Friday, December 31, 2010

Battle Cry 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition

Wizards of the Coast recently released a revised edition of Richard Borg's Battle Cry to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. 

I stumbled across this game today and caught it on sale and had to get a copy. Lots of new artwork on the box, rulebook, map board, and terrain tiles. The map and terrain colors are washed out and look more natural. Don't get me wrong - I thought the old version looked good.

Another bonus - the game includes a Jackson campaign and 13 new scenarios in addition to the now "classic" scenarios. There's a lot of 1861 battles and some more western theater scenarios. Another plus - they changed 'The Battle of Chickamunga' to 'The Battle of Chickamauga'. I always wondered how that one slipped by the editor. 

I copied the scenario lists from Board Game Geek's page on the Battle Cry 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition and posted them below:

Classic Battle Cry Battles
* First Bull Run--21st July, 1861
* Pea Ridge--7th March, 1862
* Kernstown--23rd March, 1862
* Shiloh--6th April, 1862
* Gaines Mill--27th June, 1862
* Brawner's Farm--28th August, 1862
* Antietam--17th September, 1862
* Fredericksburg--13th December, 1862
* Murfreesboro--31st December, 1862
* Gettysburg--2nd July, 1863
* Gettysburg--3rd July, 1863
* Chickamauga--20th September, 1863
* New Market--15th May, 1864
* New Hope Church--25th May, 1864

Jackson Campaign
* McDowell, Virginia - May 8 1862
* Winchester, Virginia - May 25 1862
* Cedar Mountain, Virginia - August 9 1862

150th Civil War Anniversary Edition Battles
* Falling Waters, West Virginia - July 2, 1861
* Wilson's Creek, Missouri (Bloody Hill) - August 10 1861
* Greenbrier River, West Virginia - October 3 1861
* Belmont, Missouri - November 7 1861
* Dranesville, Virginia - December 20 1861
* Fort Donelson, Tennessee (Confederate Breakout) - February 15 1862
* Little Sugar Creek, Arkansas - February 17 1862
* Williamsburg, Virginia (North of Fort Magruder) - May 5 1862
* Oak Grove, Virginia - June 25 1862
* Richmond, Kentucky (Union Final Position) - August 30 1862
* Ox Hill, Virginia - September 1 1862
* Perryville, Kentucky - October 8 1862
* Prarie Grove, Arkansas - December 7 1862

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

World War II Skirmish Games

I was a big fan of Easy Eight's Battleground World War II that came out in 1997. It was a fun skirmish game that used the d20 and a card activation mechanic. It had a lot of detail. In short, a miniature got to take two actions (move, shoot, etc) and a typical scenario probably matched two platoons against each other. The game could handle a few vehicles on the table as well. Vehicle combat wasn't overly complicated, despite the vehicle hit charts.  In fact, I don't think the indirect fire rules for off-board artillery were too bad either.

I never played the game with 28mm figures, but I purchased a few on the cheap a couple of years ago in the hopes of trying out the game with some tweaks to the ranged combat mechanics. After all the years spent absorbing the D&D d20 system, I think there may be a better way to do what Easy Eight had in mind. 

Warlord Games has recently released Operation Squad: World War Two.  I am curious to see what the authors have come up for the period. The 46-page softcover appears to be limited to infantry battles and combat seems to revolve around the addition or subtraction of d6s. 

Between the two game systems, with maybe a healthy dose of stolen ideas from Crossfire (Arty Conliffe's company-level WW2 game) and Flames of War, I may get those 28mm WW2 figures painted and on the tabletop in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Welcome to Scrape

Dungeon Magazine #16 (going all the way back to early 1989) has one of best adventures you will find in that magazine in the last days of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Technically, 2nd Edition had already been released, but I believe the 1st Edition adventures appeared for several of the bi-monthly issues afterward. The game editions were close enough that a little conversion wasn't too much work. But I digress...

So, what was so great about this particular issue? In a word: Vesicant. That's the name of the adventure and the name of its main villain, a young green dragon with a penchant for magic items and an alliance with Scrape, a town of pirates (human, orc, and goblin). That's her on the cover (right), with the magic wand and the arcane blast of some kind. She was small, clever, and vicious. Vesicant relied on tricks and good tactics to take on the 4th-7th level characters that sought her doom. The idea was that if the dragon was removed, the pirates would be easier to handle.

That was another selling point, by the way - the lovely "mid-level" aspect of the adventure. It's when characters are strong enough to take on tougher monsters, but they cannot ignore the low-level monsters either. Once the characters got to 10th level or so, the low-level monsters just weren't challenging anymore - and you lose some taste to the game. 

Of course, Scrape was a great place to have a lot of role-playing with cloak & dagger perspectives. Without Scrape, the adventure just would not have made such an impression on me. An engaging urban environ that invites the characters to explore, talk, and fight with its inhabitants is always a plus - and Scrape was one of the best places for that.

The heroes just couldn't storm the town, they had to gather info from the port's power brokers so they pick up enough clues to find the dragon's hidden lair in the hills. The human, orcish, and goblin quarters of the town were fleshed out. There was a lot of follow-up adventures to be had in Scrape if you wanted to play them. Hooks were all over the place - the removal of Scrape's tyrant, the half-orc warlord Yorin and his ogre bodyguards could result in a civil war between the town's factions; the appearance of a duergar slaver indicated some trade relations with the Underdark; and a pair of evil elven mercenaries could have meant anything. 

In some ways, Scrape could have worked well as the larger environs of the classic D&D module A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity. I actually used Scrape as part of the Slave Lords' network of outposts. 

Much like I reminisce that Dragon #63 was an epiphany of my early gaming days, this magazine did much the same for me when I rediscovered my love for the game after a few years of hiatus.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

British Army on the Eastern Fronts - World War I

I have been researching the British Empire's eastern conflicts of World War I/post-World War I. It has long been a favorite of mine, despite a lack of dedicated reading on my part. I am debating whether or not to explore Britain's 'Other Fronts' on the tabletop, especially in light of the ANZACs and Turks you can get these days: Gripping Beast offshoot, The Woodbine Design Company, offers WW I in the East range in 28mm, and HaT Industrie offers a good range in 1/72 scale plastic. 

I recently purchased Osprey's The British Army in World War I (3) - The Eastern Fronts (MAA 406), written and illustrated by Mike Chappell. Lots of good info on the campaigns from the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia - and they give a lot of flavorful starting points for scenario or campaign designs. Of course, the book is great for working out the kind of figures one might need. I was pleased to see the typical early war 'ANZAC look' - felt hats, with or without shorts - had applicability beyond the Australians. Maybe the biggest thing to consider might be whether or not your tabletop British/Commonwealth/Dominion troops have newer/older equipment and weapons. I highly recommend this title.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Warlord Games to Release Ancients Ruleset

So it seems that Warlord Games is going to publish a ruleset for Ancients with Rick Priestley. Follow the link to check out some very cool pics of Middle Imperial Romans battling Sassanid Persians, painted by Dr. Phil Hendry. 

I don't know if the ruleset will use core mechanics from Black Powder, but I could see some ideas making the fit. I've already thought about how Black Powder (see right) might be a good way to wargame the Warring States of Japan, a period that normally fits in with medieval rules. A game system that focuses a bit more on melee that offers the kind of template-tweaks found in Black Powder might be a good way to approach the 'millennial system' (ie. Biblical to early Medieval) Warlord has planned.

While I cannot say that rules that cover everything from the age of chariots to the Hundred Years War are ideal, realistic, etc., I don't necessarily assume they are bad or not fun. I think there's a number of things that make a particular period or army distinct from others, and some of them probably get a glossing over. I review this kind of thing fairly often in Wargames Illustrated, and sometimes you just have to pick the game that best translates historical evidence (or even literary evidence) to your taste and understanding. Anyway, I'm curious what Warlord will come up with.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Powder: ACW

We played Black Powder using the Battle Cry game (hexboard terrain and plastic figures) and it seemed to go well. As much as it would have been nice to have seen a 4' x 8' table with about 200-250 figures per side, this was not a bad way to get our heads around the game mechanics.

I'm not sure yet what level of command is right for Black Powder in an ACW game, but the rather generic order of battle (general and 'brigade' commanders) gives them some versatility. We tried a scenario and set up straight from the Battle Cry rules: The Battle of Kernstown. This essentially gave the CSA three generals (Jackson as CIC plus two large brigades) and the Union two generals (no CIC and two large brigades). We will handle things differently when we base a game on historical accounts instead of just taking the pieces and deployment from Battle Cry, but it did what we really wanted to do - give us a better feeling for Black Powder.

We thought we should start out each army's infantry regiments in march column, which might have been a bit much considering their proximity. We learned that forcing troops to begin a scenario in march column can be really ugly - it only takes a failed command roll or two to leave them as sitting ducks even for long range fire. This is a very useful thing to keep in mind for certain ambush scenarios.

We used the Black Powder ACW sample scenario stats for our troops - ie. Rifled Muskets for infantry, Skirmish Order for dismounted cavalry, etc. One thing I think that might be worth adding to ACW scenarios for line infantry muskets is the use of First Volley (ie. the first volley is the best and later volleys tend to be less drilled affairs). Black Powder tends to assign that rule to earlier armies, but not ACW. Granted, my research into the period is limited compared to serious students of the period, but this is one of the things that leaps out of historical accounts I've read, lectures I've heard, and discussions I've had.

Another thing worth revisiting is how Black Powder handles woods and the ability of line infantry to traverse it. I think the sample scenario allows line infantry to temporarily assume skirmish order while in woods but resume regular formation upon exiting - I really need to double check that. We used that in our game, but there might be better ways of working this out. Maybe this should come from the terrain side of things - ie. the woods provide cover, slow movement, and block LOS, but they aren't thick enough to force skirmish order (with its inherent combat bonuses and penalties).  Regardless, the game is made for tweaking and I'm sure we'll come up with something that feels historically 'right' that can be played with minimum fuss.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Bit of Thanks

Thanksgiving Day approaches and I thought I might share a few things with you folks about what I am grateful for in regards to history and gaming. 

I'm grateful for the folks who take the time to read my musings on this blog. I hope you find some value you in what you encounter here. 
Thanks, Chris Perkins!

I'm grateful for the historians, authors, and game designers whose talent and love for their callings really inspired me.

I'm grateful that I have had a chance to explore the world of game design/writing. I'd like to thank a number of editors that have played pivotal roles in this pursuit: Dave Gross, Chris Perkins, Jesse Decker, Mike McArtor, Wes Schneider, Rob Broom, Dan Faulconbridge, and Dave Taylor.

I'm grateful for the generosity and camaraderie of a number of historians, writers, and professional hobbyists: Guy Halsall, Neil Smith, Jim Graham, John Bianchi, Andy Hawes, Shane Grubb, and Heine Baekkelund (RIP).

I'm grateful for all the friends and loved ones that have sat at the gaming table with me through the years. I cherish those times.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wargames Illustrated 278 (A Small Preview)

WI recently updated their site for the December 2010 issue; check out the preview here. This issue has a lot of samurai, a good dose of the ancient Mediterranean, and the Battle of Bussaco 1810. Of course, the WI website offers a lot of extras to support the magazine content on its home page.

I have not received my copy yet, but in the meantime, I can tell you that I have read a draft on the lead article, 'Sengoku Showdown'. It's a great way to jump into the era of Japan's Warring States - lots of good info and quite a bit of energy in the piece. WI's Dave Taylor asked me if I would be interested in supporting the article with a wargaming section and I jumped at the chance.

If you liked my series on 'Wargaming the Roman Army' (and even if you didn't), then check out my 'Wargaming the Carthaginians' in this issue. Dave and Dan had some good ideas for putting more/different gaming aspects into the article and I was quite happy with how it all turned out.

More later once I've had a chance to get the magazine in my hands.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

FOW Project: 251/9 Cs

251/9 Cs before wheels, tracks, and guns.
The FOW summer project was put on hiatus, but I have put it back in action. No long sessions, but I put in a couple of hours this evening. The thing I have been dreading is my German 251/9 C models (the short barrel 75mm support vehicle). 

Why? Well, it seemed the front wheels would not fit well into the resin body. This was an easier fix than I expected - I just trimmed some of the lead wheel attachment piece. I also widened the resin body joint, but I think my time was better spent just working on the wheels. Not a hard project and I feel a little bit better about my very basic modeling skills. 

Regardless, this was no big problem to tackle and I can tell you I never had the wheel fit mismatch with the regular German halftracks. I called it a day on the 251s after attaching the tracks and guns and got started on the Flakpanzers (more on them later).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Classics on Classical Warfare

I do my best to find recent works when researching a given historical subject, but there's nothing wrong with relying on some old favorites - even if they are a little dated and have some flaws. I can hardly make better recommendations to someone starting a collection than John Warry's Warfare in the Classical World and Duncan Head's Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars.

I am hardly in a position to tell you what these authors got right or wrong from the perspective of a formal historical discipline. I can only really say that I've done more reading on the period since I acquired these titles in the early/mid 1990s and I think they missed a few points - or even broad strokes. 

Regardless, there's good nuts and bolts type of info to be found in both books (and lots of nice illustrations) that should be of some help for those building tabletop armies for the period and/or those just simply interested in the wars of Antiquity. 

Of course, don't overlook the bibliographies - especially the primary resources. Nothing like reading about the ancient world in the words of Caesar, Livy, or Ammianus Marcellinus.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ammianus Marcellinus: The Siege of Amida

If you like wargaming the Late Roman period, I highly recommend Ammianus Marcellinus' history, The Later Roman Empire (AD 354 -378). He was a Greek officer who served in the Roman army during the mid-Fourth Century and offers a lot of anecdotes and personal perspectives on the era's politics and wars. The  heart of the work focuses much on the rise of Julian the Apostate.

The Persian siege of Amida is a great read. The assault against the Roman-held city walls has all the kind of punch you might associate with Speilberg's 'Saving Private Ryan'. Marcellinus really pulls you into the exchange of arrows, slingshot, and artillery missiles as the Persians try to take the city by escalade (ladders), earthen ramps, and siege towers. The city eventually falls after 73 days, but Marcellinus makes a narrow escape with a few other survivors. All kinds of game scenarios, big and small, suggest themselves from these pages. 

On an an army-building note, Marcellinus often refers to the barbarian clients/allies/mercenaries in service to the Persian King of Kings, Sapor. Unless I am mistaken, it kind of reads like Marcellinus was able to identify these Middle Eastern troops from 'true' Persians. Maybe an analogy might be to compare Roman troops and irregular auxiliaries. While I have never played a Sassanid Persian army (I have fought a few, at least on the tabletop), it did make me wonder what kind of possibilities there might be for them in miniatures. I'll admit, I have not done any manufacturer research on the army in years, but it seems whenever I see pics of Sassanid infantry, they often appear to be the standard levy lot. Sounds like I may need need to do some more digging around.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Normans in Ireland

I was quite pleased how my Normans in Ireland (the ca 1170 invasion) article turned out in Wargames Illustrated 277. Dan F did a fantastic job of translating the game scenario into tabletop pics and Matt Parkes did some pretty cool conversions for late 12th Century Normans - its kind of a transitional period between First Crusade and High Middle Ages for their armor and weapons. 

I have been intrigued withe subject matter since I encountered it in Tim Newark's Celtic Warriors in the early 90s. While I don't necessarily agree with the book's pan-Celtic theme - I'm not sure all Celtic peoples shared a common bond or identification throughout the ages, nor that they viewed the world in terms of 'Celts v. Everybody Else - especially those Saxon/Norse Types' - it made for some good reading and had a lot of ancient and medieval sources.

Gerald of Wales wrote a contemporary/near-contemporary account of the late 12th Century Anglo-Norman invasion. I highly recommend an online translation for anyone interested in researching the period. There's lots of wargame scenario ideas, from skirmishes to battles to be found there - and it has lots of flavor. Be warned, Gerald may be a little biased towards the Normans. Gerald of Wales' History of the Conquest of Ireland may be found online at the University of Toronto Library. 

Also of note: Wargames Illustrated has been digging out the ancient archives to support recent articles, and they pull out a series of 12th Century Anglo-Norman battles this time around. Follow this link to download PDFs for Lincoln, Oxford, and Wilton (written by Stephen Simpson, originally published in WI 29-31).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wargames Illustrated 277: Haitian Revolution

I have been away from the blog quite a bit due to some heavy projects and other things, but here's the promised follow up to Wargames Illustrated 277 (at a glance).

First off, I have to say Neil Smith's article on the Haitian Revolution ("An Island in Flames") ranks as one my favorite piece written by him. It is interesting subject matter; I only had a vague understanding that there was a war in Haiti (remembered through DC's Weird War Tales #20 and #25, pictured right) until I read this article. More importantly, as one expects from Neil, he goes the distance in bringing the period alive, both from historical and gaming perspectives. 

Before you know it, you wish you had some French Revolution soldiers mixing it up on rough terrain with rebellious Haitians. In case you had not already figured it out, the Haitian Revolution is ugly. The article includes a skirmish scenario and small battle scenario, using Warhammer Historical's Legends of the High Seas and Warlord Game's Black Powder, respectively. If you don't play those games, the scenario details are descriptive enough that you can use whatever rules you have  at hand. 

There's lots of great photos accompanying the article, include pics of Trent Miniature's 'Caribbean' and 1790 ranges. Also of note - the article closes with a teaser about 'Trouble in the Caribbean' material in the future. Haiti's struggle for independence will be covered in the next installment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wargames Illustrated 277 (at a glance)

This issue has got some offbeat material for some favorite periods, and I really like it. Highlights include the Russian offensive into Hungary (Flames of War/late war), the Haitian Revolution (late 18th Century), and the Anglo-Norman Invasion of Ireland (late 12th Century). We also get a little taste of hilarious sci-fi gaming with Howard Whitehouse's "Eat Hitler" mix of Nazis and dinosaurs. The magazine also debuts a new feature - Quick Fire Scenarios. 

I'll go into a little more detail in a future post, but I will leave you with a few thoughts. I like interesting articles that explore different perspectives of any given (and maybe even well-worn) military period and offer new gaming ideas in the bargain. All the major highlights noted above will let you put some new use to miniature troops that normally march across the field in other places (or even other times - and I'm not just talking about the sci-fi game).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spooky Adventures: Tammeraut's Fate

Every now and then, I think it's fun to really bring some horror elements to a role-playing game. I don't think this is necessarily an easy thing to do. I mean, a lot of the mundane monsters in a fantasy RPG would seem rather scary to me - but they are so common and the heroes are...well, heroes. I think a lot of it comes to writing style and game design - if the adventure can hold back some mystery and grab the characters (literally) unexpectedly, then you got something. 

One of the best D&D adventures I've run as a GM was Greg A. Vaughan's "Tammeraut's Fate" from Dungeon # 106. The author took a classic horror film idea - stranded on an island and under siege by zombies - and really made something that resonates. 
It did not seem like a tired cliche or dull or anything less than a suspenseful series of scary encounters. It was kind of fun to do a little give and take on pushing the adventure - the player characters need to drive a bit, otherwise they rightly feel that they are only reacting to situations - BUT - I think they got a kick out of knowing that the situation was out of control while they investigated the island's hermitage. It was tense and they knew they were up against some dark forces even before the sea zombies showed up. As a GM, these are the kind of moments you work towards - when the players are scrambling, using desperate imagination and tactics to get their characters out the other side of the adventure.

This gem from 2004 can be found as a hard copy or PDF from Paizo here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Early Imperial Romans and Small Battles

I have recently added Dr. Phil Hendry's wargames website to my blog lists. I can't even begin to tell you about the all the Roman-related articles and wargame army projects you will find there.

Besides his website, you find a number of his articles on the Warlord Games website. His most recent piece there makes a GREAT argument for playing small scale Roman battles that may have little do with with standard wargame army lists and popular conceptions. Check out the 'Vindolanda Strength Return' article here. If you do a search on Dr. Hendry on the Warlord site, you get quite a few results here

I have thought a long time about exploring small battles and skirmish games in the Early Imperial Period. More than anything else, I believe my efforts would have to start with a core force of auxiliaries. So for today's visual candy, I am posting the box cover to Warlord Game's Plastic Imperial Roman Auxiliaries

Friday, October 15, 2010

L5R: Empire at War Scorpions Score!

I tried out my new Scorpion deck from the recent Empire at War release for AEG's Legend of the Five Rings card game. The deck did not do too bad - and all I used was what came in the starter. Considering I have played as well as I do when I have constructed a deck - well, that probably says something about my skill and how good the cards were.

Of course, there were lots of cool synergies to be had, and they actually seemed to fit well with my regular Scorpion "deck of tweaking," which uses a lot of samurai/Bitter Lies kensai and ninjas. Take a look at the Fortress of Blackened Sight stronghold at the right - now that's a good card for the multi-weapon kensai personalities for sure. 

And did you notice the Limited Action ability? That worked great for me. If you pair this up with an Artificer (or three) , you have the ability to really go through those Fate cards. Nothing like getting the weapons or sneaky ninja action cards when you can use them.

Another potential synergy was a ninja actor personality that could replace a non-Unique dead personality. The ninja actor is absolutely dirt cheap too. If you haven't found someone you need to replace, you can play some of your favorite ninja action cards off of the character. I hesitated to attach any weapons, afraid of losing them, but then I realized that a number of weapons in the deck could easily transfer to another character. That's a good combo.

For what it's worth, I'm not a huge fan of collectible card games. I like this game for all the fantasy roleplaying atmosphere it brings to the table. The Celestial Edition relaunch from last year seems to have really gone some way to making casual play very enjoyable, which I thought was one of the game's original strengths back in the mid-90s. Everyone likes cool cards, and even a serious non-competitor like myself can easily land a few nice ones without having to go to ebay. I don't think my Scorpion starter deck was unique, either. It seems like most starter decks have had some hitting power in them without requiring a lot of boosters, but this one really went over the top.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pathfinder Bestiary: Petrification & Dragons

I recently launched a Pathfinder RPG campaign. I highly recommend the game if you liked D&D 3.5 - I know that some folks consider it D&D 3.75. I still catch myself calling it Dungeons & Dragons. 

In my first post, I mentioned that I had purchased the game's Bestiary as a PDF. I liked it so much, that I had to get my hands on an actual hard copy through the local gaming store. I don't bring the laptop to the gaming table too much and I tire of printing stuff, especially if I just need a quick flip reference. 

Paizo really got the Bestiary right. I expected some measure of revision of flavor, but was unsure how the mechanics would get tweaked. I am leisurely studying the tome, so I'm sure I'll have more discoveries that haven't leaped out at me. Here's one thing that already put the monster catalog over the top for me: petrification attacks.

The D&D game has had several monsters capable of turning our heroes into stone since its earliest days in the 1970s: basilisk, cockatrice, gorgon, and medusa come readily to mind. They do it variously by gaze, breath, or bite. As the game has evolved, the variety focused primarily on the attack method, although the save mechanic changed with the D&D 3rd Edition (ie. some monster petrification attacks were harder to resist than others). 

Pathfinder Bestiary has spiced this dynamic even more. A failed saving throw might not immediately result in petrification with most of the previously mentioned monsters, except for the medusa - and that's just the way it ought to be. The designers added some interesting ways to overcome the petrifying process in some cases as well.  

I can also say they got the dragons right too. Their powers seem very intuitive and I catch myself thinking how awesome they seem - again. One of the best things that ever happened to the game was when TSR restructured and boosted the power of dragons in 2nd Edition. In my opinion, they have made another great leap with Pathfinder. 

Kudos to Paizo for doing such a great job with the monsters we love to battle.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Updating Blog

I've added some new gadgets to the blog. Finally, there is a search button - not sure why I waited. Also, I have a popular posts section - quite frankly, for my own amusement. I am surprised by some of the items that currently rank as the most-viewed posts. 

Next week I will probably drop a few lines about L5R's new Empire at War expansion. I picked up a clan deck for the Scorpions and was quite pleased at all the cool stuff I found in it. There's some gaming goodness about Paizo's Pathfinder RPG 'Bestiary' I want to share as well.

Of course, expect more on Black Powder this fall.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Black Powder & Battle Cry

I have  strayed somewhat from my beloved Ancients and Dark Ages periods. One ruleset that I anxious to get more experience with is Warlord Games' Black Powder

I probably don't have to say a whole lot here about this ruleset - it's not like it hasn't been one of the biggest events of wargaming in recent years. It's got Rick Priestley and awesome production values. There's plenty of in-depth reviews to be found. This isn't one of them.

I don't have the resources (time, money, patience) to collect a bunch - or even a few - 18th/19th Century armies to play this game in the way it is magnificently described and illustrated in the rulebook. However,  I am going to give them a tryout using some nice hexboard terrain (probably from Battle Cry and Memoir '44) and some relevant 1/72 scale plastic figures.

While I'm going to start with the American Civil War, I'm going to take a look at some other wars. Right now the East India Company (especially 18th Century), the Seminole Wars, the American War of Independence, and late 19th Century colonials are of interest. For anyone interested in exploring the world of the soft plastic soldiers, I have included Plastic Soldier Review in the links section. I'll post some (very brief) battle reports, orders of battle, and that kind of thing on the blog once we get started. 

Oh yeah - Warlord Games offer some free Black Powder PDF downloads of a Quick Ref Sheet, Army Roster, and FAQs, which may be found on the Black Powder gaming page.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Awesome Scenario/Game Designer Article in WI 276

John Desch's "Polishing That Old Gem" from WI 276 (the Chariots issue) is absolutely awesome. The article takes us step by step - from figures to command & control to combat rules - on how the author translated the historical accounts of the Franco-Prussian War into games of Fire & Fury, and then converted them to Black Powder. He gives a ton of specifics and offers great guiding principles. Also, I think the material demonstrates Black Powder's versatility - it's got some fantastic templates regarding morale, drill, and combat that you can use to tweak your game to match the historical narrative you want to tell on the tabletop.

I was most pleased with the piece - if you couldn't guess - and plan to use Desch's advice when I tackle some upcoming projects. Highly recommended article for anyone who loves to work up scenarios and run games for other players.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Coming Soon: Wargames Illustrated Does Chariots

I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of WI 276 with its chariot-era theme. Now I don't collect chariot armies, but I have enjoyed a biblical period game or two in the past. Mostly, I just want to learn a little more about the period and how it translates onto the table. There are plenty of cool periods that I rarely get to experience, and this is one that deserves more coverage.

Here's a link to the WI website preview. One thing that jumps out is that Jim Graham is doing the intro piece on the chariots theme. Jim did a great job with the Greeks a few issues back and I expect even old hands at chariot gaming will discover something new. 

Another thing that intrigues me is the modeling article on constructing chariots. I'm hoping this will involve a little bit of balsa wood. After researching chariots from later periods (ie. Classical Antiquity), I think gamers could do with some more variety than might be found in manufacturer offerings - especially in the 25mm/28mm scale. I'm hoping we see some widely applicable tips here. 

UPDATE (Sept 25)
I received my copy the other day and have been working my way through the articles after the usual skimming of the entire issue. Jim Graham does a top-notch job on several chariot articles. Some good modeling advice on the chariot construction using a manufacturer kit and Paul Davies really scores with a how-to article on field defenses.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

D&D 3rd Edition Epiphanies: Kobolds, Charisma, and Sorcerers

It just occurred to me that me that it's the 10th anniversary of the launch of D&D 3rd Edition (the core rulebooks - Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual - were released between August and October 2000). For a year I had been grooving on the interesting revamps of a game that I dearly loved, eagerly reading the preview tidbits published in Dragon magazine. The d20 mechanic - "one rule to rule them all" - replaced pretty much every system and gave the game a universal structure for just about everything - combat, saving throws, and skill checks. The concept was simple - roll high.

There was a lot more done to the game than that, some of it seemingly cosmetic, some of it simply interesting evolutions all their own or derived from the flow of the literally game-changing d20 system. Spell systems took a big change and even monsters became codified by type. It was revolutionary in many ways.

For me, the it comes down to kobolds, Charisma, and sorcerers. These items embody the core concepts of how the game had changed for the better in my mind. I suppose I should explain...

The 3rd edition of the game actually made Charisma a useful ability to have. It played a stronger role in certain classes - especially the sorcerer, bard, and paladin - but also the cleric. For too long it was the dump ability for too many players - the place to put a low score. It did not readily lend itself to quantifiable benefits - especially in combat. With 3e, Charisma powered a lot of  skills and, er, powers.

The sorcerer was a new alternate to the studious wizard, an arcane spellcaster who based his powers on Charisma instead of Intelligence. For years I had read articles and letters to the editor that wanted an alternate magic system in place. In some ways, this was a good answer to that kind of thinking. As far as that goes, the bard received some much-needed focus that put the class squarely in the spellcaster realm; it used a spell acquisition system very similar to the one used by the sorcerer.

And, finally, there's the lowly kobold, who might happen to be a sorcerer! The kobolds in past editions were such weenies that even 1st-level heroes didn't have much problem with them. Now the little nuisances could be quite nasty, especially with leaders and champions that had class levels like any player character. 

That's it for game design appreciation class today!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hollow's Last Hope Hits High Marks - And It's FREE!

Paizo gave D&D (and future Pathfinder) players a really great introductory adventure with module D0: Hollow's Last Hope, their offering for Free RPG Day 2007. In fact, this great item is still free as a PDF. 

It's got the right mix of altruistic, monetary, and magic rewards. It engages players with  doses of combat and skill challenges. The foes are varied and interesting - hobgoblin hunter, a guardian cauldron, and tricky worg are just the highlights - and I almost forgot the creepy tatzelwyrm! It's also got both wilderness and dungeon settings - enough to get everyone's feet wet. Honestly, it gives new players a taste of what the best fantasy RPG games are about, 
kind of in the way that CS Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle gently brought their readers into contact with strange new worlds that would soon prove much, much more scary and exciting.

Hollow's Last Hope serves as a prelude to the D1: Crown of the Kobold King. It's hardly necessary to enjoy the Crown, but the monastery illustration and map feature in Hollow's Last Hope might come in handy for some extra encounters.

You can go to and download this free PDF on this page.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New Forest Flip-Mat from Paizo

I've mentioned Paizo's great two-sided tabletop accessories before (click on the just-added Flip-Mats label for more) - they are durable and have a great amount of utility. I have used their old forest flip-mat for years now - and will continue to do so after I purchase the newer version - but I know that the new one will look great with our RPG minis and monsters moving across them. The forest has got to be the quintessential terrain of any fantasy RPG I've played or ran - I mean, it's right on the way to the dungeons and caves, right? It's right up there with the cheerless meal by campfire and trying to sort out the night watch as far as fantasy gaming goes. 

Anyway - check out that meandering set of paths to the right! I don't think you could expect more curvy ambush spots in a cavern. 

Click here to see Paizo's description of the product and get a look at the sample sides. I could be wrong, but in the past, the sample sides of any flip-mats I've purchased had no detectable changes in graphics.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How to Explore A New Wargaming Period (or Revisit an Old Favorite)

I've talked about some epiphany moments in regards to fantasy role-playing games before on the blog. Today I thought it would be cool to mention something about diving into a new wargaming period with the right kind of spirit. 

Chris Scott's article, "The Sneak of the Sudan," found in Miniature Wargames #137 (October 1994) still makes me think to this day. I couldn't find a digital image of the cover, but I did find that they used part of the cover in a digital collection available here and pictured above. You don't have to be a fan of 19th Century colonials to appreciate the content - Mr. Scott sets a good example to follow.

One of the things that is right up front is the element of fun. It's obvious that the author and his chums are having a good time researching the period, collecting figures, playing the games, and creating/tweaking rules. Their efforts make a richer experience for all parties - they learn something and get into a friendly competition of out-sneaking the other. 

I love the way the guys go about building their forces. In addition to new figures and models, they hunt the bring & buy/flea markets at conventions to create hodgepodge armies of manufacturer ranges. Mr. Scott goes so far as to draft plastic toy camels into his army (adding supply bags and a paint jobs). He and his friend even make some conversions of just out-of-period artillery and boats - you get the idea. Their armies had a lot of character.

I don't know if they used a published set of rules or not, but they certainly felt free to add in scenario rules for fatigue, movement, etc to make the rules fit historical accounts. This is the right kind of attitude to have. If a historical game can't be played with the rules as written, then change them for that game. 

That's it for the inspirational soapbox today...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wargames Illustrated #275

I think anyone expecting a standard treatment of the Age of Agincourt/Crecy with WI 275's English Bowman theme will be pleasantly surprised. They are one of those iconic warrior groups that have needed some refreshing coverage for medieval wargaming - and they get it here.

Neil Smith puts in the lion's share of articles on the subject. I enjoy Neil's style - he's got a knack for relating a historical narrative with some flair and humor. He does a great job of making Crecy a tough scenario (and not just for the French). Hindsight and mythology have kind of given us the impression it was a simple matter for the English bowmen to slaughter the mounted French knights; Neil gives players a way to bring something closer to the historical reality to the tabletop. 

John Bianchi gives readers a World War I article with "Disaster at Caporeto." The pages - and there's eight of them - are packed with info and a cool scenario. Furthermore, the WI website has more of John's supporting material here.  If you want to see some great tabletop pics of Scarab Miniatures' Austro-Hungarians and Italians, this one is also for you. Kudos also to the terrain set up on this article as well. 

Flames of War content continues the Blitzkrieg coverage, with a lot of highlights on French armored forces. I think this material may give readers pause if they think the fall of France in 1940 was inevitable and if they readily dismiss the ability and willpower of the French military. 

I've really only talked a little about this issue. Go the WI website to see a full summary of the articles here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Star Frontiers

OK - I think I have found the perfect sci-fi RPG for Wargame Factory's Shock Troopers (see my post on these retro-futurist soldiers): Star Frontiers

TSR made a much-improved attempt at sci-fi gaming with this product in 1982. I know there's lots of Gamma World fans out there - and the fact that Wizards of the Coast is giving the game the 4e treatment must say something about that. But at the time, Star Frontiers offered a much more controlled environment/rules system. Granted, it was set in space and not post-apocalyptic Earth - but that did not stop us from bringing those elements to the game.

I think the d20 Modern and its sci-fi supplements could offer some good ground rules as well. From my very limited review of those rules, they do seem a bit complicated to me (at least compared to 3rd Edition D&D). About the only drawback I can recall about Star Frontiers - beside the bad grenade rules which needed some common sense or an errata sheet to fix - is that character advancement seemed rather lackluster.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

With all the recent posts on fantasy and sci-fi gaming inspired by works of fiction, let's take a look a classic D&D module, S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. The premise of the adventure was that the fantasy heroes explore what turns out to be a large chunk of an alien ship embedded in a mountain. The module makes the assumption that the characters are not familiar with concepts of beings from other worlds or space travel (beings from other planes of existence is a different matter). It encourages the gamemaster to describe the technological items (space suits, energy weapons, robots) with terminology of a medieval fantasy mindset. A really nice booklet of illustrations accompanied the adventure; if used well, it could set up an interesting dichotomy between the spoken description and the actual image. 

The spaceship had apparently been the source of monsters that troubled the local kingdoms; I believe a lot of the creatures had escaped or been ejected by the robotic janitors. The characters had to navigate security clearance doors, elevator shafts, and maybe radiation. There's all kinds of plant creatures and bizarre monsters. Of course, there's a mind flayer or two - can't remember, but I think they were dressed as normal space crewmen.

Does the adventure work? Well, for starters, it is massive. I think there's about six levels with plenty of rooms. I can't recall if there was anything driving an informed exploration of the ship. 
I think one thing the adventure has going for it in this sense is that the players might be willing to go through every single room on the off chance that they might find a treasured blaster or the like.

I haven't run this module since the early 80s, but I think I would have to make some changes to help keep the pace moving along.  It might be worth spreading the different levels around to form a decentralized complex that allowed partial exploration. Something like this would definitely fit in with fantasy worlds that emerged from a forgotten technological society. Alternately, I kind of like the idea that the characters are not ignorant of a lost technologically advanced past - and may even interact with its legacy from time to time.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Spinning Fantasy Settings: Go Ape! Again!

Picking up from the last post on taking inspiration from Marvel Comics' adaptations and original series of the Planet of the Apes movie franchise...  What else do we have that could work in fantasy or sci-fi roleplaying  games? 

Well, there's gorillas who embraced the (fantasy) Viking way of life and a pair of frontiersmen (Steely Dan and Gunpowder Julius) who sailed a riverboat and used muskets.

Then there's what amounts to secret societies of mutant scientists who create gorilla-cyborgs and giant tank-supported brains who relied on genetically engineered mutant drone servants. For the latter it would easy to see mindflayer elders or almost any of the mind-controlling aberrations of the D&D game in charge of cloned goblins with better attitudes towards duty. As for the previously mentioned cyborgs, would it be that difficult to use warforged or other sentient construct stats with cosmetic changes to bring them to the tabletop?

One of my favorite places was the Psychodrome. It was an alien-commanded mountain complex with elevation tubes and subways. I think it also served as a storehouse for military vehicles and weapons. The lone alien commander(?) reminded me of one of the monsters (wizards?) from Fritz Lieber's works. To top it off, "winged monkey demons" roamed the environs. I suppose a GM could go anyway they wanted to with this kind of thing - either as locale of forgotten super science or as a place powered by controlled elementals - and populated to suit the campaign.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spinning Fantasy Settings: Go Ape!

Marvel Comics acquired the rights to publish adaptations  of the popular Planet of the Apes movies in the early 70s. The comic company slotted POTA for one of its black & white magazine titles, offering readers more mature and graphic content. The movie adaptations were good, but the original series that appeared in the magazine's 29(?) issue run were really imaginative. 

They mixed in all kinds of literary genres and technological/cultural perspectives that took the stories out of the context of the world as it it existed in the first two movies. And this brings me to the fantasy and sci-fi gaming inspiration. I think if I was going to play something like Gamma World or give a sci-fi theme to a fantasy game, I could do worse than bring such interesting elements as appeared in the back-up magazine series such as 'Terror on the Planet of the Apes' and 'Future Chronicles'.

One of the neatest concepts they had was a city-ship dominated by apes in Renaissance dress and technology (I'd guess at least 500 apes). Orangutans and gorillas vied for power, each served by chimpanzee serfs. Of course, a large human population existed below the wooden stories to power the massive juggernaut by oars. While the city-ship came to end through a civil war between the gorillas and orangutans (arranged by the machinations of the human Slinker), the 'Future Chonicles' adventures continued on the high seas. The storyline visited a cosmopolitan ship graveyard state and an encounter with a Nemo "cleanse the sea type" of guy (see the pulp-flavored cover to the right; it doesn't quite evoke the actual taste of the stories). As for the series' art - it was beautifully done by Tom Sutton. The Warhammer Fantasy artwork is very reminiscent of his style. 

So with the above notes, we have gigantic city ships, assassins, racial castes, and retro-futurist ideas ala Jules Verne. Offhand, I could easily see replacing the apes with the D&D goblinoid society of goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. This sounds like a great encounter - or even an entire setting, especially if the floating city could assume something akin to a Casablanca- style of truce.

More on the Apes later.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Spinning Fantasy Settings: Gene Wolfe's New Sun in RPGs

Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series, written around 30 years ago, is a great source of inspiration for anyone wanting to run a fantasy RPG campaign. I suppose that technically the series was sci-fi with a heavy dose of mythical elements, but it really feels like fantasy reading even with the futuristic setting. For anyone not familiar with these classic books, they revolve around the tale of Severian, an exile from the Guild of Torturers, who ascends the imperial throne ("through the backdoor") of Earth far in the future - so far in the future that the sun is dying. He lives in a world of where time/space travel, energy weapons, and aliens are the dominion of the most powerful aristocracy, but the great masses live in something akin to pre-industrial technology. The first book is The Shadow of the Torturer, followed by The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch.

The books have a great atmosphere and the reader always gets the feeling their is so much more going on in the world, but it is beyond the character's perspective to quite understand or experience it. This overwhelming disconnect should play a pivotal role in many role-playing games set in some kind of medieval world. The world is big and considering the limitations of accurate information and communication, it should seem even bigger - and dangerous. Even the rulers should be limited in their ability to enforce their will throughout their realms. 

Of course, there's also things like beastmen soldiers who were genetic experiments and neanderthal types of ape men who would fit well in a game. Alien creatures could play a more prominent role as well - dopplegrangers, mindflayers, and other kinds of intelligent aberrations (as classified in the D&D game) wouldn't necessarily have to play behind the scenes in secret plots of conquest. I'm just tossing out a few ideas here, but with a few tweaks to origin stories and place in the game world, a game master could give a vibrant new feel on fantasy game standards. 

And yes - I do know that Gene Wolfe's New Sun setting received the RPG treatment back in the late 90s. I never read the rules, although I did see a write up about it on Wikipedia. I think the setting is best used as inspiration instead of trying to recreate it as written.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sci-Fi Shock Troops

Shock Troops - box cover front
I don't have a great idea of what I would do with Wargames Factory's new plastic shock troops from their Alien Suns line, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to use them to explore some sci-fi gaming. Follow this link to one of their pages about the product and while you are there, check out the box's back cover for a few more ideas on how to assemble and paint these guys.

These troops look to me like retro-futuristic fascist troopers I have run across in British sci-fi - if not outright, then at least a good dose of flavoring. What comes to mind is Dr. Who's "Genesis of the Daleks" and 2000 AD's Rogue Trooper series (not so much the GIs, but the regulars).

In my mind, I see some RPG or tactical gaming inspired by Star Frontiers or Gamma World. These guys would be great for exploring the ruins of New York or London's underground. There's a lot D&D plastic monster minis that would be perfect for that kind of gaming as well - bullettes, ghouls, and illithids (mindflayers). The ratmen of Warhammer or Warhammer 40K would be a good addition as well. 

More on this if/when I make the leap and get me a box of these neat looking figures. If anyone has some plans or works-in-progress for WF's shock troops, please post a comment or links.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1760: Cherokee Victory at Fort Loudoun (A Few More Pictures)

I don't have too much to add to the last post, but here's a few more photos I took at the event. 

Garrison Commander/Park Manager Jeff Wells

Loading Muskets Again

Monday, August 9, 2010

1760: Cherokee Victory at Fort Loudoun

Sallying Forth
I was able to attend the 250th landmark anniversary of Fort Loudoun's surrender to the Cherokees last weekend. Plenty of living history re-enactments, lectures, and guided tours at the Vonore, TN historic park - which includes a reconstruction of 18th Century fort. 

One of the significant aspects of the conflict between the British garrison and the Cherokees is that they had been allies for much of the war, but relationships soured over the lack of justice over the British killing numerous Cherokees further north.

Loading Muskets

The fort wasn't just a military site, it was a commercial and diplomatic one as well. The relationships between the garrison and the local villages was much more complex and complicated than you might think.

Three Cherokees at Village

The Chattanooga Times Free Press published a story I wrote about the event - follow this link.

I was pleased with the quality and dedication of the living historians that attended - that made - the event.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

FOW Summer Project: Making Your STUGs Stand Out

Schurzen have been attached to my work-in-progress STUG platoon. Of course, I put them on backwards - I believe the profile of the plates should slope forward. Just one of those little details that helps make my troops unique. 

The GMC trucks are pretty much done except for a little bit of base work. I used mudstone to give them a dry and dusty ground. I added a bit to the tires and dry brushed it on the rest of the vehicles. 

I'm doing some work on the 251/9s (German halftrack with short-barrel 75mm infantry gun) as well. They look like they will be pretty easy, except for the rear AA MG42 - which is all right, because I never bother with them. 

I have misplaced the assembly instructions for the Flakpanzer 38t's, but after a good bit of studying the FOW website images and other Internet sources, I think I have figured out to put the gun together. I'm not sure, but I think I am missing part of the 20mm cannon's gunshield. I think I'm going to substitute a small piece of styrene (probably just clip a small tile piece) and further camouflage the deception with a little lichen. Definitely more on that one later.