary gaming store in Rockville, Maryland. Since 40K was the main game everyone was playing, and since my employee discount made assembling an army more feasible than it had ever been, I decide to dive in!

Pretty much the entire army is based on a photo of one rhino APC model that appears in the book, with its eye-catching red and black paint job and its team of red-suited storm troopers.

The core of the army is the three squads of stormtroopers, mounted in rhinos. Each squad consists of a sergeant, 2 troopers with assault weapons, 5 with hell guns, and a sanctioned pysker. Two of the Rhinos are the ‘up armoured’ versions – as Dream Wizards had two of these Forge World kits that had been gathering dust for years, and the manager made me a deal to take them off his hands.  (I've actually got some extra assault weapon troopers, so I can go with different load-outs.)

The storm troopers were supported by two squads of Steel Legion Imperial Guard, because they were (and still are) the coolest Imperial Guard models ever made. I never got around to making transport for them at the time.

Leading the army is my Inquisitor Lord and his retinue mounted in a Land Raider.

I’ve toted this army around the world with me, and even though I haven’t played a game of 40K in a decade or more, it is still my go-to force for any science-fiction gaming. I recently finished painting up the Valkyrie dropship, the first addition to the army in years, so I thought it was time for a photo-shoot.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Discovering the Hobby!

Circa 1990. Me and my first gaming buddy, Peter K, gearing up for a game in my parent’s dining room. Visible on the table is a box lid for Silent Death, a contemporary copy of White Dwarf, and numerous miniatures. The miniatures appear to all be original Rogue Trader era plastic Space Marines or Imperial Guard. Peter is flipping through a White Dwarf compendium.

Now I’m pretty sure, at that time, neither of us actually possessed the Rogue Trader rules, but we just kind of made it up as well went along.

That yellow thing to one side is what passed for ‘terrain’ in those days.

I see I am wearing a TARDIS t-shirt (before it was cool!).

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Underwater Adventuring Rules

Thanks to strange and powerful magics, your crew can now breath, move, and even fight underwater. You still aren’t as capable as those that are native to the depths, but with great risk comes great reward!
            The following rules are for players who would like to take their games of Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago underwater – both for the purposes of creating new terrain and fighting new monsters as well as the chance to change the feel of their game by adventuring in this strange new environment. These rules don’t include any specific justification for why you can operate underwater, nor do they attempt to be a realistic depiction of moving and fighting in the depths. They exist simply to have fun while creating an impression of being underneath the waves.
            As always, players should take what they like from these rules, discard what they don’t like, and add in anything they believe would make their games more fun. Really, these are just my ‘house rules’ for underwater games!
(If you have any thoughts, suggestions, ideas for these rules, please include them in the comments below).


Players may only use group activation if every figure involved in the group activation is either aquatic or amphibious. Otherwise, activation works as normal, and spellcasters, Heritors, and wardens, may still activate up to 3 figures during their phases.


Unless a figure is aquatic or amphibious, it may take a maximum of one move action per activation. Aquatic or amphibious figures follow the normal rules. Being underwater does not affect movement by spells. Otherwise, all figures move at their normal rates.


Figures may climb at their normal movement rate. It is not halved.

Rough Ground

To be considered rough ground, the terrain must extend vertically at least 2”. Otherwise figures may swim over it.


All jumping distances are doubled. So a figure that moves 6” in a straight line may then jump 12” horizontally. Also, for every inch jumped horizontally, a figure may freely move up or down 1” as well. Such jumps could very easily consist of more movement than a figure has available in one activation. In such a case, place the figure on the table but mark their ‘height’ above the ground using a die or some other token. Once a figure has started such a jump, they must continue it from activation to activation until they touch down again.


Falling works as normal except no damage is ever suffered from falling.  


Swimming Rolls are not required for normal movement. They may still sometimes be called upon in situations where there are strong currents, areas of suction, etc. In these instances, a figure that fails loses their activation, but suffers no damage.


Amphibious and aquatic creatures count as having Flying for the purpose of these rules, whereas figure that actually have Flying cannot use this ability while underwater.


Combat works as normal with the following modification. Unless a figure is aquatic or amphibious, it only grants a +1 bonus for being a supporting figure in a combat. Aquatic and amphibious figures grant the normal +2 bonus.


Shooting follows the normal rules with the following modification. If a figure is the target of a bow, crossbow, javelin, or throwing knife shooting attack, it receives an additional +2 to its Fight Roll as it is easier to see these attacks coming and dodge out of the way.

Collecting Treasure

It is slightly easier to move heavy treasure under water. A figure carrying a treasure token suffers -2 Move instead of the normal half movement rate. It still suffers a -1 Fight as normal.

Casting Spells and Activating Heritor Abilities

There are no changes to the rules for casting spells or utilizing Heritor Abilities; however, some of the rules above may change the use or effectiveness of such powers.


Some players might wonder why I haven't made these rules fully 3-D. While moving in three dimensions is more realistic for an underwater environment, I have always found that attempting to keep track of a figure's height above the ground,greatly slows a game down, while adding nothing to the fun. 

Tuesday 23 June 2020

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Slowly, I have been trying to catch up on the best ‘Lovecraftian’ fiction published in the last ten years or so. It began when I read Lovecraft Country, and continued recently with The Ballad of Black Tom.

The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of the H. P. Lovecraft story The Horror at Red Hook. Now, I admit, I don’t think I’ve ever read The Horror at Red Hook. This might be because it isn’t part of Lovecraft’s famed ‘Cthulhu Mythos’, or maybe because it is generally considered a bad story, or maybe because it is apparently one of his most overtly racist pieces of writing. I don’t know.

Regardless, I’m glad that Victor LaValle read it, because he took the story, turned it around, and formed it into a really good weird-horror tale. LaValle basically tells the story from the point of view of a young black man who gets caught up in the weird machinations of people dabbling in dangerous magic. Like Lovecraft Country, it is a story that layers the horrors of racism on top of more traditional fiction/horror tropes. Although The Ballad of Black Tom was published four years ago, it feels very relevant for today.

Of special interest is the dedication from the author, 'For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings'

Anyway, it’s a really good read, and if you are into horror or weird tales, you should give it a try.

Friday 19 June 2020

Early Wargaming

As far as I know, this is the earliest photographic proof of my interest in toy soldiers and wargaming. I think I’m about 10 years old and setting up a battle on the front steps of our house. The soldiers are plastic 1/72 figures that could be bought as cheap party favours.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

The Battles on Weathertop

For the first volume of Blaster, I wrote a couple of Rangers of Shadow Deep scenarios heavily inspired by the two skirmishes that take place on Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings. In order to illustrate the article, I broke out a lot of the figures I have painted over the last year, and did a careful photo shoot.

In the end, not all of the photos got used, and some of them appeared in a modified form (including one modified to be a really cool night scene!). Anyway, I am so happy with how well the photos came out, and with my paint work on the figures, I just wanted to show off my favourite photos in their original form. 


Monday 15 June 2020

Frostgrave 2 – Soldiers!

While the system for creating wizards and apprentices has changed very little between editions, the system for recruiting soldiers is probably the single largest change in Frostgrave: Second Edition. As I have played and watched hundreds of games of Frostgrave over the years, I have noted two problems with soldiers. First, if a player got really badly defeated – gained no treasure, and lost several soldiers – it could often be impossible to dig back out of this hole in a campaign, especially if it happened early in a campaign. The other problem is that I allowed so much freedom when buying soldiers, it allowed players to create warbands that were just no fun to play against – the ‘all archer’ or ‘all treasure hunter’ warbands are the most egregious. Now, in truth, very few people actually played this way, so it was never a huge problem, but it bothered me as a game-designer, a lot.

In order to fix these two issues, I started by dividing soldiers into two categories: standard and specialist, in much the same way I did for Ghost Archipelago. Now, when you are creating a warband, you can have 8 soldiers, with a maximum of 4 specialists. Standard soldiers include thieves, thugs, men-at-arms, infantrymen and a few others. So, they aren’t all bad, but they are mostly limited to just fighters. Additionally, thugs and thieves can now be recruited for free. This means, no matter how badly your warband gets mauled, you will always be able to field a full complement of figures for your next game. This eliminates the biggest potential imbalance in the game.

The specialist soldiers include archers, crossbowmen, and all of the higher-level fighters such as treasure hunters, knights, and barbarians. In the appendix, at the back of the new book, there is a list of all of the soldiers found in supplements, stating whether they are standard or specialist soldiers.

While I was initially worried about these restrictions, I actually believe they make constructing a warband more interesting. Now, you really have to think about how you want to approach the game. If you want lots of archers, it means you aren’t going to be as good in hand-to-hand (especially since archers and crossbowmen are no longer as good in hand-to-hand). Not only does this eliminate the issue of ‘unfun’ warbands, but it has a couple of knock-on effects which I like. First, it helps keeps a campaign balanced, preventing a player who has made a big score treasure-wise from going out and spending it all on the best soldiers. Also, it means the rules work better with how most people actually play the game. Most people like to buy their ten miniatures, paint them up, and continue to use these same miniatures throughout a campaign. Maybe just upgrading a figure or two. These rules work better with that idea, as players will end up keeping more of the soldier they have instead of immediately discarding them for better ones. That said, players still have the freedom to switch out soldiers as often as they want.

Some of the soldiers have had their stats changed, and many of the prices for recruitment have changed, but I’ll leave that for players to discover when they get the book. Okay…Treasure Hunters are now only Fight +3, the rest you’ll have to wait to find out.

I’ve accompanied this blog with another rocking piece of the new artwork by aRu-Mor. This is the ‘knight’. I like this piece because it shows that the soldiers are open to a lot of interpretation, a lot of imaginative wiggle-room. A knight can be a classic knight in shining armour, or it can be an evil looking guy in a grotesque demon mask. The rules don’t care, so go with whatever fits for your warband!

Thursday 11 June 2020

Inquisitorial Valkyrie!

It’s been a hard few months, and finding a way to relax and enjoy my hobby has been more important than ever. So, I was looking for a big project that took me far away from my work. I wanted something that was going to take a good bit of work, but didn’t require too much thought. So, I decided it was finally time to paint up that dropship I’ve always wanted! I took a good look around to see what was available, and decided that nothing appealed to me more than the Imperial Guard Valkyrie from Games Workshop.

I also thought this would be a good chance to support some business that has likely suffered during the pandemic. I checked all of my usual ordering places, but everyone was sold out. Then, just when I was about to give up, Games Workshop announced the reopening of their online store. I had hoped to support them and a retailer at the same time, but such was not to be the case. Anyway, I don't mind supporting GW. 

My original plan had been to paint it green in kind of a neutral ‘military’ look, but once I got it out of the box, I felt the strong desire to paint it up for my Demon Hunters army, the only 40K army I’ve ever completed. I haven’t actually added a new unit to this army in over a decade, and elements of it last appeared on the blog quite a while ago (Fighting against the Daleks here, here, and here). This actually forced me to order some paint as the red I used for the entire army isn’t a part of regular rotation these days, but I’ll probably work it back in now.

Assembling the vehicle proved pretty easy - although messy, so many plastic shavings in my office! That is, until, I got to the cockpit canopy. I just couldn’t get that to fit right no matter what I did. In the end, I just used a bunch of glue and pushed real hard. The upper canopy is a bit wonky, but it’s not too noticeable. Also, I think I put the wing landing gear on the wrong wings. It’s minor, but means it wobbles for a second when I put it down.

Actually, before I assembled the canopy, I painted the flight crew. I’m not sure it was worth it, but it is kind of fun to look through the glue-fogged windows and see them in there! I decided not to install the door gunners, as I figured I often wouldn’t want them there. Also, I got tired of the side doors and back ramp flopping open so I glued all but one side door shut. It’s not like I wanted to paint the inside anyway.

I also found some old brass-etched Inquisitorial symbols from back when I painted the rest of the army, so I glued them on as well.

Then I got down to painting. I don’t paint many vehicles or big things, and have never really been interested in getting an airbrush, so it was all buy hand, mostly using a size 1 brush. I slowly worked my way over from one wing to the other. It took four coats of thinned red to get the colour finish I wanted.  Amazingly, I only used four different colour paints on the whole thing: red, black, gold, and white. That’s it. Shows how much you can do with a very limited pallet. I used a bit of black smudging in places as my one nod towards weathering, but figure the Inquisition keeps their vehicles well painted.

In all, it took about two weeks to paint it and I’m very pleased with the outcome. At some point soon I’ll have to break all of the Demon Hunters out for a new ‘Army Shot’!

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Introducing – Blaster!

So this is a little project I’ve been keeping under my hat...introducing Blaster!

Basically, I got together with four other wargame designers – Ash Barker (Last Days & Guerrilla Miniature Games), Mike Hutchinson (Gaslands), Joey McGuire (This is Not a Test & Reality’s Edge) and Sean Sutter (Relicblade) to create our own wargames anthology, and Volume I is now available in either PDF or Print-on-Demand from DriveThruRPG!

The plan is for this to be an ongoing series, with new volumes coming out on a semi-regular basis. In every issue, all five of us will be providing new content for one or more of our games, so if you are fan of our work, these books are probably going to be of interest!

It’s an anthology by a bunch of independent game designers produced for those who like independently-created wargames!

For Volume I, I have gone back to one of my biggest influences, The Lord of the Rings, and created a pair of linked scenarios that can be played using the Rangers of Shadow Deep rules. In the first scenario, you play a wizard, searching for his friends in the ruins of an ancient watchtower, when he’s attacked by a group of wraiths. In the second, a ranger and four halflings are searching the same ruined tower for signs of the wizard, when they too are attacked by the wraiths!

Of course, for these scenarios, I’ve had to provide Rangers stats for the wizard, ranger, and halflings…

Monday 8 June 2020


My five-year-old daughter wanted to do some colouring yesterday. This is one of the easiest ways for me to spend quality time with her as she loves to just sit and colour, and idly chat about this, that, and the other. She coloured a birthday cake. I went with an RFL-3N Rifleman - one of the oldest and coolest of the Battlemechs. I got this guy from the Battletech Activity Book, which I picked up for just such an occasion. The PDF is currently free on DriveThruRPG.

When the fad for adult colouring books first hit the market years ago, I was somewhat disdainful, but really that was just snobbery on my part. I mean, is there really a huge difference between colouring this sheet and painting the miniature? True, I'll potentially use the miniature for something, but really, I'm doing both activities because they are relaxing, allowing me to be creative, but without any great effort.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'd be so bold as to go with this colour scheme on a miniature, but I had fun!

Thursday 4 June 2020

Kromlech Official Frostgrave Terrain

These guys are making Frostgrave look so cool! And even some hints at a new scenario or two...

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Frostgrave 2 – Wizards and Apprentices

June has come, which means we are just that little bit closer to the August release date of Frostgrave: Second Edition! (It’s also my birthday month – normally I would say to send all gifts care of the Osprey offices, but as those offices are closed at the moment, just send best-wishes!)

As with the first edition, the second leaps right in with creating a wizard, and, in truth, not a whole lot has changed. The system for creating wizards always seemed to be one of the strongest and most enjoyable parts of the game for a lot of people, so I didn’t want to mess with it much. You still choose from the same ten schools of magic, all of which have the same connections to the other schools. You still select 8 spells, following the same rules as in first edition. Now, some of those spells have changed, but we will get into that later.

In fact, the only changes I made to creating wizards are very minor, and all have to do with items. First, wizards no longer pay for their starting items. Charging a wizard 5gc for a sword, when the game is usually dealing with magic items worth hundreds of gold crowns just seemed fiddly, and tended to cause confusion in other parts of the system.

A few people might be horrified to learn that I have dropped the +1 Fight for wielding two weapons. The biggest problem with this is that it was just too good. Rules-wise, there was just no good reason not to do it (the hallmark of a bad rule). This in turn led to all these wizards running around like duelists with their swords and daggers, which didn’t feel right. Anyway, the rule is gone. On the other hand, the first dagger carried by a wizard (or apprentice) no longer takes up an item slot, so everyone gets a free back-up knife!

Following a similar thought process, two-handed weapons now take up two items slots, and wizards wanting to carry a bow will also have to carry a quiver. These rules are designed to offset the advantages conferred by these weapons, and make it less likely that wizards, especially higher level-ones who tend to have lots of magical gear, will carry them.

And that’s it for wizards; they are otherwise the same as in first edition.

Apprentices, on-the-other-hand, have gotten slightly better! (Do I hear applause? I did say slightly).  Basically, I made a couple of changes to their Stats. First, their starting Shoot score is now equal to the wizard's (+0). This is actually irrelevant to most people, but it eliminates the awkward -2 Shoot that all apprentices had. Much more importantly, Apprentices starting Health is now only 2 less than the wizard, meaning they start with Health 12 (instead of 10). While this isn’t a huge gain, it means that apprentices can take a little more damage, and, perhaps even more importantly, have a little more Health available to empower spells. As an interesting side-effect of these two changes, starting apprentices are only 6 levels below their wizard, so if your wizard dies, you only lose 6 levels when promoting your apprentice. This will hopefully lessen the psychic blow to players when their wizard dies, and help keep campaigns feeling more balanced.

Finally, Apprentices now only cost 100gc. This is part of a general restructuring of money, and has little effect on assembling your warband in the beginning, but does mean that it isn’t quite so costly to replace an apprentice down the line.

I'm sure everyone got an eye-full of that new piece of aRu-Mor artwork. I told you she should could paint, didn't I! Some may recognize the piece as illustrating the very first scenario in the original rulebook - well the Mausoleum is back for a new edition!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got say about the spellcasters at the moment. I’ll be back soon with a look at the soldiers, and how they have changed for the Second Edition…