Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Coming Up: "Rethinking 'Saxon' Wargaming"

Wargames Illustrated published a refreshing article to challenge the perception and tabletop interpretation of  Saxon armies in Issue 282. I'm hardly the expert to tell you what's right and what's wrong with how game rules treat the Saxons - or any of their Dark Age allies and enemies - but I love to read this kind of thing.

The author, Ryan Lavelle, made quite a few references to a favorite author around here - Guy Halsall. Specifically, he mentions Halsall's Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West c.450-900 - which I found to be an enlightening book that I ought to go back and read again (I can't believe it's been four years). I highly recommend it - it made for some interesting changes in thought I had on the period - and I don't think I grasped all that it offered.

In a later post I'll actually make some comments on the "Rethinking 'Saxon' Wargaming" article itself.

WI Artillery Issue: Greco-Roman Ballistae

cover art WI 281
It took me longer than I thought to get around to a review on this decidedly different type of theme for the relaunched Wargames Illustrated, but here it is.

For my contribution - 'Wood, Sinew, and Metal' - the piece on Greco-Roman artillery - it certainly challenged me, as I mentioned previously. It was a tough juggling act to figure out how much information to include in regards to the science and mechanics behind the war machines. I couldn't just gloss it over, but neither do I believe that most readers wanted to make scale models. I think I hit the right balance on it.

I tried to weight the piece with tactical organizations and applications and relate them to how these weapons translate in multiple gaming systems. I used a Dacian War scenario so the barbarian player could realistically use ballistae to combat the invading Romans. The setting also allowed me to give players a game that did not require much in the way of fortifications. The scenario is designed to highlight artillery's role on a battlefield that includes a fixed position, cavalry, and reserves.

I had planned to do the review in one long post, but I think I will break it up. I can say that I enjoyed what I read about 'Artillery Through the Ages' - even on periods that I have little expectation of wargaming except maybe at a convention. All of the authors brought interesting bits to the table that you might not necessarily find in a rulebook or army list, but make you want to figure out how to incorporate them. We'll pick up with Jim Graham's medieval artillery article next time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

FOW Project: Our Frank

I've done a few US commanders for my heavy weapons platoons, plus a few more leaders to spread around as needed. While I think it is standard to place three figures on a command stand of any given level (platoon, company, etc.) in Flames of War, I prefer to place two figures on platoon command stands so I can better identify them when I'm trying to figure out out where my company commander and second-in-command stands are.

I got to do some fun stuff with the figs from the Battlefront US Company HQ pack I picked up years ago. The rifleman and carbine-wielding officer appear to be having a frank discussion over the CO's next big plan. There's some NCOs and officers in the pack who are definitely urging the men forward, but I like the laconic posturing of these guys quite a bit.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

FOW Project: Basing Experiments

Even flat ground isn't always flat. I've had to go back and make some post-flock changes to some miniatures before and its sometimes as simple as adding some lichens or weeds. Why not just add a little few bumps with wall repair putty (quick dry, no mixing required) and some assorted bits of debris in the first place?

I mixed varying amounts of model grit/rocks, sand, and dried coffee grounds to my recent basing project (US command stands for FOW miniatures). This is definitely one of those arts v. science type of things. In some case, I definitely thought "less is more."

A friend commented that one of the bases looks like it was set on volcanic ground (which might come in handy for some fantasy monsters...). I think if I ever do some basing for the Ruhr Pocket, the coffee grounds might come in handy as well - if not for individual bases, then for the mighty coal piles that the armies fought in and over in the industrial region.

For those interested in recycling coffee grounds, make sure they get a proper drying before you put them in a container. Otherwise, expect to get some mold in your mix.

On a tangent item, dried tea leaves make a good pass for little leaves.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FOW Project: US Heavy Weapons (mostly ready)

Except for a little touch up paint on some spots (more on that) and a Dull Cote finish, my Flames of War US heavy weapons teams are ready, and the command teams are next.

The picture at right was taken shortly after flocking, and you can see some of the glue showing through. That went away. I did find some spots of glue that had no flock did not turn clear, but white. I'm guessing this was because of the watered-down wood glue I used instead of just regular watered-down craft glue. I avoided this mistake when I put together the command teams.

For flocking I used some Gale Force 9 terrain products: dirt flocking, mixed with dark green and yellowed static grass. I have found more satisfying results by mixing static grass with the ground cover than by sprinkling the grass on top. I usually get a mix of grass standing and flat, and well integrated with what I perceive as earth or shorter grass (the earth flock). Looks right to me. I like mixing the grass colors because for much of the year, that's what I see in pastures and open fields, except for maybe late spring and summer.

Next time, I'll post a little bit about the command teams. I tried a few new things in regards to basing, but still keeping in with the look of the machine gun and mortar crews. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brunanburh Online

In case you missed my take on Brunanburh (the epic clash between Anglo-Saxons and a Norse Dublin/Scots alliance in 937) from a gaming perspective in Wargames Illustrated last spring, WI has posted it online as a PDF.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle certainly gives us the impression the battle was truly a clash a mighty armies, and I have no reason to disagree. That said, we have very little reliable information on army strengths or even the battle's location. Of course, the Norse sagas offer all kinds of details that have more to do telling a good story than offering anything like historical facts.

Well, don't let that keep you from bringing a couple of hordes of late Dark Age types to the tabletop and giving the game a go. 

The Brunanburh article appeared in WI 271. If you are interested in the other bits I wrote on the Dublin Norse, check out WI 270 (cover pictured right).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Coming Up - FOW Project: US Heavy Weapons

Just a short note this post, but I plan to talk a little bit about the work I've been doing on my Flames of War US heavy weapons platoons next week. The core troops have been flocked (pictured are teams are prior to that). I'm hardly the modeling expert, but I've got some ideas that seem to improve what I'm doing on the painting table. More on all that later.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pathfinder Bestiary 2: Review

I'll go ahead and say it - Paizo's Bestiary 2 is the Fiend Folio of the Pathfinder RPG. For those of you not familiar with the classic Dungeons & Dragons reference, let me take you back to 1981.

The Fiend Folio was the second hardback creature tome for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game (now known as 1st ed D&D). It had some monsters that came directly from some of TSR's adventure modules (the drow or dark elves from the Against the Giants and Drow series readily claimed iconic status), but a good chunk of it came from fan-based creations in the UK. Some were winners, some weren't. It's hard to imagine the game without the likes of the planes-traveling Githyanki (who graced the book's cover), or my favorite - the dark folk (dark creepers and dark stalkers). Some of the monsters were way out there, and all of them showed a lot of imagination, regardless. While I never considered the book superior to the original Monster Manual, I cannot deny that I always brought a selection of FF creatures into my games.

Well, that's what Bestiary 2 feels like to me now. There's plenty of stuff in there that if you want to populate your adventures with B2 monsters, you can readily do it. It definitely has that otherworldly feel to it, considering the number of extraplanar creatures, fey, and aberrations you can find in between the covers. Of course, you get a number of dinosaurs, magical beasts, and giant mammals and insects to boot.

I recognize a number of the creatures from prior Pathfinder publications, although I'm fairly sure a number of them are seeing print for the first time - at least in regards to how Pathfinder has re-imagined a lot of the classic monsters of the D&D game. I must say, I do like how they did some interesting takes on freaky monsters from the old D&D 3.0/3.5 Monster Manual like the destrachan and the howler - and that's just the artwork.

Oh, and the dark slayer (a new addition to the dark folk), may be a new favorite of mine.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Coming Up: Review on the Wargames Illustrated Artillery Issue

I have not quite finished reading my copy of WI #281, but I will offer a more in-depth review and some insights from the writer's perspective for this one as soon as I do. I can say this about the theme - there's quite a few gems on the subject of 'Artillery through the Ages'. As for my contribution to the theme (Greco-Roman artillery), it challenged me in ways I didn't expect - and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only author that felt that way about the project. I think we managed to pull off a rather interesting set of articles that mix history, technology/engineering, and gaming in compelling narratives.

Also, I have not forgot the promised review of Pathfinder Bestiary 2. I'm still giving it a good study.

More later...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

RPG Advice: Necromantic Traps

The undead can prove tough foes in RPG games, and they come in all kinds of makes and models. For the purposes of today's review, we should get into the mindset of the kinds that can be created as servants (animated skeletons and zombies) and those might be summoned and possibly controlled - especially the incorporeal types. Now, consider how those kinds of monsters could be made into integral parts of wards and traps. If spell energies and elemental creatures can be harnessed for magic items and other things, why not evil spirits and other undead?

Necromantic aspects can be strictly cosmetic, but it's probably a little more interesting to introduce some tweaks to game mechanics adapted straight from the RPGs rules for traps. D&D 3.0+ and the Pathfinder game provide stock and trade listings for all kinds of traps, which should make things rather easy than coming up with this stuff from scratch.

For example, instead of using the old spiked pit trap, why not use a pit filled with skeletal arms that attack hapless victims with the same kind of chances to hit and damage? If you juice it up, why not let the skeletal hazard make continuous attacks for anyone not making a hasty climb out of the pit? You should probably assign the skeletal components hit points or something to measure damage - most likely  thanks to an area effect spell or holy energy. Alternately, you might just treat the skeletal bits as some kind of swarm (ie. like hordes of vermin) that inhabits a pit.

Think about the traps that release some kind of energy attack, such as fire or lightning. Why not use necrotic energy instead? This might have the effect of turning killed characters into some kind of undead. Alternately, it might just be a cool way to describe traps that make cold attacks, but be sure to mention that the assault on the characters has a creepy aura - ie. spirits whispering, grabbing, etc. This would certainly be the kind of trap that you could let the priests, holy warriors, or the studious use their Knowledge (Religion) skills to detect and disable/suppress harmful spirit wards.

If a trap normally requires a character to make a Fortitude or Reflex saving throw to withstand or dodge it, respectively, why not replace with an effect that requires a Will saving throw instead? As far as that goes, if the trap deals physical damage, I see no reason why a psychic attack couldn't do just that. Again, I can see malicious spiritual forces at work here, although this is great ground for those Cthulhu-minded.

Finally, let's think about hazards. Drowning is a dungeon-delving problem that can occur while swimming or if buried in enough debris. To avoid drowning, it requires Swimming checks and possibly Constitution checks if the hero goes under. Consider spiritual hazards - say a corridor of howling spirits - that requires Will save checks (or some relevant skill check), but maybe use Wisdom or Charisma checks to "hold their breath" while navigating or floundering the cursed hall.

The cover the right is from Dungeon #125 (back in 2004, I think). Mike Mearl's adventure, "The Three Faces of Evil," has an ultra creepy dungeon complex which features a section that messes with character's minds, if I recall correctly (maybe through an ever-present confusion spell effect). Lots of strange things going on in the adventure that the suggestions above would work well with. Recommended reading for anyone planning on writing  an unholy temple adventure - you just can't beat the feeling Mearls evokes. One day I'll have to write a post of why this adventure is one of my all-time favorites.

Monday, March 7, 2011

RPG Advice: Arcane Roguery (Locks and Traps)

Dungeon Magazine #97
Dungeon-delving often benefits from having a rogue along when playing a fantasy role-playing game. What happens when you've got nigh-insurmountable locked and/or trapped gateways and no rogues or other heroes (and I use the term loosely) with the kind of skills to see you through?

The very epic "Life's Bazaar" (written by the awesome Chris Perkins and featured in Dungeon #97 back in 2003) gave me the opportunity to fathom this query when I used it with a large group of players who had not one rogue between them and none of the questionable types had useful skills for bypassing locks and traps.

 The adventure featured a forgotten and abandoned vault-like warren once inhabited by gnomes. Well, not quite abandoned and forgotten, as the adventure's villains did a small amount of slave trade with victims kidnapped from the urban sprawl above. As it happened, much of the maze-like enclave was protected by portals sealed with magic locks and traps.

So, what to do? I decided against forcing them to languish in the areas they could easily explore - I had too many players (10? I must have been mad) to entertain and the snooze factor could come into play in such a large dungeon. The monstrous foes could have given them the chance they needed - they played a hit and run strategy, but it's quite possible that their abilities to bypass magically sealed portals could benefit a fast and clever bunch of pursuers. Frankly, the group was too large to add an NPC trap expert - I had too much to do and even if I gave the NPC to a player to run, it was still another character to keep up with. I took another route altogether.

As the portals were magicked with wards and the like, it seemed to me that the parties arcane practitioners ought to have some power, or at least handy skills. I reasoned that if normal locks and traps were subject to deft hands and good ears (and maybe a nice set of thieving tools), then magical ones should be subject to Arcane Knowledge or Spellcraft skills. This solution brought the right kind of feel to the game and it got the wizard and sorcerer into saving the day in ways no one really expects - it was kind of cool describing how they would concentrate and make strange gestures to reveal secret runes encircling the ancient stone portals. Depending on how well they rolled on their skill checks, they either suppressed or disabled traps and locks.

Furthermore, it got the game moving in a way the players wanted to go. Even when their arcane skills failed to bypass certain portals, the players felt more in control of their destinies.

So this was kind of an ad hoc solution to a given situation, but it's something I have used a few times since. The Dungeons & Dragons game (and its spiritual successor, Pathfinder) always recommend creative and alternative skill check solutions for given challenges whenever possible. While I think Spellcraft always has a chance to be a winner for exploring magicked ruins and the like, you could easily replace Arcane Knowledge with Religion Knowledge (temples, undead lairs), Planar Knowledge (fiendish or alien domains) or Nature Knowledge (fey or druidic woods) - or whatever matches the nature of the adventure.

When I think about Gandalf, he seems to be the most adept and finding, bypassing, and setting up magically sealed portals out of any of the company he ran with in either The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Why can't my players' spellcasters be just as cool - and without necessarily having to expend precious spells?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Previews: Monsters, Ships, and Advice for the Young at Heart

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 cover
It's been awhile since I reviewed RPG rules, inspirations, or merchandise. I plan to talk about Paizo's Pathfinder Bestiary 2 soon, as well as some ideas I have for spicing up traps in dungeon-delving - and by spicing up I'm not talking about making super traps or anything like that.

I expect to get my feet wet again with Axis & Allies War at Sea (or is just called Naval Battles?). A friend of mine fell under the spell of the game in a six-player scenario at Nashcon a few years ago and is ready to get some dedicated gaming in. Why, there has even been talk of a campaign - especially with the (sorta) relaunch of the game which is supposed to make gameplay faster. I'll be honest, I didn't think it was particularly slow to begin with, but I'm for getting to the action quicker.

Speaking of campaign gaming, I am in the midst of Rick Priestley's article on the subject in Wargames Illustrated #281 (the Artillery Issue). He gives some solid advice in the article and I recommend it to anyone who wants to run a wargame campaign. As far as that goes, it's probably not bad advice for anyone trying to run a RPG campaign either. Both are demanding, but at least RPG rules typically make the assumption the game will run as a campaign and get the game master in the right frame of mind for handling an ongoing series of games. Ultimately, no matter what your aspirations are, you need to (realistically) answer the following questions: Who are you writing the rules for? What kind of time and interest will the players have for your campaign?

I might have other things to put in here over the next week or so, including a return to Sudan topics. I have just received a copy of 'A Good Dusting' thanks to historical author Neil Smith.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Solo Wargaming: Legio XIV in Gaul

WI 279 cover
Chris Hahn wrote a great article on a solo wargame scenario set during Caesar's conquest of Gaul, featuring the ambush of the XIV Legion. It appears in Wargames Illustrated 279.

Whether you ever intend to write or play a solo wargame scenario for this period or not, I recommend the material for study for anyone wanting to know the kinds of rules and game mechanic tweaks they should consider if they plan to write and referee a scenario of any kind.

Hahn sets up his premise well - he tells us what fictional and historical accounts have inspired him and how he wants the game to reflect those sources. He uses Warhammer Ancient Battles for his system because it seemed to best match what he wanted bring to the scenario - a built-in ambush battle scenario, a choice of legionary quality, and tweakable leader/commander stats. 

I especially like his idea on removing the immortal leader rules for unit leaders. Caesar's accounts mention no shortage of centurions and other leaders who fell heroically in battle. Furthermore, Hahn requires a panic check upon the death of unit leader. This is a cool idea and I'm tempted to use this for my home games from now on.

He makes up some terrain rules to fit the scenario as well: semi-difficult ground. May or may not be something any WAB game might benefit from, but he makes a case for using it a balance in his scenario.

While his solo game is pretty large - over 300 Romans and nearly 600 Gauls on the table (although the Gauls likely don't appear all at once) - I don't see why one couldn't adapt the scenario to a smaller collection.

As for adapting the scenario for other rules, I don't see why not. I would think Warmaster Ancients might be a good choice since it allows for high level officers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More 19th C. Colonial Wargaming Bits

WI 280 cover
I must say that I've been intrigued by the 1880's Sudan coverage in WI 280. While looking around on super painter and all-around nice guy Andy Hawes' blog for some of his 19th C. colonials, I found a blog that has a lot of stuff on the period: 19th Century Wargames Armies 1883-1885.

While the author doesn't have a ton of posts, he has some cool bits to peruse.

As for Andy's pages, check out this one where he talks about using Army Painter on Pathans and his idea for converting 'Legends of the Old West Alamo' for his NW Frontier games. I'm looking forward to seeing more on Andy's ventures into the 19th C.