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Friday, 12 May 2017

Unknown Armies Third Edition arrived, and I'm feeling old.

So I backed the Unknown Armies Third Edition Kickstarter, but to save on shipping I had the books sent to my family in the US; between my parents, my sister-in-law and my wife, travelling relatives brought them home for me.



It all looks very nice: three reasonably slim hardbacks in a slipcase that folds out to be a GM's screen. Pretty cool. Book one is your player's handbook: character creation, magic schools, archetypes, etc. Book two is your GM's book: campaign creation, setting info, antagonist groups, and so on. And book three is just a big dip-into-able book full of weird potential setting elements. I can see opening it to a random page to find something to add to a game.

I initially thought that this would be daunting -- three books, after all, and we're not talking about D&D where a lot of that is library content. But the total page count is still only about 450 pages, which is more than second edition but not that much more. I don't know why I find big games daunting, but at the moment I think that I just couldn't commit to drilling down and really learning a complicated new game system.

Of course, UA 3rd ed. isn't really complicated, and it isn't really new. Still, the mechanics have undergone a lot of change from previous editions. Personally, I approve. Previous editions of UA had a pretty good dice system at heart, but it suffered from being neither one thing nor the other: it was simple enough to produce a lot of vague moments where the GM had to make on-the-fly decisions but still complicated enough that you constantly had to look things up, especially during combat, which had lots of finicky spot rules. It worked not too badly, but there were times when it could be very frustrating.

This version is even more slimmed-down, with stats and skills gone and the bit of the system that was most distinctive, the madness meters, moved front and centre. The base skills that everyone has now derived from how Hardened you are on a meter. So if you are very hardened to Violence, for instance, you're good at Struggle, but correspondingly bad at Connect, the skill that lets you relate to regular folks. This is combined with a catchall skill system, Identity, which is a little bit like a Cover in Sorcerer if you ever played that. Basically, you have a catchall skill like "grizzled private eye" or "wealthy socialite" that covers the skills appropriate to the job or role. You can have more than one, so I could have "fry cook" and "blood magician" and maybe even another. It works, and I think it patches the otherwise odd outcomes the otherwise loose skill system might produce (like, just going off the madness meter system, you can't be both physically fit and good at dodging, which is bizarre, but if it really matters to you you can stick one or the other in your identity). So you get the benefits of simplicity with fewer of the problems of occasional bits of detail. Overall I'm pleased with the changes.

In addition to a revised core system and some helpful campaign-generation advice (which is the biggest challenge of UA, I think), you get the other stuff you'd expect in a new edition of the game.  There are new magic schools and new archetypes, which are cool, although I'm not sure why magic schools are all new but the archetypes are about 50/50. They presumably guessed correctly that next to nobody would buy 3rd edition who didn't already have 2nd, so ... Anyway, not a whole lot has changed in the way these mechanics work, except that they're rolled into the Identity system, so that if you're an adept or an avatar, that's one of your Identities, one that lets you cast spells or use channels but not do a lot else. This goes a long way toward making magic-types not as capable as their non-magical counterparts, something that was sorely needed in previous editions.

And perhaps I could. I gave up my last UA game because I was badly burned out, but that was years ago. Perhaps it's lain fallow in my mind long enough. We'll see. I started reading it expecting to think "well, I loved this game but this huge new edition that cost $125 is not for me," but actually ... maybe.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Skeletal giants from pound store toys!

As is my wont, I was in a pound shop some months ago. I saw some skeleton warriors that I thought would be fun; they were much too large for regular skeletons but I thought they might make fun architectural details or skeletal giants. Then I forgot about them, as I do.

A little while ago I started putting together an undead army for Dragon Rampant. I remembered that I had these guys and dug them out to make a unit of Elite Foot consisting of skeletal giants or ogres. 

Here they are in the bare plastic. You can see some more shots and a discussion of the models at the Fantasy Toy Soldiers blog, which is also a great way to waste an hour. 


I primed them with grey car primer, then drybrushed them up, first with a lighter grey and then with white. Here's what one of the drybrushed models looks like: 


As you can see, the drybrush basically takes care of the highlights. 

I then applied an overall sepia wash to the model; since they're mostly bone, this took care of the colour. Here's what one of the models looks like after the first wash, with base colours applied to his weapon and base: 


The 80s GW skeleton gives you a sense of scale. 

I then touched up the rest of the model, highlighting up to VMC Ivory, gave a black-brown wash to the weapon, added some rust and things and decorated the base. Once all three were done, they looked like this: 


Not bad at all! The sculpting is a little rough, the plastic is a little bendy, but I paid £1 for about 15 of them, so I figure I'm well ahead of the game here. 

I love finding and adapting these kinds of models. It means that I have a unit that's unique, which is cool, and it demonstrates that you don't have to spend a lot of money to have something that's eye-catching on the tabletop. I've spoken before about this principle, but as silly as it sounds it's actually something I feel fairly strongly about. 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Salute 2017

I don't get to go to Salute every year for scheduling reasons, but this year I was able to make it! I didn't get as many photos as I'd like, but I can give you an impression of what I did, anyway.

I arrived early and got a pretty good place near the head of what soon turned out to be a long line:


I picked up some preorders, snagged as many free goodies as I could and made some small impulse buys, but my main goal for the early art of the day was to play in a game refighting the little-known 1239 Battle of Lodi Vecchio. It's all part of a larger project about gaming and history. I use elements of gaming in some of my classes, so the subject interests me, and it helped that the rules were the simple and fun Lion Rampant, which I knew a leetle about.

Players were divided into teams: my partner played the defenders of the town while I played the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II hurrying to reinforce them. Ranked against as were the forces of the Cardinal of Milan.

Close-up shot of the ruins of Lodi Vecchio. 

The defenders' position, looking out toward the Milanese approach. 

Muslim archers of the Imperial army hurry to take up positions in the church. 

Led by the Cardinal (with the mace in the centre), a unit of Milanese knights crash into the Imperial flank. 

A lone knight of Lodi makes a heroic charge against the Cardinal's horse. 

Imperial knights drive off the remnant of the Milanese flank attack
-- but have they left the altar (behind them on the right) undefended? 

Yes, they have! Enterprising Milanese knights dash through the gap and destroy the altar. 
It was a close-run thing, and confirmed for me that I really like the Dragon/Lion Rampant games. There were moments where I looked at it and thought "welp, we've lost," and then moments later when I thought "well, I guess we've won," but in the end our opponents clutched it out. Well-played to them, and thanks to the team for running the game so smoothly.

After that I went back to wandering around the show, ran into some friends, took some photos, bought some more stuff, did a speed-painting competition (didn't win), etc. Here are some more random photos from the show:

This Open Combat "battlepit" had a fun little dragon-skeleton terrain piece. 


I really liked this Animal Farm board, which was a neat spin on the Russian Revolution theme. 

OSHIRO produces beautiful board. In other news, fire hot, water wet. 

Kallistra had a WWI table set up; great bird's-eye-view appearance.  


The rule does seem to be that Infinity tables are always bright and colourful. I like it. 

Foundry had some Congo demos going on. 

A fantastic Frostgrave game using models from every imaginable source, none of which I photographed, apparently. 

Anvil Industry was running demos in the back of a huge armoured 4x4.

This Falklands game by Jersey Privateers took place atop a massive sculpted cliff.


I believe there were multiple games going on on this Jurassic Park board. 

A cool demo game showing apes attacking London, from Crooked Dice.


Fantasy WWI game Panzerfauste had this fun table set up.
I came away with a big pile of miniatures, of course, but as always I managed to avoid getting into a whole new thing, which I think is the thing that usually leaves Salute-goers broke. Of course, this may simply be because I am already into everything there is. Look for some of my Salute purchases painted up over the next few months, with luck.

I wanted to give a special shout-out to Bad Squiddo Games. The last time I was at Salute, in 2015, Annie had just released the first in her line of Believable Female Miniatures, which was sold out by the time I got there -- a sign of things to come, as it happened. Now she has dozens of models in her range, plus all kinds of other stuff, and is the best one-stop shop for models of female characters. I got a chance to look at the sculpts for her next Ghosts of Gaia Kickstarter, and I actually think they look even better than the last ones. Anyway, my point is that in just two short years she's built something really impressive, and that's a huge testament to the effect hard work, ingenuity and a really good idea can have.

Anyway, that was Salute, and if you think my workbench was covered with figures before, you should see it now. Things are still busy here, and I have some work projects I can't really talk about, so I can't promise that future updates will go back to being regular, but hopefully I should have a few big miniatures posts between now and BOYL in July.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The cautionary tale of Ghazghkull Thraka

If you've played Warhammer 40,000 or one of its derivatives, you probably know who Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka is. He's the Orkiest Ork of them all, a big tough dude with a metal skull and a humorous sidekick. He's appeared in various iterations of the game in various forms, getting bigger and tougher with every incarnation. Here's the first Ghazghkull model I encountered:


This guy still remains the definitive Ghazghkull in my mind, even though (or perhaps because) the current one is much larger and less Adams-y.
Still got the metal skull, though.

Ghazghkull has the controversial distinction of being, together with his nemesis Commissar Yarrick, one of the first special characters ever created for Warhammer 40,000 -- that is, one of the first character models to have unique rules rather than simply being an example of his type. For instance, Marneus Calgar's stats were published in a much earlier White Dwarf, but he's just a Space Marine officer who's had his arms ripped off and replaced them, as one does, with power fists bristling with Jokaero digital weapons. Original Marneus is an example of what a Space Marine commander is like. Ghazghkull is Ghazghkull.

But, interestingly, Ghazghkull started life as just that. Let's take a look at his first appearance.

Ghazghkull's first appearance was in White Dwarf 134, where he was the leader of Andy Chambers' Goff Ork army. In the article, Chambers talks about creating the character's steel skull and psychic abilities by rolling randomly on the tables in the then-forthcoming Ork book 'Ere We Go.




So original Ghazghkull was just like Marneus Calgar -- an example of what kind of character you could create to lead your armies. Then, like so many designers of games, the people who made 40K stuck their own characters into the narrative for funsies.

Over the years, though, the 40K universe has become very focused on these characters. I don't just mean in game terms -- by high 2nd edition, that ship had already sailed. I mean that, largely because of the success of the Horus Heresy novels, people are very invested in the personalities and fates of the various characters of the franchise. And, of course, these characters have models and appear in the game. For many people, the idea that "my guy" could be as important as Fabius Bile or whoever is bizarrely alien.

And I think that's a bit of a shame. Andy Chambers seems like a very cool guy, and Ghazghkull is a fun character. But he's Andy's guy, and Badlug is my guy, and I'm fond of Badlug, dim-witted, status-obsessed narcissist though he may be.

Badlug still has a lot of payments to make on that tank.
I often refer to this as the Owlbear Problem. If you know about the history of D&D, you know that Gary Gygax created the owlbear, and other monsters, by repurposing cheap plastic dinosaur toys. And again, I love owlbears as much as the next guy. Hootroar, and all that. But I do think that something was lost when we looked at Gygax's example and instead of thinking "hey, I too will make fun monsters from the things I find in my daily life," we thought "gosh, I sure like owlbears." Obviously in a perfect world we would do both.

I don't think that any of the designers who do this intended that result. I think they intended to show that it was fun to make your guys and fun to use certain tools to do so, and they put their own characters in books because that's fun too. It just kind of worked out this way (and publishers are, of course, invested in getting people to care about their IP), and that's fine. It is what it is. But I still think taking the other perspective can be helpful.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Some recent painting updates

It's been a school holiday, and I've spent some time catching up on my painting. Naturally, although I have some ongoing projects, I have not been completing them; I keep coming up with ideas for things I'd rather work on. I think this represents a lack of enthusiasm for the Chaos knights, but who knows.

In any event, here are some models I've painted over the last few weeks:


The Nob is old, but the others are part of a project I'm doing to refurbish some old plastic Orks and turn them into a Blood Axe unit for my Ork army, which is currently all Evil Sunz. After that I'm going to turn the plastic Orks from the 2nd edition boxed set into a unit of Goffs. "After that" might be a while, though; I have a few more of these old plastics in the post even as we speak.


This club-swinging post-apocalyptic warrior comes from Ramshackle Games; I gave him a shield based on a Foxbox miscast and a spare right hand from an Ogre model, because I originally got him as a free miscast and he was missing some of his parts. I am really pleased with how he turned out, and with my ever-growing post-apocalyptic collection in general.


This Grenadier fantasy model is one of that huge collection I acquired last August. I am trying to knock out one or two of these guys every time I do a batch of priming, although I keep ... getting distracted. She'll be a great addition to my general collection of fantasy-game civilians, although because she's an American model from the 80s, she's tiny compared to most modern figures.


This crab guy is a Ramshackle model picked up at BOYL last year. I can't believe I'm already starting to plan for this year's! I am pretty pleased with how he came out; the colour is more vibrant in real life.


Only the model on the right end of the unit here is new, but hey, it's nice to have a Warlord and unit of Hearthguard for SAGA. With the addition of another Norman I have lying around, they become a unit of Elite Riders for Dragon Rampant. Next step: paint enough models to have two units of Hearthguard, and then start on a unit of mounted Warriors. Lot of cavalry in a Norman army, you guys.


This security guard is going to be the focus of an entire future post. Looks quite unremarkable, doesn't he? But he has a fun backstory.


And here are some more survivors from the Bad Squiddo Games Ghosts of Gaia Kickstarter.

I have a few more things on the go, but that should give you some idea of what I've been up to over the last few weeks.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Chaos warband for Dragon Rampant

So the other day I ordered a copy of Dragon Rampant, Osprey's fantasy followup to Lion Rampant, from the Bad Squiddo Games bargain bin. It arrived the other day and I have been coming up with warbands in my head ever since.

A Dragon Rampant warband is a pretty manageable size -- I like to think of them as rather like a Hordes of the Things army. Most seem like they will be around 40 to 50 models, at a guess, although if you like a scrub army that will probably be larger.

Anyway, as you know I have been working on some Chaos models for my ongoing painting challenge with Tim of The Responsible One's Wargaming Blog. Here, then, is my attempt to translate what I've done into a Dragon Rampant warband.



Colossal Battle Snail: Greater Warbeast, Ponderous: 7 points.



Warriors of Chaos: Elite Foot: 6 points.



Cultists of Chaos: Light Foot, Offensive: 5 points.



Plaguebearers: Lesser Warbeasts, Fear: 6 points.


On further examination of the rules I see that I only actually need 6 of these guys since Lesser Warbeasts are only a 6 SP unit.

It's a small, relatively hard-hitting army with a mix of faster and slower units, and I think it will work out interestingly. Next I'm going to work on a sort of generic barbarian army.

The bases don't match, mainly because I'm repurposing models from a variety of different projects. Guess who doesn't care about that? If you guessed me, you're right.

Between writing and posting this post, I got a chance to try out the game, and I think I'm hooked. The army functioned well, but after a promising start got worn down by steady shooting from Heavy Missile troops and a well-timed counterattack led by my opponent's Elite Riders. Still, it was a close-run thing and I'm satisfied with this force. Next to create some other ones.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Final fight: the Annihilator in person

All good things must come to an end, and that includes my D&D campaign. I knew that I wanted a spectacular miniatures battle for the end of the game, and that included a big gosh darn dragon. I was even willing to spend a little money, although not much by dragon standards.

I was actually a bit anxious about finding a suitable model, since gaming dragons tend to be on the pricey side (although the Reaper Bones ones were quite reasonable). I didn't know exactly what I wanted, until I stumbled on this bad boy in a charity shop for £10.


That's all 28mm scenery, for reference.

Now, originally he was blue, so I just slathered him in cheap black craft paint, highlighted some fins and warts and things up to green and gave him a coat of varnish. On the morning of the game, I might add. The paint job isn't going to last, but again, he's hardly likely to turn up again, is he? When you're doing frugal gaming you have to think about how things are going to be used.

Still, I think for £10 he's not bad, especially since he can do this:



Overall, a very satisfying final battle.