Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hazards of Gaming

Thursday night is board game and popcorn night at our house and there is always an unbridled flurry around the table as my wife and daughter and I are simultaneously grabbing for dice while reaching for the popcorn.  Tonight's antics were especially funny when, in the excitement of the moment, my wife grabbed a handful of dice and popped them in her mouth.

This is too funny not to share even if public spousal mockery gets me smacked.

Epic Thursday!

The summer of 1980 stands large in my memories as the last summer of my childhood, as I was to start high school in the fall.  I spent most of that summer hanging out with my friends, going to the roller rink, flying model rockets on the outskirts of town, and going to the movie theater to see Empire Strikes Back, and Airplane! roughly two or three times each week.

The summer of 1980 also brought us the second issue of Epic Illustrated.  My copy is missing its cover, which is truly unfortunate, because it features an awesome painting by Richard Corben.  However, thanks to that wonder of the modern age men call the internet, a quick Google search was all it took to acquire a copy for us to admire.

The feature story in this issue is Roy Thomas's adaptation of Robert Howard's posthumously published sword & planet story, Almuric.  Howard's protagonist, Esau Cairn, is a man of prodigious strength and violent temper who, much like Frank Miller's character, Marv, from the Sin City series, was born into the wrong age.  Cairn, who would have been better suited to the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome, has always chafed at living with the confining strictures of modern society.  The story begins as Cairn, who is fleeing from a police man-hunt, takes refuge in the observatory of Professor Avery Hildebrand.

With the police already coming up the stairs, Hildebrand gives Cairn a choice: face his doom at the hands of the cops, or allow the professor to teleport him to a newly discovered planet, Almuric, in a star system far from our own.  Cairn hesitates only briefly before agreeing, and Hildebrand activates his teleporter, sending Essau across the far reaches of space to a new world just as the police burst through the door.

Up to this point the story has been illustrated in black-and-white, but as soon as Cairn arrives on Almuric it switches to full colour, which is a none-too-subtle comment on Esau Cairn's perspective.  His life on Earth was a bland and colourless existence.  His arrival on a unknown and primitive world signifies a new beginning and a chance to live on a world that is more 'real' to him than Earth had been.

Almost immediately upon his arrival, Cairn is thrown into simultaneous conflict with both a band of troglodytic humanoids and a ferocious leopard-like cat.  This issue's installment ends with Cairn captured by the troglodytes.

I'm a fan of Roy Thomas's work on Savage Sword of Conan, and I enjoyed his adaptation of Almuric, but I dislike Tim Conrad's art so much that it ruined what might have otherwise been a fantastic adaptation of one of Howard's last stories.  Here lies the problem with graphic story telling media: if either the writer or the artist is off it can ruin an otherwise excellent story.  Todd McFarlane once claimed that comics are solely a graphic medium and that writing is irrelevant (probably to justify his ineptitude as a writer), which shows how shallow his understanding of the medium was at the time he said it.  For example, for a time during the mid-eighties, Roy Thomas had taken a sabbatical from Savage Sword and was replaced by a writer named Michael Fleisher.  Not only was Fleisher one of the worst writers I've ever been subjected to, it was obvious that he'd never read a Conan story in his life and didn't have the least understanding of Conan's character.  For more than a year, the dialogue in Savage Sword read like a really bad super hero comic and the stories were pure crap despite the fact that most of them were illustrated by the outstanding pencil/ink team of John Buscema and Ernie Chan.

Likewise, many of these early Epic stories are hit and miss due to bad pairings of writer and artist.  So we see well-written but poorly illustrated stories like Almuric on the one hand, and beautiful paintings to illustrate mediocre stories, like last issue's Silver Surfer story, on the other.

Perhaps for this reason, most of my favourite comics are those that were written and drawn by the same person, such as Frank Miller, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, etc. who have a singularity of vision and can intuitively match their artwork to their narrative style.

Which, by no coincidence, brings me to this issue's installment of what I consider to be Epic's mainstay series, Metamorphosis Odyssey, written and illustrated by Jim Starlin.

In this issue Aknaton, the last surviving Osirosean, continues to gather allies in his fight against the Zygotean empire.  Last issue he collected Za, a sentient humanoid monster from a cannibalistic society, and together they rescued Juliet, a fifteen year old girl from Kansas whose family was killed by Zygotean invaders.  Now the three of them recruit a sprite-like woman named Whis'par from yet another world.  Aknaton leaves his three recruits to locate a protector for them on the planet Vega; a man who will be familiar to fans of Starlin's Epic Comics series, Dreadstar.

Interestingly, this chapter of Metamorphosis Odyssey also features a transition from black and white to full colour illustration.  Unlike the abrupt switch to colour that we see in Almuric, here we have a gradual transition over several panels as Aknaton talks to Whis'par, culminating in full colour when she agrees to join him and the trio of allies is complete.

In addition to the stories, this issue contained an interesting interview with Glen A. Larson, creator and executive producer of Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  Larson revealed that while Buck Rogers was pure escapist fantasy, he had intended Battlestar Galactica to explore social issues more deeply and wanted many of the scripts to be morality plays.  However, because ABC rushed the series into production to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars, Larson didn't have time to create a backlog of scripts, and as a result ended up running the sorts of episodes he had wanted to avoid, turning the series into what he referred to as the "Cylon battle of the week."

I find this particularly interesting, because in light of this interview it would seem that the Sci Fi channel remake of Battlestar Galactica is a lot closer to Larson's original vision for the series than what we saw in the 1970's version.  While I certainly watched Battlestar regularly as a kid, it wasn't really 'must see' T.V. for me.  I am, however a great fan of the more recent Sci Fi series and I really prefer it as a human drama in space that can appeal to a broad audience - even those who aren't fans of science fiction.  I've read a lot of criticism of the Sci Fi series from fans of the original, so it it interesting to learn that the remake is more like what the original was supposed to be.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cazban's Field Notes

Yesterday I mentioned that I once played a gnomish wanderer with a penchant for natural history.  His field notes, which were a combination of session notes recorded as journal entries and a compilation my observations of creatures we had encountered, eventually became Cazban's Bestiary of the Realms.

Cazban was a great deal of fun to play.  He was a hyperbolical storyteller who always managed to portray himself in the best possible light, and since he was also the party chronicler, history remembers him as a somewhat mightier hero than he actually was and by weird happenstance the other party members are remembered as his loyal followers.

He was also a kill-stealing little git, who was completely ineffectual in combat until the party fighters had a tough creature down to its last few hit points at which time Cazban would hit with his crossbow and put it down.  Frustrating for the fighters; amusing for me.

Here's journal entry on a Displacer Beast that Cazban vultured with a lucky crossbow shot, including a self-portrait of the mighty hunter with his kill.

Followed by his in-depth research of the nature of Shambling Mounds:
Cazban subdues a Shambling Mound

And, finally, Cazban demonstrates his cool nerve and steady aim by slaying a troll and saving the entire party!

Cazban slays a common troll  (Hadrohominus denuois)
Cazban was really curious about the regenerative properties of trolls, so he chopped the body up into little bits to see how long it would take to grow back.  Afraid that the pieces might need to be kept warm, he incubated them in the magic user's bed-roll.  She wasn't amused... particularly when she awoke in the middle of the night with an angry troll in her sleeping bag.  Chaos ensued.  Fingers of blame were pointed.

It was all for a good cause though, in the end we had a remarkably thorough bestiary (including detailed data on troll regeneration).

This was a really fun and memorable character to play and a lot of his unique personality quirks developed as a result of keeping this journal.  It certainly helped me to get into character and stay there throughout the entire session.  I had to give him up when I moved to a new city, but the other players still fondly recall the escapades of Cazban and I am almost certain that the nice lady who played the magic user has nearly forgiven me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rule Books as Treasure

Remember back when we first started playing D&D, how everything was new and exciting, and every monster was approached with trepidation?  Who knew what fearsome powers it might possess, and how might we slay such a fearsome beast?  Those heady days of innocence lasted, what, three or four months?

That's about how long it took my friends and me to memorize the Monster Manual from cover to cover.  Once we knew the statistics for every monster in the game we never quite felt that same anxious thrill of discovery. Oh we might feel some anxiety, but only because we knew exactly how tough that dragon was and could gauge the threat it posed down to the last hit point.

After a while I grew nostalgic for the old days - six months or so past - but once that genie was out of the bottle there was no stuffing it back in, was there?  Sure, the Fiend Folio was eventually published, introducing a whole new host of creatures, but my friends and I never embraced those goofy monsters with the unpronounceable names.

Eventually it occurred to me that maybe I was looking at the Monster Manual all wrong.  What if, instead of it being a rule book for AD&D, it was more like a medieval bestiary, something that actually existed in the game world and represented the sum total of what everyone "knew" about the creatures of the land?  A book like this might be a pretty neat find in a treasure trove.  Hell, if you wanted you could make Monster Manuals commonly available for sale at the local outfitters shop and let characters buy one.  Then they could freely look stuff up in their tome of lore.  Of course, we all know the problem with such bestiaries: they're notoriously unreliable, based on second-hand accounts and with nearly as many half-truths, and outright fictions as facts.

One of the first monsters I tweaked was ghouls, re-imagining them as a sentient race of carrion eaters.  Because most ghouls in civilized areas were seen lurking in graveyards, exhuming and eating corpses, they were assumed to be undead creatures and were slain on sight, so this assumption has never been corrected.  Since they are so persecuted, ghouls tend to be wary around humans, sometimes attacking, other times fleeing ("See, I turned them and they ran away. That proves that they're undead!").

The first time my players encountered these new ghouls they were exploring a crypt and I described a chamber with ghouls feasting on the remains of a dead body.  The characters immediately drew their weapons and prepared to attack.  The ghouls drew wicked, hooked gutting knives and assumed a defensive posture, waiting for the characters to come to them.  The players were a bit taken aback as this seemed pretty odd behaviour for undead so they decided to try talking and soon brokered an uneasy peace and realized that ghouls weren't undead at all.  This chance dungeon encounter led to a long-running story arc in which the characters allied themselves with a band of rebel ghouls and helped them to overthrow the mad ghoul king, Soros, and see their ghoulish companion, Rathad, assume the throne.  It was one of the most unusual and memorable turn of events I've ever run.

Interestingly, I've suggested this approach on several internet forums discussing how to separate player knowledge from character knowledge of monsters, and have received some pretty harsh criticism; I've been told that I'm abusing my powers as DM, that I'm not playing fair, and that I have no 'right' to change what players can expect as rules canon.  Such respondents must be players of newer vintages of the game, because I've never had anything but overwhelmingly positive feedback from players on this issue.  My experience is that players like the thrill of the unknown and the challenge of approaching encounters with a fresh perspective.

A number of years ago I was playing a gnome explorer, Cazban the Wanderer, in a 3rd edition campaign and made a point of taking notes every time we encountered a new monster.  I carefully measured and described the creatures in a very systematic method, and even kept a coil ring sketch book for my drawings and notes.  I was careful to include only knowledge obtained first hand in an encounter in my notes and began building up my own campaign bestiary.  The DM loved this and devoted part his campaign web site, entitled Cazban's Field Notes, to my monster descriptions and sketches, so that all the players had access to this character-derived bestiary.  It was a lot of fun and very popular with the group.

I had another epiphany today, while reading Al's latest dissection of AD&D, Rules, Rules, Rules, on Beyond the Black Gate.  Al challenged us to flip open the Dungeon Master's Guide to a random page and see what new and unexpected rule we learned.  This is one of the really cool things about the DMG.  I've had this book since 1980 and read it constantly all through high school, but I still find something new every time I open it.  It's like some magic tome; a Book of Infinite Knowledge.

This got me to thinking.  Wouldn't it be neat to use the DMG as a magic item in a dungeon - a leather bound tome called the Dungeon Master's Guide, with an Efreet on the cover.  Whenever a character reads from the book he gains random information - sometimes useful, sometimes not.  Another possibility is to make it a bit more like a lore-based equivalent of the Book of Infinite Spells and allow a character to consult it to obtain the answer to an immediate problem or question.  Each of the 22 + d8 pages, once turned, can never be flipped back and when the last page is turned the book vanishes.

So while we might not be able to put the genie back in the bottle, maybe we can embrace player knowledge instead of fighting it, and use it in fun new ways.

Epic Thursday!

The mid 1970's through the 1980's was the era of adult illustrated fantasy magazines.  The best known of these, Heavy Metal, which is still published, spawned numerous imitators, many of which were little more than badly written smut.  One of the worst in my collection was Warren Publishing's magazine, 1984, which came off has having been written by a socially maladjusted fourteen-year-old.

A late entry into the field, and one that was more mature and tasteful, and therefore an easier sell to my mother who would have raised an eyebrow at Heavy Metal, was Marvel Comic's Epic Illustrated.  I was a fan of Epic for several years in the '80's, but like most of my treasures of that time, are now lost to the forces of entropy.

I was fortunate enough, however, to have recently purchased a large collection of Epic Illustrated that someone had traded at my friend's comic shop, so I can relieve a bit of my youth, re-read some old favourites as well as issues I missed the first time around.  I can't resist sharing the spoils, so let's dial our time machine back thirty-one years to the spring of 1980 and flip through the premiere issue of Epic Illustrated.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I'd even buy Chick Tracts comics if they had Frazetta covers, so it was a good move on Marvel's part to kick off their new magazine with kick-ass cover art by one of the most recognizable fantasy artists in the business.  The scene here suggests warriors on the brink of adventure, which hints at what lies within.

Unfortunately this issue's content's didn't quite live up to the promise of its cover.  The very first story within is a lame-ass Silver Surfer story.  Not only was it about a standard-fare Marvel superhero, but it was a cloyingly preachy story with a heavy-handed message that tried to be profound and clever but wasn't.  The Silver Surfer embarks upon a cosmic quest to find the ultimate answer of existence, sure that if he travels far enough and breaches the galactic boundary the answer will be laid out before him.  His journey ultimately brings him back to his starting point and he comes to the conclusion that the answer lies within each of us.  Yawn.

The only saving grace of this story, which was written by Stan Lee himself, was the beautiful art by John Buscema, whose work on Savage Sword of Conan I always loved.

Most of the other stories in this issue are equally bad but with much worse art, and Epic might have sunk quickly into oblivion, never to be remembered, except that a good chunk of the magazine is devoted to the first three chapters of Jim Starlin's long-running series Metamorphosis Odyssey.

This is the story of Aknaton, last survivor of Orsiros, whose world was destroyed by the rapacious Zygotean Empire who have fought their way across the galaxy conquering everything in their path. Over the course of more than one-hundred thousand years, Aknaton lays the groundwork for his vengeance, creating life on uninhabited worlds, and uplifting the inhabitants of primitive worlds, such as the newly emerging hominids on the third planet of the Sol system.

Metamorphosis Odyssey was strong enough in its own right to keep readers coming back while Epic struggled to find its place in the market and establish itself as something other than another Heavy Metal clone.    I'm thankful to Starlin for almost single-handedly keeping the magazine afloat, because Epic eventually does hit its stride and become something pretty special, but those early issues were very rough and rocky, indeed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pewter, Plastic & Pigment: Tiny Bubbles

After nearly a week's work, I've finally finished my Ork painboy - an aggravatingly detailed miniature that took a lot longer to paint than I expected.

He's the medic in my Nobz unit who confers the Feel No Pain rule, allowing the nobz to avoid inflicted wounds on a roll of 4+, which will make an already fearsome and hard-to-kill unit even scarier.  Another of the painboy's features is his 'urty syringe, which allows him to make poisoned attacks.

The 'urty syringe was a challenge to paint because I wanted it to look transparent, showing the fluid within.  This caused all sorts of headaches, beginning with the colour.  I wanted something that looked like a virulent toxin, but the colour also had to complement the rest of the model.  I experimented with a number of colours, and ended up repainting the thing several times as each colour either clashed too strongly with the rest of the model, or didn't stand out strongly enough.  I finally settled on a dull orange which contrasts nicely with the model's teal apron and green skin, but is harmonious with  the red elements, and keeps the model from looking unbalanced.

With the colour settled on, I had to tackle the next challenge: making the liquid look like fluid in a glass syringe instead of just an orange cylinder.  I decided to try and paint bubbles, and I spent lots of time studying what bubbles look like by contemplating a mug of ale.  Never let it be said that I'm not willing to make sacrifices for my craft!

So here's the trick: how do you make lots and lots of tiny circles on a two-dimensional surface look spherical?
I started out painting the cylinder Reaper Fire Orange, then painted little black dots on it.  Over top of each black dot I painted a dot of Reaper Phoenix Red, a slightly darker orange than the cylinder, and left a little black surrounding each bubble as the meniscus.  Next, I tried to paint a small arc of GW Vomit brown within the Phoenix Red to represent the light reflecting off the sphere, and finally a white spot at the apex of the arc for the brightest point of reflected light.

The technique didn't work out as well as I'd hoped, which isn't too surprising given how small the bubbles were.  Nonetheless, this was a first experimental attempt at trying to paint spheres, and I'm not too disappointed in the result, especially since I was pretty dubious about the whole process from the start.

I thought I'd share the technique, even though it failed to achieve what I attempted to depict.  Hopefully it might inspire someone to give it a go and succeed where I failed.  After looking at it for a while I think it would have been a good idea to paint some bubbles closer in shade to the Fire Orange and without the black meniscus, to give the illusion of depth.  But that will be an experiment for another time - I can't bear to repaint this syringe any more.

Next time I'll apply the lessons learned from this attempt and hopefully get a more realistic looking bubble effect.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pewter, Plastic & Pigment: Basecoating, Shading, and Highlighting

I thought it might be useful to run through the three fundamental stages of miniature painting - basecoating, shading, and highlighting - with a step-by-step walk through.  Though I'm sure most painters are already familiar with these steps it's worthwhile walking through them for the benefit of folks who are just starting out.

I've picked the Reaper miniature, Rozmina, a half-orc pirate for the tutorial because I have something of a fetish for pirates.  Reaper has a large collection of pirate miniatures and I'm trying to collect them all.  I've also painted a lot of orcs.  Between several boxes of Grendadier orcs, a handful of Reapers, my 40K Ork army, and a large collection of Lord of the Rings orc and goblin miniatures I've painted enough orcs over the years to populate the spawning pits of Mordor.  I always enjoy coming up with different ways to paint orcs, and for this post I've decided to try out a new scheme for orc flesh, so this will be something of an experiment for me as well.  The flesh tone was inspired by Star Trek's Orion slave girls.

Because the pewter base she comes on is too narrow, the first step was to mount her on a larger plastic base and then fill it in with greenstuff, sculpting it to match the deck planks.  The model was then sprayed with black primer.

Step One

1. I've basecoated the flesh with a 1:1 mix of GW Gnarloc Green : Reaper Tanned Flesh
2. The pants and halter were basecoated with GW Calthan Brown
3. The bandanna was painted with Reaper Deep Red
4. The sword blade was painted with GW Boltgun Metal
5. Sword hilt and jewelry were basecoated with a 1:1 mix of GW Scorched Brown : GW Shining Gold
6. The sandals and leather straps were painted GW Scorched Brown

*The base, which was painted first was overbrushed with GW Scorched Brown, then dry-brushed with Reaper Mud Brown, and again with a 1:1 mix of Reaper Mud Brown : GW Kommando Khaki

You will note the the miniature looks like absolute crap at this stage. They always look bad after basecoating, but after the shading and highlighting stages they really perk up.  The bright side is that you don't have to be too careful in this stage.  Any mistakes you make can be corrected in the subsequent stages.

Step Two

1. I washed the flesh with a 2:1 mix of Reaper Grass Green : Reaper Mahogany Brown.
2. The pants and halter were washed with GW Devlan Mud wash.
3. The sword blade was washed with GW Badab Black wash.

Step 3

1. Next I reapplied the flesh basecoat to all but the most recessed areas of the skin.
2. I applied a second wash of Devlan Mud to the pants and  halter.
3. I shaded the bandanna by painting a 1:1 mix of Reaper Deep Red : Black directly into the folds and recesses.

Step 4

1. The pants and halter were then lightly drybrushed with GW Calthan Brown.
2. The flesh was given a layer of 2:1:1 GW Gnarloc Green : GW Vomit Brown : Reaper Tanned Flesh.
3. The bandanna was highlighted with Reaper Blood Red.
4. The sword hilt and jewelry were layered with GW Shining Gold.

I added Vomit Brown, a light yellowish brown, to the flesh mix to add a touch of warmth to the skin tone.  When painting my 40K orks I add yellow, instead, for a slightly garish, cartoony look, which I didn't want for this miniature.  You can see that the figure is already looking much better after some shading and highlighting.  The finishing touches, though subtle, will punch it up even more.

Step 5

1. The flesh was further highlighted with another layer in which I added Reaper Golden Blond to the previous mix.  This was followed by several more highlights with increasing amounts of Golden Blond added to the mix, and a final extreme highlight of pure Golden Blond to the nose, cheekbones and other prominent areas.

2. The eyes were blocked in with black paint.

Step 6

This step consists of the final finishing touches:

1. The eyes were painted in with white paint, leaving a small area of black paint surrounding the white.  The pupils were added in black.

2. Pure black paint was thinned down with Reaper Flow Improver and a thin black line was applied at all textural and tonal boundaries, such as where cloth or jewelry meets the skin.  This creates both a sharp contrast and neatens the boundary up, cleaning up the inevitable paint slop at these edges.  The result is a realistic looking shadow effect where ever there should be areas of relief.

3. The pants and halter were given a final edge highlight of GW Calthan Brown mixed with a bit of Golden Blond.

4. Finally, the lower lip was given a thinned down wash of GW Baal Red wash, followed by a thin coat of GW Leviathan Purple wash.  Orion slave girls all have red lips to contrast their green skin, so Rozmina got them too.

Just for fun I decided to try the new skin mix on another half-orc pirate, Gagnar Scragslayer, the only difference was that I altered the flesh wash mix to 2:1 Mahogany Brown : Grass Green.  I wanted a darker shade for him to emphasize his chiseled physique and a lighter shade for Rozmina's softer, feminine curves.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I read this post yesterday on Porky's Expanse, which got me to thinking about the commonality of roleplaying and miniatures war gaming.  Porky notes that while there is plenty of internet adversity within each gaming community there is little conflict between the two groups.  This almost suggests that wargamers and roleplayers share so little common ground that there is little to argue about.

I commented that not only are these two groups not separated by a vast gulf on opposite ends of the gaming spectrum, they are so closely related that the line dividing them often becomes so blurred as to be indistinguishable.  Of course there is little room to fully develop and explain an idea when commenting on other people's posts, so I thought I'd take an opportunity to expand upon the line of thinking that Porky's post started me on.

I've been playing miniatures war games nearly as long as I've been roleplaying and, if I remember correctly, my first miniatures war game was Starfleet Wars, which I began playing in the early days of 1981.  This was a grand game of space ship battles that consisted of five factions, each with their own line of metal ships.

I played the hive-like Entomalian faction, and a group of us spent countless hours moving our spaceships around my my best friend's basement floor.  Such was the scale of the game that we needed the entire basement floor to play on - no game table could contain the star systems we fought over - so we spent a lot of time on our hands and knees, with tape measures, maneuvering our fleets into combat range.  The thought of doing that now makes my joints ache.  But it wasn't just the battles that turned us on, it was the immersive nature of the collaborative story of galactic conflict that unfolded in our games.  We spent much of our lunch hours at school talking about the game and spinning background stories of the empires we championed.  There were five factions: the Terrans, Entomalians, Aquans, Avians, and Carnivorans, so even though the game provided little background information about these empires it was easy enough to wrap our heads around how they would look and behave.

Star ships of the Entolmalian Empire
Then, sometime about half-way through highschool, I discovered my new miniatures game obsession: Star Fleet Battles.

Based on the T.V. series we all knew and loved (with some wonky stuff from the animated series thrown in), SFB had the advantage of a common frame of reference for all players.  But somehow, as much as I loved SFB it never had the level of immersive story-telling that I enjoyed with Starfleet Wars.  Perhaps this was because the Star Trek universe was already so detailed there were few gaps left to fill in.

A Federation Dreadnought and Constitution Class Heavy Cruiser
 confront a Klingon D7 Battlecruiser
Sadly, SFB became a victim of it's own success as it's burgeoning popularity lead to a lethal outbreak of splatbookitis.  Task Force Games produced such a rapid proliferation of new rules, races, and ship classes that before long it ceased to have any resemblance to Star Trek whatsoever and victory inevitably went to he who was able to commit three binders worth of rules expansions to memory (hmmm.... does that remind anyone of a certain RPG produced by WotC?).  The game quickly ceased to be fun, and I haven't played it since.  Fortunately FASA came along and saved the day with their Star Trek Combat Simulator, which integrated a fun, playable starship miniatures combat game with their Star Trek role playing game.

And here, I finally get to the point: certain games were able to blend miniature battles with roleplaying so seamlessly that it became difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.  Now, although I did play the Star Trek RPG, and I loved the Star Trek Combat Simulator, I don't recall ever integrating them.  You could, but the characters from the RPG consisted of crew members of a star ship, and in the combat simulator game each player controlled one or more of his own ships, so it wasn't such a seamless blend.  There were games, however, that did manage to pull this off.

One such game was Car Wars.  Although it was originally intended as a fun, fast-paced pocket game, where each player drove around shooting at other player's cars with machine guns, it grew into much more.  We had a long-running campaign that was run by a game master and all the players were part of a group that faced opponents controlled by the GM.  We even had encounters out of our cars; since the game included statistics for drivers and rules for sidearms and such, we gradually transformed the game into a roleplaying game - a style of play that was eventually supported by rules supplements.

The same was true of Battletech, a miniatures war game of armoured combat in the distant future.  FASA eventually released a roleplaying game called Mechwarrior that was based in the Battletech universe and opened up whole new avenues of play.

I once played in a very enjoyable Battletech campaign in which the players were all members of an Inner Sphere mercenary company and the game had all the trappings of any science fiction rpg, except that in a setting frought with internecine warfare, battles were seldom long in coming, at which time our characters would climb into the cockpits of our mechs and we'd shift into wargame mode.  This didn't seem usual to me at all.

Nor should it, given D&D's genesis from the miniatures wargame Chainmail.  Yet, somehow or other the hobby splintered and became dichotomized into roleplaying and wargaming, and the two seldom meet anymore.  Back in the early days of D&D it was commonplace for campaigns to fall back on the Chaimail rules to resolve large-scale battles, and according to the Wikipedia entry, this is something that happened regularly in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign.  Indeed, large-scale warfare is such a commonplace theme in role playing campaigns that many modern rpgs have mass combat rules to resolve them.

As I read Porky's post my revelation was not Hey, our two hobbies have a lot in common, it was Huh? When did the hobby split?  Because, as far as I'm concerned, miniatures war gaming and roleplaying are two facets of the same hobby.  Both types of game use a set of rules mechanics to simulate play in a campaign setting and serve to help a narrative storyline unfold through play.  And often the two sets of rules mechanics can be used in the same campaign - thus, to my mind, roleplaying games are just miniatures wargames with a tighter narrative focus.  Miniatures games are a panoramic view of the cinematic action, whilst in roleplaying encounters the camera has zoomed in on individual characters.  It's all the same storytelling - just on a different scale.

If I had to guess, I'd say that it was probably the growth of Warhammer into an industry that established miniatures wargaming as a separate hobby altogether.  I remember back when White Dwarf was a general purpose gaming magazine with D&D adventures in every issue, and when Citadel Miniatures were intended for use in D&D campaigns.  Warhammer was created as a way to play with those miniatures in a more structured fashion.  But as Warhammer took off in popularity and Games Workshop went corporate, they created an industry all its own.  Now it's possible to walk into a GW hobby centre, filled with young folks at the gaming tables, many of whom have never even heard of D&D, let alone played it.

But, I think the biggest culprit responsible for dichotomizing roleplaying and wargaming is time itself.  How many different games did we play back in highschool - in those halcyon days of our youth before the responsibilities of adulthood laid claim to so many of our waking hours?  Hell, what didn't we play back then?  At the moment I am in the middle of a very enjoyable Warhammer 40K campaign, but I've had to put my Swords & Wizardry campaign on temporary hiatus to do so.  This is a sad reality, and I fear that I will never again be able to wallow in a bacchanalian orgy of gaming like I did in my teens, which reminds me of one of my favourite Calvin and Hobbes quotes: "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Assault on Angelis: Round Four

Still reeling from the Gods-awful drubbing I received at the hands of the Dark Angels, my poor beleagured orks blundered headlong into a Chaos Space Marine expeditionary force just returning from a decisive victory against the tyranid broods.

What followed was a terrifically fun and close-fought game. In the beginning things looked exceedingly grim for me. My trukk full of Nobz was destroyed in the first turn and as soon as the Nobz bailed out they were hit by a high strength template weapon that wiped out the whole squad but for the Warboss and banner bearer. These guys are the heavy-hitters of my army and with them gone, I didn't fancy my chances for the rest of the game.

As it turned out, however, luck was my mistress that night and she was generous with her favours. My Warboss cried "Waaghh!!" as he and the banner bearer charged the Chaos heavy weapons squad. The banner bearer was slain in the assault, but the Warboss laid about in a power-clawed frenzy, seeing off the Chaos marines. Though badly wounded, the Warboss, now alone, charged towards a nearby Greater Demon of Slaanesh bellowing a challenge.

The second turn also saw the arrival of my Stormboyz who were able to deepstrike from reserve and immediately assault a Chaos Defiler, destroying it.

The game proceeded in much the same fashion; my dice rolls were so lucky that my shooting attacks were nearly as effective as my close combat assaults, and several Chaos marines fell to slugga shots in the head while my Deffkopta squadron killed a Greater Demon of Nurgle with a volley of missile fire. Considering that orks' ballistic skill is so poor that their guns are really only for shooting in the air to make noise, the amount of damage I was able to inflict with shooting attacks was phenomenally good.

The only fly in my ointment was that blasted Demon of Slaanesh. After slaying my Warboss it spent the rest of the game using the most annoying psychic power ever devised, lash of submission, which allows the user to move an enemy unit 2d6" in any direction.  This power was used to great effect, pushing my oncoming squad of boyz further and further away each turn, and then pulling another squad off of the objective that I was claiming, allowing the Chaos marines to take it for themselves.  It was then that luck proved to be a fickle mistress, indeed, as I rolled a '1' at the end of turn five, ending the game prematurely, with the Chaos Marines in control of one objective.  Naturally, I had just killed the Slaanesh Demon that was aggravating me all game and I would finally have been able to get my boyz into the fight and take the objective back if the game hadn't ended.

So, I chock up another loss, but a great game that featured several exciting battles and much fun.
On the other side of the room, the Dark Angels were slaughtering their tyranid opponents in much the same one-sided fashion that they massacred me last game.

The campaign record of wins/losses now stands:
Dark Angels: 3 wins, 1 loss
Chaos Space Marines: 3 wins, 1 loss
Tyranids: 1 win, 3 losses
Orks: 1 win 3 losses

I'd be hard pressed to nominate an MVP for the game from my army: one of my squads of boyz did a lot of the heavy lifting and held an objective for several turns before being forced off; my Deffkoptas were wildly successful with their shooting, slaying a greater demon; but I have to give the nod to my Warboss who single-handedly defeated an entire heavy weapons squad and then, despite having only one wound left, had the orky audacity to go toe-toe with another greater demon.  That's pretty damned heroic.

Warboss Gazhbag - spiritual hero of the match