Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Lieutenant by Jim Webster - taking inspiration from a tiny forgotten gamebook

With the arrival of a hospital bed, my mother has now moved into the room I've been using as an office. In the course of moving various books and papers out of the room, I found this tiny little gamebook that came free when I bought a copy of Miniature Wargames in (I believe) 2002. I can't remember the issue it came with and no amount of google searching has revealed anything more about it. I wonder if anyone else can shed any light on it - mine can't be the only extant copy, surely?

I don't remember ever playing it at the time, so to try and get into a more relaxed mood for Christmas I played it through a few times today.

It's set, broadly speaking, in the Napoleonic era, and you're a Lieutenant of Horse in an unspecified regiment of the English army. You allocate points to a range of abilities, spanning the range of what an "Officer and Gentleman" should do: Dancing, Horsemanship, German Language, French Language, Leadership, Long firearm, Pistol shooting, Polite Conversation, and Swordsmanship. The game mechanic is pretty simple; at certain points in the game you're asked to roll a d6 against a particular ability in order to perform tasks.

The introduction states: "Your regiment is stationed in the Low Countries, the army is besieging a town of some note and the cavalry are of course providing a screen to cover the army and detect any relieving force. Somewhere to the North there are allied forces which are supposed to be marching to your aid. Your regiment is thrust out some distance from the army and is supposed to be covering a probably axis of the enemy advance. Understrength, as always, the troop is down to a bare 50 men commanded by the Captain, able seconded (or so you like to think) by your good self. The Captain is somewhat indisposed, nothing worse than a stinking head cold, but enough to ensure that when he wants a patrol to head out on a miserable afternoon, it is your good self that will lead it. He wants you to take a Corporal of Horse and nine troopers and head South East to check that there is still no sign of enemy forces in that direction." You make a number of choices that determine the success (or not) of your mission.

Weighing in at only 16 pages and 40 paragraphs (42 if you count the introduction and end, which are properly speaking part of the game), it's a tiny gamebook. Considering this, it has remarkable replay value, as depending on the choices made, it's quite possible to have discovered very different things, to have returned to camp completely misunderstanding the situation, or ideally have achieved one or more distinct strategic objectives (or blundered through and failed miserably). It's written in such a way that you can think you've done something truly heroic - until you return to camp and discover the extent of your cock-up. Which is quite an achievement for Jim Webster to have squeezed all that into such a micro-adventure.

I actually played it 4 times through. Using the simple skill allocation system, each time I generated a distinct personality of officer to try and adopt a different mindset when making decisions.
Stephen the Scholar: a young man with the benefit of a classical education, and who had been on the path towards Holy Orders until circumstances took a very different turn. A talented linguist, but cautious in the face of the enemy and even more cautious in the presence of the ladies. His caution meant that he didn't blunder and completely misunderstand the situation, but neither did he see much action.

Sebastian the Seducer: living on charisma and not much else, he tries to talk himself into, around, or out of any concievable situation. And he managed to talk himself into his Captain's good books, just about.

Samson the Sportsman: brash, rides like he's with the boxing day hunt. Rode straight into danger and damn near got himself killed.

Samuel the Sharpshooter: a master of the pistol and rifle, but solitary, finding it easier to commune with his weaponry than communicate with his men. This was to be his undoing.

At the end of the 4 playthroughs I had pretty much exhausted the available pathways through. Looking at the final page which gives you the information to evaluate how well you've done, I found myself wondering whether something's broken because it seems impossible to achieve the best combination of outcomes (unless I'm very mistaken - which is quite possible - the pathway to one strategic success seems to preclude the other). But even so, there are a range of outcomes and it's an interesting opportunity to walk in the boots of a Napoleonic-era junior officer.

As somebody who enjoys the narrative and roleplaying aspect of wargames, it really got me thinking about how little I reflect on the personalities of junior officers in the games I play. It's all very well being the big general and taking a omniscient overview of the battlefield, but will the cavalry really press home their charge under the leadership of the bookish Stephen? Will Samson forget that he's not on the playing fields anymore and unwisely decide to throw caution to the wind? So this little adventure has definitely offered me some inspiration. I look forward to experimenting a bit more with unit leader's personalities in the next big game I play.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Undead Centaur

Where the rivers run dry, where there is only drought and despair and the bones of our livestock... There it is said that on the driest days, the days without hope, the parched lands cough up their secrets and cough up their dead. Mysterious creatures - creatures who had been noble, wise even, in some long past life - rise stripped of flesh, rendered hideous and viscious by their restless sleep. It is a terrible place.

In Oldhammer's calendar, December is traditionally "Deadcember" and is a month for painting your undead. (Some might think I've quite enough of death in the last month, but anyway...) Now, I don't know if I'll get around to anything else specifically Undead related this month, so this is technically cheating, as it wasn't a project for Deadcember, but my November entry for Jamie Loft's Monthly White Dwarf Painting Challenge. Every month a WD is selected and the challenge is to paint a model that appears in it or is inspired by it. November's selection was WD119. I took inspiration from the Undead Centaur conversion by Andy Warwick on page 56 and went about creating my own skeleton centaur.

The human torso comes from a Reaper Warlord skeleton archer, the horse is a plastic 4th/5th ed skeleton steed. It's hard trying to work out how to make a mythological skeleton appear realistically dynamic. After extensive google image and ebay searching, the Reaper skelly seemed the best option, reaching for his quiver, although it involved a lot of cutting away.

Centaur anatomy is troubling at the best of times. What are they doing with both human and horse ribcages? How can they have so many limbs? Stripping the centaur back to the skeleton makes these questions of anatomy all the more baffling. But as long as you don't look too close, I think the unity of the conversion works. Just about. A fun project, although the posing and sticking together was nowhere near as simple as I thought it would be.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Wee Beeb lives on

A bit of a follow up to my previous post on the death of my father. All the condolences from people I know through Oldhammer have been very touching indeed, and it's deeply moving to see what a kind community it can be.

Geoff Solomon-Sims, after reading the news on facebook, was kind enough to cheer me up by sending a card and a dwarf wizard to paint. Such a fun mini! My dad had left his paints and brushes on the table, so I went to work with them, and this is the result.

What Geoff hadn't realised was that my dad, on account of his round face and beardedness (often leaving him mistaken for Father Christmas at this time of year) had a long time affinity with dwarves. And when I showed the Dwarf Wizard to my mum, she decided there and then that he would definitely have to be named "Wee Beeb".

Wee Beeb was a dwarf character from a D&D campaign at the tail end of the 1970s. My dad had been at an archaeological dig in Falkirk, excavating a shell midden - there seems to be big overlap between archaeologists and wargamers (in fact, he dug alongside Nigel Stillman for a couple of summers at the training dig in Crickley Hill in Gloucestershire). The diggers, when not in a hole or down the pub, would play D&D, and this was when Wee Beeb came to life. One of my treasured possessions is his "Wee Beeb" badge from this time (Photographed here on a Liverpool University Wargames Club cloth, from his days as a mature student).

My dad developed such an attachment to the character, in fact, that he apparently moped around for a week after it met an untimely end. But good dwarves never really die; and Wee Beeb would pop up in many games throughout the years, for example as the name of his character on The Bards Tale on the Atari ST, and Baldur's Gate later on. For each new challenge, a new manifestation of the spirit of Wee Beeb. So it seems only appropriate that the spirit of Wee Beeb would live on.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

RIP Jim Irvine

My father died on 7 November. He deteriorated quickly after contracting COVID. The blow has been enormous and I don't think we've fully come to terms with it. I am now back at my childhood home looking after my mother as she recovers from COVID.

One of the things that lays me low when I go around the house is seeing projects that he'd started but won't finish, various things in different stages of planning, preparation, or anticipation. This is a silly thing to get upset about in a way: what's life without something to look forward to? I'm glad he had things he was looking forward to and planning right until the end. But every day I go past the table where he had been re-basing some of his old airfix napoleonics just days before he got sick, unable to pack up the stuff, unable to process it.

Gaming was a hobby my dad and I had in parallel. We had other interests in common that we enjoyed together - in particular, we shared a love of music, and I have many happy memories of traditional music sessions together, time spent in his company drinking a few pints and singing away. But funnily enough, though we both were interested in gaming, that wasn't really something that we ever did together. We would chat about it on the phone, check in on one another's projects and work in progress. He had a long running Friday RPG session that had become almost a religious obligation. He had had a Napoleonic army (British) since long before I was born and every now and again would open up the box files where it was kept, make some additions and update his records. Just a month or so ago he had painted up some Scots Greys. He had got out some of the many reference books he owned and was planning on painting more in the months ahead.

The army itself had lived in box files for many years, but he had only recently set most of it up on shelves. It's a magnificent enough sight.

One of the peculiarities of our never having played wargames together all that much is that he actually had a Warhammer Fantasy Battle army he'd painted up around the time I first got into the hobby - a rather striking Brettonian army based on the figures in the 5th edition box. (My mate Paul had used the Lizardmen and sold him the Brets)

I especially like the spearmen that he converted by giving some of the monopose plastic archers toothpicks.

He enjoyed collecting the army and encouraging me in my hobby - even painting up Prince Imrik on a Dragon as a birthday present for me.

But he was content to just share the interest with me, very rarely taking up invitations to join in battles. I think he would have loved some of the oldhammer stuff - in fact, it was him who stumbled on some of the oldhammer stuff on the internet and pointed me towards it - but he was happy enough for us to game in separate worlds. This might strike some as obtuse, but as I say, we had other things we did together, and I guess the games were his own place of retreat.

The one exception to this was a wonderful year when I was in 6th form, and his RPG group decided to have a Necromunda campaign. Peering through the crowded underhive to try and pick out one of his House Cawdor gang - the heavy MacDuff, or Wee Eck who rose up through the ranks from a juve to a hardened ganger - will long live in my memory.

Going through his collection of books and his leadpile (much of which he inherited from friends who had passed away), I can't help but think of the games that won't be played now. Perhaps I should focus on what gave him pleasure: look forward to the next game, role up the next character, enjoy planning future projects. But what can I say? I miss him terribly.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Games Day 1999

Matthew Street's photos of Games Day & Golden Demon 1989 came up on my facebook feed today - why not check out his pics from the day over on his blog because, to give fair warning, it's going to be more interesting and nostalgic than this post! But if, like me, you're triggered by accounts of a certain Michael Thomas in a certain Liverpool game against Arsenal, you might want to give it a miss.

Anyway, it nudged me into thinking about the one time I attended Games Day & Golden Demon, back in 1999, 10 years after young Street's adventure. Memory is a fragile beast, and what's kind of disturbing is that I remember very little about the day. I went with GW Southport, who hired a coach down to take us down to the NIA in Birmingham, and I remember people passing copies of FHM and Loaded around the coach, this being still the era of the lads mag. I also have a very vivid recollection of arriving back home bursting for a pee, trying to subtly relieve myself behind Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs offices, only for a movement-triggered light to turn on and expose me to the world.

But of the event itself, I have very little recollection. Luckily, I have a few artefacts of the day. Apparently I got the programme signed by everybody, including by the looks of it the staff of the National Indoor Arena itself.

The mega display for that year was "The Vengence of the Vampire", of which I have absolutely no recollection. (No photos in the programme to jog my memory.)

One thing I do recall is that they'd brought one of plastic injection moulding machines, and were churning out Mordheim accessories sprues, Mordheim being GW's forthcoming release.

I think I queued to go around 4 or 5 times so as to pick up multiple sprues, and they've proved extremely useful for conversions over the years. (The above is a photo of the complete sprue from the Lost Miniatures wiki, the sprues I picked up at Games Day are mostly gaps now.)

Freebies were, I guess, one of the best things about the day (after the ticket I wouldn't have had enough cash to actually buy anything at Games Day) and have the benefit that they give me some clue of actually being there. I think on entrance they gave out these pretty cool Gorkamorka "teef" to wear around your neck

(also Ork-themed, GW Southport gave us t-shirts of an Ork shouting out "NORF NORF NORF!" to indicate our regional affiliation and no doubt to help their security to profile potential shoplifters, but I no longer have that, it was neat but I don't think the printing survived more than a couple of washes)

And one final memento of the day: just dug this out of my pile of gaming stuff and I'm really glad I still have it - I queued up for the Black Library desk where the artists were doing speed drawings, and Kev Walker sketched me this skeleton with an extraordinarily big gun for an "Undead in Necromunda" project as I working on.

It's things like that that make it worth getting caught exposing yourself outside the tax office.

Sunday, 5 July 2020


Quick post today. Been making progress on the Dolgan Raiders, but I don't want to post that project up until it takes shape a bit more. Sadly, Bring Out Your Lead is postponed until October, but at least it gives me a chance to do them justice ahead of the game with Thantsants.

In the meantime, in our household we've been playing Heroquest (more of which soon!), and after some unsteady progress (more of that soon too!) we got to the Lair of the Orc Warlord Quest. So I dug through the leadpile and pulled out this fella to serve as Ulag - an orc from Gremlin Miniatures, circa 1986. (I figured that if he's rolling 5 dice to defend, it made sense that he'd be pretty heavily armoured!) I think I got this from Steve Casey years ago. If I recall correctly, he gave it to me for free because he just didn't like the mini. Cheers Steve! Anyway, I painted him up yesterday for our family evening of Heroquest and have subsequently based him for battle.

Not a particularly distinguished paintjob, but I wanted to put it up here for 3 reasons.

1) Don't see many painted minis from Gremlin Miniatures in the wild, do you?

2) I cut off the plain shield the miniature came with and used a gorgeous SHIELDAID shield from OS minis' campaign to raise funds for Sarcoidosis UK. Go SHIELDAID!

3) After looking at it for a couple of seconds, my wife said, "you do realise you've painted Boris Johnson's head on a spike, don't you". Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, that was not my intention!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

The Dolgans prepare to raid

Beyond the World's Edge Mountains lies the endless steppe. A vast expanse, so vast that they say it reaches to the mysterious kingdoms of the east, and perhaps even beyond. Though the steppe is fertile, who would dare wander there, freezing in the winter, scorching in the summer? Who could navigate across thousands of miles of featureless terrain? Yet for the Dolgan tribes, this is not featureless land. They know each route, they revere each hill and valley. Their paths are passed on down the generations, spoken by the storytellers, whose stories are themselves a form of magic.

This post is mostly laying down a marker, announcing that I've made a proper start to my project to paint up a Dolgan Warparty for the Dolgan Raiders scenario from the Autumn 85 Citadel Journal. The plan is to play this scenario with Thantsants at this year's Bring Out Your Lead, plague permitting. He, being a talented and efficient bastard, and having had the benefit of several years' head start, has already completed his Hobgoblin army, and a wonderful sight it is to behold. It will be a privilege to slaughter it and nick his caravans. I, on the other hand, had not yet got started, but was anxious to avoid another last minute painting nightmare.

The first thing, of course, has been to gather the models. Unlike later scenario packs, there are very few 'dedicated' models' for this scenario. Quendil has posted pictures of what exactly was sent out as part of the army deal in the Autumn 85 Citadel Journal - by and large, a broad selection from the C01 fighter range, without a particularly clear sense of 'flavour' for the army. So there's certainly no need to slavishly adhere to collecting the set. Instead, my goal was to try and go for an easy-to-collect army, with limited need for ebay auction trauma. As a result, the fast majority of the force will involve in production miniatures, with most of the core troops built from the Fireforge Steppe Warriors box (I've built the archers pretty much straight out of the box - I might do a bit of mixing and matching for the fighters to give them a bit of a distinctive look). I have gathered together some of the old Citadel miniatures with a suitably Mongolian Warrior look, plus the Centaur from Talisman, to act as characters. I think this blend will work well - though there has been one problem, which is that the Firgeforge minis are a bit tall compared to the citadel lead if you leave the integral bases on. So I need to cut the integral bases off each one of them in order to glue their feet directly to the standard-issue Warhammer 20mm square base. It's a bit of extra faff, but once you do it, the heights look fine.

Here's a photo of some of the goodies I'm painting up. I'm strongly committed to the idea of "Oldhammer Now!" and using whatever cool minis you can get your hands on rather than having to use a specific cast from 1985 or whatever, and I hope that this project shows how playing these old scenarios is possible without breaking the bank. I'll introduce you to all the minis I've chosen as and when they're painted. Given my own interests, I'm inclined towards a broadly Mongolian look, though the background, illustrations, and names always leave a certain ambiguity with regards to their inspiration, which is fine by me.

Followers of this blog will know how much I love painting in hotels. However, at the moment I've gone full Alan Partridge and I'm living in a travel tavern, having been sent to mainland Scotland for a couple of weeks of hard graft. Having little else to do in the evenings and weekends, I've been able to make a proper start to this project and hopefully I'll have the full thing done by mid July.

So what of the Dolgan Raiders? I love these margins of the Warhammer world that you can flesh out with your own imagination. Beyond the Autumn 85 Citadel Journal, we don't hear much about the Dolgans. However, they do feature prominently in 1988's installment of WHFRP's The Enemy Within Campaign, Something Rotten in Kislev (and they also feature in 2011's Tamurkhan: Throne of Chaos, but by that point they're just generic parts of the chaos horde, so let's ignore that).

The word "Dolgan" means, in their own language, "The Real People". They are nomadic herders, proud horsemen whose status is measured by the quality of their horses. (Given this emphasis in their background - horses and horsemanship are pretty central - it's somewhat ironic that the Dolgan Raiders scenario only features Dolgan infantry. As this makes them easier to paint, I'm not complaining. However, I will almost certainly add horse archers to my Dolgan Warparty at a later stage.) They move through the steppe with their herds of bison, honouring the gods of sky and hill, and following the stars. Their paths are kept alive by the storytellers; shamans of the tribe whose stories weave magic.

The Dolgan diet consists of bison meat from the herd, cheese made from the milk of the bison in the riders' saddle bags, and foraged grains and root vegetables. In the evenings, they drink beet-liquor around the campfire. The tribe is headed by an elected chief, advised by the elders.
Living in the tough conditions of the steppe requires strength and hardiness, and their culture respects courage and trains the youth to ride and fight. Their weapon of choice is the bow, though they are also capable with sword and spear. Fierce dogs are kept to guard the herd, and in battle these can be used as wardogs.

Though the steppe is vast, the Dolgans find their movements increasingly constrained by the settlers of Kislev on the one side, and by Hobgoblin expansion from the Dark Lands on the other. Perhaps as a result, they greet strangers with suspicion. Nevertheless, they enjoy friendly relations with the centaurs of the steppe. The Dolgans tend any injuries to the Centaur's hooves, which the Centaurs cannot do themselves; in return, the Centaurs act as teachers to the young Dolgan braves.

The Dolgans are skilled raiders, with herd raiding between the tribes once an honoured tradition, an acceptable outlet for tensions between tribes and a test of stealth and cunning. Not everybody, however, has the same respect for this tradition today, which can spill over into outright bloodshed.

(I've tried to include in this blogpost the various illustrations that were produced for the Dolgans. Two are from Something Rotten in Kislev and were drawn by Martin McKenna, and the others are illustrations from the scenario in the Citadel Journal - I have no idea who did these. Does anyone know?)

Monday, 27 April 2020

Breaking Nurgle's Siege: a modest proposal for Back from the Lead

The first the burghers knew of the siege was when they realised that supplies of luxury Cathayan toilet paper were running low.

Little did they realise the full magnitude of the chaos and pestilence that had gripped the town... It is now day 36 of the siege and toilet paper shortages are the least of the townsfolk's worries. Yet a band of the brave and desperate seek to break the siege. In the face of plague and disease, to bring hope once again.

First off, I hope you like the only thing I've actually managed to paint during the lockdown! (Would like to paint more, but I've actually had to be working harder than before.) I call him Bogroll, Raider of the Lost Supermarket! A delightful sculpt from Fox Box to mark these strange times.

But I come to you today not just to show him off, but rather to take up a suggestion from notable Oldhammerer and manically overproductive painter Harry Howells, who proposed the following:
"Back from the Lead ... I think we should all look forward to a time when lockdown restrictions are eased and the situation imporves to the point that we can get back together again. The weekends I have spent at the Foundry have been some of the best times I have had ... sharing some great games with some of the finest folks you could hope to meet. This would really give me something to look forward to, things being as they are. Who else would be interested in a special get together at the Foundry .... when it is sensible to get together again?"*
*Please note, Harry is still smarting from when nicked his "Night of the Living Lead" idea many moons ago and so has claimed copyright in all jurisdictions over "Back from the Lead", all rights reserved. As I don't want to get in trouble with his lawyers, I'd like to say that all credit and indeed blame for the name and the idea lies with him.

Now I will use any excuse to get to the Foundry, so as soon as the lockdown is over and it's deemed safe for us to travel and gather, count me in. The discussion then turned to ideas about the kind of game we should have:
Paul Ede: Massive tabletop battle..everybody against Nurgle
Steve Beales: I feel the breaking of a siege might be a good theme to base the game on - Sally forth!
In a flash of originality and, let's face it, genius, I thought: why not steal these good ideas, stick them together, and call it my own idea?

And so I present to you a modest proposal: that the central game at Back from the Lead (event name copyright Harry) should be the breaking of a siege of Nurgle and the forces of plague and pestilence.

(Scenes from the Siege at BOYL 2014 - including my carrion crawlers feasting on a beautiful owl)

But wait? Aren't siege games a faff, everyone hammering away at the castle, a static mass of troops with nothing much happening? This can indeed be the experience of sieges, but I think here the Fifth Edition Warhammer Siege book is our friend, thinking of the siege not as one big grinding game, but as a campaign which is shaped by numerous smaller actions.

(To be clear, I'm not suggesting that we should play the siege as a 5th edition game, just that we should take a leaf, or rather several leaves from this excellent and somewhat overlooked book.) Tuomas Pirinen's edition of siege includes loads of different scenarios: Scouting; Messengers of the besieged force sending for help; Infiltration attempts; Blockades; Undermining operations. Each of these is a stand alone game contributing to the outcome of the siege.

So that got me thinking, what if, having set up the central siege, we then played numerous scenarios, ranging from tiny skirmishes, to dungeon crawls (to represent undermining operations) to smaller battles (to represent scouting actions), success in each of these shaping and reshaping the scene in the central siege, ready for the final battle? The way I see it working would be something like this:

Day 1: Everyone arrives in the morning, sets up the city walls, and places troops for the siege defenders and siege attackers. Everyone loves the central spectacle of all the troops set up, right? So set up the spectacle and then - here's the important part - just leave it there. For now, anyway.
Everyone would then turn their attention to fighting numerous smaller games on other tables; skirmishes and the like, representing attempts to sally forth, enact blockades (Man o'War blockade anyone), scout out the enemy, infiltrate the city (Mordheim game perhaps?).
The result of each of these games would then have a decisive impact on the central siege scene. So for example, if the forces of Nurgle (and allies) were to win a game, this could be translated into a decisive impact in the central siege setup such as: a breach in the city walls; the spreading of nurgles rot among the siege defenders; a siege tower reaching the ramparts, and so on. A decisive impact for the defending forces could be: pouring burning oil (or maybe disinfectant?) off the ramparts and wiping out units of the besiegers, spreading animosity among the besieging forces and causing them to fight amongst themselves rather than attacking the city, etc. In short, by the end of Day 1, the siege scene should look very different, having been transformed by the result of each of the smaller games of the campaign going on around.

Day 2: We now turn our attention to the central siege - at this stage it should be easier to reach a resolution as there will be holes in the walls, losses amongst the besieging forces, and so on. A brave force of the defenders sallys forth, for death or glory. By the end of the day we should know if Nurgle prevails, or if there is freedom.

What do you think? A two-day campaign when we can finally get back to the Foundry: "Breaking Nurgle's Siege" - is it doable?

Monday, 13 April 2020

The Knowe: a cautionary tale for archaeologists

Why had he listened? Why had he followed? The dwarf had spoken to him of an ancient tomb, three days to the north... unknown, undiscovered... only uncovered by a sudden storm. Hidden until the sea peeled back its layers. Unplundered...

Typical of the dwarf, of course, to see it as a chance to delve for riches... but then, why had he listened? What greed drew a scholar here? Not a greed for treasure, surely. But the need to be the first to see inside, to see the first beam of light touch the walls since the time of creation. To stand face to face with the knowledge of the ancients.

The three days journey? Oh, the dwarf lied about that. Six days hard slog it was, out past Murderoch Keep, keeping the Northernmost Isle on the horizon. Trudging along the coast in the bitterest winds. Until they reached the Bay of Skail. The site itself would have been easily missed among the boulders. If only it had been missed!

He stooped down to run a finger along the grooves carved into the stone... A burial place, surely. But for whom? Created by what force? Suddenly he heard the unmistakable sound of metal on stone. No! Surely the dwarf wouldn't be fool enough to desecrate a tomb with his pickaxe? But it was too late. A sudden shrieking sound overwhelmed the senses. Agony held them in its grip until he and the dwarf lay there lifeless. Two more bodies for the tomb.

This morning Harry Howells was asking on facebook for examples of Oldhammer "casualty" miniatures. I grabbed the two I have here - a Prince August cloaked casualty (an elf or ranger, perhaps?) and a classic Citadel wounded (or drunk?) dwarf. Reaching for an appropriate background, I decided to photograph them lying on the cover of this archaeology booklet as an experiment.

Then, in the spirit of "waste not want not", I figured I should write up a little melodrama to narrate the photos for our "Little Albion" campaign setting. We missed the last opportunity to game together (at the sadly furloughed Dawn of the Lead event), and the theme of that was going to be bungling archaeology, so I thought I'd keep on theme with this cautionary tale...

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Book Review: Heroes for Wargames by Stewart Parkinson

Heroes for Wargames, by Stewart Parkinson. Paper Tiger, 1986.

An old school classic. Happy days, right? Well, the problem is, in many respects it's not a very good book.

What? What's your problem? How can you even say that! It has page after page of lavishly painted miniatures!

Very true. It does have page after page of some of the most beautiful and memorable painting I've seen. Everyone who's seen the book remembers the amazing Orc with the Thatcher banner. (What they might not remember is that the very next image is so dark that the banner can't be seen at all, one of a number of very poorly lit photographs.)

It also contains interesting reflections on painting from Kev Adams and John Blanche, as well as several pages of Blanche's concept sketches. As this book had pride of place in our toilet for a year or so, I've spent a good deal of time poring over these while enthroned. Enough time to almost forget that many of the illustrations (e.g. advertising footage of GW boardgames) are irrelevant filler.

Seriously, what can my problem be?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's called Heroes for Wargames, but there's very little that really brings to life that models are characters in heroic dramas and not just virtuosically painted metal sculptures.

I mean, look at that caption. Just look at it. Has there ever been a more boring, less heroic caption than "Minotaur, Troll and Dwarf showing relative sizes"?!? And that's one of the more descriptive ones! And the black backgrounds. Those bloody awful, boring black backgrounds. Everything's completely robbed of context, of setting, of any narrative interest.

And this, ultimately, is my problem with the book. It doesn't matter how good the painting is - if there's no story, there's no soul. And none of these photos tell any story, it's just figure after figure plonked there. (Compare with Martin Hackett's book Fantasy Wargaming, where the figures are far more crudely painted, but each and every illustration tells a story that inspires you to want to game.)

It's also very badly laid out, and many of the photos are either too dark or too small to do justice to the contents. In the first part the chapter on dioramas, one of the few sections that tells a bit of a story, we read through 6 pages of 'The Web' (the story that inspired a particular diorama, that of an Elven Prince sent to prove his bravery against a giant monster)... only to find at the end that they've only given us a 3' x 2' photo of the diorama, where none of the detail is visible!

Now I'll be honest: I know I'm not going to be able to dissaude a single one of you from wanting and from cherishing this book. And I'm not even sure I'd want to. It's a unique historical document. So instead, I'll just put up a picture of my own hero, painted in a way inspired by the step by step painting guide of this very figure on pages 74-75. Nowhere near as beautiful as anything you'll find in the book, but nevertheless presented with a proper narrative caption and a background that's not just a black shelf - the way I think a hero ought to be.

Lord Aquila ponders the value of a human life.

Ok, maybe this photography and caption writing thing's harder than it looks.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Mutant Fimir - a month of Marsh special

Why are you wandering far from home, child? Have you not heard of the fen ague? Cover your face and hurry back. But keep to the paths, child, keep to the solid ground. Don't be tempted to cut across through the reeds and the moss, for there are things in the marsh, diseased and unholy things. These are strange times.

This is the month of Marsh - the month of all things Fimir. When last in Liverpool, I found a project I'd started (but never finished) for the month of Marsh about 3 years ago - a conversion based on this image from the first Citadel Compendium. Having found a copy of the Compendium not long after joining the oldhammer movement, and being obsessed with Fimir at the time, it just screamed out at me "mutant fimir!"

... a prefiguration from 1983 of things to come? Almost certainly not, and yet I couldn't shake the uncanny resemblance to our one eyed swampy friends. So I set out to assemble a mutant fimir in its honour.

Having done the initial conversion, I'd left the model unfinished - these are a couple of photos from before I'd even undercoated it. The main body of the model is an Otherworld miniatures troll, with the head from a Forgeworld Fimir and hair from the Daemonettes of Slaanesh sprue. Can't remember where I got the tentacles from.

Seemed a shame to abandon something I'd put a lot of effort into assembling, and the timing seemed appropriate, so I spent the past few days trying to get it looking suitably swampy and diseased. What do you think?

Alongside the original inspiration, it doesn't look too far off...

Friday, 13 March 2020

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; or, Dave's Big Birthday Bash

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

ok, bit too dramatic maybe. But picture the scene. No, not the jolly scene pictured above. A different scene the night before. It's 3am on a Friday night and I'm painting bases goblin green. Hundreds of bases.

I'm on my way down to Snicket's (or Dave's, to use his real name) 40th birthday bash at the Foundry. It's a massive game of Empire vs Orcs and like the eejit I am, having neither army, I volunteer a 3000 point Empire army to be painted from scratch. A project that seemed a good idea months away from the game gradually turns into a nightmare as the deadline looms. Months turn to weeks. Weeks turn to days. Thursday night I stay up in my office painting, trying to finish the promised units. It's the day before the game, I'm already sleep deprived and still nothing's based.

And so then on Friday night I'm en route to Newark. I've now taken the train as far South as I could, so I can get to Newark in time for the game, and so I'm sitting at a wonky table in the shittiest accommodation in Newcastle. The place stinks of weed and there a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine ("Bucky" as it's affectionately known) by the entrance of the building. Realising I don't have a pot for water to wash my brushes in, I seriously consider using the bottle, before thinking NO, for fucks sake, that would be mad and unhygeinic, we're in a time of coronavirus after all. Instead, I use the cap off a can of air freshener I find around the place.

Outside someone starts screaming "I JUST WANT TO GO HOME". I drop the brush and run out, thinking someone's being raped or somehow held in this shithole against their will, but the poor lass seems to be freaking out due to some combination of drink or drugs. Anyway, I wait outside the building until she's in a taxi.

At 4am I am back in the room and gluing flock onto bases. This is the second night I'm going without sleep, and at this stage I'm seriously considering my life choices.

ok I realise this is more of a tripadivsor review than a battle report but what I'm trying to capture for posterity is that feeling of a hobby that's turned into a source of misery, just sitting cold and fed up, wanting to go home and sleep. And the question that I kept asking myself: how can you turn something that's supposed to be your means of relaxation into a source of stress?

Saturday, I get to the Foundry and have probably the most fun I've had so far this year.

So was it worth it? Well, the answer has to be a resounding YES... up to a point. Was great to have a weekend with so many of the people that I've made friends with through the Oldhammer movement. Two days gaming, a curry and some beers, what more can you ask for? The battle itself was an awesome sight, and while we could maybe have got through a couple more turns (I have some thoughts about the nuts and bolts of how to make big games of this type work), it was definitely good fun.

Here's my battle line, with my steam tank and my crazy wizard and his familiar advancing...

Here's my halflings running away after their soup got upended...

But although I should have the satisfaction of a completed 3000 point army, the truth is much of the army itself is a bit so-so, inevitable after having rushed it... all that work and then the feeling that a lot of it would need redone or at the very least more time to finish it properly is a bit of a sinking feeling.

And I'm left wondering, why do I find ways of making my hobby into a chore? To be honest, blogging can have that effect too, having to find the energy to type stuff. No wonder the blog descends into silence punctuated by an annual apology for not having blogged.

But then the game finishes and you want to do it all over again.

Just next time, not leaving it until 4am in a shithole in Newcastle to stick flock on a 3000 point army.