The Getting of Magical Spells

How I handle spell acquisition in my own campaign.

When a magic-user character is created, they begin at level one with a rather limited magical repertoire consisting of Read Magic and 1-4 other randomly determined first-level spells. These are the spells allowed them by their erstwhile Master before being thrust out into the world to make their own way.

When they train to rise in level, they come away from their training with one new spell of their new level. Note that this assumes that the training is done under the guidance of a Master of higher level; if the wizard self-trains, then no new spell is gained.

Apart from the above circumstances, new spells must invariably be garnered in the course of the wizard's adventuring career.

The idea of a free exchange of knowledge is far from common amongst the wizarding community, and as a rule, magicians tend to become more and more secretive about their knowledge and skills as they gain in power. The only other wizard who can be relied on to share knowledge is the Master under whom one's apprenticeship was taken, and even then only if the Master and apprentice parted on good terms, and only to a very limited degree. The price for this cooperation is generally an undertaking to perform any tasks required by the Master, and naturally those tasks will likely be those the Master would rather not have to take care of themselves, due to their unpleasant or tedious or dangerous nature (or, likely enough, all three). Note that this is pretty much the only reason that any wizard would burden him or herself with an apprentice at all; few magicians are of a naturally charitable nature.

Transcribing Spells From Scrolls

The most common source of new spells is from scrolls: bought, found or stolen — and only the most common and puny of spells will generally be available for sale. Scrolls, unlike spells indited within a spellbook, are essentially charged one-use magic items and must be reverse-engineered to be transferred into a reusable set of instructions. This will require the use of one Read Magic spell per two spell-levels, to read the text without activating its magic, and to allow a literal transcription to a non-volatile form. Once that is done, the wizard can attempt to transcode the scroll text into their own notational system as if translating spells from another wizard's spellbook (see below).

Transcribing Spells From The Spellbook Of Another

Every wizard, in the course of their career, develops their own unique and idiosyncratic system of notation, based originally on that taught to them by their original Master, but diverging further and further as they undergo their own unique experiences and develop their own mnemonic codes and so on. For this reason, the spellbook of another wizard will almost never be immediately comprehensible, and will inevitably require careful study to allow a workable translation.

Assuming that magical means of translation aren't available, the chance of being able to decipher enough of a specific wizard's code to be able to then start transliterating the spells within his or her book(s) has a base of 50%, assuming the writer of the book is of the same level as the magician attempting to decode it.

This is modified by plus or minus 5% per level of difference between the reader, and writer at the time of writing. For example, a 5th level reader trying to decode the book of a 10th level wizard (5 levels below) would have a 25% chance of success. The same 5th level reader deciphering the book of a 1st level magician (4 levels above) would have a 70% chance to succeed.

This initial period of study takes 5-30 days, after which the d100 is rolled for success. A further period of study can be employed following a failure If that fails, the spellbooks will remain incomprehensible until the reader has risen at least one level, at which time they can try again.

If the reader succeeds, they can then begin translating the instructions within the book into their own system of notation. As a rule, this will take 2d4 hours of uninterrupted concentration per page, and will, of course, require access to inks, pens, and drawing instruments. This process requires absolute precision, and is not the sort of thing it would be wise to undertake in the Wild or the tunnels of the Underdark.

The chance of successfully transcribing a spell is the same as that of deciphering the notational system, but there is no limit to the number of times a failed attempt can be repeated. Note that in general the only way to find out if you have correctly transliterated the instructions is to attempt to cast the new spell.

Decoding a spell already known is considerably easier than attempting to decode instructions to one that is completely new. Add 5% to the chance of a successful transliteration for every character level above that of the level of the known spell. For example, a 5th level decoder attempting to transliterate a known 3rd level spell would add 10% to the chance of success (2 levels difference = +10%).

Each time a spell from a particular source is successfully transliterated, add 5% to the overall chance of success, to a maximum of +25%, as the decoder becomes more and more familiar with the original system. Success is never absolutely guaranteed however, and can never rise above 99%. (This includes multiple spells taken from scrolls, assuming that all were created by the same wizard).

Campaign Bestiary: The Elves

These are some notes on the physical and cultural characteristics of the elves in my campaign.

The Elves

Physical Characteristics

Elves differ in form only slightly from Men, and non-humanoids find it easy to get them confused ("all humanoids look alike" they say). Generally speaking, the facial features and limbs of Elves appear elongated and thin compared with those of Men. Their skin colouring is always a pale ivory, and appears slightly translucent. If burned by the sun, they do turn red, but they never tan (or freckle). Their hair is straight and either pure white or pure black, without gradation. To human eyes, they tend to appear rather albinoid. They have high cheekbones, and large, slightly slanted, almond-shaped eyes with little white showing, with either pale gray or very dark blue irises.

In low light, an Elf's pupils dilate enormously, making their eyes appear completely black — they can see much better in darkness than can Men, but like most creatures do require some light to see by. They are able to discern detail over a considerable distance, with vision comparable to that of a hawk.

Their willowy build makes Elves relatively puny compared with Humans. They are, however, remarkably resilient when it comes to physical harm; they can take a surprising amount of damage without being disabled, and they heal very quickly, seldom scarring visibly unless from some terrible trauma. They seldom suffer from disease, and they are immortal unless killed by violence.

Elves are naturally nimble and graceful, and perform as a matter of course acrobatic feats that members of other races would have to train at for years to achieve.

Elf children are rare, especially among High Elves, and grow from infancy to adulthood over a period of about 60 years.

History and Culture

The Elves are a withdrawn and decadent race, the remains of what was once a highly advanced and widespread civilization. They are not native to this plane, but have lived here for many thousands of years — knowledge of their native plane is now lost, though information may still exist in some ancient archive. Their kingdoms at one time dominated the land from the farthest north to the furthest south, from east to west, and their cities were jewels in the landscape, centres of culture and scholarship. Those days are now long past, and those who are left now have little to do with the affairs of the outside world.

In the days of their highest achievement some 5,000 years ago, the Elvish civilization was a loose confederation of some two hundred kingdoms of varying size and power. There had always been a certain amount of rivalry between them, and alliances and hatreds that rose and fell over the centuries, but serious conflict was rare and seldom long-lived. However, at that time something happened to change the way of things that had stood for millennia. Rivalries gradually became more intense, and disputes more bitter. Scholars became secretive and jealous of their knowledge, which before they had shared freely. Kings and queens began to demand not just respect, but submission from their peers. Bloodshed became more common, and the monarchs began building armies, something that had never before seemed necessary. Cities became fortifications, and the inhabitants of smaller communities began to withdraw into them. The so-called Lesser Races began to become slaves, rather than the valued servants they had previously been. Elvish civilization became a dark and tyrannical thing; general conflict seemed inevitable to all, and everyone prepared for it as best they may.

The Great War, when it came, seemed at first nothing more than another petty dispute over the control of an unimportant stretch of land. However, rather than dying away the conflict intensified, with more and more kings drawn in on either side. Some took the opportunity to strike at their rivals while they were otherwise occupied, and were stricken in their turn. There came a time when it seemed that there was no place in the world where one Elf was not trying to kill another, and the scale of the war grew and grew and grew. Vast stretches of country in the south-east were laid waste, and in fact have never recovered to this day. The conflict reached a crescendo, after over three hundred years of constant warfare, in the cataclysm that created the Cursed Lands, but even after that calamity (which wiped out fully a third of the Elvish race, not to mention vast legions of their slave troops of other races) the war dragged on and on. The scale of warfare dropped, but not for want of hatred — rather because the remaining warrior-monarchs simply no longer had the resources to maintain themselves. Gradually, over another thousand years, the war continued, dying away here and flaring up there but never ending, bleeding away the vitality of the Elvish race almost to extinction.

Not every king or queen went to war voluntarily. There were many who were wantonly attacked and forced to defend themselves, and were thus drawn willy-nilly into the seemingly endless madness. There were others who, seeing the way the wind was blowing, went into hiding from their own kin and thus avoided entanglements, but those who remained successfully hidden were by far the minority.

The surviving Elves fall into one of three loose types:

High Elves

Light Elves

The first are those who, having successfully hidden themselves, managed consciously to maintain the nobility and scholarship of the old days to some extent, though by its nature such an existence results in an isolationist outlook, even in the best of times. To have remained hidden through all those long years of warfare, they must necessarily have been relatively unimportant to begin with, or else they would have been sought out. However, in these communities is the last vestige of the glory of the elder days.

Dark Elves

The second are those who managed to remain hidden by becoming utterly ruthless in their quest for anonymity. Although they keep much of their knowledge and skill, they are become absolutely xenophobic and will seldom, if ever, venture out of their own borders or allow any others in. For these Elves, a trespasser is an enemy, and thus deserving of death, which is dealt out without mercy or compunction.

Wild Elves

The third are those who, by thousands of years of constant warfare, of constantly hunting and being hunted, have become virtual savages. They are normally to be found living in small, barbaric tribal groups, having discarded any knowledge or culture unrelated to pure survival. No creature can live such a life without losing its essential humanity, and for the most part these eternal warriors are, by any normal standards, completely insane.

Magic and Technology

High Elves have regular access to highly technologically advanced equipment that to other, younger races appears magical. In fact, they employ little magic as it is understood elsewhere, preferring to employ more predictable and reliable means of achieving their aims. Elves are bought up to treat the use of these objects as normal and usual, but many of them can be extremely dangerous in unskilled hands and should be treated with great caution.

Wild Elves, for the most part, have lost the knowledge required to build or maintain the equipment their more civilized cousins take for granted. Their descent into barbarism and ignorance has resulted in the adoption of beliefs and superstitions that civilized Elves would consider ludicrous. While they may still possess items of great potency from the Ancient Days, they (like the other races of the modern world) tend to view them as magical rather than as technological objects.


High Elves are basically irreligious. They recognise the existence of powerful entities with the ability to directly manipulate physical laws, and even maintain intercourse with some of them, but they do not treat them as gods. Their "religion" is actually a system of ritual designed to foster social bonding and to facilitate the communal remembrance of significant people and events, and though it has some common elements across Elvish culture, is largely specific to each community.

Wild Elves have adopted an animistic and shamanistic religion. Each tiny clan has its own magic-maker with the responsibility of dealing with those entities they have come to view as supernatural, and in this respect (as in many others) the Wild Elves have come strongly to resemble the cultures of other primitives all over the world.

Swarms of Sabre-Toothed Piranha-Chicken!

I'm thinking smallish, about the size of a chicken, and appearing in swarms of a couple of hundred or so.

That should provide a bit of fun, with the prospect of barbecue if anybody survives.

My World, And Welcome To It

This map shows the relationship of the land-forms shown in my individual world maps, with a few place-names to help show you roughly where things are. Apart from the outlines of the continent and archipelago, it contains no geopgraphical or political detail.

It's less than 3,000 miles across, so it's substantially smaller than our own earth. It's still a lot of space to fill with adventure.

This is just one of about twenty or thirty adjoining planes on the surface of a multi-planar sphere. If you imagine a d20 or d30, this would be one face of the die. With the proper protection and life-support, it is possible to walk from one "face" to another (though border conditions are inimicable, to say the least), and the planes also interconnect via the UnderDark.

The fact that two planes are adjacent and border one another is no guarantee that they have similar life-support requirements.

There is a simple A4 PDF, designed for b&w laser printing, here. It's about 255 KB.

Spell Book record sheet

I have created an A5 PDF for tracking the contents of a character's (or NPC's) spellbooks.

In my campaign, a standard spellbook is 100 pages, and each spell requires one page per spell-level* to inscribe. Therefore, the number of spells that can be written into a spellbook depends on the levels of the spells involved.

This file includes an array of check-boxes on the front page to indicate how many pages have been filled, and rows for the spell names, spell levels (and thus pages filled by them), casting/preparation time, and material components.

Using this form, it's a simple matter to keep track of which spell is in which book, how many books the character (or NPC) needs, and... and...

And probably some other stuff.

It should be handy for the DM too, for generating spellbooks-as-loot. The sheet can just be handed to the player when they manage to get past all the traps guarding the book. Or, if they don't... then not.

The PDF can be downloaded here. It's about 289KB.

* Note: I've converted all the spells into 20 spell levels, so for normal campaigns that would be more like two pages per spell level.

Hail Sauron

I recently bought myself a copy of Hail Caesar, the ancient-to-medieval wargames rules from Warlord Games. The mechanics are heavily based on their 18th-19th century rules, Black Powder, with variations to better reflect pre-gunpowder warfare.

There is much that I like about these rule sets, not least the fact that they assume that games are played between gentlemen (or gentlewomen) and friends, and not between cads, bounders and mortal enemies. Therefore, much of the pettifoggery that inevitably leads to tiresome metagaming and rules-lawery is avoided in favour of keeping things moving and everyone having a jolly good time. They are, as much as any wargame can be, non-competitive, and I like that.

Something that all of Warlord Games' rules do is to provide lists of special features and abilities that can be applied over the base rules, to differentiate specific troop-types. They may, for example, make troops more or less difficult to shake or disrupt, or make them more ferocious in the charge while less enduring should that charge fail to destroy the enemy. The lists, as the authors point out, are exemplary rather than definitive, and players are encouraged to create their own where they deem them necessary.

The beauty of this system is that it can be trivially adapted to fantasy wargaming in the vein of Hordes of the Things* simply by creating appropriate troop abilities and applying them as required. Most things can be achieved with minimal alteration of existing ability classes, but not all — flying troops, for example, are not something the authors of Hail Caesar really felt the need to address, there being a paucity of them in ancient times (as far as we know).

Wizards on the battlefield are slightly problematic — but only slightly; for the most part they can be dealt with using existing mechanisms. In game terms, any sort of attack spell (fireballs, calling down the lightning, and so forth) are really nothing more than a more spectacular form of artillery fire, and can be dealt with as such. Things get a little bit trickier if you want to incorporate things like illusions, mind control and so forth, and care needs to be taken that such abilities aren't too earth-shakingly powerful (unless you actually want the game to degenerate into a contest between opposing wizards).

Taking mind control spells as an example: I would suggest that an attempt to take over an opposing general could be thwarted by a successful 2d6 Command Roll, on the theory that the better the general, the greater his strength of will and so forth. If the mind control is successful, the player can then issue his own orders through his puppet-general for a period determined by a d6 roll: if 1-3 is rolled, one round. Two rounds if 4 or 5 is rolled, and three rounds on a 6. Mind control is automatically stopped if the wizard unit takes any casualties.

Fear spells could make troops more vulnerable to becoming shaken and breaking either by temporarily reducing their Morale score, or by inflicting "casualties" to the same effect. Fanatical or brainless troops might be immune to fear effects.

Undead troops like skeletons and zombies are something that would require careful handling, lest they become unstoppable death-juggernauts. They probably should have a morale effect on their foes, and they would fight until destroyed rather than running away, but just how far to go with these things I'm unsure of — it needs some pretty thorough play-testing I think.

These few examples show how easy it would be to adapt the game to whatever flavour of fantasy you prefer.

The key to building any fantasy wargaming adaptation to Hail Caesar is, in the end, the agreement of all concerned. If your wargaming mates agree, then go for it and try it out. If they don't, then make whatever modifications are necessary and renegotiate the situation as friends, not as adversaries. The whole point of the game is, after all, to have fun with toy soldiers.

Phil Barker of WRG has made the 2nd Edition Hordes of the Things rules available for free PDF download (for personal use only).

In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of hideous post-apocalyptic mutants...

I've been developing a yen, of late, to run a brief space-opera-ish game of some sort. I don't know why, exactly; it's just the sort of thing I like to do from time to time. It's probably because I was re-reading some old campaign logs from a Space Hero game I ran some years ago. I thought that I'd do it using the Mutant Future rules by Daniel Proctor and Ryan Denison.

From Wikipedia:
Mutant Future is a post-apocalyptic, science fantasy role-playing game created by Daniel Proctor and Ryan Denison and published by Goblinoid Games. The game is compatible with Labyrinth Lord, which emulates the rules of classic era Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) using the Open Game License (OGL) from Wizards of the Coast. The game is thematically patterned after genre predecessors such as Metamorphosis Alpha and its more widely known and published follow-up, Gamma World.
There's a lot that I like about Mutant Future. Being based on old-school D&D systems makes it easy to run and play; everyone is already familiar with the basics, and there aren't too many gotchas to trip us up. It uses the standard six character stats, except that Wisdom is renamed Willpower to more accurately reflect its use in the game.

I really like its character creation and advancement too (though in truth, character advancement isn't likely to be too relevant in a short-form campaign).

Unlike in D&D, characters in Mutant Future base their hit-points directly on their CON score, getting one hit-die per point of CON (hit-dice vary depending on species; a standard un-mutated human gets d8). That hit-point total won't ever change with level unless CON changes. As a character rises in level, they get one of the following benefits:

  1. +1 melee damage (10%)
  2. +1 attack per round (10%)
  3. +1 to a randomly-determined characteristic (80%)

I guess, for a straight space-opera game, you could just ignore the mutations for PCs. Then again, they might be fun. On the other hand, that opens it up to the potential for psionics, which I loathe in roleplaying games. On the other other hand, some of the Mental Mutations are pretty cool. On the other other other hand — psionics. Bleeuch.


 In our Traveller campaign, our main mode of transportation (apart from our stolen commandeered liberated ship) is an increasingly battered stolen commandeered liberated air/raft.

We don't actually use miniatures in the game, but I thought, nevertheless, that we really needed a model of our trusty air/raft, so I made one.

It started life as a Hot Wheels toy that I picked up for a couple of bucks from the Warehouse. I took it to bits, filled in the wheel-wells, put it back together and gave it a new (old) coat of paint.

We really ought to give it a wash one of these days. The thing is a disgrace.

Now I'll have to get some 15mm figures to turn into passengers for it. Fortunately, 15mm sci-fi figures are a lot easier to come by these days than they used to be.

By the way... why is there a slash in air/raft? I've never been able to figure that out.

Plastic Riflemen

The 1/72 (20mm) plastic Peninsular War British set from HäT includes a bunch of spare heads, some wearing the Waterloo-era Belgic shako, and others (more useful from my point of view) wearing the tapered Light Infantry shako with the bugle badge of the 95th Rifles.

That makes the set much more useful, since with a simple head-swap, a bayonetectomy and a green paint-job instead of red, I can field some skirmishers to screen my nicely ranked line companies. It also increases the wargame-worthy poses in the set quite substantially, though there are still a reasonable number that I wouldn't use, myself.

There are some detail differences between the uniforms of the Line regiments and the Rifles apart from the different shakos; the Rifles should be wearing pantaloons and spats rather than the cuffed trousers these figures have on. Their jacket cuffs should be pointed, and the jacket buttons are differently arranged. Fortunately, I am not anal enough for any of that to matter to me, so all I need to do is paint them to suit.

I flailed around for quite a while trying to find an appropriate dark green for the Rifle uniform; Most of my Vallejo paints are rather too camouflagey in tone, quite unlike the dark bottle-green the Rifles wore. I eventually settled on this one: Vallejo Game Color 72.147 (Heavy Blackgreen). It's not perfect, but it looks OK to my eye, and very much better than any of the camo greens I'd tried.

More terrain

I've been fiddling around with some more wargaming terrain pieces, in this case, a low grassy hill with an impassable rocky section on one side.

The body of the hill is made from laminated MDF, carved to shape with a belt sander. The rocks are my old favourite, pine bark chips. The pine trees are bits of tapered chenille snipped to size and painted. The grass is various grades of railway modellers' flock.

For my next hills, I want to try using a sand mould to cast them in expanding polyurethane foam. It should be fairly straightforward... but things seldom are, alas.

Dices Make Throg Brane Hurting

I'd quite like some of these dice. I have no idea who makes them, or where to get them, but if I ever find out, I'll buy some. If they're not too expensive, because they're really just a novelty, and novelty wears off, so I don't want to drop too much loot on something that I won't care about after playing with them for a couple of hours.

I'd really like to see someone trying to play one of those massive dice-pool games with these. That's something that would amuse me... for a little while.

18mm "Man at War" Napoleonics

I've bought myself some more toy soldiers, because I clearly didn't have enough toy soldiers. It's not entirely my fault; I was led astray by Evil Companions. Honest.

Anyway. I bought a box of Waterloo-era Napoleonic British infantry by Man at War for their "Napoleon at War" game — which may have been a bad idea, when it comes to mixing and matching them with figures from other manufacturers. They're described as "15/18mm scale" and measure 18mm from foot to eyebrows, which would make them giants of men among actual 15mm figures. Never mind; if it comes to the crunch I'll call them Guards or something.

As far as sculpting goes, they're not too bad. Not the best I've seen, but far from being the worst. The picture shows an unpainted and painted version of the same figure (almost the same — the unpainted guy is a flank company soldier, with the swallows-nest epaulettes, while the painted one is from a centre company. The epaulettes are the only real difference... though the flank company guy seems a trifle taller).

The figures don't need a great deal of cleaning up, but there is some to be done. They're moulded in a very soft alloy, and a lot of them arrived with their muskets wrapped around themselves like cthulhoid tentacles, so they need to be carefully straightened out. Also, there tends to be quite a bit of roughness around the somewhat massively chunky bayonets that needs to be trimmed off. As usual, there are some visible mould lines to be smoothed away, and that's about it for the pre-painting clean-up.

The test figure I did (to work out a reasonable production-line paint process) painted up pretty easily. The detail on the figures is well delineated without being too chunky, which eases painting enormously — tiny figures with in-scale lacing, frogging and what-not can be a bit of a trial to paint for the wargames table, in my opinion; I like a bit of "colouring book" help to speed things along.

The box includes plastic bases designed to hold 4 figures, for the Napoleon at War game system. I may replace those with MDF bases, since I prefer square-cornered bases to rounded ones for formation-based games like this. Ideally I'd like to mount them on 2mm MDF, but if need be, I'll go to 3mm.

Movement, Encumbrance, and Material Components

To quote Hack & Slash: On Movement
"Now the real world movement rates are very slow. Several people by themselves have done 'tests' where they map their environment or attempt to cautiously move around in these environments. In every case they say, 'I am able to walk so much faster then the listed rate'. They then reach the conclusion that the listed rate is wrong. In every single case none of the following is considered. 
What you can usually see in the dungeon, if you're lucky
The environment is cramped and pitch black. The ground is uneven in the best case. The light is torchlight. Mapping is done with either parchment and charcoal or an ink pen. There are no hash marks or clear markers to indicate distance, it must be measured. Groups range in size from 4 to 12. Many are uneducated hirelings. Many are wearing metal armour and carrying heavy gear. Movement must be coordinated and silent. The rate is an abstraction, looking around corners, stopping to listen (and having to get everyone silent first) and quiet hurried discussion about what to do make up for the time spent moving slightly faster down an open corridor. 
When you look at real world examples of these things the movement rate is much more realistic. Getting people in line and moving orderly is time consuming. Exploration of caves tends to take much longer (with modern equipment) than people assume, and we know they aren't trapped, filled with demons and monsters, and actively inimical to your survival."
I know I don't take as much notice as I should of party movement and timekeeping; it often feels like pettifogging book-keeping to no purpose, like being strict about encumbrance.

However, a large part of old-school D&D style gaming is resource management and exploration, and to play that sort of game properly you really do need to know exactly what resources you have to manage, and how far and how fast you can get those resources to where they'll be useful (i.e. the massive piles of treasure).

I've been pondering for a long time on ways to make keeping track of encumbrance as painless as possible, because I know that if it puts players to any trouble at all, 99% of them will just try to ignore it. And I think I have a workable solution, though it will mean a little bit of design work on my part.

I'm thinking of separate sheets — index cards, maybe — for each container the characters are carrying, each card marked with the container's dimensions and a number of encumbrance "slots" that can be filled with Stuff. To this end, I'll largely hark back to Gygax's old AD&D equipment encumbrance values, since they took into account not only the item's weight, but also its size and general awkwardness. There will still have to be a certain amount of common sense employed (no putting barrels into belt pouches, for example), but in general it should work out easily enough. Plus, having a bunch of cards to sort through for all your packs, pouches, sacks and porters  should neatly represent the problems of having to find that thing you knew you had but just can't quite remember where you put it...

On a semi-related note, I think I'm going to return to the idea of having set material components for spells again, a la AD&D, rather than just hand-waving the matter. Again, it's to do with the resource management aspect of the game. If you don't have the components available for the spell you want for the situation at hand, what do you do? Try and substitute something else and hope it works? Or find another plan?

Borodino 2012

This weekend, over two days, the Christchurch Cavaliers (a local wargaming club) staged a massive re-fight of the Battle of Borodino in 28mm, using a somewhat modified version of the Black Powder rules.

I only saw part of the last couple of hours. The photos here (taken with my camera, so not great quality) really don't do justice to the awesome splendour of this game.

By the time I left, things were looking decidedly dicey for the Russians, with the almost total collapse of the centre-left and the loss of the Grand redoubt.

There are a couple of much better reports at Craig's Wargaming Blog and Rebel Barracks, with much more information and better pictures.

Painted Bones

I've finished painting the initial batch of Reaper Bones (plastic) figures I bought, and now am waiting with great anticipation for the vast avalanche resulting from their wildly successful Kickstarter.

There is absolutely no way I'm going to get all of that lot painted before I die.

Click on the images, if you so choose, to see larger versions.

Kobolds... not the greatest sculpts ever made, but suitable enough for Mass Mook Attacks.
Great Worms — from left to right, sand-worm, ice-worm and that old favourite, purple worm.

Rats. Sculpted by Sandra Garrity.

Mystery Thief

Clickupon to embloatify
I found this figure when I was fossicking about in amongst my vast dunes of unpainted stuff recently. I don't know who the sculptor was, or which company produced it, but I think it was Grenadier, some time in the early- to mid-eighties.

The standard of sculpting isn't particularly high, even by the standards of the time, but it's not terrible either, and I quite like it. I have a preference for gaming figures that are depicted in the "moment of repose" between actions; I tend to dislike figures sculpted in action poses, especially some of the extremely exaggerated poses that seem to be in vogue with some sculptors.

The paint-job was a real quickie, as you can see, but it will suffice for my purposes.

Advanced Accountancy for Spacemen

This evening our Traveller campaign episode revolved around yet another mis-jump, keeping a ship-load of refugees from going stir-crazy with a series of inspirational and educational lectures on a variety of subjects, and eventually negotiating a good price with a TL4 night-soil collector for the ship's sewage. Very little shooting, and minimal innocent collateral damage from what shooting there was.

Rocks, rocks, rocks

Click on the images to see bloatier versions

I've just finished making a bit of gaming terrain, in the form of rocky outcrops for a desert environment. The "rocks" themselves are bits of pine bark looted from a local playground, glued to shaped 3mm MDF bases, painted, and the ground textured with model railway ballast and grass flock.

The bark does an excellent job of mimicking sedimentary rock like sandstone, and it's as cheap as it could possibly be (i.e. free). It's very absorbent, so it pays to seal it before painting — I used the cheapest white spray primer I could find, which worked just fine.

The dinosaurs in these photos are cheap — very cheap — plastic toys from a local Dollar Store; eight velociraptors for a buck. They're cast in pretty lurid colours, but with a coat of paint they came up pretty well.

The party could be in a bit of trouble here. There are three more velociraptors out there... somewhere.

Broke my cherry... Kickstarter cherry, that is.

Reaper Miniatures have a kickstarter running at the moment to get a whole lot of their metal range into plastic production under their Bones range.

I've kicked in enough to qualify for the "Vampire" level, which means that at the moment I'm in for about 150 figures for substantially less than a buck apiece, with the option to pledge more for some bigger figures like dragons, giants, Great Cthulhu, and so forth.

Not that I actually need any more unpainted figures, you understand. I just couldn't resist.

As of writing, the Kickstarter still has 6 days left to run. If you are, like me, a pathetic grovelling gaming mini junkie, I highly recommend you jump on the bandwagon immediately — the more the merrier!

Reaper Bones - my first look

I'm a sucker for miniatures. I buy all sorts that I know that I will probably never actually use in a game. I'm also kind of a cheapskate — admittedly, a cheapskate with poor impulse-buying control, but nevertheless.

I suppose it's because when I first started buying gaming figurines, they tended to cost less than a buck apiece, and figures designed especially for wargaming were often as low as 20 cents. That makes modern metal figures seem very, very expensive to me, and when it comes to companies like Games Workshop, ludicrously expensive.

Reaper Miniatures have a very extensive range, mostly of pretty good quality, and for a 21st century company, their prices are fairly reasonable. You're still looking at six to ten yankee dollars for a 25-28mm metal figure though, which is a lot when you want to buy a whole horde of orcs or something.

They've recently started producing much cheaper plastic versions of some of their range. The plastic figure range is called Bones, and I decided to try them out. I bought 3 of the Great Worm (77006), Rats (77016 — you get 6 in a pack), and 5 packs of Kobolds (77010 — also 6 to a pack).

The figures are made of a white polymer of some kind, which is bloody hard to photograph effectively. The Rats and Kobolds, shown here, I eventually laid on the platen of my scanner to get an image that didn't blow out the highlights.

The detail appears a bit softer than I'd expect from metal figures, but to what extent that's due to the modelling, and how much to the nature of the medium I don't know. The detail on the Great Worm (below) looks a lot sharper, but then it's also a much larger figure.

The kobolds, by B. Siens, have been mastered in quite flat poses, which tends to be a feature of injection-moulded plastic figures due to the issues the process has with undercuts — attaining a well-rounded, dynamic figure often requires some pretty tricky multi-part mould-making, and that (of course) increases the production cost.

The Rats are by Sandra Garrity, and are pretty good; the proportions and the three poses provided are suitably ratty.

The Great Worm is decently monstrous, and it's with really large figures like this that you stand to save a LOT of money. It costs $US2.99 in plastic, and I doubt that you'd get much change from three or four times that amount if it were made in metal — plus it would weigh a ton, and that means paying extra freight as well.
Of the Bones figures I have thus far, I've only painted the Great Worm, shown here with an old WotC metal figure (circa 2001, I think) for scale. The Worm does stand on its own moulded base, but it's slightly out of balance, and I glued it to a honking great steel washer for the sake of stability.

Reaper say that you can slap paint straight on Bones figures without undercoating, and I certainly didn't have any trouble with the Vallejo acrylics that are my preferred paints these days.

I'm pretty happy with what I've seen of the Bones range so far. I don't think metal figures are going to disappear overnight, but I do think they're going to be reduced to more of a niche market within the next few years, if only because of their expense. A cheaper alternative like these allows me to buy more figures, which means I can throw larger hordes of mooks at my players, and that can't be a bad thing.

A Tragic Death in the Party

Alas, poor Pansy died of STENCH after being sprayed by a hideous mutant garbage-skunk and then failing more than six saving throws in a row. They left most of her in a cast-iron bathtub, surrounded by great hills of trash, a  few goblin corpses and lots of giant cockroaches.

Now the survivors are riding in the hopper of a biomechanical elephant-mantis — to where? They don't know. Away from here, and that's good enough for now.

Amazing terrain boards

This guy, Bruce Weigle, makes the most incredible wargaming terrain boards. You can see lots more of them here.

I'm in awe, and hang my head in shame at my own pathetic attempts.

They must be bastards of things to store though.

Semovente 105/25

This is the 15mm (1/100 scale) Italian Semovente 105/25 assault gun from Battlefront.

The painting of the camouflage pattern has not been entirely successful; I may have to re-do it one of these days.

From tiny acorns...

I've got sick of either shivering my nuts off down in my overflowing-with-junk workroom during the winter months, or spending an arm and a leg on electricity to heat it, or just avoiding it entirely until the weather warms up again.

If you will observe the terrible, grainy, fuzzy picture to the right, you will see the beginnings of my answer to the problem: a portable modelling and painting station.

At present it's pretty much just an MDF box with a drop-down lid doubling as a workbench, and a handle to carry it by. I have great plans for it though: I intend to install a bunch of racks and drawers in the back for holding stuff, and a pair of lamps on a hinged support to extend out over the workspace and light stuff up.

The racks and shelves are pretty straightforward, but the lights aren't so much. I have no electrical skills whatsoever, and fear that if I try to wire up the light sockets and switch and plug, I will instantly explodiate and burn down my house. I have a couple of cheap clip-on lamps that can serve as a stop-gap measure, but they're rather clumsy and not ideal, so I shall have to see if I can find a cheap and friendly sparky to do the Magic 'Lectric stuff for me.

Insectoid warrior critter

Here we have an insect-man with a whole lot of sharp things, ready to stick them into some other critter at the drop of a hat.

I drew it for no particular reason, but now that it's here I can think of no good reason why these guys shouldn't start causing plenty of trouble for my hapless party just as soon as possible. I suppose I'd better start thinking about what sort of stats an emotionless insectoid killing machine should have.

Demon-slaying after-effects — a visual aid

This demonstrates admirably one of the sorts of special effects I was imagining when I did my table of demon-slaying results.

I have no idea where this scene comes from, but I'm guessing one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, maybe? Because of the overalls.


In the northern part of my usual campaign region, there is a great — one might almost say grand, if one had no shame — canyon that penetrates in many areas right through to the Abyss.

It's like a summer camp for paladins, because all kinds of demonic critters crawl up out of there all the time.

That's it, in the centre-right of the map.

(You can see a much larger version of the map here — it's about 980KB).

Thief's-Eye View

Getting from one side of a city to the other across the rooftops would be pretty easy in a place like this, assuming the tiles didn't keep shooting out from under your feet. It would be pretty annoying for the people trying to sleep in the bedrooms below though; it's bad enough having cats racketing about on one's roof in the middle of the night, and I expect human-sized critters would make even more noise.

I'm not sure if this scene is Chinese or Japanese, but it recalls strongly the excellent night rooftop chase scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Achtung! Cthulhu!

Call of Cthulhu is theoretically one of my favourite roleplaying games of all time. Why theoretically? Because in actual fact I've played it hardly ever, and GM'd it never. It's one of those games I have many good intentions for, which never get realized.

From the Modiphius site:
"Achtung! Cthulhu brings you a two-fisted wartime roleplaying game setting for Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds, packed full of fiendish Nazi scientists, terrifying ancient mysteries, legendary German war machines, desperate partisans, gun-toting paratroopers, determined investigators, and enough writhing tentacles to pack ten Reichstags. 
"Discover the secret history of World War Two - stories of the amazing heroism which struggled to overthrow a nightmare alliance of science and the occult, of frightening inhuman conspiracies from the depths of time, and the unbelievable war machines which were the product of Nazi scientific genius - and how close we all came to a slithering end!"
Since I also love pulp action full of jut-jawed heroes and dastardly Nazis, how could I possibly not love this idea? I obviously couldn't.

Whether the reality lives up to the potential, I have absolutely no idea. I know nothing more about Achtung! Cthulhu than what I've read and seen on Modiphius. Cool cover though.

Note: I notice they've wimped out and replaced the wreathed swastika in the eagle's claws with an old Imperial maltese cross. It's not surprising I suppose, assuming they want to be able to sell anything in Europe; apparently the Germans get very shirty about having swastikas on things these days... all part of their official policy of papering over history so that nobody makes any hurtful remarks about it.

Another Note: You can download Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu quickstart rules PDF here. It's free.

Terrific idea

Check out this idea over at Underworld Kingdoms for building megadungeon maps by overlaying a whole bunch of building plans — castles and so forth.

This is the sort of thing that computers and the internet have made trivially easy. It could have been done back in Ye Olden Tymes with overlay cels and what-not, but it would definitely NOT have been easy or straightforward.

This sort of layout looks a lot more like real building than most megadungeon mapping. Structures that accrete over ages don't tend to have any overarching design, and they don't generally conform to a convenient grid, having been tacked on to and built over existing construction.

This would probably drive any obsessively accurate mappers up the wall. Muahahahahahahaaaaa!!!!!

Terrain Experiments

I've been playing around with building some modular terrain pieces, primarily for micro-scale WW2 games, but ideally also to be usable for non-genre/scale-specific skirmish gaming as well.

The "rocks" are chunks of pine bark lifted from a local playground, glued to 3mm MDF along with some grit of varying coarseness. I've used it before to make some menhirs and dolmens, and it paints up pretty well to represent weathered sandstone.

The forest is a mixture of model railway landscaping flock and clump-foliage on a 3mm MDF base. The pines are pieces snipped from lengths of chenille wire, brushed with dilute PVA and scrubbed a bit to coarsen its texture (in its new-bought state it's very soft and fuzzy). They're OK, but not perfect; I'm still looking for a better method there. The bushes are just pieces of clump-foliage torn into small pieces and glued in place sparsely enough to allow vehicles and infantry bases to be placed among them.

I've kept the vegetation clustered more around the edges; in theory, it represents a homogeneous patch of forest and scrub, but in practice, on the wargames table, that's not very practical.

The building is made of card, from a pattern I downloaded from somewhere years ago, printed via my inkjet and touched up here and there with a little paint. It's mounted on 0.5mm steel, with a little flock to stand in for plantings.

The vehicles are (left to right) a Vickers Medium Mk.II from Scotia, a Rolls-Royce armoured car from Heroics & Ros, and a Cruiser A9 from GHQ.

Carden-Loyd MG Carrier (15mm)

These are some of my 15mm (1:100 scale) 3d-printed 1930s British Carden-Loyd MG carriers, printed by Shapeways in FUD resin. This reall...