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.