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.