Thursday, 12 January 2017

Limited-Use Magical Doo-Dads

There's a system for determining whether or not your magical gizmo still works or not that I read somewhere some time ago, and that I rather like.

Rather than giving it a set number of charges remaining, you assign to it a die — anything from a d2 to a d1,000,000,000,000.

Every time the macguffin is used, the die is rolled: if a 1 turns up, it fizzles, fails to operate, and is out of charges from that point.

This system has two advantages:

  • First, it adds a degree of uncertainty to the use of magical gew-gaws. I don't imagine them coming with a little read-out showing exactly how much fuel is left in the tank, and I don't think the characters using the thing should have that information either.
  • Second, it reduces the amount of record-keeping that either the player or the GM has to remember to keep track of.

The easiest thing, from the GM's point of view, is to just let the player know which die they should be rolling to activate the thingumajig. The down-side to that (if it is, in fact, a down-side) is that it gives them some information about the state of charge of the doohickey.

The slightly more tiresome method is for the GM to secretly roll the die every time they attempt to use the framistat. The possibility here is that an unscrupulous GM might take advantage of the secrecy to remove from his or her campaign a magical splandlefloopit that is causing them irritation.

My personal choice would generally be the former, but that's mainly because I'm really very lazy.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Dwellers in Dark Places — a New Monster Book

This book of monsters for AD&D/OSRIC by Matthew Hargenrader, Dwellers in Dark Places, has just arrived on my doorstep — at long last; I ordered it from DriveThruRPG a couple of weeks before Xmas last year.

I bought it in PDF format some months before then (about September, I think) and enjoyed it enough to shell out for the PoD hardcover when it was marked down (about 20%) for the pre-Xmas market.

It is, without doubt, the most entertaining book of RPG monsters I've seen in decades. I haven't enjoyed a critter collection as much since I got my brand new copy of the Fiend Folio in 1982.

It's thoroughly illustrated in black-&-white throughout, and generally, the illustrations are pretty good — to my mind, they're of a much better standard than the usual run of fan-published work. There's something to be said for the enthusiasm of amateurs, but it's refreshing to see such a solid body of professional-quality black-&-white artwork. There's nothing there, alas, by Pete Mullen (one of my favourites), but I guess you can't have everything. There are about 500 monsters detailed in the book, and almost (?) all of them have at least one illustration, so that's a lot of pictures.


The paper is a bit thin, and not terribly opaque, but considering the page count (366 pages, not counting the front- and end-matter) if the paper was as heavy as that in the first Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, the book would be about two or three inches thick. Not that I'd particularly mind that.

The organisation and layout follows the precedent set by those earlier works, though in places it betrays a certain amateurishness. The most obvious example is in the tables that are scattered liberally throughout the book; they are all dominated by thick black borders which overpower the text within, and make the whole table less legible.

Another example, and a more serious one from the point of view of the book's usability, is that all too often monster statblocks and descriptions/illustrations are spread across more than one page. That's not really an issue as long as they're on the same two-page spread, or at least start on the same spread, but frequently I see a statblock table on a right-hand page that refers to a monster that is detailed on the following page — and that description is lacking any sort of title or visual separation from the previous entry. That's just bad design.

However, even with these reservations, I like this book a lot. It has obviously been a labour of love for the author, and it's jam-packed full of critters that I'm champing at the bit to use.

I hope it makes him a MEEEELLLION DOLLARS!

These also arrived today, in a separate delivery: ten 24-sided dice from the faraway land of China.

I've made my love of Stupid Dice known before.

I can't foresee very many uses for these, except maybe to randomly determine an hour of the day, so you'd think there would be no point in getting more than one. Or even one, for that matter. Ten certainly seems like overkill.

However, they were only about a buck-fiddy for a bag of five, with free postage, so really I think I should be congratulated on my self-restraint in only getting ten.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

With an Onion +2 on my belt...

....as was the style at the time....

I was idly leafing through one of my old AD&D 2e Players' Handbooks and feeling that its layout, it's look-and-feel, were really boring and old fashioned.

It's true that the layout is staid, to say the least, but it was more than that. Then I put my finger on it: the blue bold serif headings and the blocks of conservative Times-Roman-like text make it look like a web page from 1995.

All that's missing is <blink> and <marquee>.

On the cover, there's a TSR logo with the tagline "Products of your imagination". This sort of layout does not reflect much in the way of imagination at all. It might as well be an engineering reference manual. It does have the occasional illustration, but they're mostly pretty crap.

An argument might be made that keeping everything as neutral as possible is a good thing, as it would be less likely to unduly influence the imaginations of the users in any particular direction. This layout fails at that as well, because of the general focus and tenor of the aforesaid lame illustrations. They influence the imagination without particularly inspiring it.

I felt, at the time that it was released, that there was quite a lot about 2e, mechanically, that I liked as compared with 1e. But I thought at the time, and still do, that it lost a lot of the heart and soul that 1e had had in spite of its frequent clunkiness.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Troll Job - Episode #2

The terrifying bulette!
This is the cheap plastic toy the original bulette was based on.
http://mojobob.com/roleplay/campaign/eyeless03_theTrollJob.html#session02

Lots of travel, an unsuccessful encounter (though not as disastrous as it could have been) with an ox-stealing bulette, and far fewer grimlocks than I originally intended.

I had forgotten just how fragile AD&D-ish characters could be, after years and years of playing WotC superhero games, so I had to make some quick decisions about encounter numbers for my team to have any hope at all of surviving to get to the main job. Which, in itself, may be a larger bite than they can reasonably chew.... we shall have to see.

Friday, 16 December 2016

New Campaign(ish): Working for Eyeless

Eyeless the Wizard.
I've started up a new AD&D/OSRIC campaign. The basic information is on my website, along with game journals as and when I get around to writing them.

I don't foresee any grand overarching world-shaking plots transpiring out of this game, but you can never quite tell what will happen in a roleplaying game.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Invisible Magic Sky-Friends and You

Just another Monster Manual, really
The treatment of gods and religions in my D&D campaigns has always been based on this supposition:

The world (including all associated planes) is a created artifact, made and maintained for the pleasure and entertainment of entities who, to the created inhabitants of that universe, are, to all intents and purposes, gods.

The situation is very similar to that shown in the recent series, Westworld, though on a larger scale. Very similar indeed. Or perhaps it would be closer to the "Hells" in Iain M. Banks' Surface Detail.

Some of these entities, who for the sake of convenience I will just refer to as gods, get their jollies by physically interacting with the created universe and its inhabitants. Some restrict their interference to working from outside, operate via proxy creations, and manipulate the conditions of the world to create circumstances beneficial to their agendas.

The key thing to note about both of these groups is that they are playing a game. They are playing for points. Some play very seriously, some just dabble for a bit of fun. They get more points for actions where they are physically present, because when they are physically present, they are in physical danger. Still other of the "gods" are simply observers, watching purely for entertainment but having no stake in the game, nor any way of influencing events in it.

But regardless of the stakes of the game, it's still a game, and the created beings who scurry around the world are just playing pieces.

So basically, all the actions, purposes, plans, schemes, loves, hates and so forth of all the created inhabitants of the world are futile and meaningless, existing only to win or lose some entity a few game points or to provide an evening's passive entertainment. Bummer.

The thing is, that's irrelevant to them. Even if they know the true state of affairs (and some of the more potent characters in the farce have at least an inkling that it might be so) they still have to live their lives. They may be playthings of the gods, but that doesn't mean they don't have to eat and shit and make a living.

So, there it is.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last.....

NOTE: This is NOT the actual OSRIC cover.
Which is a pity.
Things have been slowly digesting and percolating in my tiny brain, and I've come to a realization which is long overdue.

Pretty much all my tinkering and messing around with fantasy roleplaying game systems over the years has been, essentially, an attempt to recapture the joy I had in playing AD&D, while trying to avoid the things about AD&D that irked me. Of which there were quite a few, but not so many as to be insurmountable I think. The rules are now easily available again, both as reprints of the original books (expensive) and via the OSRIC project (cheap). I have a nostalgic fondness for the old books, but I think OSRIC is a more useable and accessible resource.

This full-page illustration, in fact.
OSRIC is available as a very convenient A5 paperback for $13.50 or as a full size hardback including a full-page illustration by Your's Truly for $26.00.

So anyway, I've decided to dip my toe back into the murky waters of DMing, and return to my first love..... mostly.

These are the modifications I intend to make to the rules:

  1. I discard dual-classing; everyone can multi-class, as long as they have the minimum requirements. You can start a new class when training to go up a level, but from then on all XP (and hit-points) is split between all your classes — there'll be none of this taking one level in a class to get its benefits and then ignoring it forevermore.
  2. I am keeping the demi-human level limits, so only human characters will be unlimited in all classes.
  3. I will adopt the Character Background idea from 5e to determine the sort of basic range of knowledge the character has, along with the "Good At" skill system at the rate of one slot per 5 whole points of INT and WIS. The idea that a character can only perform a certain skill (like picking locks, or tracking) if they have a certain character class is stupid and dumb, and I'm doing away with it.
  4. All characters start with the standard range of Thief Skills at 50% of the ability of a 1st level Thief. Only Thief characters can improve from this level though (though if one or more of the character's "Good At" slots is applied to one of those skills, I guess it could be improved by level gain... we'll see).
  5. I will replace AD&D's Descending Armour Class and attack tables with the d20 model Attack Bonus and Ascending Armour Class. They're easily calculated: 20 – THAC0 = Attack Bonus, and 20 – AC = AAC.
  6. I intend to adopt the Advantage/Disadvantage system from D&D5e, because it is elegant and works very well indeed.

I've made a new dust-jacket for my A5 copy
of OSRIC so that I can give it the
cover I prefer as well as hopefully making it
a bit sturdier and durable.
There may be some other bits and pieces I've forgotten or haven't determined. For example, I haven't yet decided whether to stick with AD&D's slightly baroque saving throw system (easier to use 3rd-party stuff), or go with a much simpler single save with CHAR-based bonuses/penalties (easier to use in play). Probably the latter.... but maybe not.

The campaign will begin with the party operating as a "snatch" team, working for a Big Fucking Wizard to find and retrieve things the BFW wants or needs. I'm thinking of starting the campaign on about 10,000 XP, but if anyone desperately wants to start at first level, far be it from me to say nay.

Character creation will be by my Character Generation Wheel, using 3d6. For a change, I'm not placing any restrictions on character species.

I'm not averse to trying out Crabaugh's Custom Character Class Creator, though I have a suspicion it could be used for Evil. I'll be keeping a very, VERY close eye on anything created by that means.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Latest from Shapeways

20mm plastic figures by HaT
Another couple of models arrived on my doorstep from Shapeways today.

3d printing is just like magic to me (because it's mysterious and I don't know how to do it myself).

First up is my VSF Steampunk Battle-Tricycle, which is in an indeterminate scale. I show it here next to a couple of HäT 20mm British Zulu Wars figures; it would probably work with figures up to 28mm if you could find one to fit in the cockpit.

This one is printed in WSF nylon. It's also available in FUD resin at higher resolution.

Next is the German WW1 "K-Wagen" in 1:100 (15mm) scale, also in WSF. It never made it into battle; the war ended just before it could get into production, and the two functional prototypes were dismantled and scrapped under the watchful eyes of the Occupying Powers.

15mm PzKfw IV by PSC.
It was a real monster, with a crew of 26. Here it is alongside a WW2 PzKfw IV in the same scale.

It's also available in FUD resin, but the price is eye-watering. It's expensive enough in WSF.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

AutoMitrailleuse White

The White Armoured Car (Mitrailleuse White in French service) was the French equivalent of Britain's Rolls Royce armoured car, inasmuch as it was a World War One design that was continually upgraded and in service until World War Two. It was based on an American White chassis, and mounted a Hotchkiss machine gun and a 37mm gun opposite each other in the turret.

This is my 1:100 (15mm) 3d printed model in WSF nylon, available for sale in this material or in high-resolution FUD resin at http://shpws.me/MKq1

I'm not sure exactly what tactical markings they would have worn, but I think some French roundels would probably be a reasonably safe bet.

Later...

Somebody suggested the playing-card symbols as used on interwar/WWII French tanks as platoon identifiers. I don't know if they were actually used for armoured cars, but I liked the idea so I tried it out.

The French roundel on the doors makes a nice aiming bullseye.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

6pdr Mk.II (15mm)

This is Battlefront's 15mm British 6 pounder anti-tank gun, converted to the early Mk.II version by the very simple expedient of cutting off the muzzle-brake. To tell the truth, I doubt that this version of the gun would have ever been seen in these colours except for training in the UK; I'm pretty sure that the later Mk.IV version with a muzzle-brake would have been ubiquitous by the time of the Italian campaign.

Now I have most of Britain's WWII anti-tank guns in 1:100 scale, from the crappy Hotchkiss 25mm, through the 2 and 6 pounders, right up to the mighty 17 pounder. I don't have a 17pdr "Pheasant" yet, but I expect I'll pick one up one of these days if only because I like the look of it on the 25pdr carriage.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

K-Wagen (1:285)

3-up sprue

Single model
I've re-scaled my model of the K-Wagen to 1:285 for use in 6mm games.

It's available as a single model or as a 3-up sprue.

This would be a real monster on the wargames table; it's about 47mm long and 25mm across the beam. That would make it even more massive than the Soviet WWII T-35.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

K-Wagen (1:100)

Here's my latest model at Shapeways — the German K-Wagen super-heavy tank of 1918.

It was a real monster, thirteen metres long and carrying a crew of 26. It never made it into action, but it only just missed out when the war ended in November 1918.

It's available at http://shpws.me/MXQh. Unfortunately, being a big vehicle means that it's a big model with a big price. Alas, there's nothing much I can do about that except complain endlessly.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Vickers "Dutchman" — the Embiggening

I've re-scaled my Vickers "Dutchman" to 1/56 (28mm), which mostly involved re-doing all the rivets so that they wouldn't look quite so much like grapefruit in the larger scale.

It's available at http://shpws.me/MVy4

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Toys for ME!

I got some unexpected presents today from my very generous friend Steve, who is winnowing his old FoW collections in a changeover to Bolt Action. He's passed on to me some of his 15mm BEF 1940 models:

  • a 4.5" howitzer
  • an 18/25pdr gun
  • a 2pdr anti-tank gun
  • a Hotchkiss 25mm anti-tank gun
  • a Vickers MMG team
  • a mortar team
  • a Dingo scout car

And in addition, a set of Warlord Games Bolt Action markers and templates.

The scale of your average Bolt Action game being between single reinforced platoons rather than companies or battalions, the addition of a single gun or vehicle can be a significant increase in force, so these are very welcome.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Bolt Action 2: more rules tinkering

I'm trying to think of a workable mechanism for temporarily linking two units in Bolt Action (2nd Ed.) so that they're both activated as one. The specific circumstance I'm thinking of is where you have an armoured vehicle providing moving cover for some infantry behind it, but there are others where it might also be appropriate.

It's doable by way of the officers' extra orders, but that just makes the order process slightly less piece-meal — even a Major would only be able to get two vehicle/infantry combined units moved per Turn.

It could be run as a variant of the "mounting vehicles" rules, where the infantry don't actually get into/on to the vehicle and the vehicle is then restricted to the move speed of the accompanying infantry. In that case, if the vehicle is destroyed, it wouldn't also take out the infantry (unless it's H.E.)

Unlike the regular "mounting transports" rules, the infantry in this situation would be able to "mount" a moving vehicle as long as it isn't moving any faster than the infantry. I think I'd limit that to 6" (ADVANCE speed), due to the need to coordinate between the infantry and vehicle to maintain cover.
NOTE: I noticed, while reading about mounting transports, that it explicitly states that a unit can't be split between two or more transports.
This is a STUPID RULE, which I fully intend to ignore. For a start, it would make it impossible to represent the British practice of allotting two Bren Carriers to carry one section of infantry.
Anyway, while this might work for the "tank-shield" circumstance, it still doesn't really cater to things like a combined assault. Maybe that's the sort of thing that would best be handled with the officers' extra orders.

Even then, under a strict interpretation of the rules as written, I think the assault would have to be worked through in its entirety when the first unit is ordered in, rather than counting both assaulting units as a single entity for that purpose.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Stosstruppen

Battlefront had a Halloween sale, in which all their Great War stuff was significantly marked down, so I got a few bits and pieces — some British rifles and trench mortars, and some German infantry, battalion support weapons, and these Stoßtruppen. The stormtroopers are a bit more lightly equipped than the normal infantry, and they include a bunch armed with Bergmann submachine guns, so they can also stand in for Freikorps, should the need arise.

The standard of sculpting and casting is not, to my eye, up to Battlefront's best. It's not terrible, but there's a lack of detail in places, some of the poses are a bit awkward and spindly, and I suspect the alloy is a bit lead-heavy, because what detail there is is rather soft and blobby, as if the metal has not properly filled the mould. Nevertheless, they'll do the job for which they're intended, which is to be toy soldiers.

I've painted just one stormtrooper so far, trying out paint colours and QuickShade. It's a bit crappy, really. I think that maybe rather than using Stone Grey as the base colour for the uniform I might go a bit darker, and maybe try a Citadel or Vallejo acrylic wash instead of the QuickShade.

Later...


I finished off the first batch, and pretty much finalized the colours and process I'll use for the rest. I think the weakest point about the sculpting is the faces; most of them are just formless blobs. I could bring out more of the features with paint, but frankly I can't be bothered.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Bolt Action (2nd Ed.) Index PDF/ODT

My copy of Bolt Action 2 has finally arrived, at long, long last, and to my surprise and anger I find that it STILL doesn't have an index.

This is something that really gets on my wick. Automated index creation tools have been a part of every word processing and page layout application I've used in at least two decades, and failing to include an index in any reference manual is just slackness. There's no excuse for it.

Anyway, the work has been done for Warlord Games (slackers!) by others. The Demo Gamers have put together an index, which I have nabbed and reformatted so that I can print it as an A5 folded booklet.

My booklet is available as a PDF, or if you want to be able to edit it yourself, in ODT (OpenOffice/LibreOffice) format.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

It Takes A (Paper) Village

Progress on my el-cheapo paper village progresses.

The one to the left I designed myself ages ago, and just re-scaled to fit better with 15mm figures. It could do with some adjustment I think; the timber framing needs a bit more definition. I rather like the somewhat cartoonish look of the WHFRP buildings, and I'll probably emulate them a bit more.

All of the WHFRP buildings I've put together so far have been very simple, constructionally — basically just rectangular boxes of various heights. I haven't investigated the archive fully yet, and hopefully there might be one or two in there that are a bit more interesting. The simple buildings have the virtue of being very quick and easy to construct, but one or two funkier ones wouldn't go amiss to add some visual interest.

I'm mounting them all on black mounting-board, with a lump of lead hot-glued inside to give them a bit of stability. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do about decorating the basing; I'll do it all in one go when I have all the buildings I want so that they're all consistent in their groundwork.

None of these have removable roofs or accessible interiors, and I have no plans to change that. I don't think the added trouble is really justified in terms of improving game-play. It would be a different matter if I was playing Mordheim or something of that ilk, but I'm not. What I should do is make some "destroyed" versions that can be swapped out for, when occupying troops (inevitably) get mortared all to buggery.

I'm spray-gluing the laser prints to 260gsm black card, and getting them really well bonded by rollering the bejeezus out of them before the glue sets hard. That seems to be working pretty well, and 260gsm card seems to be quite adequate for strength as long as I don't go standing on any of them. The black card helps a lot with the outline issue I mentioned last time, though it doesn't cure it completely — the paper itself is still white.

Friday, 28 October 2016

El-Cheapo Terrain

I'm kind of a cheapskate when it comes to wargaming terrain. I hate to spend money on it, but at the same time, I want it to look at least half-way decent.

A long time ago, I found an archive of PDFs of papercraft buildings designed for WHFRP gaming. I don't remember now where they came from, and it's taken me years to get around to actually putting any of them together. They're very simple models, and they don't take much time to assemble, which is a good thing, and they're quite attractive when they're glued together.

They're in "Fantasy-Tudor" style, which perhaps isn't especially suitable for WWII gaming, but I like the look of them and they'd definitely be an improvement on wooden blocks.

I'm experimenting at the moment with scaling — they're intended for use with 25-28mm figures, and all my wargaming is either 6mm or 15mm. This one I printed at 50%, and it's just a fraction too small for 15mm; it's about 60mm tall to the peak of the roof — I'll bump up the next one to 60% and see how that looks.

This is an instance where a laser printer isn't as useful as an inkjet would be, for two reasons:

  1. The laser won't print on anything heavier than about 100gsm paper
  2. The fused toner is somewhat water-resistant, which makes gluing with PVA problematic.

The first issue I can get around by laminating prints to light card with spray glue, but the second is trickier. I can scrape away the toner on the glue-tabs, but that's kind of a pain. I think I may just re-composite a whole bunch of them on to A3 layouts and get them printed commercially on light card; it's not too expensive, and it would save a lot of faffing about.

One thing that's an issue with any papercraft model is that corners and edges tend to stand out like dog's bollocks, bright white against the printed textures where the paper has been cut or folded. It pays to run around these areas with a felt pen to subdue the glare — black is OK, but sepia or grey is less cartoonish.