Monday, 31 October 2011

GW Do Not Own Your Gaming Experience (The Quiet Rules Revolution: Part One)

This week I'm going to write a series of posts about rules. I'm going to use 8th edition Warhammer fantasy battle for most of my examples, although the general thrust of the arguments will be more-or-less applicable across various gaming systems.

I was inspired to do this by an overheard conversation in my local games store yesterday, where two guys were complaining about how evil/corporate/bastardly Games Workshop was these days, and how they didn't play either WFB or 40k anymore. This wasn't the first time I'd listened to this kind of 'argument', so let's begin by dispelling some common misconceptions.

1. GW products are overpriced - something that is demonstrably untrue if you live in UK.

2. GW are corporate bastards - true, but then this is only a problem if you want to play in their stores or tournaments, and frankly if you're an adult, why on earth would you want to do that?

3. The current design of army lists ties you into buying massive armies - an issue easily circumvented through intelligent gaming with likeminded peers. 

All these issues are interconnected, of course, but it's really the last point that interests me at the moment. I have to admit that I do like playing with the most recent edition of any given rule set most of the time. (The only notable exception being my preference for 2nd edition WFRP). I'm not one of those gamers who wishes we'd never left the 1980s and I don't stand by arguments that earlier editions are simply better because I don't think that they are. I am, however, very sympathetic with the manifesto for 'Oldhammer' that Zhu has outlined. The five core aspects of the manifesto are:

1. Have a games master - this will help build and maintain the narrative

2. Don't be shackled to army lists, be creative

3. 2000 points is not the only level to play at; much smaller works just as well

4. Don't worry about game 'balance' 

5. Never play in tournaments 

These are all approaches to gaming that I hold close to my heart - if you don't want to play like this, then I don't want to play with you! However, I don't think that we need to go back to earlier editions in order to fulfil these practices, even though they stand in stark contrast to the majority of corporate mono-culture that GW pump out. The current edition of WFB can quite straightforwardly be adapted in order to fit with this manifesto. If you find you 'need' to field hoards of 50 or 60 halberdiers then the fault lies in your approach to gaming, not within the pages of the rulebook. 

That, in short, is the main argument that I'm putting forward today. It seems so obvious, but in the face of the constant GW marketing onslaught it can admittedly be hard to remember. GW do not own your gaming experience. They offer up armies, rules, miniatures and so on, and you have the choice of how to use them. As long as the people who share your gaming experiences and leisure time agree with you then you can do whatever you like. It seems churlish (to say the least) to abandon everything GW have to offer just because you find their marketing and legal departments objectionable - I do, but I also apply a good dose of sense to the choices I make. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Splintered Shin - Orc Blood Bowl Team WIP

I now have all the miniatures for my new Orc Blood Bowl team, which I've named Splintered Shin. To get a good clear and bright finish I decided to undercoat these using white and skeletal bone primers. Then I applied a base coat of Ultramarines blue for their uniform and Orkhide shade for the base of the skin tone.

Splintered Shin: soon to be regularly terrorising stunties and pointy ears alike 
Last week I finally picked up a box of river trolls so that I could use one in this team. I've wanted some since they came out, but because I'm got a sizeable unit of stone trolls in my greenskins army, I couldn't really justify it. The one model that I have put together is absolutely fantastic. I've attached a rather comically small shoulder pad (as if this spiky fellow would need one) just so it has a splash of the team colour - I'll also out his squad number on it. I started painting him last night using a reverse shading technique. This basically goes against the common-sense for shading (where you build shades from darkest to lightest) and involves putting a block of the second lightest shade (Gretchin green in this case), which you then wash with two different darker shades in order to blend it in. It wouldn't work for all colours, but it's great for greens, especially when you want to achieve an aquatic or reptilian look.  

Friday, 28 October 2011

Chaos Legions in 40k?

An interesting tit-bit of gossip has popped up over at Bell of Lost Souls. Towards the end of an extended and rather rambling clump of rumours about the projected 6th edition of 40k, specific mention is made of Chaos Legions, as opposed to Chaos Space Marines. This could signal an interesting development with, perhaps, the integration of various renegade factions (possibly including daemons themselves) that would be similar to the combined forces available through the forthcoming Tamurkan expansion for Warhammer. Such a development would be very positive for a fluff-merchant like me. Given my recent return to 40k, I really hope it's true.

One of the excellent renegade Ogryns from Forge World

Blood Bowl Team Manager - Review

This evening my regular gaming group played our first game of Blood Bowl Team Manager. I've never really been taken by the idea of card based gaming, but this nifty little offering really hit the spot. 

Each player takes control of a Blood Bowl team for a season, which is represented by a series of gaming rounds. During these rounds players allocate bloodthirsty athletes from their team roster (drawn from a deck of cards) and uses their varying abilities and downright dirty tactics to win events - either match-ups between two teams or an all-in tournament. Teams progress through the rounds aiming to accumulate fan points while also taking the opportunity to boost their rosters with star players and hence improve their chances of claiming the Spike! magazine 'Manager of the Year' award. Coaching and various other upgrades help to spice things up and keep unpredictability at a premium. 

Overall this seems to be a top class game. It really captures the spirit and 'feel' of Blood Bowl, both in terms of the game mechanics and the characteristics of the different races and star players. If this is a good indication of the quality of Fantasy Flight Games products, then I'll certainly be taking a long look at their other games the next time I'm looking for something new, entertaining and with the possibility for broader appeal.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Hobbit, Drawn by Tolkien

A new book called The Art of the Hobbit is being released which features Tolkien's own pictures of scenes and landscapes from the story. There's something about the simplicity of these line drawings that I find absolutely enchanting. For some reason they remind me of when I first encountered the book, back in the late 70s, when my father read his copy to me - it was the best bedtime story I could ever imagine. Perhaps these pictures resonate so much because they are so childlike and have such a dreamscape quality. Whatever the reason, they sum up the very first emotions that I felt when encountering high fantasy.

Smaug flies round the Lonely Mountain 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Focus: Essential, Elusive...

So many projects, so little time. 

How to organise everything? I keep thinking of that line in Star Wars, "stay on target... stay on target!"

This hobby of ours - a pastime that brings so much enjoyment and the occasional bout of frustration - will grow to fill any time you care to give it. Over the last few weeks, for example, I've started several new projects across a number of different gaming systems; from Blood Bowl teams to Dark Eldar to GMing a campaign in WFRP. It's because of this that the personal quality of 'achieving focus' has come to dominate my thoughts.

I'm like a gaming magpie - I'll see some shiny new miniatures and I'll just have to swoop in and get them (that analogy worked better before the introduction of Finecast...). I am, habitually, a collector and a converter. I gather and I tinker. I give in to temptation and then get cracking with the craft knife. You get the idea...

And so it is that I've reached the point where I really need to do the one thing that goes totally against my impulsive, ADHD nature: it's time to make a list. Over the next few days I've got to sit down and come up with a definitive project plan, otherwise I risk being surrounded by half empty boxes, half glued and/or half painted miniatures, and half completed armies.

I've got to work out some targets and then stay on them. Easier said than done of course, but I have to try. Probably the easiest way to do this is to think about it in the most logical way possible. As a fluff-oriented player this means going against the impulse to build armies on the basis of appearance, and instead build some sturdy lists to work from.

I can't begin to tell you how uncomfortable that idea makes me feel. It goes completely against the thrill of new discovery that I like so much about this hobby. Even more, it risks the dreaded antithesis: mind-numbing drudgery.  

What could be worse than having the next six or even twelve months plotted out ahead of time? How will this not fail to drain all the enjoyment out of the whole thing, turing it into one slow, dutiful but soulless paint-fest? 

Well, despite these worries it's time to start taking all this fun seriously. In this spirit, here's the first 'to do' list, which is really a meta-to-do list because the results will be the basis of all following targets. Perhaps by making these public and charting my un/fulfilment of all ensuing targets I'll be able to shelve my magpie nature (at least for the most part). 

1. Greenskins - The nasty little bastards that helped get me addicted to gaming again. I really must put together a 2000 point list that I can then start painting.

2. Marienburg - My Empire army. So many great ideas across so many different units... again, a definitive 2000 point list is needed to organise all modelling and painting, although unlike the greenskins I'll allow myself 500 points of alternatives.

3. Vampire Counts - With the risk of sounding repetitive, another 2000 point army list to focus everything.

4. WFRP - With the PCs rolled up this Thursday sees the start of a 2nd edition campaign. I've got the first sessions mapped out in my head, but I need to commit these to paper and decide how I'll link my own narratives to those I'll adapt from various source books. Given at least one of the PCs may read this blog I'll only report on WFRP sessions after the event.

5. Blood Bowl - I may return to my original plan and have a re-think about which teams to create. It looks as though a two division league might be in the offing, where I would be able to field a team in each division. This would work as a 'perpetual league' where there is no fixture list, but where two teams are not allowed to play each other consecutively.

6. Dark Eldar - The newest addition, and therefore the one most suitable to this style of rigorous planning. As with targets 1-3, a 2000 point list is required.

Orienting Principles - Of course, I'm never going to abandon my core beliefs about the hobby. So: a) all of these projects will be allowed a reasonable amount of digression, primarily in the shape of conversions, unit fillers, and the odd 'counts as' model; b) the lists will be narrative and modelling orientated and not designed with the sole purpose of winning; and, c) generally I'll use GW miniatures but I'll pick up models from other manufactures if they look good (although on the whole, the GW stuff is usually best).

Wish me luck...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Snuff Said

Detritus the Troll - an excellent miniature
based on a design by Paul Kidby
Available here.

A few days ago Terry Pratchett was interviewed on BBC Breakfast about his new Discworld novel, Snuff, which I've just started reading. As fans will be well aware, Pratchett suffers from a form of Alzheimer's and is progressively less able to use a standard keyboard when writing his books. He now uses a mixture of dictation software and a human assistant to get his words onto the page.     

Alongside Snuff I'm reading the Dark Eldar codex, which was written by the rather verbose Phil Kelly - I don't mean that pejoratively, only that he has, in some senses at least, an extremely good grasp of the English language, and writes and talks with an extensive vocabulary. Pratchett, of course, is a master craftsman of language, so it is interesting to see how the change in the production method for his prose has influenced his storytelling. A handful of pages in, I would say it has actually strengthened it.  

Although a codex is not a novel, it does have some narrative elements - 'the fluff' - so it has been impossible for me to escape from a comparison of the two writing styles. This has re-enforced a longstanding issue that I have with the in-house writing at GW. While their writers are obviously intelligent and highly skilled in many respects, for me they fall down on a very basic issue of language use; that is, they tend to use flourishes with abandon, which leads to stylistic-overkill.

Let me outline one example: "Commorragh is no mere metropolis, for it is to the largest of Imperial hives as a soaring mountain is to a mound of termites" (Dark Eldar codex, p.8).

Now, nothing technically wrong with that sentence, but try reading it aloud. Do employees of GW really speak like this? Of course, the written word is somewhat different to the spoken, but as the Pratchett example shows, the difference shouldn't be so great. Perhaps there is something in the house-style at GW that favours anachronisms: there's a phrase in the 8th edition rulebook for Warhammer that reads something like "...a goodly amount of the evening".     

I just wish that the GW writers would sit down (like all good undergraduate students should) and read their work out loud. Then they might realise how ridiculous some of it sounds, and calm it down a little. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Returning to the 41st Millennium

So, what did I do with those GW vouchers? I decided to take the plunge and return to the 41st Millennium. Since I got my gaming boots back on last year I'd more-or-less ignored 40k. The main problem for me - on the surface at least - was the dominance of vehicles in the majority of the current armies. When I used to play (back in the mists of times), vehicles were very limited and were little more than what are now referred to as 'dedicated transports'.

The way that 40k worked for those of us playing the wonderful mess that was Rogue Trader, and the rather more organised 2nd edition, was as a predominantly skirmish-based game. We could set up a number of buildings and terrain pieces on a small board - say, our parents coffee tables - and spend an hour or so pitting a couple of squads against each other. 

But that was the olden days. Reading through gaming blogs and seeing battle reports from tournaments it soon became clear that, in those environs at least, a large number of heavily armoured and armed vehicles was an essential spine to a competitive force. The idea of buying, painting and fielding maybe eight very similar tanks just does not appeal to me on any level.

(Perhaps if I was to play epic scale, but really, that's not something that ever got my juices flowing). If that was the way that 40k played, I just wasn't interested.

Of course, although we might buy GW products, we don't have to buy into everything they put out, and neither do we have to follow the tourney crowd and take army lists and math-hammer them to the stripped down logical conclusion where a force is simply designed to win at all costs. Dr Bargle is very good of reminding me of this, although he's perhaps more interested than I in the retro-style-mashing of gaming systems. I myself wanted to be convinced that current 40k was a viable gaming proposition, given my preferences.

It was in this spirit that I went into my local GW store yesterday and put down a challenge to the staff: "sell me something" I said. And what a very good job they did. After talking through my current fantasy armies and spending a few minutes weighing up an Ogre Kingdoms battalion box we arrived at the tricky subject of 40k. I outlined my concerns, which they talked though with me, and then suggested that I try the game first-hand, which I'd guess is their No. 1 sales tactic!

More the 20 years had passed since I'd last moved a Space Marine on the tabletop. But I was pleasantly surprised with how the rules had developed and it didn't take long for me to realise that current 40k was a system that I could feel comfortable playing - the mechanics are smooth, shooting doesn't have to dominate gameplay, and vehicles don't have to overtake squad-based tactics. But which army to choose?

In the past - and I mean when mullet hairstyles were in fashion - I had Space Marines and Orks. I didn't really want either of these because the modelling and painting possibilities are either limited, as with Marines, or something I've recently tackled, as with fantasy battle greenskins. For a while I toyed with the idea of Chaos Space Marines - lots to work with there, good fluff, tactical diversity - but I settled on Dark Eldar.

For some time now I've been looking over the recently up-dated Dark Eldar range and envying the opportunities they presented. Some of the miniatures are simple breathtaking. I'm also sold on the way that they play - you can't hang around with these guys - you need to get them into the melee action quickly because they won't last long in an open firefight.

Another area where style and tactics is in perfect harmony is with the vehicles. No rust-bucket tanks for the Dark Eldar - oh no! Their transports are all open, angular, full of fantastic aesthetic detail - in sum, they're a model-junkie's dream!

With a battleforce box sitting on my desk I've got a long, long way to go with this army, even before I get to try them out on the tabletop. But I'm making my way through the codex and really getting into the narrative of the Dark Eldar - something that I've discovered has been fully and extensively revamped to go with the up-date of the miniature range.

And I'm really looking forward to getting started on the Raider model - what a great centre piece for one of the shelves in my display cabinet! (Oh yes... haven't mentioned that DIY project to the wife yet...)

Blood Bowl Chaos Warriors - First Look

Although I initially planned to make my new Blood Bowl teams wholly from the current GW plastics, that was never really going to work with the Chaos Warriors because these models lack the style and poses suitable for the game. Luckily, I was able to get hold of some still-on-the-sprue older style of Chaos Warriors from eBay. I've just put four of these together - the maximum allowance for a Chaos team - and I'm rather pleased with the results.

I'm thinking of a red and bronze 'Khorne' colour scheme for this team, although that's possibly/probably going to change, and it'll depend on their name, which I haven't given much thought to yet.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

GW Gift Vouchers - But What to Buy?

Several of my in-laws have very kindly clubbed together and given me £50 worth of GW vouchers - but what to buy?! There are so many things on the 'wanted list', but I've got a tingly feeling that tells me that these should be spent on the most substantial thing possible: that means, a battalion or battle force box. This then introduces further conundrums, such as... is this the time to reengage with 40k?.. should I know start a completely new WFB army?... I'm loath to spend this on 'bits and bobs' - paints and a couple of finecast models - but I'm also impulsive. I'll have to think fast because I'd be amazed if I could get to the end of tomorrow without having bought... something...

In other unconnected news, I saw a tee shirt with this on and had to share - the science fiction Venn diagram:   

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Mantic Undead Army - Out of the Box

A rather big 'out of the box' this time, as the forces of the undead march relentlessly onto my desk. This is the Kings of War Undead Army from Mantic, a set of 110 miniatures that I'd been coveting for some time and which were bought for me as part-present-part-model exchange by my brother. 

These will form the backbone of my soon-to-be Vampire Counts army. I say soon, but of course, it will take me quite a while to work my way through this lot! In fact, this box arrived with the parts to make an extra 10 zombies (I had to count them several times to make sure) so this won't all be finished until at least the middle of next year - it all rather depends on when the next VCs army book comes out and whether that gets my creative juices flowing in that direction.

I took a quick look over the slim rule-set that was included with the miniatures. Kings of War is a very simple game from the look of things, but I'm not going to be rushing to give it a try over 8th edition Warhammer any time soon. On the whole it's too simple [and available for free download here, so judge for yourself]. However, I'm all in favour of other companies developing rule sets for fantasy battles - it wouldn't be a good thing is GW were the only developers in town. Of course, Mantic are a young company, so there's plenty of time for things to evolve in interesting directions.

One area where Mantic have developed rather well in a short time is in the quality of their miniatures. In fact it's rather common for people to suggest that the undead from Mantic are far superior to the current offerings from GW. There's some milage in this, particularly the zombies: the Mantic offerings are right on trend - wonderfully posed, shambling and lurching, while dropping to pieces - whereas the GW models are rather funny looking (to say the least - look at their massive meat-puppet hands).     

Here's my son having an extreme close-up look at the zombies - he's really started to get involved in various hobby activities, even though he's only two and a half (although I've only let him loose on my crappy 1980s plastic orks!). Overall this is a fantastic set and really worth the money - £50 from Mantic, about £45 from other suppliers. I've spent a great amount of time looking over miniatures from non-GW manufactures over the last 18 months or so, and I have to say that these are by far the best alternative in terms of the sculpts and the price. Oddly enough, the only miniatures in this set that I'm not that fussed about are the elite 'revenant' skeletons - grave guard style wights - these don't work so well with the additional armour on the models, leaving looking rather flat and two dimensional. This is only a slight downside, however, because these are the smallest troop type in the box, so it doesn't really change what is an amazing deal. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Dark Gods Are Smiling Today

Hooray for more rules!
The look on Lietpold's face
is simply priceless

Oh yes, the Dark Gods are surely smiling today, because Tamurkhan: The Throne of Chaos is now available for pre-order on the Forge World website - this certainly is a cause for celebration and any doubters will surely be persuaded by the shots of the absolutely gorgeous art work used throughout the book.

Also on pre-order is a new character for Empire armies. Lietpold the Black is a mercenary general and the mounted model looks absolutely superb. It joins the list of possible miniatures for my first Forge World purchase - given the range that they're coming out with I'll have to take the plunge sometime before the end of the year.

Three Shades and the Truth - Kevin Dallimore's Painting and Modelling Masterclass

This week I'm doing some 'out of the box' reviews of hobby related things that I received for my birthday on the weekend. Next up is Kevin Dallimore's Painting and Modelling Master Class, which is published by Wargames Foundry. 

This really is a great book that explains all the basic techniques for painting (and a few for modelling too, but not as many as you would think from the title) and then proceeds to cover some of the more advanced techniques - i.e. those that anyone who doesn't just want to dunk their miniatures into a tub of quick-shade will need to master sooner or later.

On a first read, the part that really stands out is the stage-by-stage explanation of the 'three shades' technique, where a single model is shown with the base, main and highlight shades added. What's different about the pictures presented here to those found in other books is that stage-by-stage is taken literally - we see each colour being built up separately, so there are no 'jumps' in quality.

Consequently, the early part of the book really demonstrates how effective this simple approach is when done properly, showing how it can provide the ideal basis for more time consuming and -ultimately - more impressive finishes. The featured miniatures are photographed really - and I mean REALLY - close up, thereby illustrating a realistic and achievable finish for tabletop gaming. These aren't Golden Demon winning quality, but then who actually has 100+ hours to spend painting a single model? Not me: those dice won't roll themselves. 

I've actually been looking at some of the miniatures in the book and thinking, 'hmm, I think I could do a bit better than that actually', which is no bad thing. Certainly it's better than thinking 'how in the hell and I ever going to be that good?!' So in a way this is an inspirational book. It isn't preachy, it doesn't expect much in the way of previous knowledge, and it covers a range of historical, fantasy and science fiction genres. Of course, it's a pretty big advert for Foundry miniatures and paint (there's a colour guide in the back), but no less so than everything GW produce is an advert for their products - in fact, where this book is different from the GW approach is that it actually acknowledges other companies exist!

Overall, a lovely book that I'm certain to return to many times over the years. I'd recommend this to anyone starting out in the hobby, and it's worth a look if you're more experienced and what to use it as a reference guide for blending and shading on a wide range of different miniatures. All artists need good reference material and this fits the bill perfectly. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

More Skulls! Garden of Morr - Out of the Box

The roses growing up this statue
a really wonderful
additional detail - something
GW are very good at including
in many of the miniatures,
scenery, and as extras on sprues
It was my birthday over the weekend and I received a number of gaming related presents, which I'm going to write short reviews for over this week. The first of these is the Garden of Morr scenery from Games Workshop.

Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan of scenery, particularly well sculpted buildings, and now that I've amassed a huge number of miniatures I'm going to be increasingly turing my attention to purchasing all kinds of wonderful scenery in order to bring character and atmosphere to all my  games at home - as a fluff-and-scenario driven player I really need lots of scenery for games to 'come alive'.

A recurrent jibe about the design team at GW is that when they look at a model that they're working on and come to an agreement that it needs something more, the answer is always "more skulls!" I've seen this criticism levelled at the Garden of Morr and I have to say that it's not really justified.

Did I mention it had skulls?
Yes, this is a very skull heavy set, but then, it's entirely within the culture of the setting. When I was at university I studied a course on the sociology of death and dying, where we looked at rituals from across the globe associated with death, remembrance, and celebration. These included, for example, Día de los Muertos in Mexico, and Dia de Finados in Brazil, where skulls, skeletal imagery and cemetery celebrations are commonplace.

I know the Empire in warhammer terms is loosely/historically based on a unified Prussian states sort of model, so wouldn't be expected to have influences from Central or Southern American cultures. But when the widespread (some might say over-) use of skulls and skeletal imagery is seen through the perspective of ancestry and the eternal, inescapable cycle of birth and decay, I think it makes a lot more sense - this also works with the way that Morr is understood as a deity.

Of course, the GW design team might just really like skulls.

Plenty in the box to work with. The only part I'm not that keen on is
the gate, which has a massive skull detail - that's a few too many skulls
even for me! Loads here to use as objective markers, walls and fences,
small buildings, and so on. Very pleased to add this to the collection. 

Blog Redesign

I've decided to give the Gazette a redesign following some useful feedback from Lauby at House of Paincakes. Those of you who have visited before will see that the map of Marienburg has gone from my background - this is a shame, because it's such a lovely image, but now that the content has started to grow here in terms of posts and all the details in the sidebar, it wasn't really necessary anymore (mostly because my remit for the blog has developed since I first conceived it). I'll be using the map at some point as I GM an adventure in WFRP, so at least I will be able to share its gorgeousness a little more with my PCs... until then, here it is one last time...


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Blood Bowl Orcs - First Look

Here are the first players for my Orc Blood Bowl team - four blitzers - all light conversions from the GW Orc Warriors boxed set. 

This was also my first use of the Citadel Liquid Green Stuff, which I found to be very easy to use. Looking forward to finally getting around to filling the gaps on my Giants of Albion from the old Dogs of War range so that they can have a paint job in the new year. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Character, Stats, and the three editions of WFRP

Tonight I start GMing my first game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in... oh, about 20 years! Over the past couple of months I've been a PC in a first edition adventure, but taking the reins will be a very different experience indeed. Being a GM is a big responsibility because a whole evening worth of entertainment for several people (the other four in our regular gaming group) is your responsibility - I really hope I'll still up to this!

WFRP is now on a third edition, which comes as a big box of stuff including a bunch of special dice. I was initially intrigued by this system, but I've read enough reviews to see that it might wander too far away from what I like about first edition to be to my tastes. So I've decided to give second edition a try. I realise that this edition also had its critics - the campaigns in particular have apparently taken a bashing - though I think it's worth a try.

The main reason I like the look of it is the slimed down stats system, which does away with a few of the less commonly used stats, but retains a good basis for the development of character. Of course, I don't want the system to be too streamlined - the lack of careers in third edition is not at all appealing, for example. But I do like the idea of a sensible reduction in stats - i.e. taking away Leadership - and leaving it up to the GM to judge percentage + or - on, say, Fellowship.

Now, it has been pointed out to me that L and F are very different things. However, I would say that having Leadership as an effective sub-category of Fellowship allows the GM to judge modification based on characterisation and gameplay, which I like because it places emphasis on roleplay without too much dilution of differentiation between PCs. In this way, I think that stats should prop up characterisation, rather than define it. There should be enough in the initial role-up to help define the basis of a character that's already lived for, say 22 years, but not so much that it over complicates the issue.

I also think that it helps players if the stat lines are slightly shorter, as with second edition primary characteristics - I think it's possible that they might actually pay them more attention, rather than more-or-less over look them, as I've seen happen in games of first edition. Overall it's my hope that this will actually achieve fuller character development through role play and stats. A few sessions of adventuring should provide the answers.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tabletop World - Merchant's House

As a player who loves the fluff of any army as much (if not more) than the way they actually play, I dream of one day having a range of sets of fluff-appropriate scenery to fit all the forces I have. In this vein, I've been looking rather longingly at the amazing buildings made by the company Tabletop World.  I'd be glad to own any of them, but I think my current favourite - and this would fit with the Marienburg theme - is the merchant's house: it's so simply gorgeous, I'll let the picture as it all... 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Blood Bowl Challenge!

Word on the street is that Blood Bowl will get a re-release next year in a big box similar to Dreadfeet. Ok, so that's not actually the 'word on the street', but a rumour I heard the other day in a shop - still, it's nice to dream. It got me thinking as well, because Blood Bowl is the only game that I've played at least once a year since about 1986 - it's about time I really had some teams to be proud of.

Now, I realise that ANOTHER painting job is hardly what I need, but I've never been one to not get carried away. The good points about a Blood Bowl team, of course, is that they are only a limited number of miniatures and you can really get the best from them in a short period of time through carnage on the pitch. Also, Blood Bowl is kind of a board game, so it's possible to get non-gamers to play casual games every now and then - perfect for the weekly games night.

So... here is the challenge. Within SIX MONTHS I will create FIVE new Blood Bowl teams from scratch. All the models will be converted from the current GW plastic miniatures. Working from the 6th edition of the Living Rule Book (now referred to as the Competition Pack), these teams will be:

1. Norse
2. Orcs
3. Ogres
4. Skaven 
5. Chaos

Let the conversion carnage commence! Deadline for completion of all five teams... 11th April 2012...

Monday, 10 October 2011

'Misdirection' about drybrushing

Over the weekend I worked with Diddy on the colour scheme for his nurgle chaos warriors. He bought the 'Cryx Colors' set of P3 paints from Privateer Press on my recommendation and because they were a very good deal for a small set that matched the scheme he's looking to achieve (they were about £12 for six colours). As I've said before, I've always been impressed with the P3 range, and these colours were no exception.

While we were thinking about the best approach to tackle the fur on the warriors' cloaks, we had a quick look in the old Storm of Chaos book and on the GW website to see what they recommended. In both places drybrushing highlights was suggested. However, as the following picture from SoC shows, the models that they use to illustrate this advice haven't actually been drybrushed:

Take a close look. I'd argue that the 'v' effect on the fur has not been achieved through drybrushing and that actually a careful application of successively lighter shades of brown has been used. Now, here's my problem with this. Although drybrushing is a legitimate time saving technique that can achieve a reasonable finish for tabletop miniatures, this (as far as I can tell) isn't what's represented in the picture, where a different and more time-demanding technique has been used.

Although I could be wrong about this [he says, inserting a caveat in case GW's lawyers see this and feel particularly litigious!], I would've thought that the professional GW painters would never use drybrushing. In fact, there seems to be a very distinct move towards bold and stark highlights that can't ever be achieved through this technique - take a look at the promotional shots of the new ogres for some clear examples on larger models.

I've got the healthy dose of scepticism of a man approaching middle age, so I'm able to see the discrepancy here. Also, although I'm returning to painting after a break of almost 20 years, I do have some previous experience - younger painters might not, and it's they who are most likely to fork out for White Dwarf and follow the advice they find there and on the GW website. Big deal? Maybe not. But I find this kind of subtle misdirection annoying, especially when it's most likely to influence and impact upon those younger gamers who can only afford a very limited number of models. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Pro Arte Acrylix Brushes - Review

Last week I picked up some new brushes, and rather than popping into GW or another hobby shop I decided to give the local art store a try. There was - and this will be no surprise - plenty of choice, although the majority of brushes on offer were too large for miniature painting. I plumped for a 1 and a 2/0 from the Pro Arte 'Acrylix' range and my goodness... they are magnificent. They have good long handles, which helps with control, and the 'spring' in them is simply amazing. Working with them last night not once did I have to 're-point' the bristles and they held the paint very well indeed. Given that these brushes were only slightly more expensive than the GW offerings (which are almost useless) I would recommend these to anyone looking for some great tools with which to improve their overall painting experience.  

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Marienburg Battle Standard

My creative juices when into overdrive last night and I stayed up to the wee small hours working on a battle standard for my Marienburg army. Now, being Marienburg this model was alway going to have to be no the ostentatious side! So I picked up a model galleon from Revell, raided the bits box, and have finally put the undercoat on this:

The Revell Spanish galleon has been converted using bits from the Empire and Brets knights spures, along with other parts, including ogre barrels, a goblin wolf head, some classic shields, and even a wolf tail from 40k Space Wolves. 

The ogre is from the Dogs of War Golgfag's set, and I've used my favourite which has a metal cooking pan for a helmet. The captain has a state trooper body with arms from the general box - his shield is from the GW freelancer knight. The base is a 20mm, topped off with the ornamental plaque from the GW chapel sprues - this way, I've managed to fit quite a lot in a limited space. 
It's currently in three parts - the ogre and base, the captain, and the ship - so that it will be easier to handle and paint. Not sure at the moment when I'll get a chance to put a full paint job on this, but it certainly was fun to put together!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A brief thought about chaos and balance

With the publication of Tamurkhan: Throne of Chaos finally on the horizon I decided to whet my appetite for all things chaotic by reading my old Realm of Chaos books, particularly The Lost and The Dammned because I've always had a soft (and slightly slimy) spot for Nurgle. Interestingly, I'd completely forgotten about a piece of gaming advice that's given on the very first page of TL&TD:

Brother Paulo and I are often reminiscing fondly about the time when the different fractions of chaos were at war with each other - we both prefer the idea of armies dedicated to one chaos god to the combined chaotic forces that are now possible in both 40k and WFB. In addition, it's striking that back in 1990, the greater powers of chaos were recognised in game terms with the advice that they should only really battle each other; something that was of course feasible due to the narrative of conflict between the daemonic forces.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Caution... Undead stink!

Yesterday I acquired the first characters for my gathering Vampire Counts army. Some of these were GW models, but in this post I want to focus on the miniatures that I got from Mantic Games, specifically the Death Kings Cabal. These are the first I've bought from Mantic, after spending the last month or so looking at their website and a few models that are on display in my local hoppy shop, the excellent and highly recommended Firestorm Games.

The packaging

The models in their box with foam, bubble wrap, 
some stickers and a 'mantic point'
This is worth a mention in its own right because the box has been designed with storage in mind. On opening I was very pleased to see the two reasonably substantial sheets of form that can be used to protect the figures once glued and painted, and not just hold them in place in the shop. I really like this way of supplying miniatures and I hope (somewhat pointlessly) that a certain other company takes up the idea. I also like the humour on the box, which includes the following warning: "Assemble your models in well ventilated area - decomposing undead are unknown to stink" :-)

The miniatures

In their pre-assembly state the miniatures were all a little bent and I was worried that they might not withstand straightening - however, all the parts that required a little tweak went into the desired positioned easily. The detail isn't knock-out stunning, probably being on a par with early 90s Citadel, which is no bad thing on the whole. The trouble is that I was comparing them directly with the Finecast models that I'd just opened (more of which in another post); not really a fair comparison.  

Standard bearer, wight king, male necromancer, and
female necromancer (apologies for poor photo quality,
autumn has finally arrived in Wales!)

I would say that my favourite at this stage is the standard bearer, whose ghoulish banner will certainly be fun to paint and field. I like the concept behind the male necromancer but having inspected the model closely I think the intentions rather outpace the realisation - it just doesn't look as good as it should. Once painted of course, it may be a different matter, and I plan to dedicate some time to getting the swirl of magical energy beneath him just right. The revenant/wight king is fine, while the female necromancer actually reminds me of 40k Dark Eldar. There's quite a bit of cleaning up required on these miniatures, although this won't trouble an experienced modeller.

Overall I'm cautiously optimistic and I'm looking forward to getting these undercoated and then applying a light wash to see how the detail will take shape.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Citadel Primers - Review

Here are my reviews of two of the most commonly used primers, certainly by beginners who will probably pick them up when recommended by GW staff: 

I've read some real hatred for this primer around a few sites. I'm not sure why, as I've found it to be reasonably good when undercoating ogres and orcs. Some people say that they've had issues with the spray ending up grainy in the finish but I can only assume on the basis of my experience that this might be due to atmospherics or perhaps bad technique. I would, however, give several of the primers from the Army Painter range a try before getting this again. 

This has been a good primer all round - used on a good batch of my Marienburg army, plus Brother Paulo's Brets. As with the Chaos Black spray, I've seen some criticism about graining, but this only happened once for me, and it was entirely my own fault because I nipped out to spray just after a rain shower: lesson learned. 
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