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.

Maybe it's not for me after all


I started painting these guys... how long ago? Some time ago. Somehow, considering the time elapsed between starting and finishing this lot, I doubt that a complete Peninsular War British wargaming army is in my future unless I win Lotto and buy one ready-made.

They're soft plastic 20mm figures from HäT. They're not bad for the purpose, and cheap compared with metals (or the hard plastic 28mm figures from the Perries and the like) but out of the 60-odd figures on the sprues, these 16 are about all that I found generally useful; the rest are all in non-wargame-worthy poses and pretty much useless to me. I would rather have just had four sprues entirely of marching dudes, and one of sergeants, officers, standard bearers, musicians and so forth.

Spell trading — collect the whole set! (No, don't)

For one reason or another (mainly from reading lots of Jack Vance and Terry Pratchett) I've always thought of wizards in my campaigns as being generally mutually suspicious, competitive, and often positively hostile to each other. That's fine as far as campaign background goes, but it's not really usually very workable as an intra-party vibe if players want their characters to survive for long. Cooperation is almost always a better survival strategy than competition.

Players will often want to combine their magical resources, so that there's a degree of redundancy in their spell-books. That's a good idea from a practical point of view, but it doesn't fit well with the campaign background.

It's a simple matter, however, to discourage on-the-fly spell trading without arbitrarily forbidding it. All you have to do is make it a long, difficult, expensive and risky process, and it will happen rarely, if at all.

 In my own campaign, I see magic-users' spellbooks as being like a cross between the Lindisfarne gospels and the Voynich manuscript; ornately illuminated and written in a unique personal code.

It's possible to copy a spell from one wizard's book into another, but it will require a whole lot of Read Magic spells, access to expensive inks and what-not, and plenty of time — at least 1d4 days per spell level. Also, there's a small chance (actual % depending on the ratio of caster and spell level) that the process will destroy the original, like reading a spell from a scroll. Even that tiny risk, along with having to surrender control of their spellbook for so long, makes most players unwilling to freely share their spells with others. However, it does make it possible for MU characters to expand their repertoire from found/stolen material as long as they're prepared to devote the time and resources to doing so.

Captain! We have to do that thing! To avoid the thing!

Roll 1d10 3 times to find out what you have to do to avert the imminent space-crisis!

1Quick! We have to...decouplethe...plasmaconduit
2invertnavigationmodule
3polarizetargetingemmitter
4depolarizewarp-fieldstabilizer
5deactivatepolaronarray
6reprogramlife-supportassembly
7realignfuelcore
8reconfiguresensornacelle
9reinitializeentertainmentmonitor
10disassembledatabanklimiter

I'm not great at coming up with startrekky jargon; I'm sure you could fill the table with much better stuff.

Beyond the Big Four character classes

I've been angsting on and off about how to allow players to customise their character classes without tipping everything out of whack. Not that it's really been much of an issue thus far; most of my players seem to be perfectly happy with one of the base classes. However, I like to have options available.

I've been using add-on sub-classes which tack on to one of the basic classes, adding abilities and increasing the experience required to rise in level thereby. I think the concept is OK, but it still straitjackets players somewhat, and there's no real consistency in terms of abilities gained to XP required.

Ancient Dragon magazine article to the rescue! In Dragon #109, an article appeared called Customized classes — How to put together one-of-a-kind characters by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh.

In it he proposes a system whereby one begins with a basic human-equivalent nobody, without any particular abilities at all. This mannequin begins with an XP progression that appears ludicrously low: only 400 XP required to get to Level 2, and 75,000 to reach the giddy heights of Level 10.  The catch is that, assuming it survived to get to 10th level, it would still be a pretty useless character.

What you do is, you start adding abilities to the mannequin — things like Hit Dice (from d4 to d10), maximum level, armour and weapons skills, spell-casting (and maximum spell level capability), and even weird species-specific abilities like flight or gills tough skin or whatever.

Each of these things increases the XP requirements for level increase by a certain percentage. For example, if you choose d10 hit dice, you're already at 200% of your base mannequin's XP requirements. Add the ability to use any armour and any weapon, and that's another +125%. If you want to be able to amass HD until 12th level before dropping to a standard per-level increase, that's another 40%. If you want to increase your combat skill every other level, that's another 100%.

By now, your 400 XP to reach 2nd level has turned into 400 x 465% = 1,860 XP. And basically you've recreated a bog-standard Fighter. (Note that there's more stuff to be included, such as saves, special skills and allowed magic items and so forth, I just thought I might as well stop there.)

Crabaugh was writing to players of Basic D&D, though there's an editorial note to the effect that it could be used to slightly modify AD&D classes as well. His system is not completely suited to my own Swords & Wizardry-based campaigns, but it wouldn't require too much tinkering to make it fit, and I think I'll give it a go.

What's the worst that could happen? Actually no, don't answer that. I can already imagine.

Yet Another Hill

 I got a cheap 30-watt foam-cutting hot wand from China a few days ago, and tried it out by carving up a foam off-cut into another hill. ...